Full disclosure: A review copy of Wildstyle was provided by Pandasaurus Games.
Real-time games! I always have a blast with them. A lot to do, generally hectic, and that’s generally my kind of scene. Naturally, I was excited to see Pandasaurus coming out with a real-time game, and so here we are, trying out Wildstyle! Let’s see how it shapes up to the other games I’ve been playing lately.
In Wildstyle, players take on the role of aspiring graffiti artists trying to paint the town red (or orange, or what have you). As they do, they’re competing with other artists going around and tagging various things, trying to complete objectives, avoid cops, and make sure their tags aren’t the only ones of their color in a zone. Add in some rules about how tags are placed and you’ve got a graffiti challenge on the ground. How will you measure up?
To start, set up the City! A City is composed of one district board per player, set in one of a few configurations:
The boards are double-sided, so make sure to flip them over as you shuffle them, and make sure to place all of the triangular Train Station symbols as close to the center of the map as possible. Next, shuffle the Objective Tiles:
The first two you draw are placed A-side up, and the third one is B-side up. Have players sit somewhat evenly around the table and then give each of them a Crew Mat in the color of their choice:
Each player should place six tags on their player mat, placing the others nearby.
Shuffle all the remaining Location Cards:
Deal each player three. There are a few Share Pile cards; I’ll explain what Share Piles are later, but set out a certain number of Share Cards per player:
- 2 players: Four share cards
- 3 players: Four share cards
- 4 players: Three share cards
- 5 players: Three share cards
The remaining Location Cards in the deck should be split into a certain number of decks, based on your player count:
- 2 players: Separate the deck into four draw piles, but only use two.
- 3 players: Separate the deck into three draw piles, but only use two.
- 4 players: Separate the deck into four draw piles, but only use three.
- 5 players: Separate the deck into three draw piles and use all three.
Finally, make a pile of cop car tokens that all players can reach (you can make multiple piles if that’s easier).
You should be ready to start!
Your goal is to tag the city with your color tags! The thing is, you don’t just want to throw them anywhere; you want to be strategic about it! Meet objectives, tag high-value zones, whatever you can do!
A game is made up of three rounds; over the course of a round you can take as many actions as you want, but it all takes place in real-time. There are a few starter rules:
- You can only draw or play one card at a time. The rules suggest that you treat your left hand as your card-holding hand and your right hand as your action hand. Or the other way around if you’re left-handed. You do you.
- You can only have a max of three cards in your hand. There’s not much more to say about this.
Anyways, the actions:
Draw a Card
This one’s easy. You can take the top card of any of the draw piles and it add it to your hand, provided you have fewer than three cards in hand. Remember to always draw one card at a time.
Add to a Set
To get tags on the map, you need to make sets of cards! You make a set by adding cards to one of your two open sets on your crew mat. This means that as an action, you can add one card from your hand to one of your two sets. Keep in mind that to add a card to either set, the set must either be empty or the card you add to the set must have the same symbol as the other cards in the set.
Keep in mind that a set can only have three cards in it!
Share a Card
If you have cards in your hand that you no longer love and want to get rid of, you can “share” them with your opponents by playing them to one of the Share Card piles. If they’re empty, you can play whatever you want to them. Once a card is played, to dump another card onto a Share Pile, the card you’re dumping must match the card on top of the Share Pile (either matching color or matching symbol).
Complete a Set
Once you’ve made a set of three cards on either of the set spots on your crew mat, you can complete a set! Discard the cards by placing them near your Crew Mat and then place one of your tag tokens on any empty hex with the matching symbol on your cards. If you place your last tag token from your Crew Mat, you stop playing immediately. Do not take extra tokens.
Rush a Set
If you don’t think you’ll be able to finish one of your sets, you can rush it! Take a Cop Car token and treat your set as Complete (following the steps from Complete a Set). As you might guess, this is bad. At the end of the game, you must remove one of your tag tokens for every Cop Car token you have. You don’t want that.
End of Round
If the last draw pile gets emptied or only one player has tags left, the round ends! Sort of. Players who still have tags on their crew mats can attempt to finish their remaining sets but cannot create any new sets.
If you’re at the end of the third round, the game ends! If not, start a new round! To start the next round, each player takes six new crew takes from their supply (note that, if players still have tags on their crew map, they just start the next round with more tags). Next, take all the Location Cards (leave the Share Cards alone). This includes any piles set aside at the start of the round. Shuffle those cards up and make new draw piles matching the setup instructions for your player count. Each player gets three cards, as well.
Start a new round!
End of Game
After the last round, the game ends! There are four steps to that process:
- Remove one tag per Cop Car. Each player has to remove one of their tags from the board for each Cop Car token you currently have. You can choose which tags you remove.
- Remove all solo tags. If any of your tags aren’t adjacent to each other, you have to remove those as well. Rough stuff.
- Score objectives. Now, check the objectives and score them based on your remaining tags.
- Score tags. Finally, for each map hex, you score points based on the type of hex it is. I personally like to make stacks of 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 point tags and then score them to make my life easier.
- Train Stations / Railways: 1 point each
- Residential / Shopping / Downtown: 2 points each
- Industrial / Parks: 3 points each
- Police Stations: 4 points each
Player Count Differences
Wildstyle, as you might guess from the name, is a game that revels in its chaos, somewhat. It’s fast-paced, high-energy, and just … hectic, at times. That’s what I like about it. As a result, the more players you add, the more chaos you add into the game itself. There are players running around, taking cards you want and placing cards you definitely don’t, which is a good time. I tend to want my real-time games to be highly chaotic, so I tend to prefer Wildstyle with more players. Even though the District Boards increase in size linearly with more players, it feels like there’s more room to move around. With fewer players, you’re starting to notice more of the area control and less of the real-time, it feels like? My experience at two was mostly blocking and getting blocked, whereas with four, I think it’s harder to target any one specific player with my ire. It makes the experience feel a bit more impersonal, and that lets me focus on just trying to move as quickly as possible. The specific thing I think of is at two, as soon as one player places all of their tags, the round ends. That can’t necessarily happen with more players, as they all have to run out until only one player is left with tags. I feel like I can strategize amongst the chaos with more players, strangely, so I tend to prefer Wildstyle with more. Don’t dislike it at two, but I think it particularly shines in the 3 – 5 player space.
- Keep an eye on the objectives. They give you a useful sense of how to strategize and plan for placing your tags. They’re fairly diverse, as well, thinking about symbols, clusters, or even how you place along the District Boards themselves. Yes, you want to go after the objectives to score points, but figuring out how to land those while still placing on high-value spaces are pretty helpful.
- Taking one or two Cop Cars isn’t that bad, if it lets you essentially exchange a high-value tag for a low-value one. Sometimes you place on a Railway to place on a Railway or to end the round quickly. They’re not particularly lucrative spaces, but sometimes you just gotta do what you needs done. If you take a Cop Car token so that you can place on a Police Station or fulfill an objective, you might be able to spend a less-useful tag in favor of a more useful one. In particular, you get to remove tags before you have to remove all the solo tags, so if you accidentally place a tag without any other adjacent tags, you can clear those out and get rid of your Cop Cars, which is nice.
- If you want to block other players, you can, but that’s a dangerous life to live. Block not lest ye be blocked, I think is probably a quote from the Bible. But in all seriousness, blocking other players tends to draw their ire, which can kind of set you back if they decide that they want to start blocking you as revenge. You’re going to get blocked enough without someone specifically swearing a blood oath of vengeance against you.
- Keep an eye on what other players are going after; it may affect how you get rid of cards or what piles you share to. I do tend to hold on to cards that other players need to complete their sets. I’m a rascal. You can see which cards they’re grabbing from the share piles (and what cards are in their sets), and that may present a lesson on what not to share in the future. Weirdly, a lot of the time it’s Downtown cards that nobody wanted? Not sure why. More specifically, if a player already has a few Park cards on their crew mat, I tend to try and put Park cards in my hand that I don’t want on Share piles that are pretty far away from them.
- Also use the Share Card piles to dump useful cards quickly. You won’t necessarily be able to stack a bunch of cards on a pile before anyone can react, given the one hand rule, but, you’ll probably be able to get rid of a couple if players are moving quickly enough. Sometimes it’s worth it to try.
- Using Train Stations as a hub for your plans are helpful, since everyone can place there. It’s a good thing, since it means those spots are fundamentally unblockable. Making Train Stations the lynchpin of your placement strategies means that nobody can mess you up too badly if your other pieces are in place, so you can focus on setting up the more complex aspects of your strategy.
- Honestly, getting stuck with a few extra tag tokens isn’t the worst thing that can happen. If you get a few extra tokens at the end of your first couple rounds, it means that you might be able to set up a more complex strategy later. Or, at the very least, you need to move more quickly so you can place all of them in the future.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I normally don’t really like area control games, but I think the real-time elements really elevate it. I think I find area control a bit too … personally aggressive for my tastes, but having the real-time elements makes it harder for players to individually focus on each other over the task at hand. This means that I can just do the area control thing, usually without players having it out for me in particular, which is nice.
- I really like how they did the art for the district boards! It makes the city appear vibrant and exciting but you can still make out both the symbols and the location below. It’s sort of the effect I would have liked for Sorcerer City, where it’s still really easy to tell both the type of location that it is and it feels like part of a cohesive city. I love it! Plus, it’s still bright, colorful, and interesting. It looks great on the table.
- The graphic design is super clean! The cards are incredibly easy to read, which I appreciate. For a real-time game, the icons are also large enough that it’s easy to figure out what you have, how to place it, and where to place it quickly to accomplish your goal. That’s hard to do in a lot of games! But I think it was pretty expertly done, here.
- The game plays quickly, but that’s kind of a given for a real-time game. There are several rounds, granted, but they each give players a nice sense of progression and move quickly. The actual turns move fast as well! You don’t necessarily always have time to think through what you want to do because it’s real-time, but that’s half the fun.
- The objectives are a nice touch. I always like that objectives give players a means to ground themselves and figure out what they should be going for. Having a relatively small number of shared objectives also means there’s going to be some fights over the space, which gives players some interpersonal competition. It all works out really well.
- The “remove all solo tags” rule is a nice effect. It’s essentially a reverse objective, where players are specifically given a “don’t do this” task (and one that makes players more likely to come into conflict with other players based on what zone they’re in). I think it works really well within the scope and structure of the game, and it helps drive players more towards conflict.
- I like the ability to rush sets with Cop Cars, especially given the penalty. The penalty is wonderful! It, in particular, lets you do all sorts of strategic trickery, like preemptively getting rid of solo tags or trading low-value tags for higher-value ones. It’s definitely not the thing you want to do a lot of, though, which I appreciate as a way to clown extremely greedy players.
- I do love a graffiti-themed game, but I’m saddened that this game lacks a cool graffiti animal, like Tag City‘s Graffiti Cat. I just think more games should have a Graffiti Cat, you know? I want there to be a cool graffiti animal who helps us paint the town.
- I do find that there’s some advantage if you’ve played the game before, just because you have more familiarity with where and how to place cards, so you tend to be able to place more tag tokens more quickly. I think the game takes a round or two to get, as far as establishing your bearings, and so, if you already know how the board is laid out and how everything works, you’ve got a bit of a leg up on other players. Doesn’t take too long to get there, though, so I’m not as bothered, I suppose.
- Same thing I dislike about Pandemic, but the card setup per round is a little annoying. It’s just one of those things I always forget, get frustrated by, and then have to spend time doing again. Given the goal is often 3 – 5 distinct piles of cards, it’s hard to make setup much easier, but this is definitely one of those things that I just … explain to my coplayers and have them do instead. I find it irritating.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, I think Wildstyle is a lot of fun! It’s clever in a way that I quite like. I think there’s some pull, as someone who’s now Been Playing Board Games For A While, towards games that do this kind of additive complexity. I don’t really want to play a deckbuilder anymore; I want to play a deckbuilding trick-taking game. Which, now I want to. But more seriously, I think that this is kind of a common want from consumption. Once you try a thing for long enough, you want the thing to grow in complexity and scope; this is how things become cliche and overused. And designers largely have been meeting that desire. On one hand, that’s great for the weird embedded gamer types, like myself, but I sometimes wonder if that complexity makes things harder for players who are entering the gaming sphere for the first time. Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to be an issue with Wildstyle! It’s fairly approachable, even for new players (though I think experienced players do have a nontrivial advantage), and it presents a game with a fun aesthetic and a cool theme that’s very engaging for a lot of folks. Mixing an area control game with a real-time game is a neat concept that turns out great for Wildstyle. I do wish there were an easier way to get through setup, but, no dice. It’s fun, it’s colorful, it plays quick, and I’m a fan. If you’re looking for a nice mix of area control and real-time, you enjoy games with a graffiti theme, or you just want an approachable game that’s quick and chaotic and hectic, I’d recommend checking out Wildstyle! I had a blast with it.
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