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Review: Mü app proves that deep, real card games can thrive on the iPhone

Fans of light, mindless card games should not download [$2.99]. There are plenty of thought-like time-killers in the App Store. Go play one of those. Mu, on the other hand, is a complicated (in a good way) game with a medium-high learning curve that should manage to entertain gamers for quite some time.

At its core, Mü is a trick taking game like Hearts or Skat, and the physical card game version is much loved by regular card gamers because it is deep, replayable and fun. The app manages to recreate all three of these important factors in one slick package, giving old hands a way to bring the challenge along for the ride. For new players, the iPhone version is a good way to learn how to play. Read on to see if more Mü would be good for you.




The Game

Mü is played with a special deck of cards that consists of 60 cards split into five different suits. Each suit contains the same 12 cards: there is one card of each value, from zero to nine, but with doubles of the ones and sevens. Most cards are worth one point in the final scoring, except the nine and ones are worth nothing, and the six and sevens are worth two points.

Once you've been dealt your hand, the challenge, familiar to Bridge or Skat players, is to bid the correct number of cards depending on the strength of your hand. Even if you don't intend to win and take the title of "chief," bidding can be a good idea in order to come in second (and play the role of "vice"), or to become the chief's partner for the hand. The benefit of winning the bid and becoming chief is that you can choose the high trump and a partner to play with. The vice then gets to choose the low trump. Interestingly, the trump can be either a color or a number.

After bidding, game play is fairly straightforward, with players required to follow suit when possible and taking tricks with trumps when they can. Going over the complete rules would take up too much space, but luckily, the app has us covered (you can also download the complete rules in PDF).


The App

If you're learning the game, the Mü app has a well-written and detailed tutorial section, which is an absolute requirement before setting forth. Gamers familiar with the card game versions, published as Mü and More in 1995 or as Mü and Lots More in 2007, can jump right in and figure out how to tap what in order to make things work as they go (both of the card editions include rules for playing other games using the same deck, but the iPhone app provides no such benefit). If you don't know Mü, but like trick-taking card games, we recommend taking the time to learn this glorious game.

Once you know what you're doing, you'll spend most of your time looking at your hand of cards that is displayed on a dark red background. The app constantly provides an overview of what's happening in the game. There are face-up cards that other players used in their initial bids, which players are chief and vice, the running scores, and the trump(s) for the game. The way to do well in Mü is to be able to keep track of which cards have been played and which ones are still out there, threatening to take your tricks. Pausing the game and coming back hours later is easily accomplished (any time you step out of the app, it saves the game state), but not exactly conducive to winning. At least, when you do come back to the game, it's easy to see what's going on.

The computer players make intelligent plays. At least that's what our beginner strategy seems to indicate. This is quite an achievement, because there is a lot going on in the game – changing trumps and partnerships, the challenge of meeting the bidding goal, etc. – and yet everything runs smoothly, even on our first-gen iPod touch.

The number of in-game options is rich, providing for a lot of customization options. Everything, from the AI player names, their skill level and bidding style, the look of the cards, the number of players (anywhere from four to six, but five is recommended), to turning "Shake-A-Hint" on and off, is adjustable. You can even have the game play itself using Auto Play, which is useful in order to learn how to play the game. What would be even more useful for beginners would be a way to replay a game, once on your own and once using Auto Play, so that you can see if your moves were what the AI would have done. The app does allow you to review the last trick played until a new card is played, so that's something.

One option you can't choose, though, is which way your cards are sorted. It's always by color, but it could be useful to see your hand sorted by number to determine if it'd be better to chose a number as trump.

The animations are well-done and functional, nothing outstanding (except for the star-pattern shuffling/dealing graphic, which is just plain cool). With as much information and items on the screen as there needs to be, things feel a bit crowded, but it all works once you get used to it.

Another cool feature is the ability to see two information screens – the number of points required to win based on the number of points bid by the chief, and the game's statistics – by turning the iPhone to the left or right. Of course, this also means that there is no way to play the game in horizontal view. It's vertical or nothing, folks. Developer Steve Blanding explains that this is "a personal preference, of course, but hey, it's my game so I get to do what I like." Indeed.

You can link up to six other players via Bluetooth and play together. The computer will play as many AI players as desired (up to six), and will also play for other players if their connection drops out because of a phone call or they start losing and run off to get more drinks. Wi-Fi and internet connections are not supported. We're happy to report that iTunes will continue to play when the game is running.

We're not sure how we managed to create a small bug, but switching the app on and off during a game somehow caused all of the card images to disappear. By changing the card view (from traditional to non-traditional), we got the images back. We will also complain a bit about the "Choose Trump" screen, which felt a little small. There's also no undo feature in case you mis-touch. This menu, like the residents of Springfield, should really be embiggened. The latest release, v 1.2, has "full iPad support," so our complaints about the small screen size should be addressed on, at least, that platform. The developer has a Website that talks a bit more about the iPad version.

Do you want to know more? Check out the demo video below and then read the developer's detailed account of how the Mü app came to be.

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