Matcha card game: A four-sided review

The Matcha card game was released back in 2015, but was rereleased in 2021 by publisher Matagot. The new version has a slight rules update, as well as a few component tweaks. It’s a light card game for two players that lasts 15-20 minutes. It’s advertised for ages 10+, but gamer kids of eight would have no problems with it.

Matcha (a Japanese style of green tea, fact fans) has a purely pasted on geisha theme. I know some find it a problematic theme. But personally I think they’ve done a great job with the artwork and iconography, which all works well.

In the box you’ll find 18 cards (yup, it’s microgame – remember those?), two pointless storage cards, three card-sized game boards and 34 cardboard tokens. Looking at comparison site Board Game Prices, you can find it for around £10 – which is a reasonable price for the quality of components. Overall, it’s a smart little package.

Teaching the Matcha card game

During setup, the three mini boards are placed between the two players. Each board has space for two cards, meaning you’ll end up with six cards in a row. You shuffle the main deck of sixteen cards and deal six into these spaces, face up. This deck consists of four cards (numbered one to four) in each of four suits. Now shuffle in the two other cards, both marked as a zero, and deal five cards to each player. The other two (secret) cards are put aside.

The two spaces on each mini board either highlight numbers or suits. You’ll need to best match the card in that space for the right one to ‘win’ the matchup. So if a red four is on the number side of a mini board, you’ll need to play a four into that space to have a chance of winning. If you both play a four, it goes to a suit match off. These are graded clearly on the cards, with a wraparound mechanism (so, the ‘best’ suit can be beaten by the worst one).

For example, if you are battling over a green card and one player plays the four, they would beat a green three or green two – but lose to the green one. Whereas the green two or green three would’ve beaten the green one. The suit hierarchy is clearly marked on all the cards and boards. Winning means taking a token of the colour of the card you battled for.

The clever bit

If neither of you matched the card, you both lose out. However, if one of you matched (so winning the coloured token) and the other player didn’t match, they win a consolation ‘tea whisk’ token. The zero cards cannot win a hand, but do count for getting a whisk.

The eagle-eyed among you probably noticed you’re dealt five cards, but there are six to battle over each time. What you do is battle for two cards at a time, taking turns to place a card (face down) on your side next to either card on the current mini board. But once each round you have to pass on one of them, leaving it open. In this instance, the other player will automatically win it – and even better for them, not have to reveal the card they placed there. Otherwise, you flip your cards simultaneously to see who has won.

The game ends immediately if one player gets three same-coloured tokens, four whisks, or one of each of the five token types. Or if you play two full rounds (so, competing for a total of 12 cards). In this case, most tokens of the best type wins (green, red etc).

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 do like a clever little card game, and Matcha is just that. And this is a beautifully packaged little product. However, I need to ask myself – once this little box hits my gaming shelves, will it ever come off again? Clever alone isn’t enough, even if it’s pretty. For me, I’m not sure there is enough strategy to keep it hitting the table, compared to games such as Schotten Totten. And not enough bluff, fun and shenanigans to put it ahead of Kompromat or Hanamikoji.
  • The thinker: This was an intriguing play for the first few games, but I can’t help thinking I’ve solved it now. I don’t lose, anyhow. Not that I mind winning. But I don’t really feel I have many choices – because there is usually a ‘right’ card to play. Fun for five games, but I’m done with it now.
  • The trasher: I like the Matcha card game. It has a proper one-on-one feel, as you battle to get over the winning line in one of three ways. There are only two cards out of each round, so you can be quite confident what the other player has – but not totally. And even if you think you know what they have, will they try and win the ones you think they can win – or will they deliberately bluff and mismatch for whisks? A solid filler in a small package.
  • The dabbler: Pretty! I quite enjoyed it and will happily play again. It took a couple of plays for the rules to go in, despite the simplicity. I think because it does things slightly differently to what you’re expecting. But that’s a good thing! However it didn’t quite have enough personality in the play to really grab me. It’s a thinky game, not a raucous one.

Key observations

There’s a long debate over on Board Game Geek about whether the Matcha card game is solvable. If you do read the thread, ignore the first few posts (from 2015) about the ‘whisk’ strategy. This was addressed in this version from Matagot. However, there is clearly a big difference of opinion on replayability. Does the low amount of hidden information – and luck of the draw – decide the game for two skilled players?

The crux of the issue is guaranteed wins. Both players should be able to get a similar amount of whisks by playing well. But one player is likely to get more guaranteed win cards than the other. So one player is usually going to have a clear advantage. And there isn’t enough room for bluff to compensate for this, due to the lack of hidden information. If you don’t have a card, you have to assume your opponent will have it – as the odds are, they will. Which means there isn’t more than one way to play. All that said, I think you have to have a certain kind of mathematical mind to work this out.

So, if you’re still with me, how does it stack against the competition? I’d reach for one of the games mentioned above before this. But can you have too many smart little card games? They’re the life blood of many a collection and, despite the naysayers, I do think this is going to (and already does) make a lot of gamer couples very happy. It has as many high rating as bad ones. While splitting the audience, it certainly has a fanbase.

Conclusion: The Matcha card game

As may have become apparent, I’m on the fence when it comes to Matcha. I’ve enjoyed five plays of it, which have taken me from baffled to getting it to being a little suspicious of it. I’m confident that, if I played it more, I’d continue to get enjoyment out of it. But equally, it’s a few games down the pecking order in its genre for me – and it’s not my favourite genre. So while I’d recommend players of small card games check it out, it won’t be staying in my collection.

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