Last time I reviewed a trick-taking card game and a game from Doris and Frank, so I figured it would be appropriate to review a trick-taking game from Doris and Frank. Mu is the main game in this set, but also included are rules for five other games using the same set of cards.
The cards were illustrated by the fabulous Doris and look great. The deck consists of five suits each featuring a different animal (black - panthers, blue - unicorns, yellow - hedgehogs, green - dragons, red - some kind of bird). The cards are numbered from 0 to 9 with the 1s and 7s duplicated so that there are twelve in each suit. Additionally each card has between 0 and 2 triangles. The one and nine cards have none, the six and seven have two and the rest have one (so that there are also twelve triangles in each suit).
The game begins with all the cards dealt and the dealer beginning bidding. Bidding is done by laying cards out on the table. On his turn, a player may lay up to one more than the current maximum number of cards, but may lay as few as he likes. A player may pass and still bid later, which is important when you don't want to be the leader in the bidding. When the bidding is complete (i.e. all players have passed in turn), the player with the most cards on the table becomes the Chief. The player with the second most cards on the table becomes the Vice. Both the Chief and the Vice declare trump with the Vice declaring first. Trump can be declared as a number or a color (and the Chief has the option of declaring no trump, which means the only trump is the Vice's), however it must be represented as one of the cards on the table (e.g. if a player had the red 0 and the black 9 on the table, he could declare red, black, 0 or 9 as the trump). The Chief's trump suit beats the Vice's trump suit in the case of multiple trumps played during a hand.
After trump is declared, the Chief picks a partner (who cannot be the Vice). They work together to make a certain number of points based on the number of players and the number of cards that the Chief bid. If they do, then they get a bonus based on number of trump cards in the Chief's (trump suit (more points are awarded for choosing a number than a color since there are less cards to be used as trump). If they don't make their minimum, then the other players get a bonus and the Chief (but not his partner) receives a penalty.
The triangles on the cards constitute a point apiece and each player receives points for the triangles on the cards in the tricks he takes. This leads to an interesting dynamic in that the Chief and his partner are trying to get a certain combined total, but they're also working to maximize their own total.
The hand is played in standard trick taking manner, and the game is played to a certain point total.
The mechanic of laying cards out to bid makes for an intriguing situation, since the more you lay down, the more information you reveal. This allows a certain amount of defensive play by opponents.
The distribution of triangles adds wrinkles to the play. The most powerful card in a suit is worth no points. Often, leading a nine will scare up quite a few ones making the trick nearly worthless. The doubling of triangles on the sevens is also tricky (no pun intended). Since there are two in each suit, it's tempting to declare them trump if you have a bunch to maximize your chance of grabbing points.
The game offers a lot of strategies for each phase since you have to decide when to go for the Chief's slot, how much to reveal about your hand and what kind of trump to go for. In addition, you can try to angle your way onto the prospective Chief's team by revealing a choice card or two in his prospective trump suit. This could back fire, though, if you go too strongly and get stuck as the Vice. You also might want to try this if the person who looks like they're going to be the Chief is doing very well. You can try to get them to declare you their partner and then try to score points for yourself, but not enough to make the bid, giving the Chief a penalty.
Mu, by itself, is definitely recommended for anyone who enjoys trick taking games, especially if you like something like Was Sticht?. The other games in the set (of which I've played three) are interesting variants on other themes. The Last Panther is a Hearts variant (without being able to shoot the moon). Wimmuln has elements similar to Oh Hell. The price may be a bit stiff for some people, but the cards are nicely designed and the games are very enjoyable.