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Wonderland Review


Quick Look: Wonderland


Designer: Daniel Solis
Artist: Beth Sobel, Anita Osburn
Publisher: Renegade Game Studios
Year Published: 2018
No. of Players: 2
Ages: 14+
Playing Time: 15 - 30 min

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com


Review:

tl;dr: Clever and quick variance-free pocket game with a gorgeous Alice-In-Wonderland art style. Available only on International TableTop Day.

Getting to the Game: Wonderland's base game is 14 cards, 7 of which belong to Alice and are thinly-bordered in blue, and 7 of which are the Red Queen's, bordered in her color. Decide who is playing which side, and each player gets their set of cards. You're ready to play.

The rules of Wonderland are based on the grid created by the players in the Arrival phase of the game. The edge cards will determine the point value being fought over for that row or column. Whichever player has the most points in that line will win that point value. All 6 lines' scores are added together, players switch sides and repeat. Whoever scored the most points across both games is the winner, and celebrates a very happy un-birthday.

Playing the GameStarting with the Red Queen player, a card is placed face-down along the edge of the playing area - the Queen's along the vertical edge (creating rows) and Alice's along the horizontal (creating columns). Play alternates until both players have established three of each, which creates a 3x3 playing grid for the second phase of the game. The cards you use in this phase will limit what you have to play in the second, so playing thoughtfully here is important. Each player only has values 1-7, so if you play your 7 into an edge to try and set up a huge score, you're limited in the cards you'll have to play to claim it. 

During the placement phase, each player will play one of their remaining 4 cards face-up into the grid anywhere there's an open space. Your placement will count as your card for both the row and the column you play in. Some of your cards will also have potions and cakes on their edges. A cake on your card edge will double the face value of the card played next to it. However, a potion will negate the value of it's adjacent card. In a nice bit of asymmetry, these elements aren't the same across both players. For example, Alice's 2-value has a potion on the long edge and a cake on the short. The Red Queen's 2-value is the opposite. There's some element of defense and risk in play here, and the feeling of playing first into an empty grid as the Red Queen is quite delicious. You're setting the tone for the whole game with the first piece of known information, and if that card has a cake on it, it's gifting your opponent a huge window of opportunity.

Playing the back and forth of Wonderland, then, becomes a delicate dance of feint and attack, knowing only what the columns or rows are worth while trying to infer by your opponent's plays what the other values are. Negating a huge setup by your opponent with a well-placed potion can feel great until you realize that you were distracted intentionally into a low-scoring area while the crafty Alice quietly scored somewhere else. None of this is realized until the very end when the edge cards are revealed, and there's usually some manner of "WHY WOULD YOU PLAY THAT THERE" screamed at someone in realization. With so many levels of If-I-Play-That-There-Then-You'll-Play-That-There-Then-I'll-Do-That-Then-Oh-God-Why-Did-I-Drink-That-Potion going on at once, Wonderland is both phenomenally heady and driven by wild and crazy plays.

Included in the box are four cards to be used with the Wonder variant. After the Arrival Phase, the Alice player can choose one of the four cards, and place one of them anywhere in the grid. These can affect the grid in varied ways, either negating a cake or potion, swapping edge cards around, changing the scoring of that row or column to go to the player with the lowest total (rather than highest) or doubling the highest value card in the row or column (including the edge card). This adds a nice additional element to the game, and even fills out that OCD-annoying empty space in the grid.

Artwork and Components: Beth Sobel has done a phenomenal job of bringing Alice-in-Wonderland-inspired art to the card faces, with the Red Queen's cards all feeling somewhere between vaguely and overtly ominous and Alice's cards feeling more whimsical and playful. In a game with few actual mechanics, and where the game play is staring at cards the whole time, you couldn't ask for better art to look at. The card backs look great as well, an element not required, but very welcome.




The only component to speak of is the travel bag, a gorgeously-embroidered purple velvet bag for carrying Wonderland around without the box. It's not involved in the actual game, but for reducing the footprint of the game down to a pocket. It's perfect.

The Good: Everything. All of it. There's a perfect blend of hidden information, zero variance, and strategy. It's phenomenally pretty to look at on the table, and at only $12 MSRP, snagging this one is more important than being late to your tea party. With Wonderland being available at retailers for only one day, the trick is going to be finding your copy.

The Bad: While it should be clear that I love Wonderland and highly recommend it, it's not without a couple of flaws. First off, due to the limited resources of a hand of 7 cards, the lack of information about half of the board, and the addition of playing cakes or potions into spaces that will affect cards not yet played, your AP-prone friends are very likely to have issues here.

Additionally, while the name of the game is Wonderland, and the art provokes a very powerful Alice theme, the actual gameplay doesn't have anything to do with the world it evokes. It could just as easily be robots vs aliens, zombies vs. survivors, or any other style. It's a little disappointing, but with the solid mechanics that are here, it's pretty easy to gloss over.

Score: Featuring dead-simple gameplay, pitch-perfect art, tense strategy, and rabbit-fast gameplay, I'm eagerly willing to overlook the tacked-on theme and built-in snares for players prone to Analysis Paralysis. My early contender for Game of the Year, I'm giving Wonderland a score of Eat Me, Drink Me, Play Me.



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About the Author:


Nicholas Leeman has been a board game evangelist for over 10 years now, converting friends and family alike to the hobby. He's also a trained actor and works summers as one of the PA announcers for the St. Paul Saints, a professional baseball team. He lives in Minneapolis, MN with his board gaming wife and son.
Wonderland Review Wonderland Review Reviewed by The Madjai on May 15, 2018 Rating: 5

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