Mahola is a 3-4 player card drafting game from SP Hansen Games. In it, the players are trying to put together the highest scoring Native American dance to win the round and ultimately be the first person to collect three wins.
The game of Mahola itself plays very easily. At the beginning of each round the players are dealt a special character card, there are four different ones in the game, the Shaman, the Maiden, the Hunter and the Chief. Each of these characters have a special ability that can alter your tableau of dances that you are building in front of you and they are kept secret from the other players until you reveal them at the end of the round before scoring. After everyone is dealt their character card, the dealer will then deal each player 5 Dance Cards for their starting hand, placing the rest of the Dance Cards onto the center of the table to act as the draw pile.
Gameplay moves like this, each player will select a card from their hand and place it face down in front of them. Once each player has selected a card, they are revealed and placed into their tableau. The players then choose a card to pass to the player on their left and a card to pass to the player on their right. After they receive two cards in return they draw a card from the top of the deck and repeat the procedure until each of them have five cards in their tableau. The important thing to remember when placing down the cards is that they can only be placed on the ends of the tableau, you cannot place them in between cards in your tableau. After the five Dance Cards have been played to the players tableau, the players then reveal their character card, take the action allowed by the character card, if they so desire, and score their dances.
The scoring for each round is pretty straight forward, but it has a lot to do with coordinating your plays correctly and getting the cards in the correct order in the tableau. First off, each character card is either red or black, if your character card color matches the color of the number in the upper left of the Dance Card, you gain that many points. If your color does not match, you lose that many points, unless the spirit animal on the Dance Card matches the spirit animal on your Character Card, then you score zero. After scoring those points you add to that the points from the secondary dance icons if they match the card they are right next to. Also, there is a chance to score an additional 2 points on a card if you manage to have the correct dances adjacent to the card. If that all sounds a bit odd, well, it may be that way the first time through, but once you see the scoring in action it makes perfect sense. The highest score wins the round and takes the Wampum token to show that they have one win. You repeat this until someone has three Wampum tokens and that person wins Mahola.
To start with, the art for Mahola is absolutely fantastic and those who love the Native American theme will love examining the cards to soak up each and every detail on them, and that’s made a bit easier because the cards are larger than normal playing cards which is another bonus. That all being said, this was a Preview Copy of the game and I can only imagine that they’ve got some ideas to keep improving the look for the final product, and I can’t wait to see what they are.
Graphic Design was there were a couple small issues we had with the cards, mainly when trying to score, it was kind of off-putting how you had to look at the lower banner at the adjacent dance and then glance to the top of the two adjacent cards to read and see if you matched them. But it looks like Scott has already thought of that and they have color coded the dances to make them easier to pick up at first glance, which you can see in the photo above. This will be a great help when scoring your tableau.
Gameplay wise, this is a pretty straight forward drafting game that takes some careful planning to build your tableau to perform the best dance. Knowing what to pass off to the other players can be a pretty big advantage for you if you can figure out early on what they are going for. My only issue with it being that in a four player game there is going to be one player that each player won’t interact with at all, so you have to hope that everyone else is paying as close attention as you are when passing the cards. But, that would probably be easily solved by switching up the passing directions and adding a pass across the table as well. The chaining of the dances in the tableau make for a really nice mural that you are creating in front of you, I can’t state this enough that the artwork is fantastic.
The field is getting more and more crowded with these small box games that play in 15-30 minutes. It’s getting tougher and tougher to set yourself apart from the field and I think that Scott has done that with this one, the unique theme, the fantastic artwork and the ease of play with decisions to be made each round make this one an easy choice to back at $15, or $18 if you want the Wampum Beads to go with your game.
Mahola is scheduled to hit Kickstarter on the 26th of January.