Full disclosure: A preview copy of Jabberwocky was provided by Jellybean Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
Hey, it’s my 300th review! That’s … a lot of games, a lot of time, and a lot of consistency. Thanks so much if you’re a new reader or if (for some reason) you’ve been here since the beginning. To celebrate, I’ll be doing a giveaway for two copies of ICECOOL2 — check it out!
So I’ve basically been on the Kickstarter train in one form or another all month — we’ve had Pirates and Zoos and FlickFleet hitting Kickstarter last week, also, after a long wait. Naturally, I wouldn’t leave you hanging so close to a game con, so let’s talk about Jabberwocky, the next game set coming from Jellybean Games.
Jabberwocky is the spiritual successor to The Lady and the Tiger, another collection of games from Jellybean. Like its predecessor, it has five games that can be played with only the cards and gems inside; however, these cards are numbered and in three different colors, allowing for even more combinations and games. In lieu of reviewing each game individually (and so I can do that later, a bit closer to fulfillment [assuming that it funds, which, it should], as is my right), I’ll be talking a bit about the games at a high level. Will you find a game you like among the Borogroves, Bandersnatch, and other assorted creatures?
So there are three major components of Jabberwocky. There are three colors of gems, and eight each:
There are 15 cards, numbered 1 – 5 in three colors:
There are also the three Jabberwocky Cards:
The actual setup of each game is kinda game dependent, and I’ll cover each in their own reviews down the line, so I’ll just give you a sample, here.
Each of these games is wildly different, so I’ll give you a quick rundown of each before diving in for a full review much later down the line.
In Bandersnatch, you play a solo game of puzzling and “broiling” gems by swapping cards into and out of a 3×3 grid. As the numbers change, the gems on the cards (and adjacent cards) increase and decrease. If a card is ever surrounded on all (orthogonal) sides by cards (or empty space), it is captured, and the gems on that card are placed on the Jabberwocky card of their color(s); this is called broiling the gems. The captured card is discarded from the game.
Yellow gems are good, green gems are better, and purple gems are bad. You want to broil the good ones and leave the bad ones on the field, and not the other way around. If you can make it to 10 points by the time you run out of playable cards, you win!
In Borogroves, you’re playing a head-to-head (or solo!) mapmaking game between the borogroves and the cartographer. The borogroves get the Jabberwocky cards, placing the gems of the matching colors of them to indicate their nests.
Each turn, the cartographer adds a card to the map and then the borogroves take one turn for each color of gems. You can either Migrate (move gems from the nest to the map), Explore (move gems from one card to another), or Settle (remove a gem from the game).
At the end of the game (once the cartographer plays the last card and the borogroves react), both sides score. The borogroves score a point for each card with the correct number of gems on it, and the cartographer scores the value of each card with no gems on it of that card’s color.
Swap teams, play again, and the player with the most points wins!
For the solo game, do the same thing, but you play as both the cartographer and borogroves. You score both of their points, added together. Try to beat 42!
Gyre is all about area control. For this one, you’ll want to make a 3×5 grid of the cards, shuffled randomly, then flip each 5 over (if you want to play a longer game, you can flip any other number over, but be consistent across colors). Give each player a Jabberwocky card and have them place it on the lowest number on the outer edge of their color. If it’s on a corner, place it on the longer side. If you’re only playing with two players, you may take a turn as the neutral third player in lieu of taking your turn, but only if your opponent did not use the neutral player on their previous turn.
On your turn, you must move to any space (without jumping over another Jabberwocky card) and then take an action. If you cannot move without jumping over another Jabberwocky card, you may place your Jabberwocky card anywhere on the outside of the board. Then take one of four actions that let you move your card or gems around the board.
If, after a turn, any cards have enough gems to flip a card (the number of gems must be greater than or equal to the card’s value and there can only be gems of that card’s color on the card), flip the card over and return the gems on that card to the Jabberwocky of that color.
The first player to flip all the cards of their color wins!
Mimsy is more into the whole mancala thing. Each player should be given a secret goal Jabberwocky (even the third “player” in a two-player game). Set the fives in a triangle, remove the 4s (and two gems of each color), and shuffle the remaining 9 cards, connecting the 5s with three of each. Place the number of gems of the card’s color on each non-5 card.
On your turn, you can mancala those gems by picking up the gems on one card and depositing them one at a time on cards further down. If the last one you drop matches any of the gems on that card, pick them all up and continue until you don’t fulfill this condition.
Once any of the 5s has 5 gems on it, the game ends. Reveal your goal cards, and the player who has that color goal wins! If the neutral player would win, the player who just took their turn wins! Though it would be funny if nobody won…
Last up is Slithy, a game of negotiation. For this one, you’ll always have a dealer and some other players. Each round, you’ll play through a set of purple cards and a set of yellow cards as the dealer essentially bets on how many gems the groups will play (at low player counts all players are one group; at higher player counts there are two). They do this by playing a purple card face-up and a yellow card face-down The players can freely negotiate between them as to how many gems get played, but once they put gems forward the dealer will reveal the yellow card. If the total gems are equal to or higher than the sum of the purple and yellow cards, the players bust and the dealer takes all the played gems. If not, the players can score X gems, where X is the number on the purple card. Either way, discard the purple and yellow cards from the game and start up again. Once all purple cards have been used, the round ends! Players score their scored gems and the yellow card that wasn’t used, and the dealer scores the busted gems and the unscored gems from a player of their choice.
Play continues until every player has had a chance to be the dealer, at which point the game ends and the player with the most points wins! You can also play a longer variant by having each player take two turns being dealer. If you do that, the player who dealt last starts dealing in the second half and dealer gets passed right rather than left (essentially the same way you place starting settlements in Catan).
Those are all the games! Maybe you can come up with more?
Player Count Differences
I think the best way to do this is to just talk about my preferences:
- Bandersnatch: Solo only.
- Borogroves: Haven’t tried the solo yet, but plan to shortly.
- Gyre: No current preference on player counts. The neutral player adds some interesting strategy.
- Mimsy: Preferred at two over three. The game ends either way, but without the third player you’re semi-cooperative as far as the neutral player’s 5. With three, you’ve got two people likely working against you.
- Slithy: Preferred at higher player counts over lower player counts. At three, I would highly recommend doing the extended variant where each player is the dealer twice.
It’s pretty game-dependent, but I’ll do the best that I can.
- (Bandersnatch) You’re really better off just trying to avoid getting any purple on the board. Sure, it’s better if it gets removed (and it’s worth getting some on the board so that you can remove it, but if you’re adding 4 or 5 purple gems to the board (primarily on purple cards) you run the risk of capturing other cards by mistake (or worse, broiling some purple gems and taking the negative points for those). Generally I just recommend against it.
- (Bandersnatch) You should also make sure you broil your greens. Getting green gems broiled should be your primary concern, as they’re worth +2 if you do and -2 if they get left on the board.
- (Borogroves) Try to trap your opponent. If you convince them to make enough moves early, they run the risk of not being able to respond if you build out the map past where they aren’t. This is especially true if they migrate too many too early, which is fairly common.
- (Gyre) Use the turned-over cards. They’re easy ways to bunch up gems that then get dumped onto a card that you want. That plus a Resolve Conflicts step should make it pretty easy to flip some of your cards over, even moreso if you can set it up so your opponent has to do the Resolve Conflicts. Then you get to get your card essentially for free!
- (Gyre) Hopefully you never need to Fly. It’s a tough move because it essentially wastes your turn trying to get more advantageous field position; avoid it unless you absolutely have to.
- (Mimsy) Try to avoid having multiple colors on your 5. That makes it easier for an opponent to snatch it up and redistribute your hard-earned beads. If they’re all the same color, not only is it harder to remove them, but it may be functionally impossible (four purples with one purple on the other fives means that the purples cannot be moved until another color is dropped on there, too). Use that to your advantage.
- (Mimsy) As I mentioned, your best bet for your final winning turn is to make sure you’re unassailable. This is much harder in a 3-player game because the other player can set you up, but basically don’t get to a state where your opponent can clear your 5 at the end of your turn, lest they clear yours and set you back to square one.
- (Slithy) Lying is A-OK. Sometimes you might need to, especially if you’re paired up with the player in the lead. You might even want them to bust some rounds. Naturally, it’s better if you score, but it might be better to give the dealer some points, too.
- (Slithy) Don’t give away points. If you’re the dealer, make sure you’re not passing on playing the high yellow card, otherwise you risk giving that many points to the other players at the end of the round. I generally (at lower player counts) pair the yellow 5 with the purple 2; it gives them both two points, sure, but it prevents them from getting 5 later.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art is really good. Not that that’s much of a surprise from Tania Walker, but it’s particularly inclusive and impressive and I love it. The card backs on the Number Cards are also a nice bit of psychedelic fun; the whole game is bright and colorful and joyful and it’s kind of necessary, in that way. Just an overall excellent artistic production. Also, the cards are all double-coded for color, which is super nice.
- The game genres are very varied. It’s nice to have a variety in the box, and Jabberwocky once again does well there. They’ve once again smartly included games for solo gamers and for party gamers, and running the gamut there is just very wise. There’s almost certainly a game for most people somewhere in there, and honestly, if there’s not, make one. That’s why I love these game systems so much.
- Very portable. It’s got the same thing as The Lady and the Tiger. Just pack it in a small bag and you’re good to go. You can likely fit The Lady and the Tiger, as well, which is nice. And the gems are all different colors!
- The games are, once again, all quick to learn. Not much setup and not particularly long games, here; they’re great for on-the-go gaming, though they’re a bit more space-intense.
- Mimsy could use a bit more of a spice, I think. I’d love some sort of events or something to make it a bit more exciting than it currently is; as it currently stands, I spend a lot of turns just trying to see how many turns I could take. It’s amusing but not aggressively interesting, to me?
- The gems might need to be double-coded, as well. I’ve had at least two plays where I’ve mistaken a purple on a green for a green (or a green on a purple; hard to say) and it’s caused me to make a bad move. It may be worth considering making them different shapes or slightly lighter colors to avoid this; in low light, the green and the purple appear to be very similar, especially against dark backgrounds, which is an issue.
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Overall, I think Jabberwocky is delightful! I’ve had a chance to spend some time with each of the five games (though not quite enough to review them individually, so I’ll get around to that later) and my general sense is that they wanted to make more games that would fit in with the games they already had made for The Lady and the Tiger but be distinct enough that it was worth owning both. To that end, I think both have a great place in a collection, especially if you’re playing games similar to games in the Button Shy line that are on the easy-to-pick-up side of things. I’m a big fan of that category, so, naturally, I’m into it. Currently, my favorite out of the set is Gyre, but I’m hoping that I’ll start finding new avenues to appreciate the other games in the line as I progress through them. Either way, if you’re looking for a fun set of games to try out that’s got great art and a lot of game in a small box, or if you’re a first-time designer looking to build something within a fairly tight framework, Jabberwocky extends the great work Jellybean has already done with The Lady and the Tiger and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next!