Get to know a game: Mü
An offhand comment by Daniel Solis on Twitter the other day about how old Space Beans was got me thinking about a couple of things. First, the passage of time is terrible. Space Beans can't be 15 years old! That's awful, and I'm old! Second, the boardgame hobby is relentless in the pursuit of the new. Games can get churned under alarmingly quickly. With the hobby thankfully gaining new converts every day, even fifteen years means that a game might be buried history. That's unfair to a lot of worthy games, so I figured I'd write up some of them in an effort to remind people of some great games that haven't managed to stay in the spotlight. Hopefully, this becomes a series. Let's get to know a game: Mü.
What is it that I love about trick-taking games? I think it's because, at their heart, they're more like deduction than people realize. It's solving the puzzle of how the cards lie, and how to get from there to accomplishing your goal in the game, whatever it may be. At each turn, your choices are typically constrained to only a handful of choices. But figuring out the possibilities, and how things are going to ripple through the rest of the hand, those are decisions that get my brain whirling.
But it's beyond just those delicious puzzles, the joys of a well-executed squeeze play, or the delight in a well-selected lead. There's depth to a great trick-taking game, of course, but they can still manage to be great games from the start. Novices can play and enjoy Bridge just fine. Learn a few mechanics, get the suit order down, keep a scoring table handy, and you can play one of the world's great games. And while you can see how deep things can be, the decisions you're making are still interesting, and meaningful, and enjoyable. You aren't overwhelmed with choices, and you don't feel like you're playing the game wrong even if you're a bit naive. The game molds itself to your abilities like beautifully tailored clothing.
What Bridge cannot do, though, is work for other than four players. There are variants, but they're not very satisfying. That's where we finally get back to Mü. Mü is played with a custom deck, which goes from 0-9 (with doubled 7s and 1s) in five suits. There are points on the cards as well, which gives the deck further texture. Mü features an interesting bidding process, where players are bidding not just for the opportunity to set the contract and pick trump, but also to be the leader of the opposition or vie to be on one side or the other. The fact that Mü features shifting partnerships means there are subtle political machinations beyond just the simple valuation of your hand. It also means that the game works well from 3 to 6 players, being particularly great with 5.
There are other clever mechanics in Mü, but that's not why I love the game so much. There's a cohesion to the game that is amazing to me. It feels like every element of the game is perfectly in place. The bidding thresholds, the mechanics of how bids are laid, the distribution of suits and points across suits, the way the two trump selections work, it all gives the feeling of a precision watch put together by a master craftsman.
For someone like me, who hopes to contribute my own work to the hobby and who reads game rules purely for entertainment, there's another level to it. Mü is a soaring aesthetic achievement. It gives me pleasure just to contemplate how it all works together. The artistry on display is inspiring to me in the same way a great novel is to a writer. It gives me something to strive towards, a North Star guiding my efforts as a designer. Foresight, my first complete game, was directly inspired by Mü. I don't anticipate ever making anything as great as it, but I'll have a great time trying.
There are other games in the box with Mü, which makes it an even better deal. In particular, the latest version of the game comes with the brilliant Was Sticht?, which is an incredible game in its own right, maybe my favorite from the great Karl-Heinz Schmiel. I hope maybe some folks will check out the box and see what I see in the game: a guiding light that leads them to greater creativity.
As an aside, I just learned that there's an iOS version of the game while I was writing this article. I can honestly say that I haven't been more excited for an electronic adaptation of a tabletop game yet. I hope it lives up to my expectations!