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Updated: Apr 12, 2023

Sophia Wagner is perhaps best known for designing Noria (Stronghold Games). Mada, by contrast, is a light push-your-luck small-box card game very loosely themed around lemurs (who hail from Madagascar – hence the name). Art is by Clara San Millán.

The game is played with a deck made up of cactus cards numbered 1 to 13, plus cards showing lemurs or a scorpion. The 2-5 players all start with a hand of just three cards, and your hand size is never permitted to exceed three, so rounds – and the game as whole – inevitably plays quickly. On your turn you can play a card from your hand to your personal discard pile, you can draw a card or you can ‘try your luck’.

Other than on your first turn (when you don’t yet have a personal discard pile), you can only play a card from your hand when its number is equal to or higher than the card on top of your discard pile. When you play a card you don’t draw a replacement (drawing a card is a distinct separate action).

Since you start the game with three cards in your hand and your hand size can never exceed three, drawing a card isn’t an option on your first turn. Drawing a card becomes an option once you’ve played a card to your personal discard pile and have fewer than three cards in your hand. When you draw a card, you don’t play a card in the same turn.

‘Try your luck’ is described in the rules as a ‘last resort’ option. If you are unable to play a card to your discard pile (all your cards are lower than the top card in your discard pile) and you cannot ordinarily draw because you already have three cards in your hand, you can announce to the other players that you will ‘try your luck’. You draw a card but not to your hand but directly to your discard pile. If you’re lucky, the card will be a legal play (ie: it’ll be equal to or higher than your current top card) but if it’s lower then you lose the round.

When a player loses in this way, the round ends. All other players claim the top card of their discard pile and place it in their personal score pile. The game ends when a player adds a fifth card to their score pile. Cards will then score the total number of prickly pears shown on them; these vary from 1-6 according to the numerical value of the cards (just one pear on numbers 1-3, rising to six on number 13). There’s a push-your-luck judgement call to make then about when to place down high numbers – you ideally want a high number on the top of your discard pile when another player ends the round but a high number will make it harder for you to play a card on subsequent turns if the round hasn’t ended.

Tho’ Mada is mainly about juggling number cards, the lemurs do make an appearance. You can play a lemur card to your discard pile to move the top card to the bottom of the pile. Double lemur cards let you swap discard piles with another player. Finally, scorpion cards when drawn are immediately played to the general discard pile. When you draw one, you must also discard to the general discard pile a card from your hand.

Mada is a light family game. With only ever three cards in hand, you may find there are rounds which essentially play themselves but mostly you’ll encounter some push-your-luck choices. There’s scope for bluffing other players to influence their play and the double lemur cards introduce just a small ‘take that’ element. Helvetiq’s small-box packaging make this literally a pocket game and, with a playing time of around 15-20 minutes, Mada could be an ideal choice as a travel game, and not just for a trip to Madagascar :-)

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