Monday, March 28, 2005

Review - Uwe Rosenberg's Mamma Mia!

Most gamers survive on a diet of pizza and soda when on a gaming binge. Let’s face it, why waste time cooking when you can get a great meal by picking up the phone and calling the pizzeria? That time saved lets you play more games. And since you’re ordering pizza, what better game to bring to the table than a game about making pizza?

In Mamma Mia!, players are pizza chefs working with five ingredients, none of which is cheese. Since we can’t process that, we all turn the pineapple into cheese, which is fine since “real” pizza connoisseurs know that pineapple on pizza is verboten in civilized circles. (Ok, I’ll admit it, I like Hawaiian pizza.) The other ingredients are mushrooms (yum), peppers (yum), salami (yum) and olives (yuck). The chefs struggle to complete the orders being delivered by their own personal waiters while sharing one large oven. Why can’t these guys get their own ovens? We don’t know. Maybe they need their own cooking shows so the oven companies will give them complimentary ovens.

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Uwe Rosenberg is perhaps best known for his curious bean farming card game Bohnanza. In Mamma Mia!, Uwe again regales us with a peculiar card mechanism revolving around the communal pizza oven. Abacus Spiele and Rio Grande Games publish Mamma Mia!, giving us 105 linen-finished cards and a black-and-white rulesheet in the package. The illustrations are simple and colorful, and the pineapple really does look like cheese.

The Game

The object of the game is to finish as many pizzas as possible. This is done by getting the better of the other chefs in the communal oven. A good memory is important, and a bit of strategy helps as well.

Players have their personal waiters, each with eight pizza orders which they will deliver randomly to the chefs. The waiters are represented by the recipe deck. Players have similar, but not identical recipe decks. This is because each of the five players will have his own “signature ingredient”, which goes into every pizza he makes.

The players begin the game with a random hand of six ingredients, and one random recipe drawn from their recipe deck. The rest of the ingredients go into the draw deck aka the supply. The oven is a discard stack in the middle of the table. On his turn, a player plays at least one ingredient (he may play any number of ingredients as long as they are of the same kind) into the oven. He then may play on recipe into the oven.

When a player puts a recipe into the oven, he is hoping (or he knows) that there are enough ingredients under the recipe to complete the requirements of that pizza. Once that’s done, the player draws cards to bring his hand back up to seven. He may draw from the supply or from his waiter, but not both. If the cards run out from either deck, he makes do until he gets to draw again next turn.

There’s a Mamma Mia! card in the deck, and the player who draws it puts it aside. He will be the start player on the next turn, and he gets to check out the oven contents at round end.

Once the supply runs out, the round is over. The start player takes the whole oven pile and starts dealing from the bottom. He arranges ingredients into stacks by type. Once a recipe comes up, he checks the recipe requirements against the ingredients that have been dealt out. If there are enough to make the pizza, the pizza is completed and the successful chef keeps that recipe card face up. The ingredients used in that pizza are removed from the oven display. The remaining ingredients are left for the succeeding pizzas. If the requirements aren’t fulfilled, the player gets one last chance to complete the pizza by playing the missing ingredients from his cards in hand. If he doesn’t have the needed ingredients, the recipe is uncompleted and the card is returned to the bottom of the player’s recipe deck.

Once all the oven cards have been dealt out, any unused ingredients form a new oven stack and play begins with the player who drew the Mamma Mia! card. All the used ingredients are shuffled into a new supply.

When the supply has been exhausted for the third time, the game is over. The chef who completed the most recipes is the winner! In the case of a tie, the player with the most ingredients left in hand is the winner!


Obviously, a good memory helps. Failing that, rough estimates still help, especially if you just played enough ingredients before your recipe to fulfill most of the requirements. You can play a recipe that’s clearly one or two ingredients short; just remember to save the ingredients once you draw them so you can complete the pizza when the oven is being emptied.

Try to keep at two or three recipes in hand. If the recipes you’re holding aren’t working, dump one or two into the oven so you can draw the others from your waiter. When the supply is running down, dump as many recipes as possible into the oven so that you have five to seven ingredient cards for the oven emptying phase.

If you draw Mamma Mia!, you can usually cheese a recipe with the leftover ingredients from the previous round. This works best with the Pizza Minimale recipe, which is usually the most difficult to complete so cook it while you can.

Speak with silly Italian accents to throw off your opponents’ memories. You can burst into “Funiculi, Funicula” while tossing your ingredients into the oven. If you can’t remember anything, try to prevent your opponents from remembering more than you do. It’s only fair.

Reviewer’s Tilt

Mamma Mia! is a pretty good game to haul out for non-gamers. The theme is fun and rather silly due to the communal oven, so the game is non-threatening in most cases. The basic mechanisms are very simple, though the special pizzas (especially the Minimale) may take a bit of explaining. It’ll take a couple of oven-emptying demonstrations to get the hang of it. Learning game might take 30-45 minutes. Experienced players can get through a game in less than 30 minutes.

However, Mamma Mia! isn’t all that light. Some players may feel that trying to remember what’s gone into the oven is stressful, as has happened to us. To those players I’d sell that a bit of hand management can make up for memory deficiencies. Cheesing two or three recipes via set collection in hand prior to dumping them into the oven with the recipe helps people with poor memories compete. I should know; that’s the only way I can play Mamma Mia!.

The game is fun, mostly during the oven emptying phase when your recipe plays are validated or trashed like week-old leftover pizza. During the oven-filling phase the game is more reminiscent of heavier games; people are concentrating on remembering what’s gone into the oven. It’s a bit too quiet.

The sweet spot for the game is three players. This provides more control, allows shorter intervals between recipe plays and requires less memory work. Four is ok; five is a total crapshoot. There are so many recipes being played in a five player game that even the players with good memories will be challenged to determine what ingredients are available in the over when their turn comes along.

I consider the game ok, but it’s not a filler of choice. The memory element feels too much like work sometimes; I like my fillers light and uninvolved. I try to save my gaming brain cells for heavier fare, so a palate cleanser needs to not have this much weight. It’s not a heavy or even a medium weight game by any means, but Mamma Mia! is just a bit too involved for the niche that it should occupy.

1 comment:

Coldfoot said...

Pizza and soda. I resemble that remark.