Although a lot of people are probably not familiar with Mordecai Meirowitz, most people should recognize his most famous game Mastermind. Mastermind is the classic deduction game where you try to break the secret color code. While Mastermind was easily Mordecai Meirowitz’s most famous game, he ended up making a couple other games in his career. One of those games was Montezuma. In Montezuma players play cards trying to outwit their opponent to get one of their chips to the top of the tower. Montezuma ends up becoming a guessing game that is neither good nor terrible.
How to Play Montezuma
Shuffle the red deck of cards and have both players draw one card. The player who draws the higher card will be the red player and will be the first player at the start of the game. Each player puts one chip at the bottom of three of the stairways.
Playing the Game
To begin each round the first player will play one of their cards face down on all six trays in the gameboard. After the first player has played all six cards, the other player plays one of their cards in each tray.
Once all of the cards are played the first player will flip over the three sets of cards on their side of the board. The two cards in each tray are compared. If the first player’s card was larger than the other player’s card, they will put a number of chips on that stairway equal to the difference between the two cards. If the other player’s card was larger nothing happens with that stairway.
The other player then compares the cards on their side of the gameboard and adds chips in the same manner as the first player. If neither player has reached the top of the tower, a new round is played. The role of first player switches and each player takes back all of the cards of their color.
Winning the Game
The first player to fill one of their staircases and place a chip at the top of the tower wins the game. Turn order matters since if the first player reaches the top, the second player does not also get an opportunity to reach the top.
My Thoughts on Montezuma
While it is not a great fit, the best classification that I could come up with for Montezuma was as a bluffing game. Basically you want to try to figure out where your opponent is going to play their high cards so you can minimize their cards while maximizing your own cards. Since both players have the same cards in each round, the only way to gain an advantage over the other player is to get more out of your cards than they get out of their cards. If you are good at reading other people you could have a big advantage in Montezuma. For most people though Montezuma ends up being a guessing game.
If you are looking for a quick game Montezuma definitely fits the bill. It takes around a minute or two to explain the game to a new player. Most games of Montezuma should only take around 10-15 minutes. If the players end up playing a lot of matching pairs or players take a long time deciding which cards to play the game could take a little longer. Montezuma is a quick game though which is why I think it could work well as a filler game.
In general I wouldn’t say that Montezuma has a lot of strategy. Most of the strategy in Montezuma comes from the “I Know, You Know” mechanic that rules over the game. Basically the I Know You Know mechanic involves both players knowing what move would be best for the other player to make. This means that the other player will likely try to block that move. To avoid being blocked the player may choose a less obvious move. The opponent might think the other player might do this as well though and thus might not block the optimal move. This back and forth thinking drives the game as you try to outwit the other player to make the best move for yourself that the other player is not expecting.
If you are good at reading your opponent, you can gain a big advantage in the game. For most people though Montezuma basically boils down to a guessing game. If you can successfully guess where the other player is going to play their cards you have a good chance at winning the game. If your opponent is playing a high card on one of their staircases you can block it with one of your high cards. If they are using one of their high cards to block one of your staircases, you can play your high cards on another staircase to gain a lot of chips. The key to winning the game is getting the most value out of your cards and not wasting a high card in an area where it won’t do anything.
The only real strategy in Montezuma comes down to whether you play offense or defense. Since you play cards on both your side and your opponent’s side, you need to choose which side you are going to prioritize. You can go on the offense using most of your high cards on your own staircases. This will allow you to gain chips quickly but leaves you open to the other player doing the same. If you play defensively you can stop the other player from gaining chips but you are going to have a hard time getting chips yourself. Throughout the game you need to keep changing between offense and defense or the other player is going to know what you are going to do in a given round.
Montezuma includes two variants that are meant to add more strategy to the game but I don’t think either add much to the game. The first variant has both players playing one card to each tray and then revealing the cards that were played. This allows the players to see what cards the other player has already played in the round. This gives players some more information and probably adds a little strategy but I think the game will still rely heavily on guessing. You might know what cards another player has left in their hand but you are still guessing which cards they are going to play in each tray. The other variant is the same as the first variant except that once the cards are revealed they are flipped over so players have to remember which cards have already been played.
Other than not really having much as far as strategy, the other slight issue I had with Montezuma is that the leader has a pretty big advantage at the end of the game. When one of the players gets one or two chips away from winning they have a lot more options than the other player has. The player in the lead has a pretty good chance of winning the game since the other player will have to use one of their high cards to block the staircase that is close to winning. This allows the player in the lead to either use their high card to block the other player or use it on one of their other staircases to gain a lot of chips.
If both players are close to winning at the same time though things become interesting. In this situation turn order becomes critical. Since the first player gets to reveal cards first, they have a huge advantage since they can win before the other player can ever turn over any of the cards on their side. Since the second player is not given a chance to tie, they need to try and prevent the first player from winning. If they succeed they then have a very good chance at winning unless the other player can flip the advantage back. In close games this mechanic could be quite interesting as both players try to outwit the other player.
The component’s for Montezuma are very average. Basically you get a plastic board, some plastic chips and two sets of cards that range from 0-5. I don’t think there is anything particularly good or bad about the components. The board and chips are solid and sturdy but dull. The cards are typical cards that are bland but serve their purpose. The biggest problem I have with the components is that you could create your own version of Montezuma pretty easily. While the gameboard is helpful you could just create stacks of chips with the first player creating a stack of eight chips winning the game. For the cards you could just take six consecutive numbers from two different suits from a normal deck of playing cards.
Should You Buy Montezuma?
Montezuma is the very definition of an average game. There is nothing really wrong or great about the game. Outside of being able to outwit/read your opponent, the game basically becomes a guessing game. You have some decisions of whether to play offensively or defensively but if you can’t read your opponent you are basically guessing at what the other player is going to do. There is nothing particularly wrong with Montezuma and you can have fun with it. There is nothing particularly engaging about it either. Montezuma is a game that you can play and have a little fun without putting too much thought into it.
If you don’t like bluffing games or don’t really care for the game’s premise, I don’t think you will like Montezuma. If you think the game’s concept is interesting and can find the game for cheap, it may be worth picking up Montezuma.