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Wacky Widgets Preview

Quick Look:

Designer: Harvey Cornell
Artist: Carlie Cornell
Publisher: Dragon Phoenix Games
Year Published: 2020
No. of Players: 1-4
Ages: 14+
Playing Time: 30 minutes per player

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

WARNING: This is a preview of Wacky Widgets. All components and rules are prototype and subject to change.

Many consider the gnomes of Westarland to be a simple people, making their homes deep within the Brimstone Mountains. However, "simple" grossly underestimates them - deep within the Caves of Neverwhere, the gnomes build complex contraptions to make a variety of goods to sell to the other races. With the hard work ahead of them each day, and the occasional gremlin invasion, their lives are anything but simple!

In Wacky Widgets, players take on the role of the gnomes, attempting to outdo their opponents with unique machines. The winner is the player who is able to collect the most points before the game's end. Alternatively, players can work together to build specific contraptions while repelling gremlin invasions for a cooperative experience!


Rules and Setup:
A basic round of play goes as follows:

To start with, all players replenish their gnome tokens. Select one type (Gnitchy, Gnickey, and Jigger) and collect as many tokens as you have matching cards. For example, Gnickey tokens are tied to the Doohickey cards, so if you have three Doohickey cards, you can take three Gnickey tokens.

Once all players have replenished tokens, the first player begins working to build contraptions. They can turn in gnome tokens to move, swap, and flip Build cards, as well as draw a schematic card to work on (these came in four varieties--Doohickey, Whatsit, Thingamabob, and Combobulation). If you are able to finish building a schematic on your turn, you gain a 2-point Victory Point token, as well as the bonus from the card itself. The Build cards used are discarded and replaced, a Mark token is placed over them to show that they cannot be used again on that turn, and the player can flip over one face-down schematic card. Once the player has built as much as they want, they pass, the Mark tokens are removed, and play passes to the left.

In a co-op gremlin game, the rules are essentially the same, except each person's turn begins with gremlin mischief. Starting from the top left, all Gremlin cards on the board are activated, and a new Gremlin card is added to the board. Once these have both been done, play continues as normal. However, players can now also use completed contraptions to recruit hunters to remove gremlins from the board.

Setup is fairly simple. Start by placing the board in the center of the table. Then, shuffle the Build cards, placing four next to the board as the "Build card offer," and place the remaining cards next to them as a restock pile. Shuffle the different schematic decks, and place them next to the board. Each player receives Team cards (which outline what each Gnome token can do) and a set of Gnome tokens, the number of which depends on how many are playing. Make sure that all tokens are within easy reach of the board, give the first-player token to the last person to build something, and commence assembly!

Theme and Mechanics:
The theme is fairly straightforward: you play as cave-dwelling gnomes in a vague fantasy world, building contraptions for a living, and repelling the odd gremlin invasion. It leans fairly heavily into the mechanism theme as well, with several different versions of simple (and, at times, more complex) machines. However, though it has several focuses for its theme, the game seems to struggle to decide where to put its biggest focus. For instance, while the in-game "lore" talks about building contraptions to make goods, a successful contraption only nets you Victory Points, the board-game equivalent of white rice--a staple that gets the job done, but without any real flavor. I would have really enjoyed building a stockpile of goods over the course of the game, instead of simply lining up VP tokens.

Some of the naming choices also confused me. The schematic cards are perfect--Thingamajigs, Doohickeys...these immediately clue me in to the goofy, haphazard creations I'll be concocting. But the names of the gnomes? Gnickey, Gnitchy, Jigger, and... Mark? There doesn't seem to be much in the way of naming conventions, at least so far as I can tell. This issue also carries to the gremlins, which have names that range from Sagga and Gadzook to Jammin' Sammy and Hoarder Harley. I'm all for unique names, especially when it comes to fantasy settings, but some level of consistency can be extremely helpful in keeping everything organized in the players' minds.

Poor Mark, all by his lonesome...
As for mechanics, the game does a good job of sticking to a few core tenets, which I think really work in its favor. The focus is primarily on moving the cards around the grid to build the sets you need. Each token has a specific ability or is a "wild card," each schematic has specific requirements, and each Build card is laid out straightforward in its connections and system. Though I did have some trouble understanding some of the rules, the game is fairly straightforward, and its simple mechanics mean that you shouldn't get bogged down by the minutiae of each turn.

VP token and the First Player marker--not really necessary in this game, but a fun visual anyhow. And double-sided!

Now, as I said before, the mechanics are fairly standard. However, having played myself, I can say that this game is by no means easy. There are some downright evil schematics, requiring several Build cards and multiple schematic terminators, that can give you double digits worth of VP tokens at the expense of your sanity. And pray that Grandma doesn't decide to snag that one card you desperately needed for her own contraption, or she might be going to the nursing home a few years early!

In the cooperative mode, while you won't be at your family's throats, the gremlins pose as an equally difficult threat. Each new gremlin landing on the board brings new difficulties, from moving cards around to adding extra hazards on the board to even destroying Build cards. Not to mention that any Build card with a Gremlin card (or Hunter card) on top of it cannot be moved OR used with a contraption, meaning that players have to quickly work to build contraptions so that they can recruit Hunters to eliminate gremlins, or spend their only Gremlin Chaser tokens if necessary. It's quite possible to lose to the gremlins, or at least have the game grind to a crawl, if they block the Build cards necessary to build your contraptions. Don't let the theme and design fool you--this game is tough. Speaking of design...

Top row tokens: Placer (to denote where gremlins show up), Gremlin Chaser, and Dread (specific gremlin).
Bottom row tokens: Worm (must be Hunted), Bomb (destroys Build cards), Scum (blocks Build), and Stink (blocks Build).

Artwork and Components:
While I am reviewing a prototype, and I understand the art could change at any time, I do want to mention its current state. The design, much like the theme, isn't exactly sure what it wants to be. The realistic backgrounds on the cards and game board, which look as if they're taken directly from a 3D rendering of a natural cavern, are in stark contrast to the cartoon gnomes and gremlins that dot the rest of the game. Much of the artwork seems geared towards children, yet the mechanics and rules are clearly meant for an older audience with the skills to think several moves ahead.

Hunters (top) and Mischief cards (bottom).
Again, with this being a preview copy, I'm not going to focus too long on the components, as they can change between now and release. I will say that there's a good amount of moving pieces to this game, with several styles of tokens and cards to work with. The different colors help to keep these fairly well-organized, making setup a breeze and preventing confusion mid-game. However, I do hope that the schematic cards get a redesign, as they seem somewhat cluttered in their information, as opposed to the well-executed look of the Team cards.

Schematics (top) and Team cards (bottom).
I actually really like how the Build cards are designed, art notwithstanding--the background color immediately signals what connections are available (purple Doodads have 1, green Gizmos have 2 adjacent, silver Widgets have 2 opposite, and gold Gadgets have 3), and the connection color and shape denotes what sort of machine it's for. They're very straightforward visuals that keep players in the moment.

Most Build cards only have one type of system, but a rare few can have multiple.

At its core, Wacky Widgets does a lot of things right. Its core mechanics are solid, and it leans into them, making the game's core focus easy for new players to understand. The fun names it uses to denote schematics, like Doohickey and Thingamajig, prove that it doesn't take itself too seriously. Options for both competitive and cooperative play are a welcome addition, and even at its most frustrating, there's little luck involved in the gameplay, so you never feel cheated by random chance.

In the website description for the game, it says that players can "Build Rube Goldberg machines with gears, roller balls, water and levers." Except, that's not really the case here; Rube Goldberg machines involve several contraptions working together to perform one simple task, but every schematic requires that all Build cards are of the same type, whether that's gears, levers, or whichever you choose. While rather innocuous, I think this description of the game encapsulates my biggest gripe with the game: it doesn't know what it wants to be.

Wacky Widgets is, at times, a lighthearted game about silly contraptions. Other times, it's a cutthroat race to slaughter gremlins before they make your operations defunct. The artwork is both cartoonish and hyper-realistic. The plot goes out of its way to discuss this race of gnomes and why they build their contraptions, but players really just earn VP tokens to win the game. The art and theme scream "children and pre-teen" to me, but the game is rated 14+, a demographic that I wouldn't assume to pick up a game about gnomes building silly machines. In many ways, this game is its own Rube Goldberg machine--it has lots of moving parts to get the job done, but they're a haphazard collection of pieces, not a cohesive machine. If this game can find its niche and commit to its design, I can see it being a solid contender; if not, I'm afraid it won't stand out among the others.

Final Thoughts:
Mark deserves a fun gnome name, too!

Players Who Like:
Grid movement games, and games that aren't afraid to be a bit goofy.

Check out Wacky Widgets on:

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/287153/wacky-widgets   http://dragonphoenixgames.com/wacky-widgets/   https://www.facebook.com/DragonPhoenixGames   https://twitter.com/DragonPhoenixGm   https://www.instagram.com/dragonphoenixgames/   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WszeD7Pv_24

David Jensen - Editor and Reviewer

David has tried his hand at everything from warehouse work and washing dishes to delivering pizza. Now, he's trying his hand at writing creatively and working as an editor for a start-up literary magazine. When he's not busy procrastinating, he's running tabletop game sessions for friends and family.

See David's reviews HERE.
Wacky Widgets Preview Wacky Widgets Preview Reviewed by David J. on November 26, 2019 Rating: 5

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