Two galleons approach in the night. The prudent thing to do would be to pass and forget this encounter ever occurred. Pirates, however, are not known for their forethought. Ready your arms! Man the cannons! Only one ship will emerge victorious. Alien invasions are hard work. It's not something one just rushes into. It requires research and planning. In practical terms, this means scouts. And what better way to train scouts than a little friendly competition? Bovine abduction, crop circles and mind reading are And both of these experiences fit in the palm of your hand.
The goal in Mint Tin Pirates, is simple: eliminate the enemy. This is done by either sinking the opposing ship or dispatching their crew. Your own ship starts with a crew of three pirates and a hull capable of sustaining four cannon shots. And though battle is it's special form of chaos, pirates have just enough discipline to take turns in this fight for survival.
You start with hand of cards representing attacks you can unleash on your opponent. But before you do so, you have the choice of discarding up to two cards and replacing them with (hopefully better) cards from a draw pile.
In order or unleash an attack, you play two matching cards and roll a pair of dice to see if that attack is successful. Attacks are only successful if you roll a number listed on the bottom of the pair of cards you just played. Some attacks have a higher chance of being successful than other, making them more valuable.
In order to up your chances of getting a pair in your hand, you have the option of discarding up to two cards at the beginning of your turn and replace them with cards drawn from the common deck. How many cards do you discard? Which ones do you discard? This really is the main decision in the game. Unfortunately, it's not really a compelling one. The choice is almost always obvious. There's no hemming and hawing. There's very little at stake. There's no real reason to hold on to the attacks with low odds. And if you have the option of playing two different attacks, you should always play the attack with higher odds. Playing a cannon attack, for example, has the highest odds, is the only attack that damages the hull of the enemy and eliminates one of their crew. There's no downside at all to choosing it over another attack you have available. It's a less common attack, for sure, but one you have it your choice is wrote.
The game does a great job of giving you information regarding the the odds of the attack being successful and how often the attack will be drawn. It's clear, concise and well presented, but ultimately unnecessary.
Mint Tin Pirates is a simple game, in execution and strategy. But there are a couple of wrinkles of complexity that arise and I'm not sure why they are there. The first occurs whenever you roll doubles. By doing so, you are awarded gold represented by a gold cube which increases your hand size by one. Also, the first player who loses all their pirates, continues battling but with a ghost pirate and reduced hand size. Both events aren't the result of player decision, they just happen and I can't figure out why. They don't add any strategic depth or thematic storytelling. They're just there and they're things you have to remember happen. For every bit of complexity a game offers, I feel it has to reward the players with something to sink their teeth into. But these bits don't alter the way I play, they don't color the experience and they don't broaden my decision space. They're just there.
In contrast to Mint Tin Pirates, Mint Tin Aliens is much less about confrontation and is instead centered on competition. As an alien scout, you must complete the most valuable tasks before your opponent and claim victory as the scoutiest alien invader.
You begin with a hand of cards and a ten sided die with the 9 facing up. You then draw two cards and add them to your deck. You can either chose to draw from the top of the deck or from the revealed cards in the center of the play area.
Then, if possible, you will complete one of the tasks by playing the appropriate number of matching cards. To complete the crop circle task, you need to play two crop circle cards whereas the mind control tasks requires four mind control cards. Accordingly, tasks that require less cards are worth less points for determining the victor.
It's not a wholly original system and has been featured in some fairly high profile games. Mint Tin Aliens distills it to it's purest form. And I'm not knocking it for being derivative. Good games are often built upon ideas that have proven successful in the past. But it is probably of note that this system is usually found within the confines of a larger game. I've never experienced it on it's own like I have here. And it's probably because it's not enough to carry a whole game experience even one as short is Mint Tin Aliens.
The strategy might seem apparent. Collect the big ticket cards and claim the large victory point tasks. Ordinarily, this would probably work if it weren't for the addition of the ten sided die. This die will award you victory points at the end of the game equal to the number that's shown. It begins at nine, but every turn you don't complete a task you must lower the die by one. Not only do you lose out on completing a task and collecting the associated victory points, you're actively penalized. It's a clever way to keep the game moving and dissuade players from hoarding and stalling.
An alien invasion, you say?
Whereas Mint Tin Pirates succeeds in conveying an actual sense of a pirate battle, Mint Tin Aliens fails completely. I never had a sense of who I was or what I was doing. My goal was simply to collect victory points. I've enjoyed games with thinly veiled themes before, but it was on the strength of their design. Mint Tin Aliens doesn't have that luxury. It's not poorly designed by any means, it's just not exciting. And where Mint Tin Pirates did a good job of conveying information on it's cards in a game that really didn't need it, Mint Tin Aliens eschews that information when it really could have been helpful. A curious omission to say the least.
I'm aware that every game should be judged by it's own merits and combing the review of these two games may seem a bit odd given that they play very differently, but ultimately I came to the same conclusion for both games just for different reasons. Mint Tin Pirates just doesn't give enough to chew on to merit my time. It's a bit mindless and doesn't offer enough choice to capture my attention. To it's credit, it does a fairly decent job of evoking a head to conflict, but that alone isn't enough for me.
Mint Tin Aliens, is definitely a better designed game, but it lacks any sense of thematic coherence. It has all the trappings of some sort of alien invasion or alien testing grounds, but it never comes through in the gameplay. It has some clever ideas, most notably in the ten sided die that keeps the game moving, but ultimately it leaves me wanting something more. It's not enough sustain a whole game even if it is only fifteen minutes.
Despite it's clever and cute packaging, the Mint Tin Games don't offer me anything compelling. A short play time does not excuse a boring game. There's definitely something to the Mint Tin Games, just not for me. They're time wasters at best. And as life has gotten busier and time more valuable, I try my best not to waste it.