Review – Waffle Time
|Publisher||AEG (Alderac Entertainment Group)|
|Category||Abstract Game, Family Game|
|Release Date||September 2023|
My three kids have eaten waffles for breakfast every day this summer. Cinnamon, blueberry, “thick and fluffy,” they love their Eggos. (Sorry, not homemade.) So when AEG provided a copy of Waffle Time, I knew my oldest would be eager to dive in. So let’s take a look!
AEG has a knack for family games with fun themes. Cat Lady and Point Salad are perennial favorites in my house. So I expected Waffle Time to be a similar level of complexity. I was wrong! It looks simple enough; Waffle Time does not have that many rules, and players only take 8 turns. However, trying to get various scoring methods to work together can be a real brain-burning experience, and in that sense it reminded me of Calico, except that this game actually has meaningful interaction. My gut is to call it a “thematic mismatch,” but I don’t think fun themes have to be light games, or that heavy games have to have boring themes. Yet I was expecting light and fluffy waffles, and got thick and crunchy waffles instead.
On a turn, a player takes 2 toppings (primarily fruit, but sometimes cream or syrup) and places them together on their waffle (except syrup goes in its dispenser). When players create patterns for each fruit, they receive a dollop of syrup, making them score points, moreso if cream is underneath. Completing general goal patterns for all of your fruit gives points as well, and extra points for whoever gets there first. The drafting board feels like a slimmed down version of Quadropolis or Meadow, with a bit of the “blocking meeple” in Targi that walks around. It’s a very nice system, easily explained but still resulting in narrow-but-difficult choices. Where you take from also influences turn order and the availability of syrup, although I wasn’t as impressed with this; taking what you need seems so much more important that the turn order/syrup aspect was incidental and not an actual consideration for which spot to choose.
All that said, even though the choices are limited, I think players prone to analysis paralysis are really going to struggle with this. You have to accept that some fruit just isn’t going to score, and you’re taking it just to get the other fruit to score, but it’s hard to internally accept that. I swear, if I rotate it this way, everything will work.. No… darn it! What if I took this fruit… The tiles flipping allows for some variation, but could actually cause more freezing up since technically you could plan around it. Everything after setup is public; this is an abstract strategy game with a
pasted on topping of theme. To be clear, I vastly prefer that to no theme at all. I am just hammering the point home that this is not a game about interesting card play or unexpected moves: it’s an open information, thinky puzzle. And you can think ahead about your own puzzle, but you might have to rethink it if someone takes your desired spot on the draft board. The game isn’t very long at all, maybe 10 minutes per player, but I would still generally avoid four players or exceptionally slow players.
I do have a small complaint with the game, and that’s the rulebook. While the explanation of the goals, and the actual pieces and cards and components are fine-to-good, the rules explanation is incredibly terse and generally lacking in picture examples. There were some setup things, and some scoring things, where I would have really liked some more pictures with a small paragraph explaining the situation. I got there eventually, but it took me a bit longer than it should have.
Overall, the game is good, not great. It’s a fun theme, and a nice puzzle. The lack of any kind of randomness is actually a negative for this card game lover, as that can lead to a bit more excitement (e.g. the appearance of the perfect scoring card at the last moment in Point Salad). It’s also complex enough that I wouldn’t go below age 8; my 9 year old fully understands what she’s doing but wouldn’t have a few years ago. Something simpler would make it a bit easier to get all the kids playing “the waffle game” together, but it’s also interesting enough to be a game for just adults. That said, I personally probably won’t ever bring it out at a game night or anywhere but with the kids. But the one old enough to play immediately said it was “in her top 4 all time”, so what bigger endorsement do you need than that?
The Bottom Line
Waffle Time is quick with an attractive theme, but the gameplay is thinkier than you'd expect.