Mottainai Offers Deep Gameplay For $10

Mottainai Mini is a card game for two to three players ages 14 and up from acclaimed designer Carl Chudyk with art by Alanna Cervanak. It plays in 15 to 30 minutes.

Published by Asmadi Games, Mottainai Mini retails for $15 and can be found online for about $10.

A deluxe edition is also available. It contains two decks of cards, which can support up to five players. It has a suggested price of $25 and can be found for $16.25.

In Mottainai, players take on the role of acolytes in a Buddhist temple, creating works of art to display and sell to tourists.

The game is a successor to Chudyk’s award-winning Glory to Rome. Players who are familiar with the previous game will more quickly understand Mottainai, but the game stands on its own.

How it works:

Each player gets five cards to start the game, as well as one card placed face down as that player’s task for the first turn. One card is put in a center pool, called the floor, for each player.

There are five different kinds of cards in different colors, each of which can be used in a number of ways.

They can be used as a task, which each player can play from on his or her turn. They can be used as a helper, which gives players an extra action for a matching task. They can be played to the player’s craft bench, which lets the player craft works for his or her gallery or gift shop, or they can be used as sales, which give players points at the end of the game, provided they are covered by works in the gift shop.

Players can also build the work listed on the card and place it either in the gallery, which gives them extra actions for each matching helper, or in the gift shop, where they allow a player to gain points from sales.

When used as a work, the card also gives a benefit, usually for the rest of the game.

The game ends when a player has built a fifth work in either the gallery or the gift shop, or when the last card is drawn.

Play goes in phases for each player. In the morning, players discard down to five cards. They activate any morning effects from the works they have built. They then choose a task from their hand, if they desire, and discard their previous task to the floor.

In the noon phase, players play their opponent’s task, if the player has one. Then they perform their own task. Or they can pray, drawing a card to their waiting area.

In the night phase, they activate any night effects and draw any cards in their waiting area to their hands.

What drives Mottainai are the tasks.

A clerk lets you move a card from your craft bench to your sales. A monk lets you take a card from the floor and add it as a helper. The tailor lets you return cards and then draw up to five. The potter lets you add a card from the floor to your craft bench. And the smith lets you build a work using cards in your hand.  Any of the actions can be replaced with crafting a work of the same type, but you have to have the cards in your craft bench to do it.

Players get points for all of the works they have built, their covered sales, special effects on some works they’ve built, and backorders, which give players points for cards in their hands if they have the most sales of that type of work.

The player with the most points wins.

If all this sounds complicated, it is. But is it worth learning?

Why you might buy Mottainai:

This is a very deep game in a small, inexpensive package.

While it takes a bit to grasp, the rules are clear and well laid out. They include tips, reminders, and strategy notes throughout. The player reference card explains each action, and it has places to put all the cards, depending on the role you have them playing.

Once you understand the game, everything about it makes sense. There’s a cyclical nature to the way you play your cards, and timing matters. A lot.

The art is beautiful. In keeping with the Japanese theme, it’s minimal and elegant.

Every card has a different ability when it’s built as a work, which means no two games will play the same.

It’s difficult to find a complex game that plays quickly, but Mottainai succeeds.

After a few plays, you’ll feel like you’re just tasting the possibilities of strategy.

Why you might not buy Mottainai:

This game looks cute and easy, and if that’s what you’re expecting, you’ll be frustrated. It’s not easy the first few plays.

While many games overstay their welcome, Mottainai feels like it ends a bit too soon. The rules offer a variant for a longer game, and I think that’s a more satisfying way to play. Just as you’re getting your engine running, the game can end. That’s OK if all the players want to build at the same pace, but the end can be pushed very quickly, leaving other players with unfinished strategies.

You need to be comfortable reading every card, because they’re all different, and it will take awhile to get familiar with the possibilities Mottainai offers.

My conclusions:

I love building an engine and seeing how different cards relate, so Mottainai is a great game for me. I think it’s fun, and I love looking at it.

There is a learning curve, and it’s not the easiest game to teach, so you’ll need patience. But I think it’s absolutely worth learning. The price is amazing, as is the game.

Full disclosure: I got a review copy of Mottainai Mini from Asmadi Games. I wasn’t required to write a positive review. These are my honest opinions.

Consumer Expert Teresa Jackson

I'm a journalist living in Central Oregon. I have two little kids, which for me has meant staying home. And playing board games.

Lots of board games.

I'm also an avid reader and a theology nerd.

You can follow all of my interests and personal quirks on Twitter @teresawjackson and at