One game that came out over Christmas was Mandarin, a game I haven’t seen before and one that appears to now be out of print, but it’s quite a nice little game (that comes in a rather large box).

Up to five people can play, each of whom gets a coloured mandarin playing piece that travels around a circular board. Depending on where the piece lands, the player can either draw some money or use the dispenser.

The dispenser dispenses tiles and the aim of the game is to collect tiles — either one tile of each of the 12 animals representing the signs of the Chinese zodiac, or all six tiles of a single animal. Tiles are ejected randomly from the dispenser either face up or face down — and this is where the fun begins.

The first tile is free and the player can choose to keep it or risk it. If they keep it (and this is the only option if the tile comes out face up), they take the tile and their turn ends. If the tile comes out face down, the player can choose to risk it and eject another tile, and can keep on ejecting tiles until either they decide to stop and take what’s been ejected or a tile comes out face up.

If a tile comes out face up, all players can start bidding for the ejected tiles.

Of course, when the bidding starts, you know the colour and animal of one tile, so it is necessary to try to figure out which animals are on the face down tiles. This is helped by the use of collection cards of which each player has one, and which have a place for every tile. These allow every player to see both how close each of the other players are to completing a set and exactly what tiles have been dispensed so far.

Early on, this doesn’t matter so much, but as the games progressed judging which collection of tiles are worth bidding for, and how high you are willing to bid, is what makes the difference between winning and losing.

I only had one real quibble with the game, and that was with keeping track of who controlled which animal. When someone gains three or more tiles for a single animal, they are deemed to be in control of the three spaces on the board associated with that animal and can charge a tax when other players land on those spaces. The problem is that, with nothing on the board to indicate ownership, it is easy to miss that you owe taxes when you land in the sector. We resolved this a couple of times by simply abandoning the control and tax rule but a visual marker of some type would have been nice.

All in all, Mandarin proved to be a surprisingly fun bidding game and one that the kids came back to several times. If it wasn’t for the fact that it appears to be no longer in print, I would certainly be adding it to our family games collection.