Publisher: Rio Grande Games
I can’t believe I am thinking of Little Caesars right now (Photo credits: Nathan Morse @BGG and Ketty@BGG)
I have held on to Mamma Mia! and Sole Mio! for a while now and while I have played a lot of Mamma Mia!, I have just recently only played Sole Mio! It’s about time I wrote my impressions for both games. What better place to start than with Uwe Rosenberg’s underrated classic. This is not a classic in the normal sense as I don’t think this game is that popular, but it is nonetheless embraced as one of Rosenberg’s earliest hits right after the heels of Bohnanza which was published two years prior. Why do I still enjoy this 20 year old game? Read on…
In an era of highly individualized tableaus, engine building monstrosities and non-interactive solo optimization puzzles (of which I think Rosenberg himself is guilty of all three), Mamma Mia! and Sole Mio! is a throwback to the innocent days where a simple card game which lasts for 20 minutes can draw you and your friends for some lighthearted fun and laughs. This is not to say that other simple card games have disappeared from our repertoire, but there is just something naive about the way Mamma Mia! was designed and is played. It is unique and novel in my collection. First of all, it spots a mechanism that is almost extinct in the adult board gaming world: memory. That’s right, players have to expand their brain cells to see if they remember which pizza ingredients have been played, how many are left over to fulfill their own pizza orders. The game is simple: players play cards face down in one central pile at the middle of the table. Cards are either single or double pizza toppings (double ingredients found only in Sole Mio!) or pizza orders. All players have their own deck of semi-unique pizza orders to draw from, but the pizza ingredients come from a common deck. When you play pizza ingredients, you can either play a single ingredient or multiple ingredients of the same type face down to the middle pile. Importantly, one MUST announce how many ingredients are placed in the stack. In lieu of ingredients, one can also place a pizza order in the same face-down common pile. To replenish cards in your hand, one can draw new pizza orders or ingredients but not from both decks in the same turn. In that way, you can always get more ingredients or pizza orders in your hand. Once the ingredient draw deck is depleted, the round is over and the fun starts.
The person who is the chef gets to pick up the central pile of cards, flip them over and start revealing the cards one by one. Ingredients of the same kind are placed in the same row and this is done until the first pizza order is revealed. If there are enough ingredients to fulfill the order with the ingredients on display, then the order is considered fulfilled and the card is returned to the player who placed the order. Players are allowed to use additional cards from their hands to make up for any shortage of ingredients. Used ingredients are then removed from the display into the discard pile. In this way, ingredients and orders are continuously revealed and orders are either fulfilled for points or if unfulfilled, the orders are returned to the owner’s deck. The discards are then shuffled and the game goes for two rounds before players tally up all their fulfilled orders. The winner is the player who fulfilled the most number of pizza orders. That’s basically the gist for Mamma Mia!
For Sole Mio! there are cards with double ingredients and the orders become fancier. Now, you can also ask for help from other players to fulfill orders. If you get the help, the helper gets to fulfill a random order drawn from the deck. So, think twice before enlisting help! It certainly benefit others to extend a helping hand. There are also some weird pizza orders in Sole Mio! which really requires a certain amount of familiarity for smoother play. I have to admit that some of the orders were pretty bewildering and not really explained with any text on the cards. It’s just a bunch of icons and I had to frequently consult the rule sheet which really disrupted play. However, I am sure after a few plays, the icons and pizza orders will become more familiar. For instance, there is one pizza order which requires you to use a random amount of ingredients based on how many similar ingredients are held by other players in their hands. Say if the pizza order comes out and the special ingredient is pepperoni, the number of pepperoni to fulfill the order depends on how many total pepperoni ingredient cards are held by other other players. Pretty crazy order if you ask me.
I love Mamma Mia! even though the game requires the dreaded memory mechanism. The thing is, the memory aspect is not really that big of a deal because it depends not only on your memory but of other players. If they miscalculate and their orders fail, then you could take advantage of the additional ingredients left behind by other players. However, knowing whether they miscalculate requires you to also pay attention to who played what orders. That is pretty challenging and while the memory aspect is important to play the game well, I am not so sure you really need to be that precise with this game. I certainly would hate for someone to sit there and stare at the deck, counting cards. Kinda, defeats the spirit of the game. This is after all, a very light game.
Mamma Mia! and Sole Mio! can be combined for a larger and longer game and indeed, I believe there is a reprint that features both decks in one package. I have never played with the combined deck before, so I can’t tell how good the game is. I believe that the game is fine with just a single deck, but if you want to fulfill crazy pizza orders, then combining both games could be more challenging. Certainly, I would consider doing it with higher player counts so that the game is meatier.
Mamma Mia! is a swift, cute, delightful and most importantly, different from any other card game I own. It’s true that the game is probably less strategic and more lighthearted compared to say, High Society, No Thanks or most trick-taking card game out there, but I feel that Mamma Mia! and Sole Mio! deserves to be a regular in any filler rotation. I only wish that players recognize the uniqueness of this game and embrace the haphazard pizza making process that is Mamma Mia! (and Sole Mio!).
Initial impressions: Good