The Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the most important and celebrated festivals in Chinese culture all around the world. The most familiar fable that explains this delightful gathering suggests that a sacrificial wife drank an elixir of eternal life to keep it out of the hands of a treacherous bandit. The gods were so impressed by her virtue, she was granted eternal life in the moon. Unfortunately, her loving husband was left behind on earth so, every September, he would commemorate her by making a cake and gazing at her face in the moon.
There are quite a number of variations to this story, as are a whole bunch of other fables that explain a rabbit as well as the old man on the moon. But, the idea is, come September, we sit around drinking tea and eating moon cakes—that have been cut in quarters to be shared—and enjoy the night sky on a cool evening. So while we are at it, why don’t we play a quick game with our food?
As apprentice bakers, will you bake a single-flavored mooncake or go for a Half-n-Half? Some Matcha with some Red Bean paste perhaps? Will your cake have a single salted egg yolk or a double? In Mooncake Master, players create the most delicious mooncakes to satisfy fussy customers who want very, very particular combinations of flavors and fillings!
The game is set up like so:
Mooncake Master is an interactive, simultaneous puzzle of quarter tiles that players put together to form whole mooncakes. Each tile depicts a quarter mooncake in one of three different flavors.
To begin, the tiles are shuffled face down and placed within reach of all players. Each player receives a player guide in their choice of color and a scoring token placed on the scoreboard.
Shuffle the Customer deck and flip one Customer card face-up in view of all players. The object of the game is to bake the most delicious mooncakes and satisfy customers to gain as many Festive Points.
The game takes place over 3 rounds, each round consisting of 4 turns. In each turn, players draw three tiles simultaneously and then choose one tile to keep, one tile to pass to their left and another to pass to their right.
At the end of this drafting phase, each player should receive three tiles, one they drew and chose for themselves and two tiles from players next to them. These three tiles are then used to create mooncakes that will be played on to the table in view of all players.
Players create three mooncakes in each round. Tiles may be placed in any orientation and in any place setting to form whole mooncakes. Whole mooncakes are formed by fitting four quarter-tiles together. At the end of 4 turns, players would have placed 12 tiles; four tiles for each of the three mooncakes made.
Then, mooncakes are scored based on Taste and Customer fulfillment. Whole mooncakes may have only one flavor or consist of a mixture of the three flavors. Single-flavored mooncakes, which are more challenging to complete, award 3 Taste Value points. Mooncakes with two flavors receive 2 Taste Value points and no Taste Value points are awarded for mooncakes with three flavors. Points are also given for any number of whole egg yolks that can be fit into each pastry as well as for each pair of lotus nut and sunflower seed.
The final score is relative to player positions. The player with the highest Taste Value receives 2 Festive Points. The player with the lowest Taste Value receives 0 Festive Points. All other players score 1 Festive Point.
Secondly, players can gain additional Festive Points for completing customer orders. Orders vary by flavor, number of nuts and seeds and whether or not they want egg yolks in their mooncakes. Each order may only be fulfilled by one mooncake. Players with a pastry that meet a customer order receive 1 Festive Point.
After scoring the round, the game is reset. In subsequent rounds, one additional order is added to the customer tableau; two in the second round and three in the third. The game is over after 3 rounds and the player with the most Festive Points wins!
AN AFTER DINNER DELIGHT
This is a quick, light-weight puzzle that our family of four have enjoyed playing over dessert of mooncakes, obviously!
The game has a very low entry barrier based on the simple premise of making complete pastries, out of quarters. The challenges come in keeping their flavor consistent, forming egg yolk wholes out of halves, as well as different combinations of nuts and seeds in each quarter slice. And, it only takes a few rounds to get the hang of scoring Taste Value points.
The Customer Orders cards really take the puzzle to the next level by giving players additional choices of scoring options. Since we play with very young kids, we sometimes chose to leave out the Customer Order cards to keep gameplay simple and consistent.
The simultaneous drafting mechanics means that there is very little downtime. This keeps the game going at a quick clip, which makes this a great filler game for players who are easily distracted. Another check for our family of young gamers.
During the drafting phase, players’ initial decisions will be which tiles best fit their purposes and then of the two tiles left, which would be less favorable for each player next to them. So, there is definitely a potential for some healthy Take-That and Hate drafting dynamics during the game.
When passing tiles, it often got messy and chaotic, that sometimes we lost track of whose tiles were being passed around! Assuming everyone was busy fitting together their mooncakes as they drafted, if each player lays a card to their left and right at the same time, there is bound to be confusion when it is time to pick up one of the two tiles on both left and right. Which tile belongs to whom?
The relative scoring, according to Taste Value to Festival Points, does its job as a catch-up mechanism and keeps the game tight since a more capable player cannot simply run ahead of the pack. Although, it was sometimes a bit more unwieldy than expected for such a quick filler.
The theme obviously makes it an appropriate game to take out whenever September comes around. The artwork and the component quality is par excellence. The tiles are thick and textured, the illustrations detailed and the game box is beautiful to look at, like an actual mooncake box so it sits right at home on the table.
We have a couple of Christmas-themed games that get dusted off every December. And like those, Mooncake Master will get more play when the next Mid-Autumn festival comes around again. I’m immensely proud as a Chinese person that the festival is celebrated once a year and I get to pull out a very beautiful game that celebrates our heritage regularly.