The Mariposas board game is a family/gateway game for two to five players that takes about an hour to play. It’s listed for ages 14+ presumably to cut costs (it’s expensive to get games certified safe for kids). I’d expect brighter gamer kids aged eight plus to be fine.
The game has been lovingly designed around its migrating butterflies theme, but it’s still a largely abstract gateway/advanced family game. Mariposas is all about movement and set collection, with players moving and hatching more butterflies to meet a variety of in- and endgame scoring conditions. This isn’t a criticism, just an observation.
This is a big box game with a large board, but in truth not an awful lot of components. five handy plastic containers hold 120+ cardboard tokens. Plus there are 120 small cards, 20 oversized ones, 50 wooden butterfly tokens, a custom dice and a few other wooden/cardboard bits and bobs. Looking at comparison site Board Game Prices, you can find it for less than £40. For what you get in the box, this feels pretty good value. But did it need to be this big? That’s another matter entirely.
The Mariposas board game is played over three seasons lasting four, five and six rounds respectively. On each of your 15 turns you’ll play a movement card, move one/several butterflies, collect flower tokens/bonus cards, and sometimes hatch another butterfly.
The board is an abstract map of North America, from Texas east to the coast and heading north as far as Winnipeg and Quebec. Or, the migration trail for the monarch butterfly. Sixteen are Waystation (city) spaces, with the rest (100 or so) showing one of five flower types. To move, you play one of your two movement cards (drawing a new one to end your turn). While largely similar, examples include moving one butterfly five spaces (so you get one pickup), or three one space each (so less distance but more stuff).
If you land on a flower space, you take a matching flower token (more on those later). City spaces instead give you a bonus card. There are 16 different bonuses, and they’re secret until a player flips one over and takes the reward. The first player to flip each also gets a random bonus flower. But this revealed where a certain item is – potentially crucial, as one way to score is by set collection via these bonus cards.
Butterflies of love
Some spaces also border a ‘hatching icon’. At these you can initially add a ‘level 2’ butterfly on the same space with your starting ‘level 1’. As you progress, you can claim pieces up to ‘level 4’ (everyone starts with 10 butterflies). And after that, evolve them again to make them twice as valuable for scoring purposes. At the end of seasons one and two, the lowest level butterflies are removed from the board. It’s the circle of life and all that.
The main part of the game is in the scoring. Or more accurately, moving to the right places to take advantage of scoring opportunities. You’ve got two strategic options: set collection and ‘getting home’. Set collection involves visiting as many cities as possible to collect cards and bonuses. Getting home means getting upgraded level 4 butterflies back to the start space before the game ends. You can do a bit of both, or lean more towards one or other.
What spices things up are three ‘season’ cards. One is always in play, and they’re slowly revealed (so you can plan a bit) as the game goes in. These largely give points for being, or breeding, (or not) in certain places at the end of/during each season. This helps the theme stay on track, but also gives players tactical headaches as they try to balance these tempting side points with their main goals. Most points wins.
The four sides
These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.
- The writer: I had a lot of fun initially exploring the Mariposas board game. The hatching mechanism works nicely and gives you a few decisions, while there are three clear routes for points. The theme is nicely integrated, the artwork pleasant and the rules simple. However, once you’ve explored these things over four or five plays, there’s little to bring a gamer (with no interest in the theme) back to the table. But I’d happily play any time.
- The thinker: There’s nothing here for me. The strategies available are incredibly basic and clear from game one. Movement cards seem to make little to no difference, as you can always get what you want – you may just have to wait a turn. The way the board slowly reveals itself gives a nice tactical element. But that’s not enough to hold my interest.
- The trasher: I can’t think of many titles that have less interaction than the Mariposas board game. However, it has its moments tactically. The revealing of location cards can be of key importance if one of more players are looking for sets. So you may need to leave butterflies in strategic places just in case something useful is revealed. But that’s not enough for me.
- The dabbler: Loved it! It’s gorgeous to look at. And the rulebook has an interesting page of information about monarch butterflies, so there’s a small educational element. The rules are simple to pick up and as its wholly non-aggressive you can play with movement cards open to help teach younger players what to do. It’s the perfect length to hold the attention too, especially with the two scoring rounds that interrupt the game at regular intervals. And the slight variation from the seasonal score cards adds a little wrinkle to each play. A really good family game – but on the ‘once a month or so’ pile, rather than the ‘once a day/week’ one.
For me, production seems to be a recurring issue for AEG games right now. They always get a lot right, but the overall package often falls short. In the Mariposas board game the theme is integrated well and the rulebook has some nice extra info. But why aren’t the flowers named? And if you’re not worried about naming them, why then make some of them hard to distinguish? “Can you pass me a pink one? No, not that pink one…”
Then there’s size. The board is massive, making the game hard to set up so everyone can reach things. There’s a lot of dead space, both on the main board and in the box. Which, like recent AEG release Inner Compass, leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Why not reduce it from full to medium sized, and take a few quid off the price tag/shelf load? Especially as the game has crossover appeal to a wider audience – thanks to both the theme and the success of designer Elizabeth Hargrave’s recent success with Wingspan. Bigger isn’t always better, especially when it pushes the price – and expectations – up.
Mariposas detractors point to a lack of agency and depth of strategy. This isn’t necessarily a valid criticism, as many games lack these traits. But the question seems to be, then: what do you do? The game very much lacks direct competition, so it isn’t a game where the rules get out of the way in order to let you duke it out. Nor does it have elements such as push your luck, as the elements of randomisation are mild in that respect. So no, it is not for everyone. I’d describe it is a pleasant, enjoyable experience. And I don’t see it’s claiming to be anything more. Unlike Wingspan, which took some great mechanisms from great games and made a tedious one out of them (other opinions are available!).
More worrying is that a low player count does weakens one of the game’s two strategies. You’ll either be trying to collect card sets or get butterflies home. With just two players, it is harder to flip as many cards, or as quickly – so the collection strategy is clearly weakened. I’ve found that fixes itself with three players (and feels perfect at four). But why not print a smaller map on the flip side of the board for two players? It’s a genuine problem, as if you take away one of two options to score points you’re not left with much after a few plays. The question then is, are these ‘gamer’ problems? And the answer is probably yes. I can still see families – especially ones in tune with nature – getting a real kick out of Mariposas.
Conclusion: The Mariposas board game
I really looked forward to getting Mariposas. I liked the look, the interesting/different theme and the sound of the race and collection elements. And my first three or four plays bore out that interest and everyone I played with enjoyed the experience. However, in post play discussion, none of the gamers added it to their wish list or could see themselves requesting it later. While equally they’d all be up for another game some time.
But is this a problem for the current ‘one and done’ gamer? Generally, the trend is to briefly explore a game before discarding it for the next shiny new release. So if, over five or six plays, the buyer has enjoyed it – haven’t the designer and publisher given the customer what they wanted? Especially as here, thanks to a strong theme, the game is sure to find a solid family niche of players who will love keeping it on their shelves.
So the Mariposas board game won’t be staying in my collection. It’s a good family/gateway release that I have no problem recommending (and for 3+ players, potentially long term). But its lack of strategic depth isn’t replaced by enough (competition, interaction, push-your-luck etc) to keep this gamer bringing it back to the table.