Tussie Mussie is avialable on Kickstarter until 6/8/19
Full disclosure: Tussie Mussie won a design contest in which I participated. My game was far, far worse.
I love the idea of creativity within boundaries. I suspect it’s because too much freedom intimidates me. The blank page, the big idea–they leave me with crippling inaction. This might be why I find the idea of microgames so fascinating. While I don’t play them particularly often, and I’ve certainly seen my share of relatively dull examples, the idea of designing around such a restrictive boundary (only 18 cards!) seems rife with possibility. When you can’t use so much of what is normally available in game design, how do you rethink what’s possible with the lowly card?
Button Shy gives people ample opportunity to explore those design challenges by almost exclusively publishing microgames. They’ve published the best microgame I’ve ever played as well as more mediocre fare. But Tussie Mussie is the first microgame I’ve played that I genuinely wished was larger.
The credentials couldn’t be better. We get a design from Elizabeth Hargrave, perhaps the most talked about board game designer of 2019 after the runaway success of Wingspan, and art from the ever-reliable Beth Sobel. The game looks great and the design works, but every time I play I come out of the game feeling somewhat underwhelmed.
Tussie Mussie is a set-collection, “I split, you choose” style game about Victorian flower languages. Apparently people used to assign meaning to different flowers so you could send a bouquet communicating the precise nature your affection (or disaffection–watch out for those Marigolds). This idea seems ridiculous for about as long as it takes for you to remember that emojis exist.
On your turn you’ll draw two cards and make a simple decision: choose one to place face up and one to place face down. Then the person to your left picks one of those cards to keep. You get the remaining card. Repeat until everyone has 4 cards in their display and tally points. It’s simple, but simplicity isn’t necessarily a sign of forgettable gameplay. I tend to prefer dense, narrative-creating games, but games should be as simple as they need to be. Too many designs I’ve seen, especially from relatively new designers, are needlessly complicated. Tussie Mussie does not fall into that trap.
Instead, is a prime example of a game that orbits around conceptually interesting decision making that experientially falls a bit flat. The decision of what to place face up contains a number of different elements: will my opponent think I’m the kind of person who will try to hide the card I want? If there’s a card I prefer, is the other card something my opponent is likely to grab if they see it? Or should I display that card to trick them into thinking I’m hiding something even better?
On the other side of the equation, you have to evaluate what kind of player is offering you cards: is the card you can see unappealing because they had a selection of two bad cards and they want to try to trick you into choosing the worse one? How much do you factor in what you know about your opponent’s tableau, or what they know about your tableau? Do I deliberately take a face down card when presented with something decent to hide information from my opponents?
These kinds of questions should result in decision making that’s somewhat tense, but in practice it all feels a bit rote. There’s very little significant crossover synergy, so if you’re, for instance, getting points for every pink card, you’re not going to have any direct competition over pink cards. Maybe the person next to you wants cards without hearts, and there’s a pink card without a heart, but that’s not such a big deal. Often it means that you and the person you’re splitting and choosing with want different cards, and you’re just trying to pick the one that’s best for you.
The fact that you’re only going to end up with four cards means that every card is extremely significant, making the impact of randomness more severe. Getting dud options on one turn is a quarter of your potential score for that round. Hitting a synergy-creator (“+1 point for each X card”) on your first turn feels like a jackpot.
Compare this to Hanamikoji, another small split/choose game, but one with significantly more tension. It’s two player only, which means that anything that harms your opponent helps you proportionately. Information is easier to track–it’s just numbers instead of 18 different abilities. Combine this with area control and you have a game that feels like a genuine struggle of wits. I’m struggling to find any comparable descriptions for Tussie Mussie. I played it. It was competent. I didn’t dislike playing it. I was amused when I read what the different flowers meant (read them aloud as you play the cards, the rules suggest). I moved on.
Of course, the theme and purpose of Hanamikoji and Tussie Mussie couldn’t be more different. The latter doesn’t want to be tense or grueling. It wants to feel like a parlor game that one might have played back in the day in between bouquet messages; something to do while conversing. Maybe without the 18 card limitation it could have succeeded better. Right now I get no momentum from the game. You make a couple of decisions and it’s suddenly over. The rules instruct you to play three rounds before declaring a winner, but there’s no reason that couldn’t be 2 or 4 or even more rounds.
Tussie Mussie is lovely, yes, but lacking in substance. As a distraction or a conversation piece it works fine. I can see many groups regularly pulling this out as an inoffensive gaming amuse bouche, though I’d choose many others before it. The cards are gorgeous but the experience is too slight. It’s a petal on the wind among a sea of flowers.
Review copy provided by publisher.
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-Too breezy–decisions aren’t interesting enough
Length: 15 Minutes
Learning Curve: 1/5
Brain Burn: 1/5