You'll be able to summon your inner Harry Potter to play Mandragora, as you collect spellbooks and ingredients in order to cast spells that give you an immediate or end-game magical effect and points at the end of the game.
Designed by Bruno Cathala and Florian Sirieix, Mandragora is played using a randomised rondel around which cards are placed from the shuffled ingredients/spellbooks deck. A card is placed by each of the 10 tiles that make up the rondel. Those by the three dark tiles are placed face down but the others are all face up. There's an assistant figure, and on your turn, you can move the figure one, two or three places around the rondel. You pick up the card(s) at the location on which you choose to land, and a card is added to all the locations over which you passed. As an alternative to collecting cards from the rondel, a player can cast a spell, playing a spellbook from their hand supported by any number of ingredients that match the colour of that spellbook. They can then claim a spell from the display at the level equivalent to the number of ingredients. At the end of the game, they'll score the value of the spellbooks (0-3) plus the level of the spells (1-5). There are mandrake cards which count as wild cards, useable either as an ingredient or as a spellbook of any colour, and players all start with a mandrake in hand so everyone can reasonably expect to have the option of casting a spell by their second turn.
There are some negative 'curse' cards in the deck. You might well deliberately take one of these as a price worth paying to nab the other cards in the same stack. More often tho' you'll find you've picked up one or more of these when you choose to take a face-down stack, attracted by the number of cards it will give you. The 'curse' cards must immediately be played to the table in front of you but they aren't that much of a handicap because they only score negatively for the player that has the most when the game ends, and even then that player only suffers a -2 point penalty. In comparison with the number of points players can expect to collect for their spells, the curse penalty seemed trivial. There's an additional penalty too for each colour of card left in your hand when the game ends (three rounds after the deck runs out). This could potentially cost you up to six points.
The net result is a light filler-length family-friendly game where players will mostly be focused on amassing cards to bolster their set collection scoring capability without worrying unduly about the relatively meagre end-game penalties. Mandragora is almost certain to appeal to all those Harry Potter fans who mourn the fact that they were never awarded a scholarship to attend Hogwarts. The rules allow for the game to be scaled for different player counts (you take out some of the cards when playing with fewer than four players) and for an extra dimension, there are alternative rules for '2 versus 2' team play. These turn the curse cards into something of a blessing as they allow players that draw them to give, receive or swap a card with their partner.
Full marks too to publishers Studio H for the production of this attractively presented card game. They certainly haven't skimped on the art from Piero: no two cards have the same illustration, even when they are functionally identical! Mandragora is distributed in the UK by Hachette Board Games.
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