Mü-ve Over Simplistic Card Games, Mü Has Arrived

Mü is a fantastic trick-based card game originally created by German game designer Frank Nestel in 1995. Since its introduction 15 years ago, Mü has found a following of card game enthusiasts looking for complexity beyond the realms of UNO and other pick-up-and-play games. Don’t let this introduction scare you off, though. With a little patience, you’ll be Mü-ving along in no time. The iPhone version of Mü has recently been developed by House Full Of Games. Before developer Steve Blanding contacted us, we müst admit, we had never heard of Mü. We’re sure happy he did, as now we feel more rounded out in our card game know how.

Traditionally, Mü is played by five players. Gameplay is initiated by a bidding round called an Auction (this is how all successive hands begin). Each player is dealt 12 cards into their hand and chooses one or more cards to bid. This is simply a method of determining the Chief for this hand. The Chief is the player who bids the most cards (regardless of suit or value). Winning the Chief position grants certain privileges along with a fair amount of risk. Therefore, you can decide if you want this position or would rather play it safe. The privilege the Chief assumes is the right to choose the High Trump of the current hand (which will begin immediately after the Auction ends). The Trump can be any number or color. Each hand has two Trumps with the Chief’s Trump choice having more clout. The Chief will also choose his partner for this hand. No other players have partners. The partner simply assists the Chief meet his bidding goal. This is where the risk of being Chief comes in. The Chief has a bidding goal for the hand which awards him and his partner bonuses if they reach it or penalties if they don’t. The bidding goal is a result of the number of cards the Chief bids in the Auction. Winning the Auction with a one-card bid sets the bidding goal at 24 points. Winning with a two-card bid sets it at 27 points and so forth. The bidding goal can substantially award the Chief if he and his partner’s total points this hand meet it. If they don’t meet the required points, it might set him back a fair amount. The only other player who comes out of the Auction with a title is the second highest bidder. This player is titled the Vice and has the power to choose the Low Trump. So, that’s the Auction. It sounds a bit intimidating, but after a few hands you’ll get it. Now, on to the rest of the hand.

Following the Auction, the hand continues with tricks gameplay. Players rotate counterclockwise around the table playing one card that will, hopefully, win that round. Cards rank by number, but if a card matches either of the High or Low Trumps, this increases its rank. A card meeting both the High and Low Trump requirements ranks highest and cannot be beat. Points are based on Pips. Pips are dots on the cards that indicate their value. The highest value a card has is two and the lowest is zero. Once all players have played all of their cards, the hand ends and the scores are tallied. The next hand begins with another Auction. Gamplay continues like this until one player reaches 500 points.

What’s nice about complicated games like this on the iPhone is that, ideally, all the rules can be found in a single tap. Steve Blanding has done a wonderful job utilizing the iPhone interface to make Mü easier to learn. Starting the app for the first time launches a tutorial that explains the basic principles. If that wasn’t enough to get players acclimated, the game includes pop-up tips within gameplay that help when situations arise for the first time. These tips can be disabled at any time. If players still aren’t sure how to proceed during play, Mü includes a Shake-A-Hint feature that automatically suggests a card to play. Just to cover all the bases, Blanding has also incorporated a well laid out How To Play section with the entire Mü rule set. The accelerometer is incorporated in another way too. Tilting the iPhone to the left brings up a bidding goal cheat sheet. A tilt to the right will bring up with current score sheet. Admittedly, we needed to go through all of this material in order to wrap our head around Mü. But now everything is running smooth.

Visually, Mü is handsomely presented. The playing field is viewed top-down on a simple surface upon which your hand and any played cards are displayed. The names of the players are shown by their location. The top of the screen presents the current hand’s Trumps and the Chief’s bidding goal. At the bottom are the information button, a trashcan to end the current game, and a prompt area. The latter is where Mü will display messages indicating game status. All of this is minimally designed to avoid distracting from the game itself. Let’s face it, Mü doesn’t need anything to add to the confusion. We did wish there was some sort of fanfare upon winning a hand. As it is, the hand moves to the next rather routinely. No sounds are included. It would be nice to have a soothing soundtrack like the one found in Durak, but you can play your iPod library before starting the app.

Multiple players (up to six) can compete at Mü via Bluetooth connection. No online connectivity is present, but a Statistics screen shows all the information you would ever want to know about your playing habits and history. The Settings screen allows for customizing the Game Length (500 points is default), Play Speed, and even the skill level of the AI players. Quitting the app will save the current session and restore it later.

It’s obvious that a lot has gone into bringing this cult favorite to the iPhone. We think Mü has all the makings of a winner and we look forward to seeing how it will be received in the App Store. The only thing missing is online connectivity, which would definitely spur a greater following. At the current $2.99 price of admission, Mü is a cheap and deep experience that shouldn’t be missed by any card game fan.

Reiner Knizia’s Money Worth Its Weight In Gold

Reiner Knizia’s Money, another in a long line of Knizia’s games to grace the iDevice, has been released by Skotos Tech and is available from the app store. A card game played with a custom deck designed to look like various forms of currency, Money is easy to learn and addictive as heck.

The game boils down to bidding on and swapping lots of cards in order to acquire a hand of greater value than your opponents. The deck is divided into several currencies, each containing the following values: 20, 20, 20, 30, 30, 30, 40, 50, and 60. Six Chinese coins worth 10 apiece round out the deck. Playing against a random selection of 6 possible AI players, you and the three chosen players are dealt 6 cards apiece, while two lots of 4 cards each are placed in the center of the table. From your hand, you choose any number of cards to bid for one of the lots of cards. The value of the cards you choose becomes your bid. The player with the highest bid gets first choice, swapping his cards for the desired lot. The next highest bidder then chooses from the two available lots. This continues until all players have swapped for a lot. Alternatively, any player could swap for another player’s unplayed bid or simply return his bid to his own hand if the available options are undesirable. After all players have taken their turns, the center lots are refilled to 4 cards each, if necessary. Play continues until all the reserve cards have been dealt out. The player whose final hand value is highest is declared the winner.

Scoring your hand can be a bit confusing at first, but you’ll get the hang of it before long. Each currency is scored on its own, with all scores combining to create your hand score. The face value of each is summed and, if it totals 200 or more, the full value is earned. Anything below 200 is reduced by 100 points, though a currency’s value cannot drop below zero. A bonus of 100 points can be earned for collecting all of the 20’s or all of the 30’s in a given currency. The Chinese coins are worth 10 points each, regardless of the number collected. Your current hand score is automatically totaled and visible at a glance, so you won’t have to worry about accurately totaling your cards. You will need to do some mental math to figure out how each swap move will affect your hand total.

Graphically, the game is pretty clean, with a nice color-coded currency system that helps you to differentiate one from another with little difficulty. The point values are also pretty clear, so you shouldn’t struggle much to figure out exactly what you have. There is no in-game music or sound effects, but you can listen to your music library while playing. Controls are touch-based and easy to use, until you have many cards in your hand. To make your bid, you must tap cards in your hand, which is fine when you have a half-dozen cards. When you are pushing 20 or so, the selection area is quite thin and easy to mis-tap, selecting unintended cards. A pinch-zoom feature would be nice for those times. Otherwise, you tap the bid button when you have made your bid selection, then drag your bid to the cards for which you want to swap. It couldn’t be easier.

Replay value is great, as it’s never the same game twice, and there is plenty of strategy to learn and put into practice. It’s one of the more enjoyable card games we’ve come across in the app store. For $2.99, Reiner Knizia’s Money is a 5-Dimple winner.

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