These games owe their existence to Anno Domini. In Anno Domini, players must put events in correct chronological order. These games add another dimension: cities and locations must be put in correct geographical order. There’s a starting city and the rest will be played on the north-south or east-west axis related to that city.
So, let’s say you start with Tampere. I then get a city, and must place it north, south, east or west of Tampere. If someone thinks I’ve made a mistake, they can turn over the cards and check. The player who’s wrong pays a point to the one who’s correct, and wrongly played cards are removed. Then it’s next player, who gets a card and must place it on the board. Again, it must be placed relative to Tampere so that all cards form a cross on the board (not a matrix, that would be unnecessarily complicated), but of course the new card can be placed between two cards already in play.
This goes on for 15 cards, then there’s a “Intermezzo” phase where everybody must guess how many cards are placed incorrectly. Guess right and you’ll earn two points, otherwise the closest guess will get one point. The game is reset and new starting city is chosen. This is repeated three times and then it’s game over.
It’s all very simple and entertaining. This is a family game, so player without points isn’t eliminated, they just don’t pay (recipient gets the points from the pool in that case). The whole ordeal takes about 20 minutes or so. The game uses 45 cards each time and there are about 200 cards included in the game, so it’s not likely to get repetitive soon.
We played the game last Thursday and while everybody wasn’t quite as eager to play, I dare say we all had fun. The whole “I doubt you” element is of course familiar and definitely a good one, as it encourages bluffing and table talk. It also encourages interesting play, as often one axis is trickier than the other — everybody knows that Kolari is north from Helsinki, way north, but how about the east-west direction? It’s far less obvious.
There are obvious problems with the game, as it’s a fairly pure trivia game. If one player is worse than others, the player sitting on his left will triumph as she gets the first call on his mistakes. If one players is much better than the others, victory should be easy.
The first problem can be fixed, sort of, by replacing the rigid turn order with free order to doubt — the first to call it gets it — but large disparities in skill will cause the game to fail in any case. The game is certainly much better when everybody is equally skilled in Finnish geography (of course, if the players know different parts of Finland well — as is often the case in university circles where I play most of my games — that just makes the game better).
Miksi juuri Mäntsälä…? is an educational, yet entertaining game. It has an instant charm I like, the game is easy to play and fun. It is also very good choice to offer for casual gamers and I think the game is more captivating than many people might think — the game is more fun than it sounds like.