Open Seat Gaming: Triple Threat Review: Wendake
Disclaimer: This preview is from a reviewer's copy of the game that was provided by Renegade Game Studios, but opinions are our own based on several plays of the game
Publisher: Placentia Games
Designer: Danilo Sabia
Artist: Alan D'Amico, Paolo Vallerga
Main Game Mechanisms: Area Control / Area Influence, Area Movement, Set Collection, Variable Player Powers, Worker Placement
Number of Players: 1 to 4
Game Time: 60 - 120 minutes
Description: In Wendake, each player represents a different tribe and tries to score points along 4 different tracks: mask, ritual, military, and trade. The twist: the tracks are split into pairs and only your lowest score on each pair of tracks actually counts at the end of the game. You need to try and keep the tracks relatively equal to avoid wasted points.
Each player gets their own player board with 9 starting tiles that have the various actions available in the game such as harvesting veggies, hunting beavers, converting beavers to leather, fishing, moving your people around the board, scoring points for specific areas, etc. Each round consists of 4 actions for each player, 1 of which must be claiming turn order for the next round. Another twist! The 3 other actions you have must be taken such that your action markers make a straight line on your player board (vertical, horizontal, or diagonal).
After each player has done their 4 actions, the round finishes. Tiles used on your player board flip over (they all have the ritual action on the back) and, yet another twist, your tiles then slide down on your player board so that the bottom row is pushed off the board. In turn order you then select from upgrade tiles, with multiple actions per tile to make turns more efficient, and can choose up to 1 to replace a tile that just got pushed off your board. The upgrade tile is shuffled with the 2 others and then they are placed randomly in the empty top row of your player board. The game continues with better upgrade tiles being available after round 4 and the game ending after round 7.
Scott: Wendake is an interesting combination of action selection and worker placement. The player board and action tiles are a really neat and brilliant way to control action selection by giving you a range of options but then restricting how you can access them by having to connect your markers. You can try to go a specific path but depending on how the tiles come up at the end of each round and how the shuffling places them on your board, you sometimes have to take a year (a round) to progress in other ways than you might have originally intended, so it keeps you on your toes.
The tribes you can distribute during setup have interesting twists on the game, such as exchanging one of your action markers for a special one that lets you take 2 actions in a row or an extra swap token, and provide for a lot of replayability in the game. Swapping around the score tracks can also lead to varying strategies as the paired tracks change up what you need to keep even over the course of the game. All in all it makes playthroughs pretty unique even if you play with the same people again.
Sarah: I greatly enjoy the blend of worker placement and action selection in this absorbing yet tricky balancing act of a game.
The standout game play feature of Wendake is your personal player board with the ever shifting action tiles. At the start of your turn you have a slate of nine action options available to you, but as you start taking your actions on the board your choices narrow depending on what type of line you make and if you are using the ceremonial fire that round. How your action tiles rearrange at the end of the round, flipping over to the ritual side, moving off the board, having one upgrade tile traded in to your available actions provide lots of juicy decisions round after round. You aren't going to have the same layout on your action board during any of the seven years (rounds) of the game.
Other great elements of the game are: the modular board that provides different setups based on player count and allows for the score tracks to be mixed, all the components, and the turtle tiles which give you game end bonuses on the indicated score track. The differing board set ups depending on player count make the competition for hunter and women slots on the board delicately balanced and just the right tightness. The score tracks, having two sets of score categories that you must balance means that there is no point in dominating just one category and that your strategy should be balanced and keeping all four scoring categories in mind throughout the game. Also the fact that you can shuffle the categories so that it isn't always the same two sets of categories paired together every game helps give Wendake more replayability. The turtle tiles allow you to make up ground on different score tracks at the end of the game.
It can take a while to understand some of the iconography, mainly all the steps in the trade action, and that is what can make this game a little rough to learn in the first play. Yet you are very much rewarded by sticking with it, and after that first play you will be able to get off to a quicker start on subsequent games.
Overall, Wendake is a well designed and produced game with lots of depth and many moving parts.
Marti: I love worker placement and action selection - that's pretty much a given considering how much I rave about games like Champions of Midgard. While there isn't the same sort of tension that you have in a traditional worker placement game (since your "worker placement" is on your own board), there is still tension in how you decide to put things together and where you go on the board.
My absolute favorite thing about this game is that player board. There's something really intriguing about having different actions that can't be used repeatedly every round. The manipulation of the board and trying to work out what is located where and how you want to do things makes this a puzzle that you are continually working around. I'd love to see what other designers could do with a similar idea.
And I love the concept of balancing out the different points that you earn, but I'm not super fond of the execution, to be honest. Mainly, because I'm a Care Bear. Military is one of the 4 paths that you have to try and balance out, and while you can do it while playing nice, it still felt like I was missing something by not playing that part of the game to its fullest.
Without using the different starting Tribe powers, I feel like this has the possibility of getting very "samey" over time. Sure, the action board switches around, but there are only so many combinations and you're trying to solve the puzzle to get a similar outcome repeatedly.
Also - good on the original publisher for going after a First Nations theme where the Natives aren't the bad guys against the Cowboys in the Old West. I would have appreciated more First Nations input, but it's at least an attempt - and a decently accurate one, at that.
Try, Buy, Deny: All three of us agree - this is a solid Try. There are a few reasons that we feel like you'd want to try it before buying it.
The weight of the game is definitely really heavy, with a lot of choices, especially when it gets into the last 2-3 rounds. It's not Lacerda heavy, but it's still quite weighty.
It can be a long game sometimes - our learning game lasted almost 3 hours, and after that, each game was around 2 hours.
It's a solid game, with a unique theme and some really fun ways to do action selection. But you definitely want to give it a try before you take it home.
Marti, Sarah, and Scott