Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Wednesday 30 September 2020

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Mooncake Master

Game: Mooncake Master

Designer: Daryl Chow

Publisher: Origame

Year: 2019

This year the Mooncake Festival (or Mid-Autumn Festival) falls on October 1st. I only know this because I was inspired to research mooncakes and a few other more obscure aspects of Asian culture thanks to a parcel we received from Origame. Origame is a board game publisher from Singapore, which currently publishes designs by Daryl Chow. Daryl has made two games we really enjoy - Overbooked and The Artemis Project and also gave us a demo of the upcoming Plantopia, so it seems that his designs fit pretty well with us.

Mooncake Master first strikes you with its packaging. I know people generally don't like box sleeves, but this particular sleeve feels so thematic, sliding off to reveal the red box with gold lettering that, at least from my Western perspective, makes me think this box is perhaps reminiscent of a real box of mooncakes. Once inside, the cards have a really unique texture too, helping to really give a feeling of quality to the game.


Mooncake Master takes place over three rounds, during each you will be making three mooncakes. The mooncakes themselves are made out of four square tiles which are drafted each turn. Every turn each player will get three mooncake tiles into their hand, they will look at these cards and choose one to keep for themselves before passing one card to the player on their left, and the other to the player on their right. They can then use the three drafted tiles to make cakes, in any way they would like. All three might go into the same cake, or be spread out over all three of your allowed cakes. 
After four turns you will each have three completed cakes, it's time to judge them for flavour and then against any customers who are waiting to be served. Each cake generates taste points for its owner, generating more points for single coloured cakes, pairs of nuts and seeds and complete eggs, while points. The player who's sum of all their cakes has the highest amount of taste points will two points, while second place earns one. Each round will have an increasing number of customers to serve, each with their own demands. A customer may want a cake with only one egg or no nuts. If you can serve a customer you get a bonus point, with three customers to serve in the final round that can cause a big swing. After the third batch of cakes have been made the player with the highest points wins.

Amy's Final Thoughts

Mooncake Master is a quick and easy filler game, the drafting mechanic is perhaps slightly stymied at two, where your single opponent is both the player to your left and right, but nonetheless it works well, giving your opportunities to both aim for your own success or poison your opponent's well. The art on the tiles may be simple but it certainly gets the point across, you instinctively want to get cakes of the same colour and avoid making half eggs, both things with are rewarded when it comes to the flavour ratings. The flavour system itself can be a little confusing at first, but the included player aide quickly clears that up with clear iconography.

A full game of Mooncake Master will be over within 15 minutes, but due to the increasing number of customers that need to be served the game evolves as you play, with the tiles that are considered good altering based on what tiles you already have and what customers are present. Serving a perfect three customers on the final turn is an impressive feat, well worth the three bonus points. However serving customers often means creating less flavourful cakes to keep their strange desires content, which presents you with a risk of losing those precious points for the most flavourful selection. 
All of this creates a game with a fantastic balance of luck and decision making, sure there are times that you desperately need a red tile and don't draw one, but most likely your opponents spotted you needed a red tile and made sure you didn't get it. The art and theme present a feeling of whimsy to the game as you create a horizontal slice of mooncake to serve a nut loving dog in a birthday hat. Ultimately Mooncake Master is one of the best filler games I've played in a long while, getting that perfect balance of luck, fun, decision making and speed that a filler game demands. If you get the chance you should absolutely give Mooncake Master a play.

Fi’s Final Thoughts

Two player drafting can be done in many ways - some successful, and others not at all. In multiplayer games of Mooncake Master, you'll look at 3 cards and hand one to each of your neighbours at the table. At two-players, you'll keep one and hand two to your opponent, which is a whole lot of power to give away to someone else. It's possible to make some clever decisions, and you might not want to pass a perfect pair to your opponent, but the thought processes and player interaction would evidently be even higher for 3+ players.

The key to the game is trying to balance the scoring that is available in every round vs. trying to serve customers. If you're really cunning, you might not bother adding more egg yolks to your mooncakes, in favour of trying to create some perfect mooncakes for your customers. You only need to get the most end of round points for your mooncakes, so there's no point overkilling it if your opponent's mooncakes look a total mess, with half egg yolks, multiple colours etc. I love how obvious it is to see if you're scoring well in the game - it's a great example of blending theme and mechanics.

Mooncake Master is a small and charming game. It has a really simple drafting concept, but it's super effective. The theme really lends itself well to a beautiful game and some very visual gameplay mechanisms. It's a small box and it stands out in our collection, so Mooncake Master is sitting pretty on our shelf.

You Might Like...
  • Mooncake Master has really high quality presentation.
  • A good choice for end of round scoring might be a bad choice for serving customers, which gives you some difficult decisions throughout the game.
  • You naturally have more to think about as the game progresses, which seems perfect for a family weight game.
You Might Not Like...
  • Whilst the game plays very well with two, it's an somewhat different game to a higher player count experience.
  • Point scoring can sometimes get a little one-sided.

The Verdict 
7/10 Mooncake Master is a very simple drafting game, with a very elegant design. The quality of the game is really high and the art design is effective. The complexity of the challenge increases with each round, making the game very accessible too. The two-player game is quite different to how the game would play with more players and we're adding Mooncake Master to our shelves in the hope of playing with more people soon.

Mooncake Master was a review copy kindly provided to us by Origame.

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