MatterGamers’ Games are Major Fun for the more experienced gamer. For one reason or another, these games are a bit more difficult or require a greater time investment than the games we generally award BUT we feel that they are well worth the effort.

Matter accomplishes what many believed to be impossible. Through some thaumaturgical process, the alchemists at Simply Fun have found a way to capture the soul of the seminal American band Earth Wind Air & Fire in a single abstract strategic tiling game that fuses the band’s rock, soul, jazz, and disco elements with the raw power of its 6 Grammy Awards…

I’m sorry to interrupt but I’ve just been notified that the band has tragically lost Air when he ventured too close to a television pundits convention and was sucked out of the room. Air’s friends Reason and Compassion are also missing, believed dead.

I’m also being told that Matter has nothing to do with the band Earth Wind & Fire.

Matter is indeed a strategic abstract tiling game. It is also based on the interactions between the four classical elements of Earth, Air, Water, and Fire. The conflict plays out on a hexagonal grid game board on which 2 -4 players try to control strategic locations by manipulating the very fabric of the universe. POWER!! Coursing through my vein!! MWAHAHAHA!!

Where was I. Strategic tiling. There are actually two devices that the players use in the tiling process. First are the Element Tiles: hexagonal tiles of Yellow (Earth), White (Air), Blue (Water), and Red (Fire). Second are the Elemental Gems, clear glass beads that are the same four colors as the elements and represent the Players. REMEMBER: Each player has one color of Gem. Anyone can play any color Tile. If we had one complaint with the rules it came down to the confusion between calling the tiles “Elements” and the gems “Elementals.” For the sake of clarity I will refer to them as tiles and gems.

A quick note before I go on. Learning this game is much easier with visual aids. The rules supplied by Simply Fun are clear and well-illustrated. The game does take some time to learn and master BUT learning it from learning it from text only is like learning to tie your shoes from written instructions.

The game board has 14 spots that are numbered (7, 9, or 10). These numbers represent point values and constitute the primary path toward victory (high score wins). Players use the tiles and gems to control the spaces around the numbered spots. In addition to the numbered spots, the board also features black, white, and grey spots. In setting up the game, the tiles are placed in a bag and shaken. Random tiles are drawn and placed on the grey and white spaces (the rules provide a more strategic variation in which you cover only the light grey spaces).

At the beginning of a four person game players start with 9 gems and draw 4 tiles from the bag (with fewer players each player gets more gems). Starting with the player who got up earliest, each alchemist must play one tile on to the board. That player has the option to place a gem on that tile. Placing a gem claims that tile and any adjacent tile of the same color. Players try to surround the point spaces with colors they control. Whoever controls the power of the tiles controls the points.

What complicates Matter in interesting ways is the fact that each Tile color cancels one of the other colors. Red cancels yellow, tallow cancels white, white cancels blue, and blue cancels red. So, if you have a red tile that touches two blue tiles, that red tile is worth -1 power, but the blue tiles are NOT affected by the red. Each player has a limited number of gems so knowing when and where to play them is essential. It is also important to keep track of neighboring tiles. You might have most of the tiles around a point space but a smart opponent will then surround you with tiles that cancel your power but which don’t change your opponent’s power.

With only a few pieces and some very basic rules, Simply Fun has created a robust, deeply strategic, and exciting game. In many ways it reminds me of the elegance of the Major Fun Award-winning game Dragon Face. It will take new players 15 – 20 minutes to work through the rules and then a game or two to catch on to the intricacies, but you will WANT to play those games.

Major Fun for the strategists out there.

For 2-4 players, ages 10+

Matter was designed by Touko Tahkokallio and is © 2010 by Onni Games Oy, produced by Simply Fun.

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