Publisher: Mayday Games
Game Designer: Matt Saunders
Artwork: Curt Rivadeneira
Ages: 10 and up
Playing Time: 45 minutes
Mow Money is the recently released to retail game that was successfully Kickstarted last year by Mayday Games which actually makes lawn mowing fun, well the business side of it at least! You’re the owner of a startup landscaping company, armed with just a simple push mower and the desire to earn the best reputation in the city and hopefully land that big Walkerville city contract.
To win you’ll need to build your reputation by providing quality service at the best price, undercutting the competition at just the right time while making a killing at others. Use your earnings to reinvest in your company smartly and win the best contracts to watch your reputation skyrocket!
Makin’ Mo’ Money
Mow Money is for 1-5 players and scales nicely at every player count. The city of Walkerville is comprised of as many neighborhoods as there are players, with each neighborhood having a varying number and mix of contracts available that adjusts with the number of players.
Only the top contract shows for each and the bidding is open to all, with the contracts coming in three flavors; basic, medium and advanced, to match the three levels of mowers you can use. Starting with nothing more than your trusty old Sod Snipper, you’ll need to be a wily negotiator to make the dough to buy better equipment which is necessary to win the higher rep contracts.
Along with your Sod Snipper, you get five basic bid cards worth different values which are used for bidding on jobs along with simple iconography for completing odd jobs.
Some bid cards also have stars on them and these are used when a contract has a star requirement listed on it. I envision these as ‘yard of the month’ customers; wanting only the best company for their lawns and the stars represent this, these of course provide you with better reputation points. All bid cards you propose on a contract that you don’t win come back to your hand at the conclusion of the bid phase, so there’s no harm in bidding and losing in that regard.
The icons on the left side of the bid cards depict a mix of odd jobs, always showing one or two of the five jobs possible. Match three of these icons and you can earn anywhere from $4 to as much as $20, along with a $3 bonus for completing an odd job during the bid phase. Odd jobs can also be completed after the bidding phase if you didn’t win any contracts, but you’ll forgo that $3 bonus.
While these aren’t prestigious jobs and gain you no reputation, they do earn you the much needed cash to upgrade landscaping equipment and to buy additional bid cards beyond the five that you start with.
This gives everyone a chance to do something and make a little money, if they have the right cards for the odd job of course. Having this addition in the game is important as it provides an opportunity to make money which helps curtail a player from becoming too strong early on and in turn a runaway leader.
There are no free hand refills in the game, so walking a fine line in the investment phase is important. Dropping all of your money into upgrading equipment but forgetting to buy bid cards can severely limit or even shut you out of being able to do anything at all. Yes, you can effectively take yourself out of the game if you’re not careful. Be cautious not to spend yourself into oblivion, but definitely try to influence your competitors to do this if you can!
Blind bidding is the heart and soul of Mow Money and while I’m not usually a fan of bidding or auction mechanics, I really enjoy how it’s implemented here because the bluffing mechanism truly does make the game interesting. The bluff cards keep everyone off-balance and create an air of uncertainty during the bids, spotlighting the importance of your decision making.
Contracts call for two to four bid cards and some may have those ‘yard of the month’ stars I mentioned earlier. Everyone will be watching closely how many cards others place down for their bids to get an indicator of what contract(s) are in play. If you add a bluff card into a two card bid, others may think you are going for an odd job and boost their bid to make more money. Instead, they’ll be fretting when they see you bluffed and underbid them for a $2 contract. Or, they may still undercut you and win the contract but now be short a card that they’ll need to replace during the investment phase.
You can also stake your reputation on a new contract by using a previously won reputation points on a new bid. This lowers your bid cost but if you don’t win the bid you will lose that reputation, even though you get the other bid cards back. This is quite a gamble to take when each reputation point matters so much, but it can be a worthy gamble at the right time.
If no one wins a contract, it goes to the bottom of the pile so it will show up again which is good because no one may have the equipment needed to carry out the job early on. Once any street in the neighborhood has completed all of its contracts (the street deck runs dry) the game ends and scores are tallied to determine who has the most rep and gets the big city contract!
Yay or Nay?
Mow Money was a pleasant surprise, I didn’t expect I’d get as much of a kick out of chasing down lawn mowing contracts but the gameplay fits the theme perfectly. It’s a fairly simple game to pick up and learn but engages you with an interesting blend of deduction, press your luck, bluffing and smart play of your limited hand of bid cards while managing the tenuous balance of your small and ever fluctuating budget.
The rule book is well done and the components are excellent, especially the oversize first player lawnmower token and the money pieces. Oh, the sweet, sweet money chits are nice and chunky, easy to track and fun to play with. Mayday Games made the right call here by going with these awesome tokens over paper money.
The game scales well from 2-5 players and does offer a solo mode which works in a pinch but I definitely prefer to play with other players. A lot of the fun in this game is out thinking your opponents and a dummy player just doesn’t provide the same challenge and misses out on the deduction and bluffing aspects that make this game so fun.
Decisions really matter and are influenced both your perceptions of other players intentions and how you present yours. While you’re always trying for the contracts with the high reputation, you can’t overlook just making some money when the opportunity arises. Sometimes you’ll need to pass on jobs that give you a point or two of reputation in favor of going after low rep job that others may be ignoring, bidding high and scoring some nice cash.
The odd jobs also help in making you money and to mitigate lost bids but really pay off with the extra bonus. Sure, $3 doesn’t sound like much but it can buy that medium level lawn mower you’ve been ogling, so don’t overlook it.
The game’s blind bidding process is quite thematic and nicely captures the essence of how it works in the real world but does it in a fun way that’s never a bore. If you’re looking for a 30-45 minute game in the $20 range that provides some fast and fun play with meaty choices, Mow Money fits the bill nicely!
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Note: A review copy of this game was provided to me for this review.