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How I teach the “Mottainai” card game

Remove the metal

First remove all Smith cards a.k.a. blue or metal cards from the deck. The fact that there are two very different ways to craft has consistently been the most confusing. You can bring them back in after one game; you should, actually, because they’re very important to the game’s pace and balance.

And don’t use the expansion when teaching the game.

Covering first

I like to start by giving them one of the player boards, five-actions-side up, and stuff a bunch of random helpers, craft materials, and sales in there, and then looking at the helpers and sales that I happened to randomly flip up for them and then I look through the first couple of cards in the deck to grab a couple of finished works that will suit well to explain covered and non-covered. I’m not talking about what I’m doing at this point, all I’m saying is:

“OK, so this is how the game might look after a while.”

(Also, one of the first things I say, not necessarily right away, I try to look at the pupil and see when I should say it, is that “This part of the card [the finished work] is not necessary to look at once the card has hit the floor”, that we’ll explain them later and so on. I want them to learn to ignore that part of the card for now.)

And then, starting with the helper side, I mention that these are helpers that give you extra actions, and explain how non-covered give you one extra action, covered gives you two extra actions. And I make sure to explain how exceeding your cover takes away the benefit.

I give example after example. Putting in different cards in the Task slot, counting out the number of Tailor actions that would give etc etc. (This simultaneously teaches how Task and Helpers work.) Let’s say it’s a Tailor in that task slot. I add and remove Tailors and Cloth works to explain the covering. Both counting out AND explaining. (For example two tailor helpers and a tailor task I count “one, two-three, four-five” and then I add a tailor helper “but if you then hire another helper, it becomes… [pause, then continue] one, two, three, four.” I explain it over and over again, test them a little bit but also am being OK with it not really sticking completely!. I say they have solidarity with each other, either all of them are covered or none are.

This concept, I’ve found, is one of the hardest part of Mottainai to understand, the fact that cover is all-or-nothing. (Also, by jumping straight into the deep end of the swimming pool like this, I also, “for free”, explain helpers and tasks.)

I explain to sales, contrasting how on the helper side, covered doublifies [trying to use a cutesy nonce word to make it more memorable] the helper actions but on sales being non-covered shuts them off completely. Showing how if you have a Stone work there [again, random, but, I try to make it not Paper because I want to show how higher numbers cover more cards – it’s not one sale per work, a Stone covers three, not just one] it covers up to three stone, but, if there were one more, you’d lose all three. And here I start counting out some example scores – buildings in gallery, buildings in gift shop, covered sales. And if they ask “so non-covered sales are worthless” that’s a perfect time to explain back orders.

This is all a massive info dump at this point! Information comes at a frantic pace and it’s hard to keep up and not everything will stick. Things will be repeated many times with many examples and still they’ll ask questions during the game which is fine.

Helpers give you extra actions, sales give you points. Sometimes I mention Haniwha, sometimes I don’t.

The whole game

My zoomed-out outline is:

The locations

Helpers, gallery, tasks, sales, gift shop, craftbench, floor – and the general flow of cards. “Cards go from here [floor] to here [helpers] or here [craftbench]. From here [craftbench] they can go here [sales].” By starting with covering helpers I automatically raise & answer questions about tasks&actions and why you’d want works built in play. By explaining covered sales I can reinforce-by-contrast how covering/non-covering helpers work, explain the two wings, explain backorders and do example score counting and endgame. Then fill in any gaps I missed, questions that weren’t asked, about how cards go to sales etc.

The actions

For the five actions, and referring to the player’s player board, I make sure to go over crafting and prayer giving an example of crafting and for praying for every single material. Hey, it’s an opportunity for repetition. And “each color’s own unique action”. Paper isn’t great to start with since they don’t use materials but it’s on the top of the list and sales is such an easy action so… IDK, I’m still trying out the order here. Monk and Potter are good to start with too. If I still have the example board laid out with all the helpers that is great at this point.

Turn order

Then we just start the first game! Clear the board, do the starting-player thing and then I explain how you get actions from the other player’s tasks, how returning works, how the waiting area is, the max hand size etc etc. Bringing out the turn order reference cards. I’ll explain this stuff as we go and we are off to already actually playing! Maybe saying it’s a test game and we won’t count the victory for real etc etc. I don’t need to explain waiting area until now usually.

Things to really hammer home

These are the most missed things (after smithing, which is the number one most confusing difference from normal crafting, which is why we remove them for the teaching games).

The fact that it costs one less is kinda hard to get at first. I’ve found it’s better to say “these require two clay material, these require one stone material” etc. 2, 1, 0 rather than “Three but it counts itself”. None of the other rules really depend on it and hopefully I’ve shown plenty of examples.

So many of the rules in this game depend on each other. Covering & helpers & tasks are all interdependent – to understand one of them you also need to understand the other two, and the same goes for covering & sales & work-points & backorders – while other rules are more independent and thus can wait. Handsize, waiting area, the specific actions…