In this week’s issue of The Robot Plays, I want to talk about a game that found its way onto my table only after it found its way into my backpack for a long weekend getaway: Mint Works by Five24 Labs!
I mention the weekend getaway because this is one of the things I love most about Mint Works – it’s literally small enough to fit into your pocket. You can take it anywhere, even on a hiking trip where size and weight are a big concern. The game’s packaging is meant to mimic a tin of mints, and the entire visual design follows suit brilliantly. When you open up the tin, you quickly discover that the game’s components (all neatly tucked inside) are nothing more than a few cards with crisp, clean artwork and some little round white tokens that look just like breath mints.
This stark minimalism carries through every aspect of the game, not just in its visual design, but also in its gameplay as well.
At first, I was a bit worried that the whole ‘less is more, refreshingly minty’ theme would be nothing more than a gimmick, but I was wrong! The game plays incredibly smoothly, and yet it doesn’t lack in substance at all. It is–as the lid of the tin purports–a worker placement game. The beauty of Mint Works (aside from the compact size) is its adherence to the core gameplay element that makes it great: It’s a worker placement game. Nothing more, nothing less. The mechanics are so stripped down that it not only allows for such a small box, but it also allows the game to serve as a paragon for everything that makes worker placement games fun.
Gone are the fiddly punch-out tokens that take ten years to set up. Gone are the decks upon decks of cards that ultimately wind up cascading to the floor after someone mistakenly moves their arm across the table. Gone is the giant folding board that requires a new dining room table to even set up. Gone are the mechanics jammed onto other mechanics that turn the game into a Rube Goldberg machine of placing tiles to earn resources to spend resources to build engines to earn sets of cards to control territory to etc, etc, etc. Instead, Mint Works is simple. Use workers (mints) to either get more workers, or build buildings. Building better buildings earns you more points. That’s pretty much it.
There are six main location cards that serve as spaces on which to place workers (plus some “Advanced” locations that can be randomly added to the game). As you can see just by looking at the rule text, the choices presented are simple, yet meaningful. Players are faced with the core conundrum: Do I use my turn to get more mints? Or do I use the mints that I have now to snatch up one of the better building cards… perhaps allowing my opponents to grab the better mint-earning spots?
The “Plan” cards (which must first be gained from placing mints onto the Supplier card or Lotto card) can be built into Buildings which earn points, and gain other userful bonuses as well.
Buildings come in one of four varieties: Culture, Production, Utility, and Deed. You can probably tell by looking at the picture above that each variety has a different theme. Culture (green) Buildings generally get better as the game progresses; Production (red) Buildings generally give you more mints; Utility (orange) Buildings generally give you a bonus when you place your mints on action spaces; and Deed (blue) Buildings give you ownership of one of the two Deed Location cards on the main game space – the Lotto or the Wholesaler – thus earning you mints whenever any player uses those spaces.
Mint Works is proof that sticking to a core mechanic and just doing it really, really well is enough to make an amazing game. Strategy doesn’t come from tacking on more mechanics; it comes from tight game design.
As if I couldn’t gush enough about this game… it also has a solitaire mode! Mint Works can be played solo, and while I haven’t given it a go as of writing this post, I’m going to see how it plays this weekend. Just the fact that the designer included a solo play mode speaks volumes to his dedication to making sure Mint Works is as fun as it can be, to as many gamers as possible. Now that’s refreshing!
Until next time, gang. Keep it plucky,