#781 -Wicked & Wise [Preview]

2 – 6 players.
Play time: 45 – 75 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Check it out on Kickstarter! (Will update link when Kickstarter is live.)
Logged plays: 3 

Full disclosure: A preview copy of Wicked & Wise was provided by Weird Giraffe 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. 

More Kickstarters! It’s going to be a busy month, I think. I’m getting that impression. Things like that. This time, we’re hitting another title from Weird Giraffe Games! I do love a good trick-taking game, so I was enthused to check this one out. The idea of a trick-taking game that’s also asymmetric seems like it might be a complex order, so, we’ll see how much trouble we can get into.

In Wicked & Wise, players take on the role of Dragons trying to best each other in classic trick-taking fare. Some players, however, are Mice, trying to sneak in and manipulate tricks beneath the notice of the Dragons. That’s right; it’s an asymmetric, team-based trick-taking game. Good luck with that. Compete to grow your hoard with coins, treasures, and subterfuge as you try to outwit your opponents and mess with their team’s coordination. Can you collect the most treasure and become the greatest dragon?

Contents

Setup

First thing’s first: you’re going to want to organize into teams. Use the role cards based on your player count:

Some players are going to be Dragons; others will be Mice. Have the Dragons sit in team order (T1 -> T2 -> T3) and then have the Mice sit across the table from their partner in the same order (T1 -> T2 -> T3). If there are Dual Players, I just kind of leave them with the Dragons? Not sure. Next, choose a Table Talk card; it’ll dictate how much teammates can talk about their cards:

Set the coins aside:

Separate the gem cards into their own pile:

Shuffle them, and shuffle the basic cards (separately):

Deal 10 Basic cards to each Dragon and 7 Basic cards to each Mouse. Any Dual Player should play their Mouse hand face-up and keep their Dragon hand hidden. Dual Players keep Gem Cards in their Mouse hand face-down, but you shouldn’t have any Gem Cards in your Mouse Hand. Seriously; keep the Basic Cards and the Gem Cards separate until otherwise stated. After doing this, if you’re playing with 2 – 3 players, add 3 Gem cards to the Basic card deck and shuffle it. Then, take the Goal Cards:

The Goal Cards should be separated into Team 1 / Team 2 / Team 3 / Beginner Goals. Use the Beginner Goals for your first game. If you’re not playing with Team 3, put those cards back in the box along with the Beginner Goals, if you’re not using those. If you’re using three teams, place the 2 Team Only cards back in the box (they have an icon, just like the 3 Team Only cards). After doing that, give the Dragon Player the deck of Goals for their team.

Shuffle the Treasures and place that deck in the center, as well:

You should be ready to start!

Gameplay

Wicked & Wise is an asymmetric, team-based trick-taking game, as Dragons and Mice work together to gain treasure and add to their considerable hoard. If that sounds complicated, well, it kind of is! I’ll walk you through it. The game is played over three rounds, each with four distinct phases:

Choose Goals

To start each round, the Dragon will draw Goal Cards for their team and pass some subset of them (usually) to the Mouse. This adds a push-your-luck element, but be careful! You lose money if you don’t complete your Goal. Each Mouse will choose some subset of those Goal Cards (usually) to keep. The Mice simultaneously reveal the Goal Cards they kept and discard the others.

The number of Goal Cards selected by all players depend on your round:

  • Round 1: Dragon draws 4 Goal Cards, passes 2; Mouse reveals 1 – 2.
  • Round 2: Dragon draws 4 Goal Cards, passes 2 – 3; Mouse reveals 1 – 2.
  • Round 3: Dragon draws 4 Goal Cards, passes 2 – 4; Mouse reveals 1 – 3.

Once the Mice have revealed the Goal Cards, move on to trick-taking.

Trick-Taking

Before starting this phase, go around the table and see if any teams want to activate one (or more) of their Treasures. If they do, indicate that the Treasure is active by turning it to the side.

The Dragon with the Lead Token kicks this off. The Dragon will play one card from their hand to start off the trick. The suit of this card is known as the “led suit”, and all subsequent players must play a card of the same suit, if they can. The play order here is that each Dragon plays in turn order, then each Mouse plays in turn order, and then each Dragon plays a second card in turn order, still abiding by following the led suit, if they can.

The turn order can get a bit messy here, though. Generally, you play clockwise by team, which means if Team 2’s Dragon is leading, you’ll play Team 2 Dragon, Team 3 Dragon, Team 1 Dragon, Team 2 Mouse, Team 3 Mouse, Team 1 Mouse, Team 2 Dragon, Team 3 Dragon, Team 1 Dragon.

Here’s the kicker, though; Dragons play cards for their value, and Mice play cards for their effect. This means that a Dragon player should ignore the effect on the card (for the most part) and just play cards. When a Mouse plays a card, they activate its ability immediately. These abilities can allow them to draw Gem cards, swap cards with the Dragon, gain coins, or a variety of other effects. So that’s fun.

Once all players have played a trick, check to see who won! The Dragons are the only players who can win tricks, so check the cards they played. In trick-taking, the player who played the highest card of the led suit usually wins. The only exception is if a Gem card was played. If a Gem was played, then whoever played the highest Gem card wins. This can be affected by Treasures. The team that won the trick takes all cards played (including the Mice’s cards) and places them into their team’s collection area. I usually just make the Dragon keep track of those. Heavy is the head that wears the crown or something.

The team that won the trick then can choose to take two coins or to draw two Treasure cards and keep one. The losing team(s) get the other option. So if your team draws two Treasure cards and keeps one (discarding the other), all other teams gain two coins. Note that teams can only have three Treasures at a time (two Treasures in games with 5+ players).

The team to the current Dragon’s left (either the Dragon or the Dual Player) now get the Lead Token, and they’ll kick off the next trick. Continue until 5 tricks have been taken.

Evaluate Goals

After 5 tricks have been taken, evaluate goals! This basically just means check to see if your team completed the Goal Cards you selected at the start of the round.

If you met your Goal, congrats! You get the money indicated on the card (some have different values for different player counts). If you didn’t meet your goal, you lose half of the money (rounded down) listed as the reward. Return that money to the supply! Discard the Goal Cards, either way.

Clean Up

Now, finish up the round and prepare for the next one (or the end of the game, if you’re at the end of Round 3).

Dragons start by discarding the rest of the cards in their hand (and the cards they won during the round’s tricks). Those get shuffled with the remaining Basic Cards in the deck and discard pile (and any discarded Gem cards) to become the new deck for the next round. Do not shuffle in cards that are still in the Gem Deck.

Next, Mice can pass up to four cards from their hands to their partner Dragon. If you are a Dual Player, you can’t do this. Sorry. That’s the price of complete knowledge. Dragons then draw until they have 10 cards in hand, and Mice draw until they have 7 cards in hand. Dual Players also refill their Dragon and Mouse hands, but remember that all Basic Cards in their Mouse hands are played face-up. Gem Cards, on the other hand, are kept face-down (the Dual Player can look at them).

The team with the least goal becomes the Lead Team for the next round! It pays to be broke. If there’s a tie, the team with the fewest Treasures becomes the Lead Team. Still a tie? Fight it out.

End of Game

After three rounds, the game ends! The team with the most coins wins!

Player Count Differences

I’ll be frank; I didn’t love playing as the Dual Player. It’s much harder to learn the game that way, and so I wouldn’t super recommend this at odd player counts, especially for your first game. I think it messes with player ordering and makes tracking seating hard. It also makes it more challenging to keep track of what you need to do on your turn. The one exception I would make to this (and this surprises me to even write) is two-player. I was actually super pleased with the two-player version of this, to the point where that might become my go-to player count. I was originally going to say four, since I think three teams is a bit too much chaos for an otherwise strategic game. We tried it; it was fine, but four seems like a much more ideal number, especially since the goals and such are public. Means your team just has to focus on hitting another team hard. At three teams, there’s that awkward counterbalance where you don’t necessarily want to mess one team up and let the other run away with it. Add in that I don’t like the Dual Player that much and that basically knocks out 5 / 6 as player counts, for me. At two, this is just a very different game. It’s still trick-taking, but it’s very strategic. You’re not just focusing on tricks or abilities; you’re also focusing on how to strategically wipe out the Mouse’s hand (since you share a dummy Mouse) so that your opponent is forced to play cards that benefit you or hurt them or don’t give them the ability they want. And that’s super cool! I really like that. I think two players gives me a certain level of control over play and strategy that makes the game feel a bit more intense, which is very satisfying as a player (and, frankly, unexpected; this was a very pleasant surprise). Otherwise, though, I’d definitely recommend this at four players; odd numbers weren’t doing it for me, and who even has five friends?

Strategy

  • The nice thing is that you have explicit team goals that you can work towards. Sometimes the best strategy is just to have something explicit that you can look at. Do you need Star Cards? Then take Star Cards. Do you not want to take tricks? Then don’t. The world’s kind of your oyster, here. Having explicit goals makes strategizing something you can do, which is not always super easy for folks who are new to trick-taking.
  • Communicate what you can, but remember you’re not the only teams in the game. If you’re allowed to, you can basically say whatever you want, but other teams might be listening! Whether or not you think that’s worth the risk depends on you, your partner, and your opponents. They might not even notice if they’re really in deep with their own strategy, which would be kind of advantageous. That said, sometimes it’s worth telling your opponent “don’t play high cards; I’ve got this”, even if you don’t? Nobody said you have to always tell the truth. Just make sure that your lies don’t mess you up as well!
  • In general, you want to try and block your opponents making big plays based on their Treasures (or their Goals, if you can intuit them). Don’t let your opponents get their Goals if you can avoid it. That said, it can be hard to block your opponents while still getting your Goals accomplished. It definitely isn’t worth just clowning one opponent and blocking all their Goals while letting the third team run away with it, so, try to take the current game state into account before you choose violence.
  • Being the last Dragon to play can be pretty helpful. As with most trick-taking games, playing last can be super handy, since you have a lot of additional information. You know what people played, what they’re looking to do, and you have a good sense of the game state. If you have the right cards (or you used the Mouse abilities correctly), you may be able to set yourself up early so that you can surprise your opponents and take a trick with a Gem card.
  • As a Mouse, you can also signal intentions to your Dragon by passing them cards. If you’re offering to swap cards or passing cards to your Dragon, those cards should ideally matter. Do they have abilities you don’t want to use? Do they have values that you think will help your team achieve its goals? Ideally, you can pass your Dragon Gem cards or high-value cards in certain suits. Your Dragon should be passing back cards that have valuable effects or are too low to be useful for trick-taking. That trade can be critical!
  • Taking Gems can be handy, but it does add them back to the mutual deck between rounds. Watch out for that; your Dragon can use Gems to win tricks more easily, but then they’re redistributed between rounds, which might mean that your opponents end up with the Gem cards you worked so hard to get out of the Gem deck! Honestly, I like this feature a lot. Reminds me of Custom Heroes. But I digress.
  • Deciding whether you want coins or Treasures when you win a trick is something you should discuss with your partner. I usually take Treasures early on for their effects, but essentially, a Treasure should earn you at least 2 coins, otherwise you should have just taken the 2 coins. It’s a pretty explicitly economical choice, for me, and while that may be a bit short-sighted, I think it mostly covers my bases.
  • Playing as the Dual Player lets you control both your Dragon and Mouse simultaneously, which may be a boon for you, but you can’t hide your Mouse strategy with your cards face-up. As I usually tell people, the best part of being the Dual Player is that I can read my partner’s mind; the problem is that there’s often nothing there. This is the tragedy of being me. The additional challenge is that since your Mouse cards are face-up, your opponents can potentially make plays that force you to play certain cards as the Mouse player, which might suck for your strategy. Keep that in mind both when you’re the Dual Player and when you’re not; having visible cards can give your opponents a lot of extra information.
  • At two, keep in mind that your opponent needs to follow suit, and you can use the shared Mouse to mess with them. Do you want them to only play odd numbers? Numbers less than 8? These are all things you can do with the right Mouse ability. You don’t necessarily want to give your opponent options, so playing Mouse cards such that the Mouse’s hand changes can put your opponent in a position where they have to play the only card left that follows suit, which might be exactly what they don’t want to do. This can be amplified if you use the Mouse ability to swap cards with your Dragon hand; that will allow you to essentially pass a poison pill card to your opponent and force them to play it (if it’s the only card of the led suit in the Mouse’s hand). This is a wild thing to do, strategically, and I kind of love that the game enables it.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • The art is incredible. Beth has, as always, outdone herself. I think the game looks positively magical, and I’m a huge fan of the blue flower suit, as well. I frequently love Beth’s color work, but I also really like her style, here, as it nicely blends fantastic and realistic to create something that is intense, bold, and somehow familiar? Either way, this game looks great and Beth deserves the world. This isn’t an opinion.
  • I do find the asymmetry interesting, especially around how players play cards and what cards they choose to play. This is essentially a trick-taking game with a hand-management game attached to it. The Mice are your hand-management experts; they’re using effects and playing cards to make sure that their Dragons are set up for success, and the Dragons are trying to win (or lose!) tricks as per the team’s shared goals. The interaction mechanism there is super interesting. It kind of seems like it could open up an entire genre of asymmetric trick-taking games, as you give other players a separate game to try and get certain cards into their partner’s hand. I don’t know, but there seems like a lot of potential, there.
  • This is a very clever design; having team play in a trick-taking game can often be interesting, and this feels like an interesting evolution on, say, Euchre or something similar. It reminds me a fair bit of Euchre, actually, just with that team dynamic, but there’s definitely a lot more going on here than there is, there.
  • Pretty portable, though there are a bunch of cards of different types. I could fit this in my Quiver without much trouble, though given that I kind of prefer 2 or 4 players I may drop the Team 3 Goals when I’m packing it up in the future. It’s mostly cards (and some coins), and if you’re already bringing coins for one game you can just use those instead, provided you have enough.
  • I like the explicit goal cards for teams. I particularly like that they’re not all the same goal. I think that makes it interesting! The asymmetry of objective means that you might be playing an entirely different game than another player, especially if they want the least money and you want the most tricks (or something equivalent).
  • The press-your-luck nature of being able to take additional goals is also fun, albeit also fairly dangerous. I get tempted fairly regularly, and like Icarus, I have nothing better to do than to fly straight up towards the sun of “what if I tried to go for three Goals this round”. Thankfully, there’s a gem card that lets you discard one of your active goals. I’ve used it every game I’ve played, so far. It’s a very handy way to avoid clowning yourself in the way that I am hopelessly addicted to doing.
  • I also like a lot of the card abilities. They’re interesting! They allow for a lot of different card movements and coin things, which I really appreciate. There are a bunch of fun abilities on the Gem cards, as well, to make up for the fact that they would otherwise be trump cards if you played them for their value as a Dragon. I’ve been able to play as the Mouse in a fair number of games, and I find the choices they’re offered around what to play and how to affect the round are pretty cool.
  • I was actually pretty pleasantly surprised by the two-player variant. I’m usually hit or miss on two-player variants, but I actually liked this one quite a bit! It’s intense, don’t get me wrong, but it’s also hard to make an interesting two-player trick-taking game. Wicked & Wise definitely clears that threshold, for me. I think allowing players to choose what a shared Mouse plays from is a pretty interesting spin on the two-player mechanic, and I like the strategic benefits of setting up the Mouse hand to make subsequent plays by your opponent challenging or impossible. There’s lots to do, there.

Mehs

  • The Treasures can feel a bit superfluous, at times. They’re nice, don’t get me wrong, but I have seen a number of rounds where they don’t really do much more than “earn some extra coins for X effect”, and they add a fair amount of complexity to the game. I think my major irritation is that they can be seen as interrupts unless you do an explicit “the lead player chooses Treasures to play or passes” before the trick starts. There are times where you don’t want to play a Treasure unless another player doesn’t play theirs, and that’s … a bit goofy. There are also times where you explicitly won’t play a Treasure unless you’re leading the trick, and then … why even have those? I understand from a gameplay reason why, but in an already complex game, I’m not always convinced the Treasures add enough value to justify their contributions to the game’s complexity.
  • A few rulebook things probably need clarified, or at least made more discoverable. The one that threw us for a loop is that the game doesn’t explicitly say that the Dragon gets to see which goal the Mouse chose for the group or not. We assumed no, but that makes the game complicated, since now you need to remember what goals you gave the Mouse (on top of everything else you need to remember), which isn’t particularly ideal. Editor’s Note: The Mice reveal their goals to the entire table, which, oops. There are a few small things like that that we couldn’t parse from the rules when we played, which just need cleaned up before fulfillment, I’d say. It’s also things like “if you have two goals and you get coins for completing your round goal or failing your round goal and you complete one and fail the other, which of the cards activates? Do either?”. These interactions are important and need a bit more clarification in the rulebook.
  • The game refers to Gem cards as both Gem cards and trump cards, and it’s not always immediately clear that they’re the same thing. I’d probably just suggest calling them Gem cards globally in lieu of trump cards (though the ongoing debate of “should we call trump cards something else in all games” is a bit out of scope for this review), but the rulebook often refers to Gem cards and the cards themselves refer to trump cards. It can make the game confusing to learn.
  • The table talk restriction cards are cute in theory, but as with most restrictions on table talk they end up creating odd or confusing loophole scenarios. We had an ongoing joke around the table where someone would try to ask you a yes-or-no question to trick you into answering and therefore make it impossible for you to table talk with your partner (our table talk card allowed for one yes-or-no question about your cards). It was a joke, but it illustrates where these cards kind of get confusing. Does asking a partner if they want to activate their Treasure count as table talk? If not, why not? If yes, does a litigious player substituting words count? I think that violates the spirit of the game, but I’ve yet to find a game that limits communication that doesn’t end up annoying me in some way, in that regard.
  • If you’re used to other trick-taking games, having the lead player shift clockwise after every trick can throw off your strategy. Just plan around it. This just threw me off a couple times when I was planning goals, and that happens. It’s worth mentioning, not because it’s a problem, but a lot of trick-taking games commonly have the player who won the last trick start the next one, and that difference may be unexpected.

Cons

  • Playing as the dual player is hard. I definitely wouldn’t recommend learning the game that way, since you have to learn essentially two different games at the same time. It’s not my favorite aspect of the game, but I imagine it’s also hard to have a game that only plays at even player counts. I just think it messes with player order and puts a lot of burden on one player, neither of which appeal to me. I learned the game as a Dual Player and I was exhausted by the end, just from having to keep track of everything. Team games are fun, but I’d rather have a partner where possible.
  • You need to have players on the same team sit next to each other, otherwise the player ordering can be a bit weird. The rulebook suggests having players sit Dragons, then Mice, and I suppose that could work as well. You don’t want to do what we did in our first game and just have players sit haphazardly, otherwise tracking who plays after whom can be a mess. I kind of like the T1 -> T2 -> T3 ordering and then Dragon -> Mouse within that, just because that means that the game is always progressing clockwise by team, and you just need to change up which member of the team is playing.
  • I’m not entirely convinced by the 2 – 6 player count for this game. I think that largely comes back to me not particularly liking the Dual Player or the chaos of three teams, so I probably would only play this game at two players or four players.
  • In general, asymmetric games and trick-taking games are two of the hardest genres of games to learn, so mixing them can make for a very challenging game to pick up. This is kind of the Big Tough Sell of the game; trick-taking games are hard to learn. Asymmetric games are hard to learn. And team games can be stressful for players in that they want to make sure they’re not “letting the team down”. That can combine to make a tough experience for players when they’re first starting. The solution to this is to be patient and let everyone go at their own pace, but it’s still a pretty challenging game to learn. There’s just a lot going on, pretty much constantly.

Overall: 7.25 / 10

Overall, I think Wicked & Wise is pretty interesting! Honestly, I enjoyed it pretty solidly at four (it’s tricky!) and two players; there’s a lot to do for players, no matter which team you’re on. I do kind of wonder if there’s an avenue by which this might instigate an entire new genre of trick-taking? Maybe that’s ambitious of me, but I never considered having there be a separate process for players to pass cards to their trick-taker’s hand, and I think there are a lot of interesting ways to explore things in that space. Beth Sobel’s art just shines here, as well; it’s a beautiful game at pretty much every level, from the coins to the Treasures to even the card backs. I will say that I wasn’t as big of a fan of Wicked & Wise at the odd player counts or with three teams. I like there to be a lot going on in trick-taking games, but with three teams there’s a bit too much for me to track, especially with only five tricks per round. This is also not an easy game to learn! It combines two already-difficult genres (asymmetric games and trick-taking games) into one, which can be a doozy for players. Luckily, I think that the two-player game, while complex, also can be good for teaching the various roles and how they work together, if your co-player is game for something a bit more complex. Four isn’t bad, either, but I agree with the game’s suggestion that the Mouse player should be someone who’s already experienced with trick-taking. Having a strong Mouse player can be pretty critical to doing well, since they can actively pass you cards or potentially knock out cards that will then allow you to play Gems. I think the last thing I’m not really sold on is the Treasures, but that’s partially because they feel like something that was added so that there would be more consequences to winning / losing tricks. I think the Goals already mostly accomplish that, so, it’s not quite as critical, for me. That said, if you’re looking for a game that’s pretty novel in the trick-taking space, you don’t mind something that’s more on the complex side, or you just want to have another Beth Sobel-art game in your collection (all extremely valid reasons), I’d definitely recommend checking out Wicked & Wise! It’s a super interesting game, and I’m glad I got to try it.


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