It’s that time again, everyone. It’s time for me to gush about yet another Button Shy game.
I’ve sang the praises about Button Shy on this blog before. I’ve reviewed both Stew and Sprawlopolis, two games in their extensive library of micro games that I dearly love. If you haven’t read either of those reviews and are unfamiliar with Button Shy, allow me to spread the gospel. They specialize in micro games, games that are small enough to fit in a wallet. That’s not an exaggeration, by the way, they literally come in wallets.
The latest in this line of wallet games is Tussie Mussie, an ‘I Split, You Choose’ card game from Elizabeth Hargrave. If you don’t know who Elizabeth Hargrave is, you probably should. Hargrave is the designer of the recent smash hit Wingspan. Wingspan is essentially the board game equivalent of a piece of toast with an imprint of the Virgin Mary on it because a copy of it recently sold on eBay for over $1,000. If your game sells for 1,000 of anything, you’re probably doing something right.
While I haven’t had a chance to play Wingspan, Hargrave’s name is one of the biggest reasons I was excited to play Tussie Mussie. A collaboration between one of my favorite publishers and one of the industry’s hottest designers? Where do I sign up?? Button Shy was kind enough to send me a review copy and I must say, Tussie Mussie does not disappoint.
Tussie Mussie is about the Victorian era fad of giving and receiving flowers to express feelings. You see, back in Victorian times people didn’t have memes and gifs like we do today, so they had to communicate in other ways. A popular method was by giving bouquets of flowers, or tussie mussies, to each other. The flowers all had different meanings assigned to them, which allowed the giver to communicate certain things. One of Tussie Mussie‘s more subtle but delightful features is that it actually has flavor text on the bottom of each card, displaying the meaning behind that flower. For example, the orchid meant “You are beautiful”, the carnation meant “I do not agree” (which I’m sure led to many a passive aggressive end to arguments), and the hyacinth meant “Please forgive me”.
This world of flower sharing is explored through Tussie Mussie’s ‘I Split, You Choose’ mechanic. For those unfamiliar with this mechanic, it generally involves the active player grouping sets of things, presenting them to other players and then being the last person to get to choose which set they receive. It rewards players for grouping items in as fair a way as possible so that they don’t get left with meager scraps. It’s a mechanic that feels criminally underrepresented in the industry, with the most popular examples of it being the pizza themed set collection game New York Slice and the beautifully agonizing card game Hanamikoji.
The way Tussie Mussie incorporates this mechanic is wonderfully simple. On your turn, you draw two cards from the deck. These cards all represent different flowers, each with a unique scoring condition or power. You choose one of the flowers to put face up and the other to put face down and give them to the person either on your left or right (depending on what point in the round you’re at). That player chooses one of the cards and you receive the other. Once everybody has four cards in front of them, the round ends and everybody scores their flowers. After three rounds, whoever has the most points wins!
Simple, right? Yes, but don’t let that lull you into thinking you can just sleepwalk through all the decisions. One of the key rules in Tussie Mussie is that the person receiving the flowers can’t look at the face down card. They either take the known commodity of the face up card or try their luck with whatever the face down card is hiding. This transforms Tussie Mussie from a peaceful game of collecting flowers into a fiendish string of devious mind games.
For example, let’s say you have a Red Tulip, which gives you a point for every red card you have. You already have two red cards and your opponent entices you with another red card as their face up offering. What seems like an easy decision turns into a torturous one as every synapse in your brain is shouting, “WHAT ARE THEY HIDING, IT CAN’T POSSIBLY BE THIS SIMPLE”. Do you take the red card, helping to bolster the Red Tulip’s scoring condition? Or do you take the face down card, hoping that you deny something that the giver desperately wanted? It’s not any easier being the person who is doing the splitting, either. Do you hide cards that benefit you, fearing your opponent will take it to deny you? Or do you flaunt it as the face up card, just daring the receiver to ignore whatever bounty you put face down?
It instills a manic sense of paranoia that I never thought I could feel from flowers. I can now see why nobody ever smiled in pictures and paintings from Victorian times. The cruel meta that develops from repeated plays of this game with the same group becomes a game unto itself and as someone who loves that sort of thing, Tussie Mussie more than satisfied.
Another thing I absolutely love about this game is that every flower is different. Yes, many of their powers are similar (things like ‘score for every purple flower’ and ‘score for every red flower’), but it still feels like everybody is plucking flowers from a garden and crafting their own tailor made bouquet. By the end of the round, you feel proud of your beautiful tussie mussie if it nets you a solid chunk of points, while you can practically see the cards wilt and droop when you have a bad round of flowers that don’t synergize well. The unique flowers also means play doesn’t get stale and you’ll start to develop favorites (“An orchid? Why yes, I’d LOVE to have a flower that acts as any color”) and not-so-favorites (“DON’T YOU DARE GIVE ME THAT MARIGOLD”). It’s as if each flower has its own personality, helped by that flavor text I mentioned earlier.
The only plant I’d be worthy of receiving is poison ivy if I forgot to mention this game’s art. The art is done by none other than Beth Sobel, one of my favorite artists in the industry. Probably best known for Viticulture, Sobel’s warm, comforting style perfectly fits this game’s theme. Each flower has its own illustration and you can practically smell the different fragrances waft off the petals as you sift through the deck. I mean no disrespect to the other games in Button Shy’s library, but this is almost certainly their most eye pleasing one to date.
Is there a thorn on the stem of this beautiful rose of a game? I will admit there is one little issue I had with the game and that is with the scoring phase. The game is quick and breezy as players build their collection of flowers, but it grinds to a halt at the end of each round as everybody needs to score their sets. With each flower possessing its own effect that interacts with other flowers and their own effects, there is a lot of mumbling and poking at phone calculators at the end of each round which clogs an otherwise sublimely elegant game. It’s a minor thing and far from a deal breaker, but it did have enough of an effect that I felt it worth mentioning.
Tussie Mussie launches on Kickstarter on May 28th and I wholeheartedly recommend that you check it out. It’s a simple but deceptively tricky game that pops on the table despite being just a small deck of cards. If you have yet to try a Button Shy game, this is a fine place to start.