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.

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