Home > review > Mogul: absolutely drop-dead brilliant

Mogul: absolutely drop-dead brilliant

the intro

Okay, I’ve been gushing a lot about games lately. I said Jaipur was “pure genius” less than two weeks ago, and now I’m going to be raving about Mogul.

I assure you, however, that I haven’t lost my wits. I’m not exactly sure what it is, or rather why, but I’ve been discovering all sorts of games I really like lately. Yes, I’ve been doing my homework, and I think that has been helping. Partly I think it’s that I’m getting to know better what I like (and so know better what to look for); partly I’ve just been getting lucky.

In the case of Mogul, extremely lucky.

It boggles my mind that Mogul isn’t more widely known than it is. I gather that it was never really released in the states, so that must be it, but this itself is a crime against the gaming world. This game deserves better. This game deserves to be a household word.

Well, that might be stretching it a bit. It’s a great game, but it won’t appeal much to the Monopoly / Sorry / Clue crowd — there’s just too much going on.

It’s one of a very few games that I wish I had designed.

Why is it so good? What amazes me about the game is how Michael Schacht packed so much gameplay into such a humble package. The components are minimalist, the rules are simple, and yet the gaming experience is as rich and as complex as almost any gamer could want.

the components

What comes in the box?  45 gray chips (money), 32 cards (31 share cards and a “crash” card), 6 scoring markers, 6 player identification markers, 1 board (just a scoring track), and a set of instructions.  And really, you could do without the board, the identification markers, and the scoring markers, though they are handy.

One interesting thing about the share cards is that they each have two colors:  the “background” color (which denotes the type of share the card represents) and the border color (which denotes the type of share that can be sold that turn).  We’ll get to the significance of all this in a minute.

the gameplay

A single turn has four phases:

  1. Flip over a new card.
  2. Point payouts.  Any player who owns shares having the same background color as the card that was just flipped up gets one point per share owned.
  3. Auction the card.  When it is their turn in the auction, players either put one chip in to stay in or pass and take all the chips out.
  4. Take appropriate actions. The winner of the auction can choose to either (a) take the share or (b) sell shares (for points, not money) whose background color matches the border color on the card that was just auctioned.  The player who came in second on the auction gets to perform the action that was not chosen by the winner.

selling shares

While the auction is undeniably clever (Schacht pioneered this whole style of auction), the key to the game lies in the fact that the value of a given share is determined by the total number of shares of that color that are currently owned (by any player).  So if Bob has 2 shares, I have 2 shares, and Mary has 1 share, each share is worth 5 points.  If I earn the right to sell shares of that color, I can sell my two shares for 10 points (5 points each).  The value of the remaining shares would drop to 3.  If Bob were then to sell his two shares on the next turn, he would get only 6 points.

the gist

There are a lot of things to keep track of in Mogul, but this is what makes it interesting.  You don’t want to run yourself out of cash, because it can be hard to dig yourself back out of that hole.  You need to keep in mind that it’s the points that ultimately count, not the number of shares you have.  While you do earn points for owning shares of the same color as the card that’s flipped up, you get way more points for selling shares in bulk.  And even once you’ve won an auction, it can be hard to know whether it’s better to take another share or sell, sell, sell.

This game is all about timing:  if you sell too soon, you’re not maximizing your profit; if you sell too late, the bottom will have already dropped out of the market.  It’s all about knowing when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.

Keeping other players poor, of course, is good, too.  :-)

the reprint

Supposedly there’s going to be a reprint of this game that’ll be released in the states sometime this spring by Rio Grande Games.  As it looks like they’ll be making at least a couple changes, however, I’m delighted to have a copy of the original.

the story

So if the game wasn’t released in the states, how did I get a copy of it?  Off eBay, that’s how.  And it was cheap, too:  something like $11 for the game and $8 for shipping for a combined total less than $20.  I consider it money extremely well spent.

Funny story, though.  When the game first arrived, I tore into the wrapping and found to my dismay that they had sent the wrong game!  Something called Greed Quest, of all things.  I was bummed, but I tried to contain my disappointment in the email I sent to the seller:  looks like you sent the wrong game, I’ll send this one back if you want, please send Mogul if you’ve got it, refund if you don’t, blah blah blah.  Then I got to thinking:  I’ll bet they got two orders at about the same time, sent Greed Quest to me and Mogul to someone else.  And I’ll bet they won’t want to fool with the hassle of getting the games back and shipping them out to the right folks, so I’ll probably just get a refund and be stuck with Greed Quest.   I went to bed feeling vaguely disgruntled and out of sorts.  :-(

I woke up the next morning with a desire to make the best of it, so I opened Greed Quest to have a look at the rules.  I found, both to my horror and my delight, MOGUL in all its glory!  Greed Quest had been gutted and used as packing material!

I was a bit embarrassed, of course, and sent the seller a nice email apologizing for being such an idiot.

Ah, well.  I forget who it was, but someone once said that if you can laugh at yourself, you’ll never cease to be amused.  :-)

the verdict

Find it.  Buy it.  Play it often.

  1. June 18, 2011 at 9:02 am

    I’ll be honest. I’ve never even heard of Mogul.

    And that is a funny story about the packaging. My games are usually sent to me in beer boxes!

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