Full disclosure: A review copy of Waddle was provided by Wizkids.
I’m taking a bit of time off work again (mostly because I’m running up against our limit for hoarding vacation and, wouldn’t you know, still can’t leave my house), so I figured in lieu of doing vacation-y things, I should work on writing more reviews and getting back into the swing of that in my new house so that I can … you know, actually keep up a good pace on that moving forward. And I’m getting games played again, albeit at a slower-than-2019 pace, but it’s still better than 2020. The fruit of this labor is this review, for Waddle, among others, so let’s dive in and check it out!
In Waddle, you’re trying to get some penguins into some places. Why? Maybe for your own amusement. Who’s to say? Unfortunately, given that penguins are not traditionally downtown birds, you’ve been largely out of luck. Until now! A ton of penguins have made their way downtown, walking fast, faces pass, etc., and you can finally capitalize on this very specific niche interest of yours. What a good day today is. In what can only be described as classic board game, you’re not alone, however; other players are trying to do the exact same thing, and you’ll have to both outwit and outmaneuver them if you want to be successful. Will you be able to become the ultimate penguin champion?
First thing’s first: set up your Neighborhood(s). There are different ones for each player count. You’ll want to take the tiles:
Put them into a 5-tile, 8-tile, or 10-tile configuration, depending on your player count:
Next, take each players’ deck and remove the Copy Card. Shuffle the remaining cards:
The start player should draw 4 cards and take the Copy Card. Give each player four red and four yellow penguins:
Set the remaining tokens aside:
And place those player tokens on the score board / round tracker:
You should be ready to start!
The penguins are out on the town and, well, waddling. While they’re running around, you can at least direct them a bit, and, I’m not sure what happens next! You’ll score points for certain configurations of penguins around town, but so will your opponents! Can you get the most points?
On your turn, you’ll play a card from your hand. This allows you to do a Standard Action or a Special Action. Special Actions are written on the card, if you can use one. Otherwise, do a Special Action:
- Add Penguins: Add any number and combination of penguins from your penguin supply to one Neighborhood. That Neighborhood becomes the Active Neighborhood.
- Redistribute Penguins: Take all the penguins from a place with at least one penguin in it. Take those penguins and redistribute them to any of the four places in the same Neighborhood or any of the five places in the opposite Neighborhood. You must be able to place all of the penguins, and you cannot return any to the location you pulled from. The Neighborhood you place in becomes the Active Neighborhood.
Now, score your card. There should be some instructions, like scoring all places with an odd number of penguins. Generally, you only score the Active Neighborhood, but some cards (like “Equal”) score both Neighborhoods, if you’re playing with two Neighborhoods.
After you score, draw a new card and end your turn. Once everyone has played a turn, advance the round marker. Play 8 rounds with two players, 7 rounds with three players, and 6 rounds with four players. After the final round, the player with the most votes wins! Tied players continue until a player has the most points at the end of a round.
Player Count Differences
Pretty substantial ones, actually. The game works pretty similarly to many games with a shared state, except instead of a market, it’s the Neighborhoods. This means that at lower player counts, you can generally expect low volatility between turns (or, more succinctly, fewer things will change, potentially). At higher player counts, not only are more players in the mix, but the second Neighborhood is in play, as well. This means you can do some particularly interesting movements by pulling penguins from one Neighborhood and pushing them to the other one. My gripe is that at lower player counts, you just largely end up emulating or copying each others’ moves until one of you gets a bad hand or makes a terrible mistake. This isn’t the most satisfying, since there’s sometimes not enough of a change in the Neighborhood landscape between turns to prevent your opponent doing that. At higher player counts, things change pretty drastically. Now, you often have options! Two Neighborhoods! You can mix and match between them! At three, they even overlap! That lets you switch things up a bit more, even though it still has a bit of the “follow the leader” thing going on. All things considered, I think I like the game most at 3 players, specifically because I like the overlapping Neighborhoods. It’s a good bit, and I think it makes the game a bit more compelling than the single Neighborhood at 2.
- Aim for those 4- and 5-point turns. This is kind of going to be your bread and butter, as far as playing the game is concerned. You really want to hit over 30 points if you’re going to win, depending on your player count (and players, I suppose). If you’re consistently hitting 4+ points on a turn (sometimes 6+, if you’re at higher player counts), then you should be able to at least pull ahead.
- Particularly, keep an eye on what your opponents are playing; you may be able to copy them. The Copy skill is particularly helpful for this, but you might just have the same card as the one your opponent just played. If you see them getting a ton of points on a turn, try and emulate it! You can bump an even-numbered spot from 2 to 4 with little effort, or you can occasionally shift things around to maintain the status quo. These moves will just let you do as your opponent does (or sometimes better!), which can be sometimes helpful. Just keep in mind that your goal is to win, not to tie, so you will have to do as well as or better than your opponent.
- Certain cards are going to become much less useful late-game; keep an eye on that so that your hand doesn’t get junked up. Particularly the ones that ask for exclusively red or exclusively yellow spots. It’s difficult to get a lot of players to commit to not junking those spots up with other color penguins over the course of the game, so jumping on them early in the game is typically a pretty good bet. That said, doing those early also opens up the opportunity for your opponent to get rid of those cards, as well, so that may not be particularly advantageous.
- An even better strategy is trying to play certain ways that are difficult for your opponent to copy. This is very hard to do, since that essentially requires you to place a penguin that bumps a location up to 5 in an already-dense Neighborhood. Sometimes that can work, but even then it may not always turn out the way you’d like.
- Barring that, try to avoid setting your opponent up for an even better move? Again, this is particularly difficult since it requires you to anticipate what your opponent is planning or what cards they have. You might be able to do that, with some planning / seeing what cards they’ve already played (setting things up to benefit a card you’ve already seen them play is fine), but I’m not entirely convinced this is strategically super feasible unless you’re playing with the combined deck variant and you can guarantee those cards aren’t up.
- If you’re playing with the combined deck variant, the card market will likely get junked up, so be prepared for some random draws. Players are going to essentially conspire to leave certain cards in the market (again, those “all red” and “all yellow” become less useful over the course of the game, in my experience), and once that happens there’s no way to clear the card market. Generally, once that happens, don’t take any of those market cards unless you actually need them? Otherwise you give your opponents better options than you have. Just get comfortable taking the top card of the deck and hoping for the best.
- Also with the combined deck variant, having the ability to get multiple instances of the same card can really help you set up multi-turn combos. This is actually pretty critical. If you can get the same card a few times (especially cards that score both neighborhoods at higher player counts), you can essentially lean into comboing off of yourself multiple turns in a row to get pretty massive points (I’ve pulled an 8+ turn before, for instance). That’s useful, provided your opponents don’t then try to mess you up.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Well, I mean, the theme is pretty much my dream theme for a game. I’m just a big fan of penguin games. ICECOOL, Pleasant Journey to Neko, probably Hey, That’s My Fish. Haven’t tried the last one but I assume that I’d be into it on theme alone? Having a bunch of penguins just being loosed downtown is a great theme, and I’m here for it.
- It’s an interesting bit of light strategy, too. I think games like this (in terms of weight and complexity) are always nice, to be fair. It’s good to have a few of these around, especially to kick off or wind down a game night. I’d say I’m starting to gravitate towards games that are a bit heavier than this, but I still like this complexity class of games quite a bit.
- I like the variability of the full deck variant. It’s interesting to see how the shuffle works out. I particularly like that I can potentially luck into high-value cards from other players’ decks and, as I mentioned in Strategy, combo into my own turns later. It’s a fun spin!
- The penguin tokens are excellent. They’re a good, chunky size and they’re nicely colorful. I assume they’d be larger if the game was aimed at younger players, but they’re definitely a nice size. I like them! It helps that they’re extremely cute, too.
- The multi-neighborhood changes at higher player counts are neat, too. It really changes up the game and forces you to think about the structures. I particularly like the three-player format, since the neighborhoods overlap. That’s a very cool concept. I would be interested in additional variants that changed up the neighborhood sizes and styles!
- The art style is exactly what it needs to be: fun, colorful, and upbeat. It really is pleasant, all things considered. This isn’t “oh no, the penguins have escaped; what a tragedy”; it’s “the penguins have escaped; what rascals”. That’s a delightful art style to shoot for, and I haven’t seen much from Jacki Li in the board game space, but I hope to see more!
- I’m a bit confused by the “Downtown” on the game box? It doesn’t seem to actually be in the game … name? On BGG? Online? Unclear? I’m wondering if this means there will be additional games in the Waddle series, or if the Downtown is cosmetic or something? It’s just … odd.
- The cards are fairly flimsy. Given the pretty nice quality of the other components, it’s odd that the cards are so-so, but what can you do.
- It would be kind of cool if each player had a specialty card or something that differentiated the players. This is mostly just me trying to figure out what I kind of wanted from this game and didn’t get. Something to allow for variability from the players would be pretty nice. Just to mix it up a bit. It’s not bad that it’s missing; it’s just something I like to see in games and was mildly disappointed not to see something like that, here.
- Not sure if this is just a result of the people I was playing with, but a number of games would end up being “follow the leader”-type outcomes where players mostly try to chain together the same cards if they have them. I think that’s just the issue of there being only a few types and styles of cards. There are several, but they tend to follow similar patterns and styles, which makes it hard to break too free of the orbit of other players. It’s a fairly small problem in the grand scope of things, since this is kind of a lower-weight game, but I would have been more excited if there were ways to change up the game state and make that “follow the leader” problem less present.
- It also is difficult to catch up if you get too far behind, which is unfortunate. For a short game I usually reserve my judgement on that kind of thing since, largely the game is quick enough that you can just play again. And that’s still true, here. The one issue is that if you miss out on a turn (you hit a 2-point turn or something), you may not be able to recover unless your opponent has a particularly bad turn as well. Especially at lower player counts it can go a bit back and forth, which is why I would also like a way to kind of change things up or have different things to do on your turn.
Overall: 6.75 / 10
Overall, I had fun with Waddle! I mean, the clearest thing about this game is how much I love the theme. It’s penguins! Just … released on the town. While I would have appreciated the horror of a bunch of angry birds released onto an unsuspecting population in, I suppose, a Hitchcock sense, it’s very much just not that. It’s a cute and upbeat game like … Happy Feet, in the city? It’s hard not to be delighted by it. Gameplay-wise, it’s fun enough, though I think my love of the theme wasn’t quite matched by the gameplay, which made me a bit underwhelmed. I wanted to love it, mechanically. I enjoy it, and that’s fine, but I wanted to love it. Alas. I think that it’s just that I feel a lack of variety when I play: there’s usually, to me, a “best move”, and unless I have a very specific sequence of cards in my hand, I don’t often do a lot of long-term strategizing. It means that I’m often wanting a bit more than I think this particular game is able to give. But that’s okay! This game still does a lot of fun stuff. I think the particular thing I enjoy is that there’s some interesting manipulation of the penguin tokens around the neighborhoods, and I appreciate how the state of the game builds up and then starts shifting once the places get increasingly full. That’s a lot of fun! I think there’s a lot of opportunity for expansion and interesting variant play, as well, if they end up exploring that route. The art and components are excellent, though, and that can make up for a lot, as far as my feelings about a game are concerned. All of that is to say, if you’re a penguin fan like me or you’re just looking for a quick and cute light strategy game, you may enjoy Waddle!