Reviewed by Greg J. Schloesser
IT’S A WONDERFUL WORLD (La Boite de Jeu/Lucky Duck Games/Ori Games, 1 to 5 players, ages 14 and up, 45 minutes; $44.99)
The world has changed dramatically, and you are leading a fledgling nation that is in competition with a handful of other nations around the world that are trying to develop and claim dominance. While each empire has the same ultimate goal, the paths to achieve global supremacy are many. Which nation will ultimately rise to reign supreme and dominate this new world order? Such a dramatic and cutthroat story is somehow lost in the title of this delightful new game from designers Frédéric Guérard and Anthonly Wolff: It’s a Wonderful World. Indeed, in spite of the dark storyline and theme, the game is of low-to-moderate complexity and decidedly non-confrontational. Who knew that developing an empire and competing for global dominance could be so fun and fast?
The game has a fairly basic “gather resources and build stuff” mechanism that is present in many city and empire building games. What is interesting is that players will select a hand of cards in a fashion identical to 7 Wonders (I’ll explain this in a bit for those unfamiliar with that game) and then decide which of their selected cards they will construct, and which they will recycle for resources. It is often a touch choice.
Each player receives an Empire card that indicates the resources it produces each turn, as well as incentive to construct certain types of buildings as those will earn end-of-game bonus points. The central board serves predominately as a holding place for the five different resources, as well as indicating the order in which resources will be examined each turn to determine the payout of bonuses.
The Development Cards are at the center of the game. Each card depicts an advancement or technology and falls into one of five categories: structure, vehicle, research, project or discovery. These each have easily recognizable symbols and distinct colors that conveniently match the five types of resources. Also depicted is the number and types of resources needed to construct the card, victory points (if any) the card will convey if constructed, the immediate benefit (if any) received when the card is constructed, and the “recycling bonus” received if the player opts to not place the card under construction. This benefit is usually a single resource. All of this information is laid-out in an easy to understand manner. Happily, the game does not suffer from an overload of icons and symbols.
The game is played over four rounds. Each round, players receive a hand of seven cards. They will examine these cards, keep one, and pass the remainder to the player seated next to them. The order in which cards are passed (left or right) changes each round. This process of selecting a card and passing the remainder continues until each player has a collection of seven cards.
From this collection of seven cards, players will decide which cards to place under construction and which to discard (“recycle”) for the resource depicted. Any resources collected from recycling are immediately placed on the cards that are under construction, including any cards in that area from previous rounds that are not yet completed. If a resource cannot be placed on an “under construction” card, it is instead placed on the player’s Empire card. These resources can never be moved to a card under construction, but if a player collects five such resources, they can be traded for a single “wild” resource. This is an expensive way to use a resource, but sometimes there is no choice. Further, sometimes a card requires a wild resource to be constructed, so this does provide a method of obtaining one.
If all of the required resources are placed on a card under construction, that card is completed and placed above the player’s Empire card. The player immediately collects any instant resources or bonuses that card conveys, if any. Again, these newly collected resources must be placed as described above. Constructed cards are overlapped, making it easy to see the resources that those cards will produce during each Production phase
The Production phase follows, wherein each of the five resources is examined in the order depicted on the central board. The player who currently produces the most of a type receives the depicted character token, either a general or financier. If there is a tie in production, no player receives the bonus. Each of these tokens is worth one point apiece, but can be worth more when certain developments are constructed. Further, some cards require the expenditure of one or more of these tokens in order to be constructed.
Each player then receives the resources that he produces, which is based on his empire and the cards he has constructed. These resources are immediately placed as described above. Any buildings that are completed are moved to the Empire card and bonuses (if any) collected. Any cards not fully constructed remain in the “under construction” area into the next round.
This entire process is repeated four times, after which the game concludes and points are tallied. Any cards that were not constructed are discarded. Points are earned in a variety of manners:
- Victory points listed on constructed cards, including those that are multipliers or based on other cards constructed
- Victory points earned from the Empire card incentive
- Victory points from general and financier tokens
Victory and global dominance goes to the player who has the most victory points, with ties being broken in favor of the player with the most constructed cards.
A typical game takes 45 minutes to an hour to complete, which is quite a pleasant time-frame for empire-building games.
It’s a Wonderful World (a name that still perplexes me) is a pleasant surprise, fitting nicely in the family of low-to-moderate complexity games that are easy to teach, learn and play. Others I would include in that category are Ticket to Ride, 7 Wonders and many others. The card selection mechanism is straight from 7 Wonders, with a big difference being that all cards are selected before the decision is made as to construction or recycling. The need to acquire resources versus the desire to construct buildings can make this decision tough.
The game certainly has an efficiency aspect to it. A player should try to optimize the resources he will produce, attempting to use all (or almost all) that are produced each turn in construction. Being forced to place resources on one’s Empire card is suboptimal. So, if you are producing three energy each turn, you should try to make sure you have cards under construction that can use those three energy cubes. Likewise, if you are not producing a particular resource, you should try to recycle cards that give you those cubes if you are constructing cards that require it.
Experienced and astute players will also keep an eye on what their neighbors are producing and try not to pass them cards that require those resources. This is not an easy task, as one is primarily concerned about one’s own efforts. Still, sometimes it is possible to hinder opponents’ plans and efforts.
What I find most appealing about It’s A Wonderful World is that in spite of its relative ease to teach and learn, there is a lot to think about and a lot of decisions to be made throughout the game. Still, none of these decisions are overly taxing or cause the game to drag. It moves along at a nice, breezy clip and plays quickly. These are marks of a wonderful game, making me wonder if the name of the game shouldn’t have been “It’s A Wonderful Game!” – – – – – – – – – – – – Greg J. Schloesser
Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.
Other Summer 2020 GA Report articles