Review – World Wonders
|Odysseas Stamoglou, Tom Ventre
|Tile-Laying, Strategy Game
In 2019, the game Tapestry made a big splash by virtue of coming from Stonemaier games. It was a Eurogame masquerading as a civilization game, but what set it apart from either of those visually was a ridiculous number of miniatures: not of troops or monsters, but landmarks. Tapestry is a several-hour affair with lots to do, but maybe all you really want to do is play with those minis. Well, you can almost have that experience in World Wonders, a much shorter game focused entirely on tile-laying, with typical cardboard polyomino tiles right next to, you guessed it, miniatures of famous wonders from the past. Is the game itself as cool as the pieces are? Let’s take a look!
The strangest thing about World Wonders is how it looks. It’s meant to be the main attraction: this is like a bite-sized Tapestry, with miniatures of various famous buildings. With the game only having a $50 MSRP, this is actually amazing. The rest of the game looks good-not-great, and the boards look really empty and sad when you start the game. It does the game a bit of a disservice, since it looks pretty great by the end. Setup and tear-down are kind of bothersome, but that’s to be expected with a tile-laying game. It’s worth stressing twice how great the price of this game is just for the amount of content, let alone the look.
But how about the gameplay? Two things make World Wonders unique. One is the action selection system: actions cost a different number of gold (action points), but getting a Wonder has a unique price: you have to use all of your remaining gold. So you could get a steal by getting a Wonder for 1 gold, but what if someone takes the one you need first? Sometimes you’ll have to sacrifice a few other actions to make sure you get the single Wonder that actually fits on your player board.
The other unique thing is how the player boards work. Each Wonder demands to be adjacent to different types of tiles, and the other tiles themselves have a variety of restrictions: they must be next to roads, or tiles of the same color, or roads can start again from towers, but colored tiles can’t go next to towers, and… Yeah, it gets confusing. In particular, I find the last one (the fact that towers don’t just count as roads) unnecessarily complex.
One the one hand, the first rule is a great way to add tension and interaction to the action selection system. The problem is that everything is open information (except for the next Wonder coming from the deck) and public, and almost calculable. Combine that with the fact that players need to keep reminding themselves about what can legally connect to what, and you’ve got a recipe for analysis paralysis. I’ve seen it in almost every game, whether in myself or other players. Eventually I feel like I have to just play from my gut, and being forced to do that just to not be annoying, not for any strategic reason, is something I strongly dislike in games. In a two-player game (which happily works just as well as the other player counts), you can play side by side and usually calculate sufficiently if not perfectly without wasting too much time, but at any higher player count, the game can screech to a halt. In a weird way, 1 is often the best player count for the game; the solo mode is easy to understand and you can take all the time you want to do the math. (As a mathematics professor, I encourage you to do so!)
This glaring flaw holds World Wonders back quite a bit, but it’s still fun. It’s an interesting puzzle, even though the tile-laying is somewhat unsatisfying (it mostly looks like a mess of errors when you’re done, even if it’s a pretty mess). The Monuments are really fun to play with, and it’s one of the tougher, more interesting tile-laying games that still feels like a “pure” tile-laying game rather than a subgame in a larger system (like Carpe Diem or A Feast for Odin). But for that genre, I think I prefer the speed and smoothness of something like Barenpark or Cascadia. Still, I’d happily play this one if someone asked, I just don’t myself going out of my way to play it again.
The Bottom Line
A fun game held back by unavoidable analysis paralysis.