Apr 12

Welcome to the Dollhouse – A Review of Matryoshka

 Quick Board Game Reviews That Pack a Punch. No Rules, Just Opinions. 

From the Publisher:WAM Header - 2

Some rare Matryoshkas composed of seven dolls each were spread during the years and ended up distributed randomly among some antique collectors. These collectors arranged a meeting to exchange dolls and try to reassemble the rare Matryoshkas. Obviously each collector wants to leave this meeting with the most valuable collection. But who will succeed?

Matryoshka is played in four rounds. In each round, each player shows a Matryoshka from his hand and all other players make a hidden trade offer. After checking all offers, the player trades his card with another player.

At the end of each round, players must show a part of their collection by placing Matroyshkas in front of them. That way other players know what they’re looking for. The player with the most valuable collection at the end of the game wins.




Matryoshka is a game about influencing players without revealing too much. Every round you lay down an increasing amount of cards, and that will drive the offers you receive. Sure you can try to manipulate and cajole the trades, but say too much and your opponents will know what to keep away from you. The dilemma of hiding, revealing, and saving cards for offers makes for a tense and challenging game.
Matryoshka constantly asks players, “How much is too much?” How much should you let other players know about your collection? Too much will certainly discourage them from offering you what you need. And how much are you willing to trade for what you need? Sometimes it’s worth it to trade a card you know will give someone points if you’re getting points in return. The balance is constantly engaging and exciting.

The three main mechanics in this game (set collection, trading, and hand management) work really well together. The hand management is tougher than it looks. Every round you reveal more information from your hand than the previous one. What you put down says three different things: this is what I have to offer, this is what I am looking to gain, and this is what I am never going to trade to you. The challenge of interpreting that is so fun. I like games that are direct in their intention and execution, and Matryoshka does that in spades.

It’s a bit of a stretch to label Matryoshka as a negotiation game. It’s a set collection game with a helping of hand management, but you’ll be filling your sets through trading, bringing a fun social element to the party. The tableau you reveal at the start of every round says a lot about your schemes. Each round, you’ll disclose more and more of your collection to let others know what you need. Trying to deduce other players’ needs can be tricky, but it’s the trading that makes this game shine. It’s mechanically simple, but rewards players who are able to read the table.

I am not sure a simple card game can be all that thematic. Visually I like seeing numbers represent the smaller to larger dolls, and the colors giving each one a different feel. Although the theme of playing as different collectors trying to reassemble the matryoshka dolls is present, I rarely ever feel that take over my imagination. It’s still feels like an abstract card game with a lovely facade.
The thematic premise here is each player is a collector trying to complete sets of nesting dolls … but I can’t understand why you’d have only a few of a set of nesting dolls. Who is going around buying and selling incomplete matryoshka? Essentially, it’s a “numbers and colors” game -- ten suits of colors numbered 1 through 7. The theme is charming and unique but not necessary.

The folksy Arts and Crafts style of the matryoshka is very comforting to me. The art on the cards mimic it with bright colors and decorative period style borders. What’s unfortunate is that several of the background colors and border graphics are quite similar and can be tough to discern. White Goblin added unique suit symbols to the top of the cards, but they are small and practically unnoticeable. There is a US edition being produced by Terra Nova games that is supposed to rectify it, which is much needed.
Each suit portrays a unique nesting doll illustration, with the 1 being the smallest and the 7 being largest, and each is lovingly illustrated in a manner reminiscent of the folk art typical of these dolls, filled with bright and beautiful patterns. However, I’m not a fan of certain colors and color combinations used on some of these cards. I suspect they may give players with color blindness some difficulty. The current Kickstarter campaign mentions “color adjustments” so hopefully this gets tweaked for the better.

With an MSRP of $25, it is a little pricey, but there is still some value here. It’s easy to teach and learn, and there are plenty of “thinky” challenging moments. I think it also caters to how social you feel like being. If you want to use the card reveal as your communication it works great, but if you want to crank up the social game to 11 then go for it. I think it can adapt to your play group and style just fine. It is a bit of a table hog when trying to display the cards for each round and for scoring, but there is very little criticism I have about Matryoshka.
There’s a lot of fun in a small box here. Matryoshka is a terrific filler that has a place in most collections. The rules are simple that you can use it as a gateway, but the head games will satisfy craftier gamers. I can see this title hitting the table regularly for a while with the folks I game with. It’s currently on Kickstarter for $16 shipped in the US, which is a great price for a fantastic little game. The Kickstarter campaign ends April 18.

I think this game offers plenty of bang for your buck and can easily fill a niche in your collection. This game sits in a “Filler” category, and I tend to rate these on a different scale. Matryoshka is absolutely a “Filler” 6 for me. I wouldn’t hesitate to bring this to a convention or game night.
Matryoshka is one of those games, like Fuji Flush or For Sale, that I’ll be carrying around in my backpack or glove box so, whatever the situation, I can bust out a game at a moment’s notice. Simple to teach, beautifully illustrated, and socially engaging, this one rates a solid 5 for me.
The Dukes of Dice Rating System
1 = Poorly designed but playable. Not necessarily fun.
2 = Game has some merit but has significant detractions.
3 = Game is okay, not exciting. Will play in the right situation.
4 = A good game. Worth playing, just not all the time. Belongs in the Duchy.
5 = A great game, will rarely turn down a play of it.
6 = An all-time favorite that is a contender for the top 10

If you want to connect with us you can find:

Matthew on Twitter as @uncouthtooth or matthew@dukesofdice.com

Matt on Twitter as @matosowalker

Join the discussion in our Board Game Geek Guild on this review HERE


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