Wonderland (Brandon Kempf)
Designed by Daniel Solis
Art by Beth Sobel
Published by Renegade Games
I was provided with a copy of Wonderland for review from the publisher. Wonderland will be a Tabletop Day Exclusive for game stores to sell on Tabletop Day until their stock runs out. As far as I know, this will be the only time in the near future to get Wonderland.
“But I don’t want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.
"Oh, you can’t help that," said the Cat: "we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad."
"How do you know I’m mad?" said Alice.
"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn’t have come here.” - Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
In Wonderland, two players face off, one player is the Red Queen and the other is Alice. Alice is fighting to keep the Red Queen from controlling Wonderland.
Wonderland is a two player micro game from designer Daniel Solis. Micro in that there are only 18 cards in the box, along with a nice velvet bag and some rules, that's all, but does this area control small game play bigger than it looks? Let's take a look.
In Wonderland, each player will have a hand of 7 cards, numbered from 1-7. Each of the cards is unique in art and the Red Queen will have a red and white border on the cards, while Alice will have a grey and white border in order to help differentiate them. During the game, the players are going to build a 4x4 grid of cards in hopes of scoring the most points by controlling the most in Wonderland. To start, you have the Arrival Phase. In the Arrival Phase, players alternate turns, starting with the Red Queen, placing a card face down on their edge of the 4x4 grid. The Red Queen gets the rows, and the Alice player gets the columns. The spot where the two would overlap remains empty. In doing this, the players are setting the values for the rows and columns to be scored at the end of the game.
The second phase of the game is the Placement Phase. Players will continue alternating turns playing card from their hand, but this time it will be placed face up in the 3x3 area of the grid known as Wonderland. You may place your card upright or you may rotate it 180 degrees to make it upside down, sideways is not allowed. Players will continue to place into unoccupied spots in Wonderland until they have no more cards, and there will be one remaining empty space in Wonderland.
Of note on your cards that you play, there may be magic items along the edges. Potions will make the rank of all adjacent cards zero and Cake will double the rank of the adjacent cards. If a card has a cake and a potion adjacent to it, the value is still zero because zero doubled, is still zero. Cakes are cumulative meaning you can double the double. Of note, these magical items have no effect on the edge cards and magical items on the edge cards, have no effect on the cards in Wonderland.
After the last card is played, you flip all the edge cards to show their value and then go through each row and column and see who wins that row or column by adding the values of the cards in that row or column, taking into consideration any magical items that are on the cards effecting the cards adjacent to them. Each row or column's value is shown on the card that the players put on the edge. So if there is a 4 out there on the edge, that row or column is worth 4 points. In case of ties, no one wins any points. Whomever has the highest score wins the game.
Now, I know what all you card counters are thinking at this point, you're thinking, "Brandon, that's only 14 cards, what do the other 4 do?". Well, in the game there are 4 extra cards and these are an expansion of sorts. These are the Wonders and the player who is Alice, gets to choose one of these cards to place in the empty spot in Wonderland at the end of a game. These Wonders have 4 different modifiers to how points are scored. For example, The Maze changes the winning condition for a row or column to the lowest total value of cards. Or the White Rabbit allows the player to Swap the two edge cards from the row and column that the White Rabbit is in. We'll let you discover on your own what Tugley Wood and the Tea Party do, but let's just say we wouldn't play without these Wonders once you grasp the game.
Design wise, designer Daniel Solis has his finger prints all over this one. It's clever, without being too obtuse, and the game is accessible without feeling too simple. There is enough thought going on to make you feel like you are playing a bigger game at points. The theme though is once again something that looks to have just been added on in post, but I could be wrong. The theme is a nice tie in to get you to the beautiful art from Beth Sobel, but the game could have been themed around just about anything, and honestly, Beth could have made just about anything just as beautiful.
The rule book is well done and explains the most difficult aspects (scoring) in clear & concise English, so once again, kudos to Renegade for hooking up with Dustin Schwartz, who is proving himself to be one of the better rule book editors out there.
Wonderland is everything you expect from Renegade Games in a smaller scale. It has wonderful artwork, a beautiful presence and some interesting game play. But Wonderland ultimately left me wanting. It left me wanting more area to try to control, it left me wanting more choices, it just left me wanting more everything. That's not saying that the game isn't well done. I think Daniel Solis has done a fantastic job here at creating a stripped down and streamlined area control game. Probably the best you can find that uses only 18 cards. This is just my feeling towards most "Micro Games" anyway. They seem to be a teaser that make you want to play something bigger and better.
The big question is this, will Wonderland stay in my collection, a collection that has most everything that Renegade Games has published? No, it ultimately will not. I will be passing this along to the fine folks over at Open Seat Gaming so they can have a crack at it without having to try to find a Friendly Local Game Store that has stock on Tabletop Day, which may be a difficult proposition for quite a few who want this limited run game.