Maori: A four-sided game review

Maori is a tile-laying family game which can be lazily grouped with its more famous cousin Carcassonne – but in truth Günter Burkhardt’s design is quite a different beast. A game only takes about 45 minutes and it works well at all of its player counts, from 2-5 players.

Released in 2009 the game is (at time of writing) currently out of print, but easily available – usually reasonably priced at below £30 – on the secondhand market. It’s a relatively light game in terms of rules, suitable for ages 8+, but a host of variants (included in the rules) create a more challenging experience for hardened players.

While you shouldn’t expect a thematic experience (this is very much an abstract game, in a similar way to Carcassonne, but set in Polynesia) you can expect lovely art from Harald Lieske and Michael Menzel that make the game look great on the table (it has 97 quality cardboard tiles, five double-sided player boards and 36 wooden pieces).

Teaching Maori

In a basic game of Maori, each player has a board with 16 spaces for tiles. Once one player has filled their board, the round ends and the game is scored.

In the centre of the table is a 4×4 grid of face up, randomly drawn tiles. A boat piece is placed on the edge of the grid next to one of tiles.

On a player’s turn they move the boat a number of spaces and then (usually) take a tile, placing it on their player board. The maximum amount of spaces you can move is dictated by the number of ships on your board (you start with two), but this number can be boosted by spending shells (you start with five). You take the tile you finish next to – or you can also spend shells to take a tile further into the grid from your position.

The tile you take needs to match exactly when you place it on your board; and unlike a game such as Carcassonne, most of the more useful tiles (that will give you points or shells) need to be placed the right way up (any shells are taken immediately). In the latter stages of the game you may come unstuck, being unable to use the tiles you can get to. In this case you still have to move the boat, but can do a less efficient action such as placing a tile in your reserve for later use, or ditch one already on your board.

At the end of the game, any unfinished islands on your board are removed – and you then lose one point per empty space on your board. Completed islands score one point per tree on them, or two per tree if they also include a hut. Completed leis (the flower circles) score 10 points (these are the only things in the game that don’t need to match up when placing tiles), while there are bonus points for the players who have the most shells left and the most boats on their tiles.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: Maori was part of a golden era for lighter euro games, but sadly for many newer gamers it and many others have been lost in time. There’s real design elegance here, and loads of interesting choices, in a game that lasts well under an hour. Simple to teach, easy to pick up and good to look at, but with layers of hidden depth to challenge even the smartest gamer. A true classic that, for me, blows Carcassonne out of the water by being tighter and more interesting.
  • The thinker: I soon tired of the base game, but that is just the beginning of what Maori has to offer. Each player can optionally take another ship, this time used on their player board. After they place their first tile this ship is put on it, and subsequent tiles laid must be in a square adjacent to it. There are two options: the player can move the ship as they choose at the end of their turn, or for a harder option they have to place it on the tile just taken. Both offer a much stiffer challenge, while really opening up opportunities for other players to leave you in bad positions for tile selection. The player boards are also double-sided, with a more challenging larger board on the reverse.
  • The trasher: While Maori may look like an innocent euro, much like Carcassonne there are some key ways to screw with your opponents. Especially with two players you can try to control the board, limiting your opponent’s ability to get the pieces they need – or starving them of shells and ships. There are also several volcano tiles, which you can’t use shells to take tiles beyond. If these come out (you can of course make sure you have them in the initial set up, if you want to) they add an extra wrinkle, and tactical element, in terms of the main tile grid.
  • The dabbler: While I prefer the simplest version of the game (the others fry my brain!), I do love the look, simplicity and length of Maori: the colours are so vibrant. I tend to play it quite friendly, not worrying too much about what the next player is going to pick up. Especially with four players, it feels hard to really plan ahead as the boat will have moved so far before your next go – but if the player to your right is mean, you can have a really rough time playing this one! As always, you just need to play with the right people.

Key observations

With a Board Game Geek rating of 6.6 and a ranking of 1,665 (at the time of writing), it’s clear not everyone is as excited about Maori as I am – but I think it’s fair to say average scores have become more generous in recent years (so older games, ranked earlier, suffer).

Some have listed luck as being a problem with the game, some even saying it is worse than Carcassonne in this respect. I can only imagine the majority of these opinions were made after a single play, as a good player will beat a poor one in almost every game of Maori – that’s not luck. As in all good games, here you very much make your own. Sure, sometimes you’ll have a bad game and someone else a lucky one, but this is a 30 minute tile-layer. Surely that’s par for the course?

Some also bemoan the limited variety in tiles, and the lack of flexibility in what you can do with them. While I guess this is a valid complaint from those who like a million options, it is missing the beauty here: the constraints are all part of what is a clever puzzle of a game. You only want so much to think about – it’s not an engine-builder.

Finally, there are several complaints about a poor set of tiles in the 4×4 grid leading to boring decisions and, consequently, a poor experience. I can honestly say I haven’t seen this happen often, and when it does it tends to be a phase of the game – not for the whole thing. And while yes, it can be frustrating, it’s just a different problem to deal with: I’d be surprised if, over several games, many saw this as a deal-breaker – and it’s sad if, on a one-ff play, this had put some people off playing it further.


I first learnt to play Maori back in 2011 and have been enjoying the game (both on the table and online at Yucata) ever since. I always find it a solid hit with more casual gamers, while several of my most gamery friends also list in their favourites lists.

It proved to be one of the first games my partner Sarah fell for, giving it a new lease of life on our table last year, but it has been on my Top 5 games lists since I started them in 2014: so I figured I should get around to giving it the love it deserves. It’s one of those simple, smart games I can never see myself getting rid of and that I’m always happy to play if requested – while often turning to it for newer gamers as well.

My Village: A four-sided game review

My VillageMy Village* is a dice-driven action selection game for two to four players, designed by Inka and Markus Brand as a follow-up to their award winning 2011 design Village.

While many dice follow-ups of popular games are simplified versions of the originals, the same cannot be said here: if anything, this is a little more thinky and complex. But it certainly shares some traits with Village.

Fans of that game will recognise the graveyard and your dying citizens; the church, the traveller, the market and more. But the difference, as the title suggests, is that each player is building their own village rather than all living in the same one.

You should be able to find a copy of My Village for around £25, which is solid value for what you get in the box. You get five small village boards (one central and one for each player), 108 square cards, 100+ wooden bits and cardboard chits, plus 12 dice. As well as the rulebook you’ll also find a scoring notepad – always welcome in a euro game with lots of ways to score points (yes, it’s one of those).


My Village playerWhile this may not be the toughest of euro games to get your head around, My Village is certainly a step up from your average family/gateway game in terms of complexity.

Each round a certain amount of dice will be rolled by the start player, depending on the number of players. In turn order, players will take two of these dice and use them to get one, or several, actions. So the later in turn order you are, the less choice you’ll ultimately get each turn.

All the available actions you can take are marked with a banner, which is either black or white. Some are on your player board, but most are on the various buildings you can take from the central stock and add to your own village. Each banner has a number (or two) on it, showing the dice combination you need to be able to choose that action. If you go black, you can only do one action: if you go white, you can activate every white banner in your village that boasts the corresponding number.

Many actions have a time cost. Your village starts with five residents, but each time you’ve spent enough time to pass the grim reaper on your board one of them dies. They go to a central graveyard on the main board and after a certain amount of villagers die (between all players) the game ends. Other actions will have a cost in gold or resources, which can be collected from your fields, council and craft tiles as you add them.

These concepts are pretty easy to understand, and the theme carries pretty well throughout, but what makes the game a challenge to both play and teach is the sheer number of choices available from the get-go. A rough count suggests that the start player, if rolling a reasonable spread of dice, has close to 20 choices to pick their one action from: pretty daunting, even for experienced players. This does decrease once you start to decide on a strategy, of course.

My Village cardsAnd then there are the subtleties. Many of your victory points go to a holding area which you need to spend an action on to bank – with the ever present threat of a plague taking half of them away.

You also need to consider schooling new citizens to replace your dying ones, as you can’t use areas effectively that don’t have a worker. And don’t forget the white banner combos you can create by taking the right village tiles.

None of these actions or choices are complex, but they are many and varied. So, while My Village is not a ‘hard’ game to teach per se, it’s a hard game to take in all at once and probably needs a good few turns of your first game to truly get a grip of.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: While My Village borrows a lot from its predecessor, it is a very different game. The dice choosing mechanism is simple yet ingenious, forcing you to choose between several poor choices in order to mitigate their randomness – or to risk it and embrace it. Spending an action to become first player can feel like a wasted turn, but so can having to spend gold or resources to mitigate a weak choice; but leaving your fate in the hands of chance in a euro game is only for the very, very brave.
  • The thinker: For me the game has two stages; deciding/executing your strategy, then deciding when you need the game to end to win. There are always two black dice on offer and many white ones; and taking black ones means having to progress time, making it another interesting decision. Players often fear the black dice and more time-heavy actions early on, usually in error; for it is at the end of the game they become a crucial way to hasten, or slow, the end game to your advantage.
  • The trasher: Oh god, I HATE that damned tree! Many victory points you get during the game are placed on the ‘story tree’ on your board during the game. To make them safe you need to do a very boring ‘bank’ action (which can at least be done with any dice combo) – but this itself can only be done after you’ve done an even more boring ‘take 1 coin’ action on a previous turn. But hey, while it might be one of the dullest pairs of actions on the planet the plague itself rocks – and seeing someone lose five or six victory points through it makes up for the boring actions!
  • The dabbler: My Village is a really lovely euro game, both mechanically and thematically, which also plays well within its suggested two hours and is good across all player numbers. But I worry that some newer or younger players will be put off by what can by a very tough first experience. I definitely think it’s worth saying that it’s a tough one at the start of the game, and helping less experienced players as you go through the game (or letting them take moves back) – even at your own expense. It’s so easy to forget some rules – for example, what happens if you don’t have a worker in a particular area.

Key observations

My Village main boardMy Village certainly won’t be for everyone: it is a thinky, sandbox, engine-building euro and that concept will send some gamers running to the hills. If that’s not your bag, you probably won’t have your mind changed here.

At the other end of the scale, some won’t like the lack of direct interaction. Personally I think the choice of dice (you can hate draft sometimes) and rushing/slowing the end game add enough quirks to keep everyone paying attention, but they’re hardly fisticuffs inducing.

There are also questions over possible replay value, as there a limited number of strategies and little to stop you choosing the one you want to go for. But this is similar in games such as Russian Railroads and Lewis & Clarke, both of which continue to find an audience; and My Village has a similarly fluid game length. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the possible overpowered nature of a pure market strategy alluded to by some, but having seen this well beaten on several occasions I’m reserving judgement.

And finally – the Grim Reaper standees are simply awful. It’s only in the box as fluff and would’ve been a bit of fun if it actually stood up to even the lightest of breezes but oh my – terrible. I’m sure it’s just a production error and hopefully it will be fixed in later editions, but how did it not get picked up in the preproduction process? Sloppy.


My Village churchI’ve very much enjoyed my plays of My Village and hope to play more in future – but it won’t be staying in my collection. So how does that work?

Quite simply, I’ve got shelves packed with great euro games and I couldn’t think of one I’d rather get rid of to let this take its place on the shelf. I know some who will disagree, but you can only have so many games – even if they’re all great. And I’m selling it to a friend, so hopefully I’ll get occasional visitation rights.

I would probably rank it, in terms of quality, above some other keepers too: it’s simply down to game time versus collection size and whether I’d play this before Terra Mystica, Caverna, Tzolk’in, Caylus or many other favourites. For me the answer is no, but My Village is still a fantastic euro game that will not be out of place in any game collection. I just can’t wait to retire so I can get more games played…

* I would like to thank Pegasus/Eggertspiele for providing a copy of the game for review.

A new challenge for me to fail: Regular game reviews

I’ve just listened to episode 98 of the Plaid Hat Podcast, in which the guys were joined by Dice tower grand poobah Tom Vasel to discuss reviewing games. It was an interesting listen and the main thing I got out of it was this: get on with it, you idiot.

I’ve done a few game reviews previously and while I didn’t get any negative response, I ran out of steam on doing them pretty quickly. I think this was largely due to the format being a bit uninspiring, so instead of ploughing on with them I’ve decided to try something different.

I’m going to aim at doing three a month, with a more realistic aim of getting 10 done before the end of October. At that point I can reassess things and see where we go from there. Anyway, this is the format I’m planning (with the aim of about 1,000 words per review).


This will be a concise description of the game, listing anything I see as stand-out or original features alongside age, feel, length, player count etc. I’ll then go into talking about the game as I’ve seen it played from four different angles (see below).

The writer

This will be a personal perspective on how I feel the game plays. I’ll list what I see as its strengths and weaknesses, and how I felt during the game, but without coming to an overall conclusion. I see myself mainly as a social euro gamer, but with an open mind to more American style and also abstract games too.

The thinker

I have several friend who play games in a very considered way; this will be an amalgam of how I see their game experience. Whether a chess fan or just a slower, AP prone gamer, they tend to take a long view of a game and head slow and steady towards a well-oiled machine – whether it’s going to get over the line first or not.

The trasher

I also have several friends I regularly play with who are far more strategic than tactical – often the polar opposite of the thinkers. Sometimes they crash and burn or lose interest, while other times they flip a game on its head in a way you’d never see coming and romp to a glorious victory. Their thoughts here.

The dabbler

Finally there’s the dabblers; the folk who love to join in and have fun but that are very much casual players. These guys favour the shorter, less involved games but will still surprise you when the mood takes them. Just because they’re breezy and chatty, doesn’t mean they can’t still throw a mean gaming punch.


I see myself as having a little of all these guys in the way I play. Here I’ll give the game an overall rating from a personal perspective, which will be tempered by those of the other personalities. Hopefully this will lead to a personal review but with a lot of consideration given to more focused styles of gaming.

This little breakdown is as much for me as anyone else! As I had the idea I felt I should write it down, so what better place to reference it than here? Also, by posting this live, it’s going to make me look dumb if I don’t stick to it – which is always added incentive.

Of course l’d love to hear any feedback on the idea, as well as on the first reviews once they go live (I plan to put them up in full here, with teasers over at BoardGameGeek). In fact if I stick with it, I’ll probably make this a ‘page’ (instead of a post) and link them all from here. If I can even do that. We’ll see I guess…