Full disclosure: A preview copy of The Whatnot Cabinet was provided by Pencil First 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.
Back with more Kickstarter previews! I’ve been … surprisingly busy with these lately, even though every year I say I’m going to ramp back a bit. I guess I just like … the novelty? Or being busy? Or both. Likely both, I guess. Either way, it’s hard to turn down a game that looks as good as this one, so, my hands were kind of tied, I said, unconvincingly. Alas.
In The Whatnot Cabinet, you play as folks looking to collect all sorts of doodads and tchotchkes, and you want the prettiest ones. As you’d expect. Naturally, your opponents have similar designs on filling up their cabinets, so you’re going to have to think quickly and plan ahead if you want to secure yours. Will you be able to claim the sets of items that you like the most?
Setup isn’t too much. Start off by placing the Journey Board in the center of the play area:
Next, you’re mostly going to throw all the tiles into the bag:
The thing you gotta make sure you do is that you need to remove all the tiles with a flower on the back for the solo / 2P games. Next, give each player a Cabinet:
You should also give them one matching Pawn on that color (two in a solo / 2P game):
Next, shuffle the Curiosity Cards:
Reveal five face-up above the Journey Board. Shuffle the Wonder Cards and place one face-up next to the Journey Board as well:
Make a supply of the Point Tokens:
Have players randomize their pawns and place them on the 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 spaces on the board, for players you have. In a two-player game, the start player places theirs on 1 and 4, and the second player places theirs on 2 and 3.
Either way, once you’ve done that you’re ready to start!
Solo Game Setup
For the solo game, you’re just gonna do the same thing as I mentioned, but also start The Outdoors by revealing four tiles face-up and add in the Rival Cards. Shuffle them up, keep them face-down:
Take two of the unused pawns of the same color, and place them on 1 / 3.
A game of The Whatnot Cabinet is played over 3 or 6 rounds, depending on your player count (3 at 1 / 2 players; 6 otherwise). Each round follows three major phases, and you’ll do that until the game ends. Let’s go through that.
When you Prepare at the start of a round, refill the Outdoors (the area below the Journey Board) to four tiles. In the first round of the game, if you draw any special tiles, return them to the bag and draw new ones until you have four not-special tiles in the Outdoors.
Now you take turns in order of pawns from left to right. On a turn, you do the following things:
- Choose an action column. Move your pawn onto that column and take the corresponding action. There are a wide variety of actions, and each will let you finish up with two tiles that you then add to your cabinet.
- You must perform the action. You have to perform the action in its entirety. No ignoring things that you don’t want to do.
- You cannot place a pawn on the same column as any other pawn. No sharing. I don’t make the rules.
- When you take tiles, immediately put them into your Cabinet. Don’t linger. They just go in there immediately.
- The next player takes their turn. In a solo or two-player game, you may take another turn immediately after your first one, depending on how the pawns are laid out.
- When all pawns have been moved onto columns, the round ends. Immediately move on to Clean Up.
Now when you take tiles, you may take special tiles or normal tiles. Either way, they must be immediately used (special tiles) or placed (normal tiles). You may use a special tile to get another special tile and so on, but once you place a normal tile in the Cabinet, it cannot be moved. As you’d expect.
The key thing is that once you’ve completed a row or a column, you score Point Tokens! They score as follows:
- If you complete a row of the same object type, you get 3 points.
- If you complete a row of all different object types, you get 1 point.
- If you complete a column of the same color, you get 4 points.
- If you complete a column of all different colors, you get 2 points.
- If you complete a row or column that doesn’t meet one of these conditions, you get a blank point token. It’s worth nothing, but, it’s a token, so that’s nice! Isn’t that nice?
You may also fulfill the criteria on a Curiosity Card. If you do, claim it from above the Journey Board. Once claimed, nobody else may take that card.
After all players have taken their turn, move the Pawns up from their column back into the Landscape Row.
End of Game
When the game ends, you gain a bonus: If your pawn is on spot #1, you gain a 3-point token; spot #2, a 2-point token; and spot #3, a 1-point token.
Beyond that, total your scores!
- Point Tokens
- Curiosity Cards
- Points from Special Tiles
- Points from Crowns (1 point per Crown on a tile)
- Points from Wonder Cards (1 point per object matching the Wonder Card’s type)
The player with the most points wins!
Solo game is much the same as the standard game, but it relies a fair bit on the Rival Cards I mentioned earlier. Same as the standard game, the player with their pawn farthest to the left goes first. If it’s you, take your turn as normal; if it’s the Rival, place their pawn on the indicated space. If it’s occupied, move it in the direction indicated by the arrow.
Then, you’ll remove tiles from the Outdoors as indicated on the Rival Card. To help compensate for that, after every Rival Turn, add a new tile to the Outdoors. If at any point on any player’s turn, the Outdoors are empty, add a new tile to the Outdoors.
On your turn, whenever you place on a column, you may score points! You can take a 3-point token if you place in Column 1, 2-point token for Column 2, and 1-point token for Column 3. Beyond that, yeah, you don’t get any points.
You do claim Curiosity Cards and Row / Column Point Tokens as normal, but at the end of each round, flip two of the remaining face-up Curiosity Cards face-down. They can no longer be claimed. Naturally, if there are fewer than two left, flip all remaining cards down.
After Round 3, the game ends. Score as you would normally!
Player Count Differences
The game does a pretty good job managing its own state such that I don’t really think I can point to any major differences at various player counts. The thing I usually look for is “how do your options change as more players get to take their turn before yours”, and, well, there will still be tiles taken, but generally there’s always 2 – 3 people moving before you get to move, regardless of player count. Even solo, they have you remove specific tiles so that you’re simulating the act of other players taking tiles that you were considering taking for yourself. That’s nice, in a sense, because it means that your gameplay experience is fairly constant. Similarly, the competition for Wonder Cards / Curiosity Cards is fairly similar (except at two, where you aren’t really stealing from yourself). As a result, yeah, I wouldn’t say that I have a strong player count preference; I’ve had fun at every count I’ve tried!
- Try to set yourself up for success. There are a variety of ways to do this, but I generally just try to make sure I’m getting rows and columns filled in correctly. If you can get them to match, you’ll be able to pull a lot of points. In doing so, keep in mind that it’s going to become increasingly obvious what you’re looking for, so your opponents might try to start blocking you. That’s the risk!
- Oh, also take some crowns where you can. You might even be able to get a bunch of them if your opponents overindex on the Wonders. Crowns can be fairly lucrative if other players aren’t paying attention to them, but, occasionally, they’ll be the Curiosity Card that players all vie for. If that happens, it’s going to be more contentious to try and grab them. It’s not that big of a deal if you can’t, it’s just more points if you can.
- If you can see that your opponent needs certain tiles, try to block them if it doesn’t hurt you too much to do so. That may be a perfect tile to fill out your all-different-colors column! Just keep in mind that if you do that, you’re probably going to make yourself an enemy for the rest of the game. Players have a knack for being a bit petty when confronted with … well, you being petty first, so, just be careful with that.
- Similarly, be prepared to vacate certain Curiosity Cards if your opponents have too much of a lead on you with them. Yeah, at a certain point, you’re just going to see that your opponent is leaving you in the dust for a certain Curiosity Card. There’s not much you can do, so better to just let them have it and go after something else than to try and fight a losing battle for it and waste opportunities. I think that’s probably a good move.
- You need to commit pretty early to “all the same” or “all different”; it’s a costly mistake if you backtrack. It’s better to get 2 points than that 0 “tiebreakers only” points.
- I think early on, it’s not too dangerous to take some random draws. That can help you get some direction and some early-game placement to potentially get what you want. I wouldn’t recommend taking the whole game as random draws, though, for reasons I’ll elaborate on.
- You really don’t want to take random draws unless it either doesn’t matter or you’re not going to be able to get what you need from the Outdoors. If you’re lucky, it could potentially work out, but you’re running the risk of invalidating all your row and column bonus points, which is going to be a pretty significant chunk of your total points. And as I’m sure you know from other parts of this review, you need points to win.
- When playing solo, don’t rely on tiles staying around for too long. The Rival makes short work of tiles pretty much every turn they take (unless you get lucky and the exact set of tiles currently available doesn’t match any aspect of the criteria that it would remove tiles for, but that doesn’t happen often). You shouldn’t get too used to the tiles that are in the Outdoors.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Pretty relaxing game. It’s mostly just taking tiles and trying to place them to set yourself up for future points, which is nice. Even though there’s contention around certain bonuses and tiles, it’s never aggressive enough to be anything more than just a pleasant game.
- Beth continues to crush it on the art — this game looks amazing. I particularly love the attention to detail on some of the tiles; I think the blue crystal is my favorite? The cover is pretty breathtaking, though. She always does great work! Just absolutely great work.
- Pretty quick to play. It’s easily less than 30 minutes once everyone knows what they’re doing, and that’s super. Big fan of short games.
- I like the puzzle aspect of it. It’s interesting to try and see how you can plan out tiles you need and how to get them without overplaying your hand and telegraphing exactly what you want. Once you know what you want, though, getting them is also a bit of luck and a bit of knowing when to pull and when to draw randomly.
- I really like the theme of the game, as well! It’s fun to grab random stuff and throw it into a cabinet, I suppose, but I also like the sense of wonder preserved in just “there’s a lot of cool stuff out there”. It’s a very upbeat concept for a game. It’s also nice in that there’s no real “bad thing” to have, so people can pursue what they generally like the most and still come out on top. It’s validating the idea that people have different preferences and that’s okay, and I really like that. It’s got a very “it’s a magical world” vibe to it, like the classic Calvin & Hobbes sort of thing. We could use more games like that, I think.
- Having only one Wonder Card creates a fair bit of contention that’s already created by the Curiosity Cards; not sure that I love it, but I’ll freely admit that that’s a taste preference. It’s a fairly small thing to nitpick, but I’d almost rather have everyone get their own? I think that might ruin a bit of the game’s thematic conceit, though, since you wouldn’t be incentivized to get tiles that you like; you’d just get what the game tells you to get. Hence why I’m kinda neutral-negative on it: I don’t actively dislike it, but it sits a bit weird with me when I play.
- A number of games can come down to a lucky draw, which doesn’t always feel great. I always feel weird writing that in a review given that it feels like blaming the punter for missing a game-winning field goal (SPORTS!). If the team had scored more points during the game, it wouldn’t matter that they missed the field goal. So similarly, blaming the game for a lucky draw determining an outcome is more a player problem than a game problem, yes, but I feel players are more likely to blame the game. It doesn’t feel awesome when it happens (unless you’re the player who got the lucky draw; then it feels awesome).
- Given that there’s currently a small, hard-to-see symbol on the back of tiles that get removed for the two-player / solo game, I wish they would just make the tile backs a different color. It makes them easier to quickly organize / remove if you’re not playing with two players. This is more of a logistical thing and I don’t think that it’ll matter much in the final version, probably, but it seems like that would be ideal. Makes the pieces easier to sort when you’re changing player counts. Right now, you have to scan the backs pretty thoroughly when you’re putting tiles away, which slows me down.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, though, I think The Whatnot Cabinet is a lot of fun! I particularly like the art, but, that’s something I’ve come to expect from the Pencil First + Beth Sobel combo. It’s a very good combination and I’ve enjoyed it pretty much every time I’ve had the opportunity to play one of the games. Naturally, I think to Herbaceous first, but this is a fun successor in a different way. For me, I think the action selection and the balance of chance, choice, and turn priority is really the core driver for this game, and I think that’s a really cool feature of it that adds some nice tension. Do I want to have the most choice in my tiles? Or will taking that option only push me backwards in turn priority and leave me with worse options on later turns? Add in the problem that everyone can see what you’re taking and what you will potentially want / need and you’ve got to manage a fair bit if you’re going to pull out a win in The Whatnot Cabinet. I will say that the luck aspects of the game and trying to draw the exact tile you need to win the game can be unsatisfying, but, that’s kind of to be expected when you have a game with random draws; some will be useful, and some will not. I slightly wish the Wonder Cards were assigned secretly per-player, rather than given as a public objective, only because it increases contention for scarce resources in a game that already has that, courtesy of the Curiosity Cards. But that’s not the worst thing. I will say, I’ve mostly been playing this solo and have quite enjoyed it. I think Herbaceous wins that solo face-off because it’s so easy to set up and play, but this is a fun game in its own right. If you’re looking for something competitive and puzzley but still relaxing and thoughtful, consider checking out The Whatnot Cabinet! I’ve enjoyed getting to play it.