Designer: Elizabeth Hargrave
Time: ~60 minutes
Times played: 3, with review copy provided by AEG
Elizabeth Hargrave is one of the current hot designers in our hobby – it seems like almost every year, one or two names hit it big with a debut game and a strong followup (Recent Exhibit A: Wolfgang Warsch). Most of our readers will be quite familiar with Wingspan, the 2019 Kennerspiel des Jahres winner, a game that has been lauded by gamers and reviewers since its release.
Ms. Hargrave returns this year with another major release, again with a Nature theme – but instead of birds, the focus is now on the Monarch Butterfly. The story of the Monarch Butterfly migration is truly fascinating, and they are the only insect to have a true 2-way migration like birds, moving between Mexico and the both coasts of the US each year. The most amazing part of the story is that the average monarch butterfly only lives two to six weeks – so there’s no way that any single butterfly makes the round trip – and modern science really doesn’t have a proven theory on how the species knows where to go! Well, the exception is that the overwintering butterfly can live for up to 8 months… but this butterfly stays in just one place. If you’re more interested in this, there are numerous webpages that you can surely find via your favorite search engine.
For our purposes today, the story serves as the backdrop to the game. Each player takes control of their own kaleidoscope of butterflies (yes, that’s actually the term for a group of butterflies… though they might also be referred to as a “roost” when nesting in trees). Your kaleidoscope will start the year in Mexico at the start of the game, migrate across North America to spread out in the summer, and then they must return to their winter home by the end of the game.
The board shows a hex map which is labeled with Michoacan in the bottom and US/Canadian cities (Waystations) extending northward. There are 3 seasons in the game, and each is seeded with a goal card. The spring card is revealed at the start of the game. The Summer and Fall cards are covered with some player butterflies (Gen 2 in Summer, Gen 3 in fall). Players take their own color of butterflies and separate their tokens into the four numbered generations; each player also gets a hand of 2 action cards. A smaller lifecycle board is set off to the side – there are three tracks on this board, and each has a special ability token placed at the end of the row.
The game is split into three distinct seasons. Spring, which has 4 turns; Summer that has 5, and Fall which has 6. Turns are taken clockwise around the table, always following the same pattern.
First, play a card from your hand and follow the movement action printed on it. You may end up moving multiple butterflies with your card, you might pick up flowers, you might even be able to copy a card played by yourself or your opponent earlier in the season. There is no limit to the number of butterflies that can be on a space. If you land on a space with a flower, take a matching token. If you land on a Waystation space, collect the item shown on that token. You can never have more than one copy of any waystation item though. Most of the waystation items are life cycle cards, each are worth 1 VP. If you collect a full set of 4 in a color, you then get a special ability as shown on the life cycle board. Other Waystation cards give you bonus move cards – they can be played on any later turn. It can be a little confusing as one variety is played on its own while the other two are meant to be played with a regular movement card.
Second, look to see if you landed next to a Milkweed icon. If so, you can reproduce (place a butterfly of the succeeding generation). There is, of course, a cost for reproduction. Mathematically, for a butterfly of the Nth generation, you must spend N matching flowers or (N+1) unmatched flowers. So, to make a Generation 3 butterfly, you must play either 3 matching flowers or any 4. Note that a Generation 4 butterfly can still “reproduce” though in this final case, it flips over to become a double butterfly marker (still Generation 4). Your initial babies must be taken from the season goal card on the board. Once all players have removed their butterflies from a goal card, it can be flipped over to show what the next goal is.
Finally, you draw back up to 2 cards in your hand. If you have 2 copies of the same card (or 2 cards which copy other cards), you can choose to discard one or both for new ones from the deck.
This process repeats until the end of the current season (number of turns as specified on the board). At the end of Spring and Summer, the goal card is scored, and the player with the fewest points at that time is the start player for the next season. If you still have a later generation butterfly still in your supply, you can place one for free… and then you remove all the butterflies of the older generation from the board. If the next goal card has not already been revealed, do so at this time. At the end of fall, it’s time to end the game with final scoring.
In the final scoring, first score the Fall goal card. Then you score points for the number of Generation 4 butterflies that you have in Michoacan: for 1/2/3/4/5/6/7+ butterflies, you score 3/7/12/17/21/24/+2. Then score 1 point for each waystation life cycle card that you have. The player with the most points wins. Ties broken in favor of the player with the most butterflies in Michoacan.
My thoughts on the game
Mariposas was a delightful find – a great game to play for the first time on a mild summer night on the porch. Amazingly, one of the gamers had managed to find a few caterpillars in his yard earlier in the day – so we were definitely feeling the theme. It would have only been better if we would have had a butterfly come to the table… Maybe I should set out sugar water next time.
I liked the to-and-fro motion of the game. The different goals in the game definitely tend to promote a northeasternly movement of your butterflies, and you’ll have to move pretty far in that direction to score the bonus points. However, watch how far you go – because it’s a LONG way back home to Mexico in the Fall, and there are significant points available if you can get a large part of your kaleidoscope home. There ends up being a significant internal battle in my head with each game – how far do I want to push ahead to score interim points versus staying closer to home and trying to capitalize at the end…
I also have a fight at the end of the first two seasons, and I often want to go ahead and make a baby butterfly in order to be able to have it move where I want it to go (most often to help me score a goal card)… but, on the other hand, I am usually tempted to wait as well as you are able to make a baby for free in the period between seasons, and this way, I can save some of my precious flowers to be used at the start of the next round. There is also a bit of interesting timing around when the goal cards are revealed for the upcoming seasons. Sometimes it helps to make your babies first as you’ll have the best chance to pre-load your movements for the next round of bonuses, though sometimes players may specifically wait on making a baby just to prevent other players from learning what the next goal will be.
The arc of each game can definitely change a bit based on the location of the waystation tokens and the bonuses that arise from getting a full set. There is definitely a bit of variation in the power of the bonuses, but they are all open knowledge at the start of the game and made available to all players, so there are no surprises about them. I tend to go for the waystations, especially if I get the bonus die roll for getting there first… For games where the winning score tends to be 40-50 points, getting a point per life cycle card can really add up!
There is a bit of luck-of-the draw involved with getting the right movement cards at the right time… Early on, I really like the cards that allow me to make multiple stops on a turn so that I can pick up a lot of flowers. In the fall, I love the cards that give 5 moves because that helps me get my butterflies back home… The system of being able to trade in cards when you have a pair or only copy cards is good – if you have a set of cards you don’t want, you can throw them back in – otherwise, you’ll likely have at least one card that does what you want.
In the end, the decisions are easy each turn, though good planning is definitely rewarded. As most turns can end picking up a flower and/or making a baby butterfly, players generally feel as if they are moving forward each turn. Converting your actions into points takes a bit more skill, and again, there is definitely an art into figuring out when you need to start pulling butterflies back to the home base. I liken this to the decision in Dominion where you need to decide when you’re going to stop building your deck and focus on squeezing points into the deck.
The bonus cards from the waystations are a little confusing – but once people remember which ones are played IN ADDITION to a movement card and which one is played IN PLACE of a movement card, it gets better. I wish that this distinction had been made more clear on those green bottomed cards though.
The components are solid, and I really like the plastic containers included in the box to hold the flower tokens as they also are nice to place on the table during the game as in the box for storage. The map is regular sized for TGOO, though the life cycle board seems a bit extraneous. Sure, it’s helpful to have a place where you know you can refer to which bonus goes with which color of card – but it’s kind of a table hog for its limited use otherwise. When we played on a small table, we just stacked each color of life cycle card in a deck and placed the bonus card associated with it just below the deck. Nobody missed a thing.
The rules are a little wordy, but I think everything is in there – so no worries. The iconography, on the other hand, is a bit of a mess. There are a few pages devoted to deciphering the icons used on the cards, and even with all the pictures/words, my group still ended up with a couple of questions or needed clarifications. I’d just be sure that the whole group goes over each goal card as it comes up so that the table can agree on what it means and how it will be scored/adjudicated. Otherwise, all of the needed information is on the board(s) and I like that. The end game scoring is in Mexico, the cost for making butterfly babies in in the upper left corner, and the reminder of the scoring for the life cycle cards is on the bottom of that board. Easy peasy.
Mariposas is a great middle weight game. The beautiful art and nature theme will likely help this game appeal to more than just the hardcore gamers. This is the sort of game I can see as easily in the gift shop of my local park/garden as I can in a gamestore. The game initially felt like it might be unidimensional, but my plays so far have all transpired a bit differently (due to the way the goal and bonus cards coerce you to spread differently) and that has given me a chance to experiment with different strategies; a process which I have really enjoyed.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Lorna: Played once with 2 players. First it plays fine with 2 players since blocking is not part of the game it doesn’t matter how crowded the board is. I thought it was pleasant and enjoyed the challenge of using your cards to maximize position for points.
Brandon: I’ve played Mariposas twice now, once at three players and once at two players, there is little to no difference to be found. I had hoped for some interaction among players, but there really isn’t any, so I imagine the only difference with more players is that some Way Points will possibly be discovered that aren’t at lesser player counts and then fewer flowers being gathered because if you want the way point bonuses, you don’t get to roll the die to gain a flower if you aren’t the first person there. The Seasonal bonus cards kind of set the tempo for the game, and the final stage has been a bit of a let down for me as I play. The Spring bonuses seemingly force you north to start multiplying your butterflies, with a smaller bonus if you have spread them out. Summer bonuses seem to further push you north for bigger points, but then also reward you for multiplying in the middle of the map, so you send one or possibly two butterflies further north and keep others in the middle to multiply. Fall bonuses reward your strays up north with some miniscule points, all while you are desperately trying to get your fourth generations home. So most of that final stage is just concentrated in the southern portion and racing butterflies home as those seem to be the majority of points, up to 27 I believe. Set collection just kind of happens naturally and everyone will have a few points there. The end bonuses here can be pretty big, but you have to manage to explore and move around enough to find the cards. Get two quick red cards and think you may finish that set, well thanks to randomness in setup, those could be all the way around Quebec City while you are sitting in Amarillo, but you’ll never know it unless you go there, risking fewer points. Maybe the game is super balanced and I just haven’t come to grips with that yet. But man, that final season can be kinda boring.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it!
I like it. Dale Y, John P, Lorna, Brandon K
Not for me…