Full disclosure: A review copy of Wreck Raiders was provided by Kids Table Board Gaming.
More mini reviews! I kind of like these a lot, especially for games with setups on the more complex side. Plus, it lets me get to the focus area of what I like the most, which is what I think about the game! Don’t worry; if you’re concerned that you’re going to miss out on the extra 1000+ words or so in every review, I’m still going to do the full reviews for some games; just fewer. Maybe I’ll do microreviews one day or something. Who knows? Sky’s the limit. Either way, we’ve got a new game hitting the table: Wreck Raiders, from Kids Table Board Gaming. I’ve quite frequently enjoyed their titles, from Problem Picnic to Bugs on Rugs to Haunt the House. I’m pretty excited about Fossilis, too, so let’s see how this title measures up.
In Wreck Raiders, you play as nautical treasure hunters looting the lost shipwrecks of pirates that now sleep on the ocean floor. As with many treasures, you have to decide, do you want to place one in your vault or on display? Certain items on display will earn you points, and items in your vault will also earn you points. Tough decision. Along the way, you’ll earn shells that you can exchange for abilities or to build up elaborate aquariums and earn even more points. As this is a worker placement game, you’d expect some blocking to make its way into things, but, surprisingly, this is a game of bumping, not blocking. Trying to land on another player’s space just returns them to the beach (or the player) and can often provide a benefit. All in all, your goal is to accrue a more valuable bounty than your opponents, so dive in and start looting those wrecks! Just be careful; you may end up helping your opponents as well!
Player Count Differences
I think the major thing you’re going to notice is that, weirdly enough, you tend to get more things at higher player counts, since more players are bumping you / playing adjacent to you when it’s not your turn. At lower player counts, you need to rely a bit more on placing your own pieces smartly, so that you can reap the rewards of your own placement. The game compensates for this, a bit, at higher player counts by only slightly increasing the number of available exhibits, meaning that now you’re engaging in a slightly riskier competition for exhibits (they don’t rise proportionally). 2 people competing for 3 Exhibits is much different than 5 people competing for 6. That said, I find the chaos to be beneficial more often than adversarial, in this one, so I’m surprisingly going to lean towards the higher end of the player count spectrum for this one. Yes, indeed, a game I prefer playing with more players. Perish the thought. But I think it really illustrates the semi-cooperative worker placement aspects of it. Getting bumped by other players is good! Having other people place next to you is good! So you want more players doing that, and since you can’t bump yourself, you’ve gotta bump up that player count to see it.
- Don’t ignore the aquariums. This is a pretty classic failing move in this game. If you aren’t really paying attention to the aquariums, you run the risk of hitting a point mid-game where you have too many shells and not enough … points. You can only buy one aquarium piece per turn, and your window rapidly closes once a player has three exhibits (since they only need a fourth to end the game). Don’t sleep on aquariums for too long, even if they are a bit more expensive to start than you might initially want to spend.
- In fact, go after an exhibit that gives you a free aquarium piece. That’s usually pretty good! This is my major fix for that. There are usually Exhibit cards that will allow you to build an aquarium piece for free. Grab the bottom; you can make the rest work later, and you can’t start without that. Even if you already have one, grab another! It’s not that much better to have a middle piece if you haven’t planned out what the top will be.
- I’d recommend holding off on completing an aquarium until you’re either worried that another player will steal the one you’re eyeing or you’re approaching the end of the game. You can keep adding middle pieces to your heart’s content. If you know what you’re doing and you’re able to get a particularly useful top piece, you can score a ton of points that way. I saw a player get 20+ points from one aquarium, in one game. That’s a lot of points! You want to make those big scoring opportunities happen for you.
- If you do plan on ignoring the aquariums, you need to fill out the entire vault, then. I wouldn’t recommend it, but filling out the entire vault can be 30 points, if you play it perfectly. You won’t; it’s not worth it, but that’s still a bunch of points. Make sure you do one of those, though; doing neither will just end up with you losing.
- I generally recommend collecting the Exhibit tokens in order, if you can. You can get a bonus if the order they’re placed on your player board matches the order on the Exhibit card. The bonuses are generally good, from extra shells to free aquarium pieces. They’re worth getting!
- If you can’t / don’t want to, starfish are your friends. They let you treat exhibited tokens as wild, which can help you do a quick pivot or grab a different card for having the right ordering. Flexibility in these kinds of games is good; it helps you score more easily.
- Try to place yourself in places that you know your opponents need and appear on the remaining dice faces. It’s sort-of-like blocking them, but since this is a friendly worker placement game, you’re just making it more advantageous to you if they go to a certain location. Mutual benefit! This does make it less appealing to them, though, so, that’s also a bonus.
- You can use the Scallops to help you fill the vault, if you need to. You can use a Scallop to get an extra exhibit piece, so, grabbing an extra and dropping the unique one(s) in the vault can be a useful and expedient way to build up some extra points if you need them.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I really like the theme! I generally like nautical themes, though, so, it’s pretty easy to zero in on themes that I enjoy. Even better if they have sea creatures, and this one does, so, yes.
- The worker placement is also pretty interesting. Yeah, it’s Fairly Standard that if someone is on the space you want, you can’t have it. That’s still somewhat true, here, but only you can block you from getting the space you want. In a way, you’re the cause of all your problems. Just like real life.
- I particularly like that your opponents also benefit from your placement, pretty much no matter what. It makes the game feel a lot less aggressive, which I appreciate. Worker placement games always focus so much on blocking that it starts to feel a bit aggressive sometimes. This one is a very good family version of the concept, because the only points of conflict are races for Exhibits and aquariums. I like it! It’s a clever spin, even moreso because getting bumped is generally very good for you. But the kicker is your opponents getting a token if you place next to them. It makes the game feel almost semi-cooperative, since you can use that to help an opponent steal an Exhibit from the player in the lead if you’re lucky enough. It can lead to some decent gameplay shifts!
- It’s got an axolotl and a narwhal, so I’m legally required to like this game. I don’t make the rules. If it had a penguin, man; I don’t know what I’d do. What great birds.
- The art is very pleasant. It’s nautical and colorful! I’ve generally never been disappointed by the art in a KTBG game, and I appreciate that this has been pretty consistent across all their titles.
- Component quality is pretty good, too. The boards have a good thickness, the dice have a good weight, and the tokens are really cool. Generally just a high-quality product, and I appreciate that.
- I really like how the box lid is incorporated into the game. It’s not only a dice tray, but a dice tray with consequences! That’s awesome. It does make the game a bit more of a space hog, but, it’s used in a super-clever way during the game, so I’m a bit more forgiving.
- The bits are nice, but a better storage solution might have worked well for them. Not that they were in my photos, but, a few of my crabbos are missing some limbs. They came off in transit. It happens. It would be nice if they hadn’t bounced around so much, though. There’s not much at all in the way of a box insert, though I’ll note they provided plenty of bags. It’s not as good as a real insert, but, it’s not bad either.
- I was a bit underwhelmed at two players. I think that it might be because there’s … too little entropy? It’s weird, given that the high-chaos games usually earn some complaints from me. But at two, your biggest enemy is often yourself, since you can’t bump your own divers, so you are occasionally a bit stymied by past you, which can be annoying since if you’re annoying you and your opponent is annoying you, everyone’s annoying you.
- The two scoring parts of the game can feel a bit disjointed. It makes the game feel less cohesive as a result, which isn’t the worst thing, but is generally noticeable. Players will often ignore the aquariums, since they’re effectively bonus points that they can defer to a later time and instead focus on the part of the game that forces it to end (the exhibits). Whether or not that’s the right move is a question for the Strategy section (it’s not good to ignore it), but it does make it kind-of-noticeable that the game feels a bit disconnected in that regard. Linking them via the shells is good, but the connection is tenuous, at best.
Overall: 7.25 / 10
Overall, I think Wreck Raiders is fun! I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for worker placement, but I don’t particularly enjoy aggressive games, so, this one hits a nice spot for me where I can worker placement all I want without irritating or blocking my opponents! Indeed, the only player I can block is me, since I can’t bump my own divers. If that were all I’d be decently pleased, but I like that, as usual for KTBG, they’ve packed in a fun theme with great art, to boot (especially some of the aquarium tiles!). That said, there are a few things about the game that I didn’t particularly love. I kind of wish the game felt more dynamic at two players; it feels like even a dummy player might have shaken things up a bit beyond me just getting in my own way for most of the game. Additionally, the game doesn’t always feel cohesive to me. I can understand the point-earning curves for the vault, the exhibits, and the aquariums, but the aquariums feel almost like an entirely separate thing, like a bonus you’re just gradually earning over time. That would be fine if they weren’t potentially worth a ton of points! The major way they feel connected is by Exhibit cards that allow you to gain a free aquarium piece, but even then, those cards don’t always come up during a game. This isn’t the worst problem, but it occasionally leads to players overlooking the aquariums and getting wrecked as a result. I’ve seen it happen in all the games I’ve played, which is kind of a bummer. That all said, though, I’ve enjoyed the games I’ve played of it; I just wish it had an insert or something. If you’re excited by the idea of a worker placement game for the whole family or you just prefer a friendlier spin on the genre, check out Wreck Raiders! It might be just what you’re looking for.