MARIPOSAS : Butterfly Ragnarok!

My sense of direction is notoriously nasty. One wrong turn, and I suddenly lose track of where I should be heading. My wife would describe me as “a very good highway driver”. 

Given my lack of navigational efficacy, I am completely blown away by the innate skill of the Monarch Butterfly and its migratory journey. After spending each winter in Mexico, tens of millions of monarchs make their way northeast, mating and laying eggs on milkweed plants along the way. Due to their short lifespan, it takes four or five generations of monarchs to make the trip, and they always just seem to know the way. 

What I wouldn’t barter for a bit of the breadth of that beautiful butterfly’s inner compass!

The latest game design from Elizabeth Hargrave is Mariposas, which follows the monarch butterfly on its journey north from Michoacán. Published by AEG, with artwork from Indi Maverick and Matt Paquette. The game’s box suggests a play time of 45 to 75 minutes, handling 2 to 5 players, for ages 14 and up.

HOW TO PLAY IN A NUTSHELL?

Played over three seasons, for a total of 15 turns per person, players will flutter around the board, looking to score points by meeting objectives, collecting metamorphosis cards, and bringing 4th generation butterflies back to Michoacán before the end of the fall season. Each player has a hand of two action cards, from which one will be played each turn. These cards offer some options for moving their butterflies around the board, and the spaces on which each butterfly lands will earn players flower tokens or metamorphosis cards.

If a butterfly lands on a space adjacent to a milkweed icon, that player can reproduce one additional butterfly of the next generation. At the end of the spring season, all 1st generation butterflies die and leave the game, as do the 2nd generation ones at the conclusion of summer. Each season offers a unique goal card, for which players can earn points through board positioning, resource collection, and breeding challenges. At the end of the fall season, everyone will check for bonus points available by collecting complete sets of metamorphosis cards, and whichever player has scored the most points will be declared the winner!

HOW ARE THE COMPONENTS?

While it doesn’t have the feel of a fully deluxified production, the components of Mariposas are beautiful and functional. The tokens, cards and boards are all sturdy and pleasant to handle during the game. Each set of wooden butterfly pieces clearly notes their generation number, along with a screen printed illustration. Personally, I don’t much care for the smaller card sizes used in the game, but I suspect it played a part in keeping this product at an attractive price point. The graphic design of the board is, in my opinion, the highlight of the entire package, with colours bursting out from the black background, a delightful winding score track, and clear indications to help players keep the momentum of the game flowing forward. Overall, a very good component presentation that will make most players extremely happy.

HOW DOES IT SCALE?

At 2 players, the game offers a very quick pace, with almost no downtime between turns. On the other hand, many of the waystations will not be visited, meaning that several metamorphosis cards will likely stay hidden. Higher player counts will reveal more of these tokens, at the cost of a slightly longer game with more time between each turn. While the overall experience doesn’t suffer at any player count, collecting full sets of the metamorphosis cards will likely be a lower priority with fewer players.

WHO IS THIS GAME FOR?

Players looking for a tactical, competitive game that doesn’t require direct confrontation are going to be thrilled with what Mariposas can offer. It’s relatively quick to teach, and generally plays in about an hour, which should appeal to folks wanting a step up in complexity from introductory strategy games like Ticket to Ride. Anyone wanting to own a beautiful game that won’t break the bank will be delighted with this offering. 

WHO IS THIS GAME NOT FOR?

Randomness plays a key role in Mariposas, which may disappoint players looking to execute long-term strategic plans. In addition, anyone desiring a game with high player interaction may want to look elsewhere. The game has a clear audience in mind, and players looking for “gotcha” moments are absolutely not that audience.

PAPA BIG THUMBS CONCLUSION

In addition to being just a really pretty game, Mariposas offers an array of interesting decisions, and will allow players to improve their performance with each subsequent game. Players can craft a flexible plan for their butterfly generations that requires navigating mildly chaotic tactical minefields, and that balance of strategy and chaos is a sweet spot for Papa Big Thumbs. The theme of monarch migration is well integrated – seeing one generation die off so that the next can ascend to glory is fantastic, and inspired me to learn more about their annual journey. Tension within the game rises gently, and the ticking of the clock is very apparent as players race to bring 4th generation butterflies back to Mexico. Overall, this is a game that offers a quiet kind of fun, that Papa Big Thumbs and most of his friends thoroughly enjoyed!

Verdict: TWO BIG THUMBS UP!

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