Full disclosure: A review copy of It’s A Wonderful World was provided by Lucky Duck Games.
Hello, welcome, and thank you so much for joining us. As you might guess, this review’s going to be a bit different than other reviews I’ve written in the past. I’m trying something. We’ll see how it shakes out. In this and other reviews marked [Mini], I’m going to leave out information on setup and the rules. Just trying something new. If it worked, leave a comment. If it didn’t work, lemme know what you want to see more of. Gotta continually play with the space, right? Either way, let’s jump into It’s A Wonderful World, a new game from Lucky Duck Games.
In It’s A Wonderful World, players take on the role of empires looking towards the future. And let’s be real, the future’s going to get weird. You’ve got alternate dimensions, Atlantis, aliens, and a few very large towers. This one’s a drafting game like 7 Wonders or Sushi Go (take a card, pass the rest), but it leans a bit on the heavier side, as players will scrap cards to gain resources that must be used immediately for construction projects. The more you build, though, the more you’ll earn as you move through production steps to gain additional resources. Gain the most and you’ll earn a bonus, as you should. After four rounds, however, only the player with the most points can be the winner. Will you be able to pull your empire into its next glorious stage? Or will you be forgotten to history?
Player Count Differences
I think the big one is the variability in availability. For instance, at two, you deal each player 10 cards instead of the usual 7, which means at three and four there are strictly more cards in play every round. Not an unreasonable amount more, but at 4 there will be 32 more cards over the course of the game. Maybe one of those cards will be one you need. The counterpoint to that is that there will be more players grabbing at those cards, so it should theoretically balance out a bit, but, in my (admittedly limited) experience, I’ve had a bit more luck at four over the course of the game. At two, we had a final round where we basically only got super low-level cards, so none of them helped us, which was a huge bummer. I threw away maybe 6 of the ones I kept? It was terrible. Not sure if that would have been alleviated by having another 24 cards out of the deck before we drew 28 additional at a higher player count, but it’s certainly plausible. Beyond that, though, I didn’t notice many differences. I think the bonuses you gain for the most of each resource during production are less interesting at two, also, since it’s basically either you get it or they do (or, rarely, nobody). Personally, I’d recommend this at three or four, though, if you’re looking for an interesting two-player drafting experience, I’m also reviewing Stellar this week.
- Decide what area you’re focusing on relatively quickly. You need to lock that down if you’re going after bonuses, and bonuses are worth some points (even more if you start getting the multipliers for them off of certain cards). What you don’t really want to do is fight another player for that area’s control. That’s usually a waste of both your time, unless you’re in a two-player game. Then, well, mess with ’em.
- You need to focus on points, not just resources. This is a mistake I make a lot. I get myself cards that will generate tons of resources during the production step (allowing me to make more cards) and I forget an important fact: the game is not as long as you think it is. Even if it feels heavier, it’s relatively short, all things considered. You won’t have time to make good on that production curve you’re creating if you don’t capitalize on it.
- Get things that synergize well with each other. I usually go after Money Man combos (what I’ve taken to calling the Financier) and get things that stack with him. His tokens are already worth points (and I get them from controlling yellow resources, which tend to come from cards that produce more Money Men), so, worst case, I end up with a bunch of points and resources that I can turn into more points! It’s a decently easy loop to thread, in my experience. Similar things can be done with Fight Lady (Generals).
- Similarly, watch out for your opponents’ synergies. You’d prefer to not let them get massive combos off at your expense. If you see them building towards one, it might be too late to stop them, but at least consider denying them cards that will help them further accelerate it?
- If you’re not sure which card you want to take to burn, burn the one that hurts your opponent the most. That’s one way to do it. I normally recommend against hate-drafting, but if you need to burn a card for resources and you have your pick of several, burning the one that helps you and hurts your opponent is the smartest possible move, I think. Just make sure that doesn’t mean you’re passing up something that’s very good for you.
- You’re going to be doing a lot of burning in the first round. The cards are randomized and expensive. You don’t generate a ton of resources initially, so you’ll probably be burning a lot of cards to get things. I’d recommend building a number of small things to help promote growth, rather than burning all your cards to build one thing.
- Ideally, you wouldn’t be creating a ton of Krystallium. It’s not really useful; it’s more of a consolation prize, since you have to burn five resources to create one wild Krystallium. Though, to be fair, there are a number of cards that do capitalize on it, so, perhaps it’s worth having some of it around just in case you go that route? (I’d say no, personally.) This is more of a “use it at your own risk”, or try to get cards that create it.
- Don’t forget that cards you build now may produce later if you grab cards that produce the right resources. This is a really cool thing. If you produce gray, and use those grays to build a card that produces black or green, during the black or green production phase that card will activate, even though it was built this turn. Use that to your advantage to try and snake bonuses away from other players or lean into important combos!
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- We accidentally memed on this game because I couldn’t remember the word “financier”, and now I laugh every time I play it. I just pointed to the Financier and called him Money Man, and now that’s what he is. This is the ongoing thing that happens if you don’t put the names of resources on or near the resources; players just come up with their own. It’s why the onyx in Splendor is chocolate to basically everyone I’ve played it with. But it makes me laugh, so, he’s gonna stay Money Man for our games.
- There are exactly enough cards for me to shuffle. One or two more cards would have pushed me over the limit. It’s tough, but satisfying. It would be nice to know how many of each card there are, but I’m not really going to dig into the game enough to figure it out.
- It’s a weightier drafting game, if you’re looking for that. It’s weightier, but it skips that thing that annoyed me about 7 Wonders, which is that it was very difficult to teach because the chaining rules were non-obvious to players who were inexperienced with tech trees. I still think Sushi Go Party! is a better introductory drafting game, but this is definitely a nice next step.
- I like the resource generation happening in stages. It allows for some really cool combos and slows the game enough that you can get a sense of who’s doing well in which areas without having to do all that looking yourself. That’s actually probably the most useful part of it, being real?
- I also like that players gain bonuses for producing the most of a resource. I think that’s a cool way to encourage players to go deep in certain areas and increase player interaction by adding a majority element. Now players have to compete for resource generation, adding another layer of interactivity to the game beyond just pure drafting. I like it much better than, say, 7 Wonders’s military attacking adjacent players.
- It seems like there are many successful paths to victory. Lots to do in the game! I’ve never even touched blue cards and I’ve seen someone pull off an elaborate victory with them. Similarly, indexing on Fight Lady or Money Man seems to be workable if you can grab the right cards and multipliers. I’d be interested to see what winning tableaus look like; I think there will be some differences between them all.
- I believe an expansion is already in the works, but there seems to be a lot you can do with this. More cards seems like it might actually not be the perfect fix, but adding other things to manipulate aspects of the gameplay would be interesting, especially something that hits players who are a bit too far ahead. Wonder what’s next!
- I love the starting empire cards. You can play as the Aztecs or a Pan-African Union! Love both things, but I’ll always have a soft spot for some afrofuturism. It’s great.
- Surprisingly easy setup. Once everyone knows how to play, you just deal out a few cards and you’re ready to go. It kind of rules, in that regard.
- Ties being unfriendly is going to lead to a lot of accidental spite. Don’t take it personally. Just watch out for the negative consequences of player interaction. It feels bad when players tie for most production of a resource type, as they get nothing for it.
- Make sure you remind players that resources they can’t use must be put towards Krystallium. Some players will put a lot of work into generating resources without realizing they must be used the turn they’re acquired (except Krystallium). So they get thrown in the burn pile, much to the extreme consternation of that player.
- At lower player counts, the variance can be kind of a major factor. If you have a couple bad hands, you’re going to have a bad round. We had that in our two-player game; made the final round of the game completely useless! Such a bummer. Nobody could score points on the cards that were available, so it came down to who could wrangle the most resources out of them. It was a bit unsatisfying, but I’m skeptical that it will happen again, just based on sheer probability. But it could! Maybe tiering the cards would help, or adding cards into the deck before each round?
- The first round doesn’t feel like you have that much to do. Yeah, the cards you want to build are too expensive, generally, so you lay them out and wait to construct them later while you take some quick wins on otherwise unrelated cards so you’ll have more resources. If you can get enough of the cards, that’s great; if not, you’re going to be scrapping a lot of cards for the few resources they offer, which feels less good. Again, this is a problem that could be solved by tiering the cards a bit so that there’s more of a progression.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, though, I’m a pretty big fan of It’s A Wonderful World! I particularly like the easy setup, because once you’ve played one game you can just seamlessly transition into another, which is awesome. It doesn’t quite adhere to the “rack ’em” rule that I use (in which I yell “rack ’em” at my coworker when he beats me in something and we play again), but it’s probably as close as you’re going to get for a game with its playtime footprint, which is cool. I also love the theme; it’s very kitschy sci-fi, but it presents diverse empires vying for dominance of the future and I like some of their visions of what’s next. It’s cool! I think this might replace 7 Wonders as my heavier pure drafting game, to be honest. I always bristled a bit with their tech trees, and I felt like I really liked the game most when I had a bunch of expansions for it, which caused everything to get a bit more bloat to it. But, also, it was like the 10th board game I ever played in my life, so, I’ll always have a bit of a soft spot for it. It’s A Wonderful World, however, seems to have done its homework and smoothed over a few of the rougher spots. Getting rid of negative points, for one, helps a lot! No more feel bads when you lose military; instead, you just don’t gain points if you miss out on a resource bonus because you tied with another player. That’s solid. Add in a measured resource production phase where order matters and you have a game that’s interesting from start to finish and gives players lots to do, which I appreciate. I’m actually really excited to see where it goes next. But if you’re looking for a solid post-introductory drafting game once your group gets the mechanic down, I’d definitely recommend checking out It’s A Wonderful World!