Dough Spinning

Review of card game Mamma Mia! by Pevans

Mamma Mia! is the latest clever card game designed by Uwe "Bohnanza" Rosenberg. This one is about making pizzas (close to the heart of many gamers!) and makes a decent filler (yum, yum).

The game consists of 106 cards. Forty of these are sets of pizza orders: eight in each of five colours. There is one special card (the Mamma Mia card) and the rest are pizza ingredients - 13 each of mushrooms, olives, peppers (or are they chillies?), pineapple (ugh! Still, at least there are no anchovies) and salami (though I reckon it's pepperoni). Players start with one random order from their deck and six random ingredients cards - with less than five players, some cards are removed from the ingredients deck.

Each round splits into two phases. In the first, players take turns to play an ingredient - any number of cards, but they must be the same type - onto a central stack of cards. They may then play an order on top of this. They replenish their hands to seven cards, taken from their personal order deck or the general ingredients deck - but not both: this clever restriction stops the game being too easy and forces the players to make some extra decisions. The reasons for doing this become clear in the second phase.

Once the deck of ingredients runs out, the player with the Mamma Mia card takes the stack of cards that have been played, turns it over and starts playing cards out - so they are revealed in the same order they were played. When an order comes up, the face-up ingredients are used to make the pizza, if possible. The player whose order it is may add extra cards from his hand. If an order is completed, it scores for that player and is put to one side. If not, it goes underneath his deck of orders for reuse. The ingredients used go on top of the Mamma Mia card and, when all the cards have been revealed, these are shuffled to provide the deck for the next round. Any unused ingredients stay face up for use in the second phase of the next round.

So, what you are trying to do is play orders that will be completed from the ingredients cards already played. The immediate thought is that this is a card-counting game. However, some of the orders have 'joker' symbols on them, which can be any ingredient. Add to this the possibility that players will add a card or two (or even five) from their hand to complete orders and it gets increasingly difficult to know what cards will be available as the round goes on. So you have to take an educated guess as to which ingredients will get used and which will be available when your order comes up. And sometimes you just have to guess.

The game is played over three rounds, at the end of which the player who has completed the most orders wins. Experience shows that it is unlikely anybody will complete more than 6 of their eight orders over the three rounds. The tie-breaker is number of ingredients cards left in your hand.

So what you have here is a more subtle game than initially appears. If your concentration is up to it, you can certainly keep track of precisely which cards have been played. But you need to work out what your opponents are doing and, of course, you can bluff by playing orders you know won't get completed. In fact, one player has suggested that you play through your orders so that you know what sequence they're in. Certainly, if you don't have the cards to make an order, it's generally better to play it and pick another one that you might have a better chance of completing than hang on and hope for the cards.

This is an engaging game to play - it's great when your pizzas get completed and it hurts when they don't. It can be played with fierce concentration or a light-hearted approach, forces tactical decisions and allows players to bluff and psych out their opponents. With a playing time of 30-40 minutes, it's not going to be the mainstay of a gaming session, but it is an excellent filler and I expect it to be played regularly for some time to come. However, much as I like the game, I have to admit that I find it very difficult to win! My best strategy so far has been to take on my 11 and 12-year old niece and nephew…

One tip, finally: read through the examples of play in the rules. These make several points clear, particularly how the "Pizza Minimale" should be treated.

Mamma Mia! was designed by Uwe Rosenberg and published (in Germany) by Amigo (and subsequently in the USA by Rio Grande Games). It is for 2-5 players and takes 30-40 minutes to play. Pevans rates it 7/10.
This review was originally published in Games Games Games 132, June 1999.

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