The Whatnot Cabinet
- Designer: Steve Finn
- Publisher: Pencil First Games
- Players: 1-4
- Age: 8+
- Time: 20 min
- Played with review copy provided by publisher
In this game of rare, unusual and intriguing objects, players compete to assemble the best collection of twelve treasures in their display case. Each player starts with an empty case, and pawns are placed in turn order on the spaces on the top the Journey board. Five curiosity cards are dealt in a row, and one Wonder card is revealed for the game. The 85 curio tiles are placed in the bag – these tiles are distributed amongst five colors and five object types as well as some special action tiles. Some of the tiles have crown icons on them which are important for end game scoring. The game will be played in 6 rounds, and in each round, players will place 2 tiles into their Whatnot cabinet thus having a fully filled cabinet at the end of the game.
To start a round, first draw 4 curio tiles from the bag and place them in the Outdoors area (under the Journey Board). Then the player in the leftmost turn order spot takes an action – to do this, they move their pawn into any of the action columns on the board. They then take the action depicted on the space they chose – On each action space, there will be 1-3 actions to perform involving drawing, discarding and collecting tiles. At the end of the process, you’ll have collected some tiles, and when they are obtained, they must be placed permanently in your Whatnot cabinet. If you pick a special action tile, you’ll immediately resolve its special action.
Now, if you have completed a row or column in your cabinet, you score it – columns awarding points for all the same color or all different color tiles and rows awarding points for same object type or all different types. If you do not meet the criteria, you get a blank scoring token instead. As each row and column will be scored once per game, you’ll end up with 7 scoring markers. Also, check to see if you meet the criteria for any of the Curiosity cards. If so, claim it and place it next to your cabinet. You will score points for this at the end of the game.
After the turn is completed, the leftmost remaining pawn in the top row repeats the process until all players have taken an action. At the end of the round, discard any remaining tiles in the Outdoors area. Now, all pawns are moved directly upward into the turn order track to set the order for the next round. Continue this until the end of the 6th round.
After 6 rounds, everyone should have a full cabinet, and final scores are tabulated:
- Point tokens earned for rows and columns
- Curiosity cards collected
- Special Action tiles collected that award VPs
- Wonder card – 1VP per tile in your cabinet that matches the type on the Wonder card
- Crowns – 1VP per tile in your cabinet that has a crown on it
- Final Turn order – score points if you end in one of the first 3 spaces in turn order
The player with the most points wins. Ties broken in favor of the player with more blank Point tokens from rows and columns.
My thoughts on the game
This is a game of few turns, only six per player, and this makes every decision fairly important. Each of the twelve tiles that you collect must be used, so there is really no room for taking an undesired tile. As you fill your grid, you will have to consider both the row and column scoring. It is certainly unlikely that you’ll get the exact tile that fits both of plans – so you may have to choose between them. It will help you to see what other people are collecting as well, as this may help you foresee what tiles will be available in the future.
There seems to be a slight advantage to going earlier in the round as you have the best pick of the tiles in the Outdoors – but almost all of the actions allow you to draw tiles first and possibly add them to the Outdoors, so you probably have a chance to draw the perfect tile for this round. In fact, in one game, I was last in turn order for the first 4 rounds, and I managed to draw 7 tiles that were perfect for my strategy and 1 that was good, but not perfect. Needless to say, I ran away with the victory in that game. Being last in turn order in the first few rounds is really not an issue as you have so much room in your cabinet, you can make just about any two tiles find a nice home.
Turn order is perhaps more important towards the end of the game when you have very few liberties in your grid. When you can’t pivot in your strategic plan, the increased choice seems to be better. And, then in the final round, you not only have to choose tiles but also try to set yourself up for bonus points.
Though I’m not sure if we played this correctly, the last round drags on a bit because there are so many of the redraw bonus tiles in the bag (after putting the discards back in). I feel like the game would maybe be better/smoother if these tiles were discarded when used the first time.
Each game is a little different due to the bonus scoring cards, and they can give you a few more positive options when choosing your tiles. The Curiosity cards can give you a nice boost, but there is a race element to getting these, so you might have to take a tile that doesn’t work as great for your Cabinet plan in order to ensure you get the bonus points on the Curiosity cards.
The artwork is clean and unobtrusive. The icons and banners on the tiles make it easy to see the important game information, and the player aids are helpful. The scoring tokens are plentiful, and our group has taken to laying the appropriate tokens next to the rows and columns as they are complete to help everyone know where they stand.
The game tends to move along quickly until the last two rounds – when you really have to try to get “just the right” tile, and it might take a bit to figure out which of the actions you want to take to give you the best chance to get the tile you want. Though it wasn’t a problem in my group, I could see where there could be a bit of AP-potential in these final turns.
As with all Pencil First games, there is a robust solo version included in the box, and it is another way to enjoy the game, especially in these times when it is a little bit harder to get together with others to game. The Whatnot Cabinet is packaged in the same pleasing (to me) small format box, and as with the other releases, I’m definitely impressed with the fun-to-volume ratio of this game.
This game is brightly colored and accessible, and it would be a good choice for a filler/closer or for more casual gaming sessions. (This statement honestly is true of all of the 2021 Pencil First games that I have tried). I have enjoyed this game in my plays thus far, and it will stay in the collection and get more plays through the winter.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Maricel (the solo variant is the perfect balance of pleasant and puzzly)
- I like it. Dale Y
- Neutral. John P
- Not for me…