SdJ Re-Reviews #13: Drunter und Drüber (a.k.a. Wacky Wacky West)

  • Designer:  Klaus Teuber
  • Publisher:  Hans im Glück, Mayfair
  • Players:  2 – 4
  • Ages:  9 and Up
  • Time:  30 – 45 Minutes
  • Times Played:   > 5 (On the Hans im Glück German Edition & Mayfair’s Wacky Wacky West)

Drunter

Drunter und Drüber: Teuber gets his record-setting third win, and Hans im Glück gets their first…

Drunter und Drüber marked Teuber’s third win, an accomplishment that was unprecedented at the time.  The game was reportedly inspired by criticism of urban politics in the 1970s.

The jury described Drunter und Drüber as both fun and funny, praising how easily and quickly the game played.  The game ranked third in the Deutscher Spiele Preis voting that year.

Drunter und Drüber is perhaps most significant for being Hans im Glück’s first SdJ win.  The publisher was founded in 1983 and by 1991 had released about a dozen games, most notably Die Macher.  The pace of game releases picked up dramatically after Drunter und Drüber’s SdJ win, and Hans im Glück would go on to publish five more SdJ winners: Manhattan (1994), El Grande (1996), Carcassonne (2001), Thurn und Taxis (2006), and Dominion (2009).  

Unlike Adel Verpflichtet, Drunter und Drüber did not receive much international attention, perhaps because it was only available in German.  The game did not get an English-language release until 2010, when Mayfair re-themed it and released it under the title Wacky Wacky West.  Interestingly, their edition describes it as the “Game of the Year” but doesn’t have the red pöppel.

Nonetheless, Drunter und Drüber was at least on the radar of early hobbyists in the United Kingdom and United States.  Mike Siggins reviewed the game in Issue 5 of Sumo, calling it a candidate for game of the year, but his short review didn’t generate the same number of responses as Adel Verpflichtet.  (Interestingly, his overview of Essen 1991 in Issue 6 didn’t even mention the game.)  The game was mentioned on rec.games.board in March 1992, but only in Adel Verpflichtet’s shadow.

Drunter und Drüber is still in print today, both in Germany under its original title and in the United States as Wacky Wacky West.  I have not been able to locate sales data, so if you have any information, leave a comment below.

The Gameplay: Tile Laying Mixed with Hidden Identities

The rules of Drunter und Drüber and Wacky Wacky West are largely the same, but Wacky Wacky West is likely more easily located by readers of this blog, so I’m going to focus on that version of the game.

Each player is a citizen of the town Rossdorf, and they have a secret stake in one type of building (Banks, General Stores, Jails, Saloons, Schools, or Stables).  A player’s goal is to prevent their type of building from being destroyed.  There are five of each building on the board, and each one is numbered from 1-5, with buildings toward the center of the board being worth more.  A player’s score at the end of the game is the sum shown on all of their remaining buildings (i.e. there is a maximum of 15 points).

Drunter Board

At the start of the game, each player randomly receives a number of tiles depending on how many players are in the game:

  • 2 Players: 6 Triple Tiles, 12 Double Tiles, 12 Single Tiles
  • 3 Players: 4 Triple Tiles, 8 Double Tiles, 8 Single Tiles
  • 4 Players: 3 Triple Tiles, 6 Double Tiles, 6 Single Tiles

These tiles is also given a goal card (showing their secret building type) and a deck of vote cards.  Each deck of vote cards contains the following cards, which are explained below: yes (+), double yes (++), triple yes (+++), no (-), double no (–), triple no (—), undecided (?), and joker (–/++).

Drunter Cards

The tiles are either track (railroad) tiles, street tiles, or river tiles.  The triple tiles have a bridge in the middle square.

On a player’s turn they must place a tile.  Tiles must be placed next to the “work gang” figure at the end of each track.  The work gang figure essentially marks the last tile placed on a series of tiles.  A tile’s starting edge must be adjacent to the end field of another tile of the same type (for example, a track tile must be placed next to a track tile).  Once a tile is placed the work gang figure is moved.  If a work gang figure is adjacent to a bridge field on a different tile, treat the bridge field as if it were the end of the tile where the  work gang figure is placed (thus along a series of tiles to cross under a bridge).

Players are free to place over buildings.  However, to place over an “outhouse” requires a vote of the townspeople, and if the vote fails, the tile is not placed and the player’s turn ends.  For the vote each player selects one of their vote cards and all players simultaneously reveal.  Players revealing a joker may then select whether they are playing two yes votes or two no votes.  In the event of a tie, the yes votes prevail.  Undecided cards are returned to a player’s hand, but otherwise the rest of the cards are out of the game.

If a player is unable to place a tile, their turn is skipped.  The game ends when all players are unable to place a tile.  The player with the most points wins.  In the event of a tie, the player with the highest total of yes and no votes on their vote cards in his or her hand is the winner.

Does it stand the test of time?  My thoughts on the game…

I’ve enjoyed my plays of Drunter und Drüber, but I’ve settled on being neutral about the game.  The gameplay offers interesting decisions, and the short playtime and easily-understood rules make the game accessible and inoffensive.  I’ve had a few laugh-out-loud moments with Drunter und Drüber, and revealing the secret goals at the end of the game is always a highlight.  Nonetheless, the game seems to lose some of its luster with each additional play.

I’m a fan of games featuring hidden identities or hidden goals.  I previously gave Heimlich & Co. an “I Like It” rating as part of this series.  While I admit that the games feature starkly different mechanics, in many ways Drunter und Drüber feels like a more dressed up version of Heimlich & Co.  Unfortunately, I don’t know that the added mechanisms – tile placement and voting – offer any additional joy (or even additional depth) over the pure play in Heimlich & Co.

On the positive side for Drunter und Drüber, gameplay tends to be fast.  The game fits into the category I call “filler plus,” with the average play in my group taking 30 minutes.  In spite of its combination of its three different mechanics, Drunter und Drüber is approachable for non-gamers, and the game can be explained in three minutes or less.

But on the down side, there are a several aspects of this game that make me cringe.  I strongly dislike that the tiles are randomly distributed at the start of the game.  The end result is that sometimes you want — or need — to place a street or river tile but simply didn’t get any at the start of the game.

My bigger issue is the artwork, which can be confusing on either version (though it is worse on Mayfair’s edition).  I’ve seen players seem puzzled by how and whether a tile can be placed solely because the artwork doesn’t line up, particularly for the rivers.  It’s an easy problem to fix, so this oversight seems like neglect on the part of the publisher.  Add in the fact that the artwork is unattractive and the problem rises to the level of a major annoyance.

With regard to gameplay, I dislike that this game offers little incentive to figure out the hidden goals of other players.  Rather, the better strategy seems to be destroying as much as possible while taking steps to protect your buildings.  In the end, that’s why I like Heimlich & Co. better: a large portion of the fun in secret goal or hidden identity games is guessing the goals of other players, and being rewarded for doing so.  This defect in Drunter und Drüber makes the voting – which should be the most tense part of the game – often uninteresting.

Does the game stand the test of time?  I have mixed feelings.  The game is still fun for at least a few plays, but after that its flaws become apparent.  Mayfair obviously thought the game was still relevant when it released the title in 2010, but I suspect this has been a commercial flop for them.  I’ve been seeing Wacky Wacky West on deep discount everywhere I go, leading me to believe that sales haven’t been that strong.  If that’s indeed the case, I’m unsurprised: the hidden identity or goal mechanic has been dressed up much better in the past two decades (and the cover artwork isn’t doing Wacky Wacky West any favors).

Would it win the SdJ today?  It seems like a possibility, but I have my doubts.  The game does have much of what the jury is looking for: it is family friendly with some depth.  Nonetheless, I think this genre has been done better since, and I think the jury would likely go with another title.

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers

Patrick Brennan: I had a lot of success with this one with non-gamers back in the day, calling it a stomping game and hamming it up to get people in the mood. I mean, what can’t be fun about voting to demolish toilets! No feelings can be hurt as colours aren’t known, and people get to build and demolish in the same breath. It’s all over in 20-30 minutes, first timers can win; it’s the perfect length for what it is. Watching the tile placement steer-aways (from a colour) and the voting patterns (whether someone votes against steering towards a certain colour) gives fuel for the talk-it-up, and licence to bluff until you *really* need to steer a trail away. So to me, it’s never felt random; I’ve usually known everyone’s colours by the end of the game. Most importantly, the “stomping” has made it fun doing so. It hasn’t come out in a long time though so it’s probably fair to say it hasn’t stood the test of time. But, as evidenced by this series, how many do.

Larry (1 play):  My one play of Drunter felt like many of the Teuber games I’ve tried–pleasant, clearly well designed, but ultimately too light for my tastes.  I can see why it would have been well thought of in the early nineties and I have no reason to think this was a weak SdJ representative, but I’m not sure it holds up all that well today.  (Actually, a look at the SdJ nominees that year shows that none of the other games are better remembered than Drunter, save one:  Master Labyrinth, which took the DSP award that year, but which for some reason could only win the Beautiful Game award from the Jury.)  I suspect Chris may be underestimating Drunter’s popularity when it was released; I think it got quite a lot of play in Germany.  Some of that might have been because it was Teuber’s next game after the megahit Adel, but I think it retained its popularity for much of the nineties.

Greg S.:  I played this game multiple times in the late mid-to-late 90s, but it never really excited me.  I found the voting to be not terribly exciting and, indeed, it grew rather tedious.  I actually held-on to the game longer than I should have, as it sat on the shelf for many, many years.  I eventually found it a better home and I’ve not missed it.

Joe Huber (9 plays): I found Drunter & Drüber fairly early in my exploration of German games, and found it fairly enjoyable – but over time, all hidden identity games have faded in interest for me, and this was no exception.  I’d still play if asked – but I last played the game in 2003, and I haven’t missed it.

Mark Jackson (6 plays): I like Drunter & Druber… it managed to survive the purge because, like Patrick, it’s a “stomping” game that plays quickly and has been a success each time it hits the table.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it.  Patrick B., Erik A., Mark Jackson
  • Neutral.  Chris W., Larry, Greg S., Joe H.
  • Not for me…
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4 Responses to SdJ Re-Reviews #13: Drunter und Drüber (a.k.a. Wacky Wacky West)

  1. huzonfirst says:

    Forgot to mention a couple of things in my comments. The first is that there’s another reason, besides being Hans im Gluck’s first SdJ, that Drunter & Druber was notable: it was also the first game to be illustrated by Franz Vohwinkel. No matter what you may think of the artwork in that particular game, Vohwinkel has gone on to have an extraordinary career (he’s one of my favorite illustrators) and having his first effort be selected Game of the Year certainly got him off to a tremendous start.

    The other thing is that, technically, HiG also won the SdJ for Dominion in 2009. Of course, Rio Grande was the developer of that game, but HiG was (and still is) the German distributor for the game, which was how it was eligible for the award in the first place. So that gives them 6 SdJ awards, tying them with Ravensburger for the most by any publisher.

  2. Chris W. says:

    Great catches, Larry! I believe Vohwinkel also did Mississippi Queen, Tikal, and Torres. I suspect that means he’s been affiliated with more SdJ wins than any other artist. (If my memory serves me, Doris Matthäus would be next in line with three wins for El Grande, Elfenland, and Carcassonne.)

    I affiliate Dominion with Rio Grande, so I forgot the HiG connection. I’m going to update the entry above.

  3. Domion is no longer distributet by Hans im Glück in Germany. Its ASS now (Altenburger Spieleverlag).

  4. Fraser says:

    It has toilets, so it is a must have for my wife :-)

    I have played it a few times and liked it. It’s light and short, but certainly has never been on high rotation. On a scatological themed day it will come out again for sure.

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