The Cardboard Hoard: Review of Mangaka

The Cardboard Hoard: Review of Mangaka

Mangaka: The Fast & Furious Game of Drawing Comics, designed by Jason Thompson and published by Japanime Games, is interesting in that it is a drawing game that doesn’t necessarily reward the most talented artists, although those that enjoy drawing will certainly appreciate the game more than those that don’t.

The setup is simple. For the first round, each player gets a writing implement and a sheet of paper containing a space for a comic strip a title and two blank panels. Then each player draws three theme cards, which represent the things that player is obsessed with and wants to add into their comics. There are 136 theme cards, ranging from things like Ninjas and Mecha to abstract ideas like Conspiracy Theories and Fortune Telling. Players will then get a set number of minutes to draw a comic in the panels -- with eight minutes being the easiest difficulty level, and five minutes being the hardest.

At the end of the time limit, the comics are scored. Each player gets one fame point for each theme they successfully integrated into their comic, two fame points for using every panel, and two fame points for using no more than three word balloons. This base scoring will occur after every round, with additional scoring in the form of trend cards.

In the following round, there are two changes. The drawing paper will now contain four panels, and the player with the lowest fame will draw two trend cards and choose one to be in effect for the round. These trend cards are my favorite part of the game, because they add fun variables to the narratives the players are creating with their obsessions, and they help sell the comic creation theme of the game. The 52 trend cards award fame in many different ways, from adding product placement for a fictional product, to splitting a comic into the most panels, to using flashback panels, to giving an opponent’s character a cameo in your comic.

The third and fourth rounds play out similarly, with each adding additional panels and trend cards -- with the final round requiring eight panels and using four trend cards -- without adding any extra drawing time.  After four rounds, the player with the highest fame wins.

It is worth mentioning that this system lends itself very well to “house ruling” personalization. Don’t like playing four rounds? Play less. Think the time is too long or short? Add or subtract as you see fit. Don’t like that the panels increase while the time doesn’t? Add time to each round. Too many or too few themes or trends? Give out as many as suits your group. Almost any gripe can be handled by adjusting things well within the players’ control.

Mangaka Cards.jpg

Pros: The game teaches you how to play as you’re playing, with each round ramping up and adding new elements and panels, without adding time. It also plays up to eight players with very little additional added time when adding for higher player counts.  The game’s scoring is not affected by the subjective quality of artwork, but by objective goals reached. The trends are very thematic to the business of comic drawing, and make players feel like they are really creating a comic. The amount of theme cards give the game a lot of variety.

Cons: The large box size seems designed solely for the size of the sheets of drawing paper in them, but the game only included 64 single-sided drawing sheets, which is only enough for 16 games. However, more sheets are available for printing here at mangakagame.com. Also, the fame point tokens were unnecessary, as the drawing sheets had a place to record the fame points on them. Some of the themes had questionable subject matter -- religion, cross dressing, prescription drugs -- but with over 100 theme cards, these can easily be removed from the game, and there is a list on the game’s FAQ with suggestions for which cards to remove if playing with children. The game can feel very hectic and stressful in the final round, having to draw eight panels, using three themes and four trends.

I am in no way artistically gifted, although I do have some rudimentary skills with a pencil and paper. But rest assured, this game does not require much in the way of artistic talent to play, although it will reward enthusiasm and creativity, and a willingness to share potentially imperfect illustrations with others around the table. With the right group of players -- any group that is interested drawing comics and willing to share their creations with those around them, regardless of talent level -- this game will be a big hit, creating fun stories and laughs along the way.

Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Mangaka from the publisher.

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