ArtSee card game: A four-sided review

The ArtSee card game is a small box set collection game (for two-to-five players) with a few nice twists. A game lasts 30-45 minutes. And the simple rules mean you can ignore the ’12+’ suggested age range on the box. I think 10-year-old gamers 10 will be just fine.

The game is fairly gentle and thoughtful, fitting well with the nicely realised art gallery theme. Although it’s not overly thematic in terms of game play. In the box you’ll find 80 cards, 85 cardboard tokens and 45 wooden pieces.

The components are great quality and the artwork on the cards is fantastic. It’s just a shame the clever takes on famous works of art are so small. Don’t get me wrong: they need to be this size for the game to work. But I’d love to have seen some of them blown up onto bigger cards. That said, despite its nice quality ArtSee is retailing in the UK for around £25. That feels a bit steep for a filler game of this kind.

Teaching the ArtSee card game

Setup is a little fiddly for a filler game (there are starting cards and main deck cards, presumably for balance – which seems a little arbitrary). But once you get going, turns are straightforward. Each player starts with two cards face up (side by side), three cards in hand and 5-9 visitors in their reserve (depending on player count).

Players take turns clockwise, playing through the entire deck (all players have the same number of turns). On most of your turns, you simply play a card, score points, then draw a card. On opponent turns, you may have the option to place visitors. Most points wins.

Cards are in four colours (back and bottom of the card) and have 2-3 pieces of art in 2-3 colours. For example, a yellow card may contain yellow, red and green paintings (but never more than one of the same colour). When you play a card, you either place it on top of one you’ve already laid (making a stack, or ‘gallery’ for the theme fans) or to the left/right of your current tableau. If you place on top of other cards, you ensure all artwork images are visible on the cards in that stack.

You also announce the colour of the card you played. Your opponents can then immediately place a visitor (if they have any in stock) on each/any of their own tableau stacks where the top card visible matches that colour. As in games such as Bruges, the cards depict their colour on the backs of the cards – giving you an idea of what your opponents may be playing next. And there are two draw piles, (usually) giving you a choice of two colours to choose from when taking a new card.

The clever bit

Each card points either left or right. To score, you count the number of paintings (matching the colour of the card played) in the stack in the direction your just-played card points. And yes, this could be an opponent’s gallery: if you place a left-pointing card on your leftmost stack, that is pointing to the rightmost stack of the player to your left. Are you with me…?

If there were any visitors on the stack you placed your card on, these are removed and count as points this turn (they’re then returned to your stock). So… I place a green card on a stack with two visitors on it. It is pointing left, at a stack which has three green paintings in it. So this turn, I score five points (two visitors, three green paintings). I then redraw to three hand cards, and my turn is over.

On good turns, you can also claim a masterpiece. There are five in each colour and you can claim one if you’ve scored 5-9 points that round (in the appropriate colour) and don’t already have a masterpiece in that colour. They can be worth good end-game points. And, once claimed, you place them between two of your ‘galleries’ – so they count as a paining in that colour when you score either of those galleries later.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: ArtSee is an engine-building game stripped to the barest essentials. Unlike most card game fillers it offers a relaxing rather than confrontational gaming experience, which fits the contemplative theme (although the theme falls down quickly if you really try to apply it. Why am I hanging a masterpiece in the alley between two of my galleries…?). But a good player ignores their opponents at their peril, as their tableau and hand can give both clues and opportunities.
  • The thinker: I enjoyed this as an evening starter. Initially it seems grabbing a set of portraits (10 bonus points) is essential; but you start to realise hammering a few big galleries for large late gains is also an option. It’s nice to see emergent game play in such a short, small offering. Luck does play quite a large factor, despite being able to draw from two different card piles – but the game is just about short enough to get away with it.
  • The trasher: For a game that, in essence, is a turtling, heads-down, point-grabbing puzzle game – ArtSee has a surprising amount of passive interaction. Knowing you’ll use the whole deck means keeping an eye on which colours have been played a lot early on can be valuable end game information. While ensuring you have a range of top-of-stack cards matching your opponents’ hand cards improves your chance of grabbing visitor bonuses. Not a game of choice for me, but I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would during setup.
  • The dabbler: This game is pretty to look at and simple to teach. And it also has a non-nerd/gamer friendly theme. That’s more than half the battle won! Plus it’s short, and comes in a nice small box (although the cover is weird). It’s good that you have to pay attention when it’s not your turn (which can help stop younger players drifting off), while there’s a nice satisfaction in scoring a great round – especially when you get a masterpiece as a bonus. Having scoring chits, rather than a track, also helps make everyone think they’re in with a chance of winning!

Key observations

Aesthetically thinking, people complain the ArtSee art is too small. True, but it works. Similarly, people complain the theme breaks on closer inspection. Again, true – but overall it works. If you play with people who complaint about this kind of thing, well, good luck to you. The fact is, most people will understand the art has to be this small. And it’s cool it’s there at all. While the theme works a lot better than in many similar abstract games. And at least it isn’t elves and dwarves (again).

Complaints about the rulebook being poor and well founded. While it is nicely laid out with plenty of examples, some key aspects are poorly explained and the order seems odd at times. But we muddled through, so while a shame it’s not a deal-breaker.

For a non-confrontational engine-builder, there’s going to be too much luck for some players. Having two draw piles and a hand of three does help. But you can easily be left with no option to do what you want to do. I did get frustrated sometimes, especially near the when an arrow direction can mean a big point swing. But for the majority of people I’ve played with, the lightness and game length kept us on the right side of frustration.

Conclusion: ArtSee card game

I’ve enjoyed my plays of ArtSee and will be keeping it in my collection. I don’t think it will be a go-to game in many situations. More an occasional play than a regular. But with the right crowd it has been a real winner as a thoughtful filler game.

But I fear it may fail to find its audience. The game has been a little overlooked, perhaps in part to its odd cover art and meaningless title. But also, I’d wager, because it’s not the kind of game people get excited about. Small fillers take-off because they’re crazy fun. And euros because they’re big box, last 90-120 minutes and have a complexity rating of three-plus. ArtSee, in the middle, is going to miss both markets. But hopefully the word will slowly spread.

  • I would like to thank Renegade (via AsmodeeUK) for providing a copy for review.
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La Cour des Miracles game: A four-sided review

The La Cour des Miracles game revolves around worker placement, area influence and clever card play. It’s for 2-5 players and takes around 40-60 minutes.

While area majorities are key to the game, ownership is often fleeting. And while the game has much interaction, it never feels ‘mean’ as it is very much central to the game. Everyone is doing it, all the time.

I say this early on because I don’t usually go for these mechanisms, but am fine with them here. The game is also light on rules, so I think the 10+ age range on the box could easily be reduces to eight-plus for gamer families. Each player represents a 16th Century Parisian guild vying for influence in the city’s poorest regions. While non-essential, the theme is well represented and does help teach the game.

The game’s artwork is stunning and the component quality top notch (with one quibble – see ‘key observations’). Some of the rogue token iconography is rubbish, but thankfully there’s not much of it and everything is well described in the short rulebook. In the box you’ll find the game board, 30 cards, 60+ wooden pieces, 60 cardboard tokens and a cotton bag. For less than £30, I’d say it is very good value for money.

Teaching the La Cour des Miracles game

La Cour des Miracles is a ‘first past the post’ board game, so there’s not a victory point in sight. While it may not feel like it, this is very much a race. Because when a player manages to place their sixth Renown marker on the board, they immediately win.

The rules of the game are very simple. On your turn, you place one of your rogues (read: action tokens) onto the board. Each player starts the game with the same three rogue tokens, each of which has a hidden strength value. And you decide which one to deploy each turn. As the game goes on, you can get a fourth rogue as well as upgrades to your starting ones (giving them all sorts of interesting abilities).

The spot you place in has a simple action, which you execute immediately. Either gain coins or Plot cards, or move the Penniless King (more on him later). Next, you have the option of triggering the action associated with the neighbourhood you placed your rogue in. These areas are contested and once controlled by a player, they profit from this extra action being used. Hence it being optional.

The standoff

Each neighbourhood has three spots for rogues. At the end of a turn where an area fills up, it triggers a standoff between the players there. During a standoff the rogue tokens are flipped over and a simple strength majority earns control (the rogues go back to their owners). Meaning you place one of your Renown tokens there. But wins can be fleeting, as areas can have several standoffs per game (even per round!). Moving the Penniless King can also trigger standoffs, which occur even if a neighbourhood isn’t full.

If you’re a lover not a fighter, you’ll be trying to collect as much money as possible. This can then be spent in a particular neighbourhood to send your Renown tokens to Renown Square. Up to five of your Renown tokens can be sent there, each of which gets a small immediate benefit. More importantly, once there they are safe. But the maths-savvy amongst you will realise you’ll still have to control at least one neighbourhood to be able to place your sixth Renown token and win.

Finally, there are the Plot cards. You may play one of these on each of your turns, at any time. Each is powerful (if sometimes situational), giving anything from cash to moving Renown/Rogue tokens, or triggering a standoff. They add that bit of mystery the game needs, so you never quite know what a player is capable of on their next turn.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: I don’t usually like area majority games, but I enjoy La Cour des Miracles. It plays fast while the real emphasis is on clever comboing of cards and actions. Players don’t feel picked on, as disputes are frequent and everyone is involved in standoffs on a regular basis. And as it is first past the post wins, there’s no point picking on the little guy to try for second place. With clever play you can comfortably place two Renown tokens in a single turn – turfing someone out in the process. So no player should ever feel out of the running.
  • The thinker: I also quite enjoyed the game, but it is almost entirely tactical. Sure, you can hold a Plot card back for a particular time. But 99% of your turns will be decided in the moment. Luck also plays quite a big part. Upgrading your rogues is a random pick from a bag, so you can’t choose your tactical direction. While pulling the right Plot card at the right time can make or break your challenge. But at under an hour, that’s fine – just not really for me.
  • The trasher: La Cour des Miracles will never be a top favourite. But it’s a great bridge between heads-down euro games and thematic interactive ones. And its one I’d always happily sit down and play. We’re used to seeing area majority and action selection combine in modern gaming, but usually in longer heavier games. And it’s important that the rules get out of the way fast, while the board is so tight there’s nowhere to hide and play turtle. All in all, a great gateway game.
  • The dabbler: Wow, what a beautiful game! The art is gorgeous, exacerbated by nice extra touches. Such as the board being cut around the city wall, rather than being the normal boring rectangle. And the amazing cover art being a removable poster you can put on your wall. The game itself is super easy to learn and while its mean, you’re all being mean all the time! So I’m not sure that really counts lol. So I like it and will happily play again, but I’m not sure I’d request it.

Key observations

This is a very new game, with very few reviews, so there’s not to much for me to comment on. The only big negative comment mentions the game has a lot of luck – which I’ve already commented on – but also claimed it’s unbalanced. I’d have to take issue with that. Sure, cards and rogues are varied – but I don’t see any killer combos. And as an area majority game, you’re relying on the players to settle imbalances.

Component-wise, getting the cardboard player tokens out of the wooden discs can be fiddly and annoying. You’d think a little thought could’ve seen them easily side-step this issue. Which is a surprise, as the publisher has done a bang-on job elsewhere. There has been some criticism of the rulebook, but this is a surprise to me as I thought it was largely clear, concise and well laid out.

Conclusion: La Cour des Miracles game

When I added this to my Essen 2019 Top 10 wish list I didn’t really see it as an area majority game. Once I got it, I was a little more sceptical. But so far, it is one of my favourite game of this year’s crop. While it’s not full of original ideas, it puts things together in a fascinating way. And while you’re literally just doing, at most, three actions at once; you can pull off some very satisfying combos. It plays to its advertised length, feels satisfying for it, and is an easy teach. What’s not to like?

Essen Spiel 2019 roundup: 10 short board game reviews

Welcome to my first (only?) Essen Spiel 2019 roundup. Ten games I’ve played that were released at the show, or shortly before/after.

With more than 1,000 games released at Essen Spiel 2019, you simply can’t cover them all. I’ve reviewed a few already (see links below), but here you’ll find shorter reviews of games I’ve played just once or twice.

Some of these simply aren’t to my taste, or I’d struggle to get them played, despite being good games. Others are long and will take a lot of time and plays to cover in detail. I may get to them later in the year, but with the clamour for fast reviews they’ll be off the hotness lists by the time I get to them. Others are simply proving tricky to get hold of. Or I absolutely hated them! See if you can guess which are which…

But I hope you’ll find something worth checking out, as there are some real gems here.

Alice in Wordland (3-8 players, 15-30 mins)

There’s been a spate of word games released over the past few years, but this is a great addition to the genre. Against the clock, players try and think of a word in a given category – but that doesn’t include particular letters.

The game also has player powers and a scoring system for those that want extra complexity, but it’s a hoot either way. And if you still need convincing, it comes with a musical teapot timer.

Bus (3-5 players, 120 mins)

This is a re-release of the old Splotter game from 1999. It has a very high price point for a game with frankly poor art, graphic design and component quality. Game play features incredibly aggressive network building and pick-up-and deliver. So, if you don’t have a head for a spatial puzzle and a love for player interaction, forget it. It has many fans, but I found it dated, frustrating and overly long for what it was.

Barrage (1-4 players, 120+ mins)

One of the heavier euro games released at Essen Spiel 2019, Barrage is half action selection and half spatial puzzle.

While the action selection and resource management are pedestrian, thankfully the real game happens on the board. It’s a mean network builder with very clever interaction and multiple routes to victory.

But it is dogged with dodgy components (wait for a reprint) and was far too heavy and punishing for a simple soul such as me. But it will be a deserving hit for the heavy euro crowd.

Crystal Palace (2-5 players, 120+ mins)

While considered almost as heavy as Barrage, I got on with Crystal Palace much better. Largely because the interaction is more forgiving and short-term, with more emphasis put on building your own tableau. It’s a dice placement action selection game, with the twist that you choose (then pay for) the dice faces you want. It works very well, as long as you’re willing to wrestle a tough economic puzzle throughout.

Dizzle (1-4 players, 30 mins)

A fabulous little roll-and-write that may go to the top of this particular pile for me. The push-your-luck element works well, scoring is simple, and there’s a bit of interaction.

It’s probably cleverer than That’s Pretty Clever. And has the added addition of having more complex sheets in the box, much like Galaxy Trucker.

So, as you perfect the simpler sheets you simply move on up to the next level. A great game with real replay value.

Hurlyburly (2-4 players, 15 mins)

If you’ve ever played Rhino Hero, imagine if you each had a tower – and were firing catapults at each other. That’s Hurlyburly – and it’s every bit as fun as it sounds. It’s that rare breed of family game that all ages can have fun and be good at, while having enough extra bits to keep gamers happy too. Upgrade your tower, build up defences, then fail miserably to hit anything. Proper, proper fun.

Jaws (2-4 players, 60 mins)

Fans of thematic games may get a kick out of this one-versus-all luck fest. In part one, 1-3 players try and find and attack the shark (the other player) as it terrorises the beaches. Think: sub-Scotland Yard.

The faster you hit it, the more equipment you’ll have for part two (or vice versa). Then, it’s out to sea for the showdown. Think: any ‘high rolls equal more hits’ action game. But with less strategy. A lot less.

Outback Crossing (2-6 players, 30-45 mins)

I really wanted to like this one. It’s a light tactical family game, with the tension being in whether to make columns better or claim them for yourself. The earlier you claim, the more other people can mess with your scoring capability. A bit like the Coloretto series, but different enough to be intriguing. Unfortunately, it falls between two stools. Too fiddly and thinky for youngsters and too random and fragile for gamers. Shame.

Point Salad (2-6 players, 30 mins)

This had to be good to get over the punny title – and it was. It’s a clever small-box filler card game, where you either grab veg or scoring cards each turn.

Scoring cards can be contradictory (some give minus points for certain veg), but you can always flip them over to their veg side later.

Yup, it’s hard to explain in 100 words. But basically, it’s set collection where you also choose your scoring conditions.

Trails of Tucana (1-8 players, 15 mins)

This is a route-building roll-and-write using cards instead of dice (as in Welcome To…). Here you’re trying to connect locations to score points and trigger bonuses. It works well and is receiving some good reviews, but I never felt overly engaged. I think this was because it is very solitary. And that’s strange, as that isn’t usually a problem for me. I think I just want a bit more interactivity in a game of this style.

Essen Spiel 2019 roundup

I hope you’ve enjoyed this Essen Spiel 2019 roundup. If this is a style of post you want to see more of, let me know in the comments below.

That’s Pretty Clever board game: A four-sided review

The That’s Pretty Clever board game (AKA Ganz Schön Clever) is a roll-and-write dice game (think Yahtzee) for one to four players. A game takes about 30-45 minutes to play, with the age printed of 8+ feeling pretty accurate.

The game was nominated for the 2018 Kennerspeil des Jahres and has proven hugely popular, spawning a sequel (Twice as Clever) and a cheap (but highly addictive) solo app for Steam, Android and Apple (see below).

In the box you’ll find Six wooden dice, four pens and a score pad. You can pick it up for a little over £10, which is solid value for money. This is a typical German abstract design. There’s no attempt at pasting on a pointless theme, and plenty of primary colours. although the black background to everything means its less garish than most. But most importantly, everything is clear and the iconography is easy to understand.

Teaching the That’s Pretty Clever board game

The rulebook is pretty easy to understand and reasonably well laid out. And if you take the first turn, you can pretty much explain the rules as you play. There’s no hidden information, so you can teach the little intricacies and answer questions on the fly. Newer gamers may take a game to pick things up. But hey, it’s a learning game, right?

There are six different coloured dice. One matches each colour on your score sheet (which are all identical), with the other (white) being wild. Each colour scores differently, but they’re all easy to pick up. On your turn, you roll all the dice and choose one of them to mark off on your sheet. More often than not, you’ll want to keep a high numbered dice – but unfortunately, that tends to come at a price.

You must discard all dice that have lower values than the one you keep. So, if you keep a three you’d have to discard and ones and twos. This is important because, once you’ve marked your choice on your sheet, you roll the remaining dice and pick again. And again, you discard any with lower values. Then you do it a third and final time. So, if you take a six after the first roll and everything else rolled had a lower value, you end up scoring only one dice – rather than a potential three.

Building up bonuses

As you progress in each colour, you unlock bonuses in four specific flavours. The simplest is the roll-and-write stock-in-trade – the ‘re-roll’ (because every dice game needs some mitigation). Next is the juicy ‘+1 dice’, which allows you to mark off an extra space on your sheet. Next are foxes (see below, in scoring), but the most interesting are the colour bonuses. These let you mark off a space of a specific other colour, so marking off a green box could then let you mark off a blue box. This can of course combo on if that blue box then triggers another bonus – and so on.

Once the active player has used (usually) three dice, each other player can mark off one of their own boxes with one of the unused dice. This means that you have a vested interest in what’s being rolled when it’s not your turn, which can be a problem with this style of game. Once each player has been active once, the round ends. You complete four to six rounds (depending on player count), before tallying up your final scores.

Each of the five colours has the chance to score 50+ points. And while you could just concentrate on a few, the aforementioned fox bonus encourages you to even things out. Each colour has one fox bonus space. At the end of the game, each fox scores points equal to your lowest scoring colour. This really can make all the difference, pushing you from a mediocre sub-200 score into the super-tough-but-doable 300s. High score wins.

Solo and digital play

Due to the fact this is a game all about nailing a great high score, Ganz Schön Clever works well as a solo game. You play the same way when you’re the active player, rolling and taking up to three dice. When you’re the passive player, you instead re-roll all the dice and get to pick one of the lowest three.

The digital version is available to play via your browser at the Schmidt website, while also being available via the Apple, Android and Steam stores. It works brilliantly, but sadly only lets you play solo. However, it’s a great way to see if you like the game before you buy – especially the free browser version.

The only downside is you can get bored of the game before you play it much with friends: an ongoing issue with digital implementations that don’t add something extra online. It’s extra problematic here, as playing in a group doesn’t add much to the experience beyond the usual ‘it’s nice to play with friends’ element any game adds.

Online play: The digital version at the Shmidt website

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: I’ve played a lot of mediocre roll-and-writes that have been very much one-and-done. But their obvious popularity has seen them dominate the market of late. And some cream has finally started to float to the surface. That’s Pretty Clever keeps everyone involved, has combos to please the gamer crowd, but is simple enough to teach anyone. That really is pretty clever.
  • The thinker: I don’t think they’re ever going to make a roll-and-write I care about. But I have to say, this is one I’ll happily play when its placed on the table. What can I say? A nice combo is always satisfying. That said, I don’t see it having much longevity as the constraints of the score sheet are absolute. It was no surprise to see a sequel released hot on its heels. And no doubt there will be more.
  • The trasher: I quite liked That’s Pretty Clever. Sure, it’s a largely solitaire experience. But there’s some fun to be had in what you leave behind – especially with two players. Sure, you could take your optimal move – but if that leaves a wild dice for the others to pick, you’re giving them a lot to work with. Better to leave something they can’t use! Problem is, the game’s a little like golf. Sure, you want to win on the day – but what you’re really worried about is your high score. For this reason, I’d choose to look elsewhere – but it’s a good game.
  • The dabbler: This was an immediate hit! Well, I say immediate. We got a little lost in the rules explanation and I thought it was going to be a bit much. My first score was terrible. But by the end of that first game, I wanted to play again! It’s now a firm favourite and it’s great to see your scoring improve with more plays.

Key observations

The That’s Pretty Clever board game needs to move along at a fair lick with more players, especially four. While you do have a vested interest in what’s going to happen, you can’t control it. So for us, two or three is where the physical version works best.

And while it is pretty clever, the game is not going to convert dice-haters. Lucky dice will quite simply give you a better score, especially if you roll high in the early rounds. This allows you to take higher numbers throughout your turn, giving an obvious advantage. On the flip side, this isn’t your typically quick, easy filler. Your first play will need quite a bit or rules explanation and a game with three or four can easily go over 30 minutes.

You’ll probably read one particular strategy is overpowered and that the game will play itself out. All I’ll say to that is it’s sad so many of the negative reviews come from players who have downgraded their scores after playing it to death and moving on. Compared to the amount of plays the average game gets now, you’ll easily be looking at 20+ plays of this before being done. If only fools who rated terrible Kickstarter games as 10s before they’d even got them delivered would do the same thing….

Conclusion: That’s Pretty Clever Board Game

Roll-and-write has been a largely maligned gaming category for years. And in my eyes, fairly so. But 2018 saw two games in the category – That’s Pretty Clever and Welcome To… – be the first to rise into the Top 200 games on Board Game Geek. And while I don’t always agree with the broader gaming community, I’m pleased to say I heartily agree with both riding high on the chart.

This has the rare honour of being enjoyed by everyone I’ve played it with so far. Several people have gone on to get the app, with scores regularly exchanged over chat channels. Will the gloss come off after we’ve all broken that magical 300-point barrier? Most likely. But in a gaming age where one-and-done escape room games cost the same as this, no one is going to complain about value for money. Highly recommended.

It’s a Wonderful World board game: A four-sided review

The It’s a Wonderful World board game is a fast-playing card drafting game for the euro crowd.

It’ll take 1-5 players 30-60 minutes to play (the box tells the truth). But I disagree with the 14+ for age. The mechanics are simple, so I’d say 8-10+ – but to play it well, it may skew a little older.

The game’s cards largely depict futuristic buildings. Once built (or discarded) they earn you cubes and/or victory points – so alongside drafting you’ll be fulfilling orders and managing resources. Theme? Nope. It is pretty, though. And the iconography couldn’t be clearer.

In the box you’ll find a small game board, 160 cards, 170 plastic cubes (with five small plastic bowls to put them in), 80 cardboard chits, a round tracker and a score pad. The components are good quality and the art above average for a game with so many individual cards. It’s less quirky than Terraforming Mars, and probably around the level of Race for the Galaxy – and feels more consistent throughout.

NOTE: I’m reviewing a standard retail copy. There’s also a Kickstarter version with extra bits and bobs, including scenarios, which I know nothing about. As for my images, I was given a French copy by mistake – but as the game is completely language independent, it makes no difference to game play. In fact, having the building names in French probably makes us look way classier when we play…

Teaching the It’s a Wonderful World board game

Experienced gamers will take to the concepts in It’s a Wonderful World very quickly. But as with so many recent releases, it’s the subtle twists on the norm that make it shine (or not) – and that will catch players out. It’s the kind of game you need a full play of to see the way things slot together. But when it’s this short, that’s acceptable – but it’s worth saying to players upfront.

A game lasts four rounds, each exactly the same (except the draft direction alternates). With 3-5 players, you’re dealt seven cards at the start of each round. Each player chooses a card to keep, passing the rest to the next player. The twist is cards kept are immediately placed face-up in your ‘draft area’, giving players more immediate information than usual. You do this until each player has seven cards. (With two players, you’re dealt 10 cards each, then both discard your final three cards. Solo rules below.).

The cards are straightforward. Alongside the art and card name, they’re split into three main areas. Top left is the cost to build and bottom right is recycle value. (The rest of the lower area is what you get if you build the build card – more on this later).

So, you have seven cards in your draft area. Players now simultaneously decide what to do with them. The simplest thing is to recycle (read: discard) a card. This gives you the resource depicted as its recycle value, which must be put onto a building under construction. (Any that can’t go into a pool that, when reaching five, magically become a wild resource). This is also the same for all resources earned later, during production.

Instead, you can move cards to your construction area. Each then requires (2-8) cubes of specific colours. Once you’ve placed those on the card they’re discarded, and the building added to your empire. It may earn you an immediate bonus, and from now on will earn you an income and/or end game victory points.

The production phase

Once players only have cards left in their empire and construction areas, it’s time for production. This happens in five identical phases. Starting with the most basic resource, players announce how many they produce. Then everyone takes/uses that many cubes, with the person making the most taking a bonus. Any buildings completed are immediately added to your empire. So, if they produce cubes higher up the resources chain (likely), you’ll get to use them this round.

The production bonus mentioned will either be a ‘general’ or ‘financier’. (Read: yellow or blue cardboard chit worth one victory point.) These are also often given as a bonus for completing a building and are sometimes required to complete a building.

After four rounds, you simply add up your points. Each of those chits is worth a point – but some buildings will multiply that. Other buildings will be worth a simple victory point value, while others will reward you per building you have of a certain type (which follow the five basic resource types/colours). And that is basically that.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: I love a game that answers questions before you ask them. It’s a Wonderful World does that. When you wonder about something, try a bit of logical thought – and that simple answer is usually the one in the rulebook. But while the game feels incredibly stripped down, I found myself enjoying it. Which is odd, as a comparison can be made to Century: Spice Road – which I thought was awful. While both games are incredibly simple, this one is also clever. They stripped out the complexity but left some clever and original – not just bland and generic – ideas behind. And that really isn’t easy to accomplish.
  • The thinker:  The cascading effect production makes what is a very short game in rounds feel much more multi-dimensional. you feel pressure from the first card draw, looking for ways to get your engine going immediately. And finding the right balance between recycling and building is a fun challenge. However, the over production and large box size hints at something more than a filler – but you won’t find that here. That puts unnecessary pressure on the game to be more. And as it stands, I don’t see it can live up to that. Played occasionally as a filler, this comes highly rated. But I don’t see it has millage as more in its current state.
  • The trasher: Drafting is a good mechanism for interaction and is well implemented here. Having cards played face-up (and keeping them simple) helps you assess the playing field. While knowing you’ll get a useful resource for hate drafting also ups the ante. But on the flip side, gaining resources in this way also makes it much simpler to complete tough buildings you do go for – negating the hate a bit! Due to the speed of play I thought the game was OK, but it’s still more solitaire euro than anything else – so it’s not a choice for me. But if they add an expansion that lets you mess with other players’ empires, let me know…
  • The dabbler: While nicely produced, and simple to learn, there were a few big missteps for me. First, the game play. While deceptively simple it’s actually really difficult to play the game well. The game teacher needs to really emphasise the importance of getting your production going early. Otherwise you can be out of it, and getting bored, before halfway. Secondly, the theme. What were they thinking? The name, the art – I just don’t get it. The cover has guns and tanks and swarthy businessmen – none of which have any bearing on the game. When this is incredibly abstract, they had every option available – and chose poorly.

Solo play

It’s a Wonderful World is a quick and simple solo experience. The rules remain largely the same, minus the drafting. Instead, at the start of the game, you draw eight piles of five cards each. At the start of turn one, draw a random pile and recycle/begin to construction as normal, with one added option.

You may discard any two cards from the game to draw five from the remaining stack and keep one of them. Once done, you do the same with a second stack – then produce/construct as normal. So, once you’ve gone through your eight piles of cards, you’ve had the normal four rounds.

The ‘discard two to look at five and keep one’ nicely sidesteps the draft. Sure, you’re down a card – but it is very often worth it for the good chance you’ll get the recycle resource you want. Or perhaps a great card to construct. What it also highlights, though, is how much a solitaire experience the game is. I’m not sure I lost too much losing the draft – which feels like it should be the heart of the game. But hey – that isn’t going to be a negative for solo players!

Key observations

As a drafting game, there are inevitable comparisons to the big-seller in the gaming genre – 7 Wonders. Criticisms describe this as a fiddlier version, while others describe it as being better for essentially the same reason (more optimisation and planning, more puzzly etc). You know yourself and your group, so you’ll know which camp you’re more likely to sit in! This is a without doubt a good game – but it won’t suit everyone.

You may also want to ask yourself, does a drafting game require interaction to be relevant? Because I’ve generally found it less important here than in other drafters. In It’s a Wonderful World, poor drafting can essentially king-make. This is especially true at lower player counts if one player gets a colour to themselves. But beyond that, drafting is more generally used to engine build. It’s not like a game such as Sushi Go, where your drafting picks probably involve considering other players from the start.

Then there’s the Kickstarter dilemma. While I (really really) don’t care what extra bling was in that ridiculously large box, I am already thinking about what I’m missing in the KS-only campaign mode. Because while I understand backers want extra stuff, I don’t think leaving key game elements out for all purchasers is OK. With a simple abstract game, with little interaction, replayability is obviously a concern – so leaving the campaign mode out of the basic box feels like a misstep.

And finally, price versus packaging may put some people off. While it has lovely components, this is a medium-sized game in a large box with a £40 price tag. I’ve really enjoyed my plays, but with a worry over longevity and short, simple game play it does feel a little overpriced.

Conclusion: It’s a Wonderful World board game

It’s a Wonderful World was at the top of my wish list for Essen Spiel 2019. It looked to have elements I love from both Race for the Galaxy and Terraforming Mars. Two of my favourite games. While potentially coming in as an even simpler and faster alternative. And in many ways, those hopes were born out.

The purity and simplicity of the engine building works. But only because of the clever cascading element of production. My fear is that this simplicity will grow old once mastered. At which point the drafting – or, more pointedly, the denial/hate drafting – will need to take centre stage. And I don’t see it being up to the challenge. If that’s the case, it will rely on the publisher releasing the campaign content into the wider world. Hopefully free, or at least very low cost on top of an already steep price tag.

For the positive reasons, the game will be staying in my collection. Right now, I really enjoy the challenges the tight rounds and cascading production bring. But it won’t become the heavy rotation game Race and Terraforming Mars did. For that to happen, something needs to be added for that next level of replayability.

* I would like to thank La Boîte de Jeu for providing a copy of the game for review.

* Follow this link for 150+ more of my board game reviews.