Dan Blum: Review of Wavelength

Wavelength

  • Designer: Wolfgang Warsch, Alex Hague, and Justin Vickers
  • Publisher: Palm Court
  • Players: 2-12
  • Age: 14+
  • Time: 30-45 minutes
  • Times played: 9, with review copy provided by Palm Court
wavelength_1

Trippy.

Wavelength is a party game with an original concept, which is unusual as most party games are variations on one of a few different ideas (which is not to say they have to be original to be good, as an idea can be done well or poorly).

Wavelength is based on spectra. Each round one player (the “psychic,” according to the rules) draws a card which offers a choice between two spectra, e.g. “bad pizza topping” to “good pizza topping” or “dystopia” to “utopia.” They choose one and then turn to the nifty plastic device which is the heart of the game. This device has a wheel which they spin and a window which they then open. Somewhere in the window there will be a target area – a silver 4-point sliver surrounded by 3-point and 2-point regions. They then close the window, place the device and the card in the handy slots provided in the box insert, and give a clue.

The nifty plastic device also has a needle which can be placed anywhere inside the window, and the aim of the clue is to get the guessing players to place the needle in the target area – preferably in the 4-point sliver, of course. E.g if the chosen spectrum is “bad pizza topping” to “good pizza topping” and the clue is “pepperoni,” the clue-giver is probably indicating that the needle should go pretty far over to the right (in the direction of “good”) – but exactly how far?

wavelength_2

Obviously the correct placement for pepperoni.

This is where the fun comes in – the guessing players can argue about the needle placement as much as they want but eventually have to agree on a position. After that if playing in competitive mode the other team decides if they think the silver target area is to the left or the right of the needle – if they are correct they get 1 point.

The game can be played competitively by two teams or cooperatively. In competitive mode the teams generally take turns and the first team to reach 10 points wins. The second team to play starts with 1 point and I say “generally” because if a team gets 4 points and is still losing they get to go again.

In cooperative mode the players start with 7 cards, but if they hit the 4-point region they get 3 points and an extra card. After playing all their cards they compare their score to a table to see how well they did.

That’s all there is to the game, except that there are “advanced” cards provided which can be mixed in (or used by themselves). They tend to be a bit weirder/harder than the regular cards, but not that much.

Wavelength does a lot of things right. As mentioned, the concept is original, or at least original enough that I haven’t seen it. The rules are mostly very simple – overly-complex rules are usually a fun-killer for party games. (The rules on allowable clues are more complex than I think they need to be, but only a few are really important.) The physical production looks cool and works well, with all components staying in the box insert during play. There’s lots of replayability since there are lots of cards (including an “advanced” set) and seeing the same spectrum again is fine since the target will probably be in a very different place.

On the downside, I wouldn’t say that Wavelength does anything really wrong, but it’s got a few rough edges. One is the competitive mode – it can work well as given in the rules, but only if the teams don’t do that well on average. If people are really getting the clues the average number of points gained over the opposing team in a turn may be significantly more than 1, meaning that the second team has a big disadvantage. This is of course easy to fix – just play until a team reaches 10 points but give each team an equal number of turns, or just play until everyone has been the psychic the same number of times (assuming teams of equal size).

Another issue is that the fun is really player-dependent. To a large extent this is true of any party game but it feels more true in Wavelength than in others I have played recently. The fun part of each turn is the arguing over the clue, and there can be a lot to argue about, even when the clue seems fairly straightforward. E.g. in the “pepperoni” example, did the psychic mean the clue to be about how they feel about pepperoni? Or how the guessing players feel about it? Or the world at large? Do the guessing players actually know how the psychic feels about pepperoni? Etc.

wavelength_3

Turns out the psychic is a fan of Hawaiian pizza and gets what he deserves.

However, sometimes players don’t argue, either because the clue seems too obvious or because they don’t have the temperament for it, and then a lot of the fun is gone. On the plus side, a turn without discussion goes faster, so you can get the less-fun parts over quickly, but if many turns are like that the game is going to fall flat.

One could argue this is the fault of the players, not the game, and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with that. However, I would caution purchasers of the game to know your players and to choose competitive vs. cooperative play with an eye to having enough people guessing at the same time to get some lively discussion going. (The rules especially recommend cooperative play for fewer than 6 but there’s no reason you can’t do it with more.)

Finally, as Joe notes in his comments below, if the target is far to one side it’s often too easy to give a good clue, which again reduces the fun. I don’t think this is a very serious issue since I have seen several cases where someone gave what they thought was a very obvious clue to one end of the spectrum but the guessing players disagreed, and vice-versa. However, if your group feels otherwise it’s easy enough to simply re-spin if the target ends up in a not-fun area.

With those caveats, it’s a good party game, and while it does require thinking it’s less cerebral than something like Codenames or even Just One, so may appeal to people who don’t care for games of that ilk.

Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers:

Joe Huber (5 plays; 4 cooperative and 1 competitive): Wavelength is a pleasant game – I’ve enjoyed it each of the times I’ve played – with, as Dan notes, a few quibbles.  One is that it’s a much less interesting game when the primary scoring zone is pegged to the high or low end, or even particularly close to that. Trying to give a clue on a good-versus-evil scale is not terribly hard when you can choose something that’s clearly all good or all evil.  Trying to get your team to 63% evil, however, is much trickier – and far more interesting, and enjoyable. Among other things, it brings out the discussion Dan pines for (though – for me the discussion wasn’t always as desirable an outcome as it was for Dan). Some of the scales are more interesting than others, as well; it’s something of a disappointment when, as the clue giver, you’re given a couple of less interesting scales to choose between.  The “advanced” scale cards are odd; one side seems to be designed for those who want to make life difficult, but – I must admit I gravitated towards that side, since it was more fun. Which is great, playing cooperatively, but perhaps a drawback for competitive play – I’d always prefer the more fun way to play be encouraged. But most importantly, the game doesn’t quite manage to keep all players as involved as in Just One or Codenames manage. I will play Wavelength if others want to – but I can’t see myself picking up a copy.

Dale Y: 3 plays, all with prototype, 2 of which with one of the designers-  so I had a chance to play a production prototype of this at a convention, and I loved it.  Many of the things that Dan listed above are true; and I think I had an exceptional group of friends to play it with.  As most of the players in the game knew each other, I think that led to “better” clues that benefited from insider knowledge – no different that clues in other similar guessing games.  For me, the beauty of this is the way that just about anyone can play and participate. Booksmarts and vocabulary will not really help you as they possibly will in Codenames. Our group had lots of laughs and interesting debates IIRC, and it’s a game I look forward to playing again.  I rated this an I love it! Because it was a game that I went out and immediately backed after playing it. And I believe others feel the same way – I think that this has already been picked up for wider distribution by Asmodee.

[James Nathan is recusing himself for a number of reasons, but would like to state that he wished he had a copy during various Thanksgiving festivities as it is a game that allows play in a Living Room type setting where players can relax on the couch, in a recliner, or just sit on the floor, without all needing to be around a table -something that is not plausible with Codenames/Just One/etc.]

Ratings of the Opinionated Gamers:

I love it! Dale Y
I like it. Dan Blum
Neutral. Joe H.
Not for me…

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1 Response to Dan Blum: Review of Wavelength

  1. Pingback: Dan Blum: Review of Wavelength – Herman Watts

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