Mijnlieff Review - Drives Your Spellchecker Insane!

Yes I love theme in games, but that doesn't mean every game I like has to have one dripping from every orifice. Some dry games make the cut in my collection and I have a soft spot for straight up abstract strategy games also, just listen to my Onitama review if you want proof! No luck, just a battle of wits usually between two players, but it does take hours and hours and hours to play. You see there's the difference between these "no-luck" 3 hour dry games that many people like and abstract strategy titles. The latter isn't trying to falsely portray a theme when there isn't one and they use simple rules that deliver depth and smooth gameplay.
The longest of these games for me is probably Chess, which I still love, but even that doesn't take forever. A good abstract could be taught in less than a minute and played in less than 5 for all it matters. Does it provide a solid period of entertainment for that time and does it make me want to play it again and again? Because that's another factor. Repeat plays. We can say that we would play Twilight Imperium 3 over and over again, but let's be real you're likely only doing that a few times in your life at best. With abstracts you need to be willing to play it almost constantly so the urge to come back for more must be strong.
Abstracts also tend to be the big surprises for me because they tend to be made by the smaller publishers and even some indie ones. So I don't tend to hear about them until they're put in front of me and then I'm like "oh this is clever, let's play some more". Well this is the poster child for an "out of nowhere" abstract game. I spotted it at the UK Games Expo in 2015 where it won the Best Abstract Award and then never saw it again until I used it in my Abstract Corner gimmick at my club's recent gathering of friends. Don't ask me what this name means, but this is Mijnlieff. . . . . pronounced as "Mine-Leaf"....yeah work that one out!



Designer: Andy Hopwood
Publisher: Hopwood Games (http://www.hopwoodgames.co.uk)
Age: 8+
Players: 2
Time: 5-10 minutes
RRP: £14.99
TIC-TAC-TOE Advanced
The concept is to get more lines of three than one's opponent. However each tile placed controls where the opposing player can make the next move.
There are four types of tiles: Straight, Diagonal, Puller, and Pusher. If one player places a Straight tile, the opposing player can only play on the squares straight across from that tile (whether it’s straight up, down, right, or left). If a player places Puller, the opponent can only play in the squares directly surrounding that tile. The Diagonal tile will only allow the player to place a tile on a square on a diagonal from it. The Pusher tile will block any squares directly around it, forcing the opponent to play on the squares farthest away from that tile.
Each player takes it in turns to place a tile following the individual tile rules. If as the result of clever play someone can't make a move, then the opponent gets another turn. Once a player has placed out all of their tiles, the opponent gets one last move (if a valid one exists) before the game ends.


Carved From Mother Nature Herself

Unless you're completely blind, you're going to first notice that Mijnlieff comes in a pouch bag and not in a box. However this is no cheap pouch, it's thick and good quality with a nice little wooden diamond tag displaying the Mijnlieff logo so unlike some other pouch titles, you'll be able to identify this on the shelf quickly. Even though you could have used a small box, it really doesn't impact negatively on the storage front and if you want a game for travel, it's pretty much perfect with the only limitation being that you'll want a flat surface so be wary on outdoor terrain.
Whatever your position on pouch vs box, you'll be sure to love the tiles within. The four board segments are pretty standard and perhaps maybe a little thin on the wood used, but that's a minor thing. But the tiles are very cool, with custom laser etched designs to illustrate the different effects that each one has on your opponents next move. The graphic design is pretty intuitive to follow to the point where I would expect most people to be able to figure out on their own what each tile does once you've explained how the game works. The simplicity of all these wooden tiles make you wonder if you could simply carve this game out from a tree if you were desperate (albeit with some good knife skills)!
The rules are your typical small fold out booklet, but when I tell you that Mijnlieff is beyond simple to learn and play, I mean what I say. You can teach this in less than a minute and a game should under no circumstances take longer than 10 minutes even with some thinking time allowed for. That all said, the rules are easy to interpret and follow putting this in the same lineup as Pentago and Onitama for gateway level abstracts.

Different Every Time
Another quality of a good abstract is the ease of play combined with the depth of mastery. Playing it quickly is not enough if you can sus out the best way to play in a couple of games. Now Mijnlieff isn't trying to match the likes of Chess or Kamisado, but as a small introduction to abstracts, it does a solid job of warranting repeated plays to master. All your moves in a game are not only based on where your opponent placed their tile, but also what tiles they placed. So you can't really game the system out as there are way too many variables to consider. And all this from a 4 x 4 grid, that's an achievement. Go the next mile and chop and change your initial board layout and the variability goes through the roof.

In terms of the thinking process each turn, it's not enough to burn your brain cells out, making it more comfortable for the casual player, but you can't afford to rush things here. You may only have a few options for where you can place a tile, but it's critically important as to which option you pick. If your opponent gets a drop on you, they've either bested you over time, or you've made a move that's directly benefited them. Kamisado and Onitama have a similar feeling where you know you gave them the move to beat you with. No luck, just a healthy mix of tactics and strategy, but without the headache from a lengthy experience.

Verdict

There's only so much I can say really. Mijnlieff is a simple, yet clever abstract game that entertains you for 5-10 minutes each play. It bares some similarities to games like Kamisado and Onitama where you dictate what the opponent is allowed to do each turn and should you lose, it's your fault. Therefore an experienced player will typically win against a new one, but you can be cracking out a game of this in less than a minute with the simple ruleset.
The laser-etched tiles look cool when laid out giving you that nice tactile feeling though I don't recommend performing a strength test on the board segments, treat them with respect. The default setup will allow for some solid introduction games, but eventually you can adjust them slightly to make some games play out differently. And unlike some other abstract titles, it's perfectly suitable for travel, coming in a nice compact pouch bag and barely taking up any table space at all, though best make sure you have a flat surface.
Mijnlieff may have slipped under the radar for many gamers if you've not being to many local conventions, but if you like abstracts and want something relatively cheap, portable and easy to play, then give this one a look. And if you're really short on space on your shelf, there's always the app version!

YOU WILL LIKE MIJNLIEFF IF: You want a simple abstract game suitable for travel. You like the idea of having a degree of customization in board layouts. YOU WILL NOT LIKE MIJNLIEFF IF: You're looking for something particularly complex. You don't like the game being stored in a pouch as opposed to a small box for stacking.




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