I always thought, that Wan is my friend. But just yesterday, he went around, when Nyi tormented me. I received hit in the nose and Wan saw it, but he did not come to help me. Our eyes met for a moment and I could see him thinking about it, but he eventually went away and I was left there to stand alone against the bouncer. I know now, that our friendship will not be such as it was before.
So this is, what Mat Goceng card game is about. It was authored by Brendan Satria and Rezza Rainaldi. This news was presented at the fair Spiel 2014 in Essen under logo of a small and new company Manikmaya Games. These guys come from Indonesia, which makes this game probably the most exotic, we have ever tested. Perhaps along with African Kiumbes available only in Czech. Behind illustrations is hidden pen of one of the authors: Rezza Rainaldi.
Box is oddly folded and is not made of hard cardboard, as we are used to. But fortunately, this does not matter significantly. On the cover, we can see two main actors: Mat Goceng and Bang Codet. Both threaten each other with their fists and than you will want to get inside the box quickly to hide. It is safe there, because we can hide under rulebook (one sheet A4) with several pages of comics. But this image story is written in original language and so we do not understand its storyline.
A bit lower are cards, that are main element of gameplay. There is 62 cards of skills, six characters and two cards showing interconnection of all characters. Actual figures have not only portrait and name on their cards, but also text (again, in original language). Fortunately, there is also an icon, that clearly conveys to you its capability. Action cards are wearing symbols of two fists – small and large. Inside the box, there are also gold and silver cardboard coins and one token of fist.
At the beginning of the game, players get their characters. Their choice is limited depending on how many of them will participate in the battle. Each of these characters is dealt randomly and this card is placed with image down, so nobody but its owner knows their identity. On the back side of each character card are coffee cups, showing number of lives. Player roatate card with three cups (most) pointing upwards.
Remaining cards are properly shuffled and each opponents receives five in his hand. Rest creates a drawing pile. Everyone will also receive a gold coin and two silver coins to start with. Fist token starts the game in the middle next to deck with cards.
After that, players will take turns, which revolves only around challenges. Indeed, when player´s moment comes, he must call one of the rivals to fist fight. Target of attack can choose, whether he wants to fight or not. But rejection costs two silver coins. If he does not have them, he can not refuse. Otherwise (rejection is successful), challenge is moved to the next player, who is again chosen by striker.
Once he has finally found someone, who wants to fight, turn continues into its second phase. Players alternate with playing cards, creating chain, that is always response to an opponent´s punch. New card must always follow previous one (big fist color has to be the same as small fist on the previous card). Players exchange blows until one of them falls and becomes loser, because he does not have the corresponding card to react.
But in that moment, his cause may not be all lost, because he can ask opponents for help. Any reward can be offered. It is thus a simple negotiation, that can lead to salvation. But this is a big risk for assisting players, because they will have to play their next turn with fewer cards. That is, because the only time players can draw cards back to full strength is at the end of their turn.
Loser of this battle must reduce number of lives by one, turning his card ninety degrees counterclockwise to lesser cups. After that, game continues by turn of other participant. By the time someone has only one life left, he must reveal his identity. Duel ends, when first player is eliminated. Winners are all those, who were able to fulfill tasks of their characters.
Mat Goceng is like playing secret tasks. Each character has a specific quest in battle – either to protect someone or vice versa get someone eliminated. This is the main theme, that permeates the entire game and strongly influences overall impression.
Pivotal point of the gameplay should be not only combat, which is always a question of how good cards you currently have on hand (= luck), but also negotiating skills. But added value in the form of rewards (coins) will not save player and bring him closer to victory. Money have no other meaning, than more bribery. If you are not character, who has being the richest as his personal task. These are two of the six characters and layout ensures, that there will be player with this goal in every game. Eventually, therefore, you can find someone, who can help. But at the same time, you are helping him.
Game still provokes little ambivalent feelings. On the one hand, it is simple and fast, but luck and that above-mentioned special negotiation simply may not be enough motivation to act. On the other hand, is this not precisely the essence of eloquence in a player in need of assistance: to be able to fight for his survival with words?
A much bigger problem remains with luck in combat. Players actually have no chance to read, what their opponent will play or somehow prepare for battle. Of course, there are some cards, that (besides fist) allow to influence rules and look at identity, but this is still not enough.
Even if you want to perform the task, you can hardly plan it. Nobody really knows who is who, and the game does not provide enough evidence for you to be able to guess. Only way are skill cards, but its up to chance, if you get one. And we are back at randomness again. The only ones, that can be revealed are characters collecting money. That does not really matter so much, because no one has task to kill these characters, as you will find easily on the overview chart. Conversely for example Mat Goceng will protect Nyi Kencleng.
Game is completed in some twenty minutes of your time, from minimum of three opponents. But just three rivals are the moment, when game does not work at all. All you need to know identity of one of your rivals and you know everything, you need. This is simply point, where impression of secrets fades away. Its better with four, but if anything, we recommend to play this game with maximum of six opponents.
Mat Goceng is perhaps first card game from Indonesia. So we will not be so strict with it, as if the game came from market, that produces board games on a daily basis. It can be seen, that authors have tried their best and were inspired by right mechanisms. Really good fun is missing something, but certainly is not thoroughly bad. Mat Goceng will draw your attention at least with hidden identities and possibility of more players to win one game. I know, its not much..
Mat Goceng has an interesting idea with boxing, when only a sufficient number of hits reveals true identity of characters. Players, however, can see through each other thanks to skill cards. But they have to be lucky to get them. And the same is true for fist fight, which is purely coincidental and not including anything tactical. In three, you will definitely not have fun, but if you pull these interestingly illustrated cards out in six, finally an average card fun awaits you. Mat Goceng is not as bad as it may look, but at the same time could be much better. Maybe next time. Good luck to Bandung on Java island!