#196 – Wonderland

Box

Base price: $12.
2 players.
Play time: ~10 minutes.
BGG Link
Buy …? (Will post a link if it’s available somewhere.)
Logged plays: 7 

Full disclosure: A review copy of Wonderland was provided by Renegade Game Studios.

You feel like there’d be more Alice in Wonderland games. I dunno, it just seems like a … thing that would happen? Like more Mad Hatter or weird creepy twins or that one rabbit that’s definitely on something or the sudden realization that you don’t really know or remember that much about Alice in Wonderland outside of the highly sanitized version you’ve seen in Kingdom Hearts too many times. That’s where I’m at, now.

Anyways.

Wonderland is an International Tabletop Day Exclusive game coming from Renegade Game Studios, by Daniel Solis and with art by Beth Sobel. In it, you play as either Alice or the Red Queen vying for control of Wonderland by deploying your forces and using cakes or potions to grow or shrink and take control of key areas. Will you be able to control Wonderland? Or will you merely have … Blunder … land I’m not even proud of that one. Let’s move on.

Contents

Setup

Setup isn’t too tough — give each player the cards in their color. Some cards are Alice’s (and blue-bordered / bottom row), and some belong to the Red Queen (red-bordered / top row):

Cards Row

Some cards are unaffiliated; these are Wonders, and are used as an advanced variant to help buff Alice:

Wonder Cards

More on those later. There’s also a bag, for the cards, if you want to eschew the box:

Bag

Either way, you don’t do anything with them, yet, so once you have them you’re ready to start!

Setup

Gameplay

Gameplay 0

So, the game is played over two phases: Arrival and Placement. I’ll cover each in turn.

Arrival Phase

During the Arrival Phase, The Red Queen and Alice take turns preparing their “rows” of Wonderland.

So Wonderland itself is a 3×3 grid, with Alice and the Red Queen having perpendicular “rows” of three cards on the edge of that 3×3 grid.

Starting with the Red Queen, each player places a card from their hand face-down into that row. That’s their “bid” on how valuable the row of cards in Wonderland connected to it will be, essentially.

If you are playing with the Wonders variant, Alice chooses a Wonder and adds it to her hand, secretly, after the Arrival Phase ends. Their abilities are as follows:

  • Tugley Woods: The card in this row or column with the highest rank is doubled. This can affect cards that are along the edges of the grid (in either Alice or the Red Queen’s territory), which may cause a player to score more points. This card works in conjunction with any other card effects (such as potions or cakes).
  • Tea Party: Ignore the magic item effect of any one card orthogonally (up, down, left, or right) adjacent to this card. So, no cakes or potions.
  • White Rabbit: Swap the edge cards in this card’s row and column.
  • The Maze: The player with the lowest value in this row and column scores the edge card, rather than the highest.

Those may not all make sense right now, but they’ll be useful later.

Placement Phase

Gameplay 1

Now, starting again with the Red Queen, players take turns placing a card from their hand face-up onto any open spot in the 3×3 grid. This means that there will be one empty space, and if you’re playing with the Wonders variant Alice will place the Wonder there. Either way, do that. You may rotate cards 180 degrees when you place them, as needed.

Some cards have Cakes or Potions on the edges — those are special, magic items! They have effects as follows:

  • Cake: The card adjacent to this Cake has its rank doubled for the rest of the game. This can be compounded by additional Cakes. (Two Cakes would be x4, not x3.)
  • Potion: The card adjacent to this Potion has rank 0 for the rest of the game. This overrules Cakes.

Play continues until the last card has been played. Then, we move on to scoring.

Gameplay 2

Game End

Once the last card is played, check the scores for each player in each row and each column. If you have the most points in that column or row (sum the ranks of your cards), you take the scoring card of that row and add it to your score (unless a Wonder changes that). If there’s a tie, nobody scores those points. Rough.

The player with the most points wins!

Player Count Differences

Two-player only.

Strategy

  • I find that the 7 is a really useless card, in game. It has a high value and no magic items, making it far more useful to be in your edge than in Wonderland. You can make your own high-value cards with Cakes.
  • Generally, my edge is 1, 3, and 7. As mentioned, the 7 isn’t that helpful, and within the same vein is the 1. Plus, that gives me a “dump row” that I can try and push my opponent towards. Sure, they might get a point, but what do I care? The 3 also has two Cakes on it, which makes it highly exploitable. More often than not I end up just buffing my opponent’s card rank, which isn’t super helpful. As a result, I keep it in the grid, where it can’t affect my opponent’s cards.
  • Use your Potions aggressively. If an opponent doubled a card’s value, drop it with a Potion. It’s rude, sure, but hey, whatever.
  • I find the best first plays are in the corners. If you play a card with a Potion on it to a corner, you’ve already made the space adjacent to that Potion unappetizing for an opponent to play in. That means that if you play in the other adjacent space, you’ve effectively covered your bases for that card, especially if you use a Cake. If you play a card in the center, first, there are too many attack vectors for you to protect a high-value card. If you play a lower value card then you’re just giving your opponent opportunities to leverage the Cakes on that card (if any). As spots on the board get filled, less dangerous plays open up.
  • If you’re the Red Queen, try to push Alice such that she can’t make meaningful plays on her Wonders. If you think she has the Tea Party, try to maneuver her such that she can only place it next to cards with either her magic items or no magic items. If she’s got The Maze, push her to play it in rows or columns where she’s already got the highest total. That subtle manipulation is going to be what wins games.
  • Bluff a bit. If you play a high-value card to a row and an opponent Potions it, it’s possible that they don’t want you to win that, meaning you should continue to try to win that row / column (whichever card you don’t know). Plus, your opponent might think the same way, only to discover that your card is a 1, making all their work kinda fruitless.
  • Keep track of what your opponent has already played. The more cards you see, the better you know what (and where) your opponent can play next. Be smart about it and you might be able to trick them into a pretty serious mistake. You may need that to win.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • Fantastic art. Beth Sobel, enough said.
  • Easy to learn. The game’s a pretty simple grid system where you play cards face down to hide points and then face-up for area control stuff. Pretty straightforward.
  • Highly portable. It’s only 18 cards — I’m surprised it’s not more in Button Shy’s wheelhouse, to be honest.
  • Comes with a nice bag. That’s a major nice thing about the game, to be honest — the bag is definitely classy, though confusing because the box is also there. Lost Legacy did that for a bit before finally quitting.
  • Plays quickly. Each game takes only about 5 or 10 minutes, tops.

Mehs

  • The theme is kind of … there. There’s not really a reason why it’s Wonderland-themed, in fact, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to me why it is Wonderland-themed. It’s sort of a Wonderland area control, thing? Is that a thing that happened? Otherwise, why not just theme it something else? I’ll probably never understand how these things are decided, and I’ve mostly made peace with that, being totally honest.
  • A few of the Wonders have some confusing rules around them. The row or column thing seems like the “or” should be an “and” once or twice, and I wasn’t totally sure. Some examples of Wonder usage might have been helpful to clarify.

Cons

  • The game might be too short or too light to make much of an impact on the players. I feel like that might be because each player only plays 4 cards, so there’s not much thinking or planning that goes on beyond “what’s the best decision in this exact moment”. Sure, there are opportunities to be sneaky or tricksy, but the game is here and then gone so quickly that it doesn’t get a whole lot of time to make an impact. Normally, I’d chalk that up to “being a microgame”, but Button Shy and the Lost Legacy series both do an excellent job of making games that are short, sure, but they make an impact, and this is short and pleasant but I don’t get a lot else from it. It’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it feels more like the breath mint you get after dinner — it’s pleasant and nice (made even better by amazing art), but it’s not something I would demand or be upset if I didn’t get; does that make sense? I think I’d be more interested in the game if it were expanded out into a slightly larger concept; maybe with a 4×4 grid the game would last a bit longer and the decisions would feel more impactful, for me.

Overall: 6 / 10

In Progress

Overall, Wonderland’s fine. I find it pleasant to play and inoffensive, and that’s about the most I can do with it. There aren’t really enough cards / turns / decisions in the game to feel like I’m having an impact beyond just being reactive, and the game feels pretty short. I guess the feeling isn’t anything negative about the game, but it’s only vaguely positive (in that the game isn’t like, mediocre — I do have some positive emotions towards the game). Beth’s art is, as always, wonderful, but the game falls a bit flat for me beyond the presentation aspect. That doesn’t make it a bad travel game, sure, but there are so many great travel games already, so I worry it’ll get outshone by the other stuff that’s coming out (especially other Button Shy games). Honestly, I think there are some interesting things at the core of it, though, and I’d love to see the concept expanded on. That said, it’s fairly unique, so, it will probably make a nice gift, especially for a gamer just getting started in the genre. If you’re a big fan of Alice in Wonderland or microgames, well, your mileage may vary, though, so you might see some things in Wonderland that I’ve missed.

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