9.6 Waggle Dance

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WaggleDance_coverAs the old saying goes, you can kill more bees with kindness than with vinegar—that’s the saying right? Anyway, Waggle Dance is a game that attracted a lot more than a few bees with its Kickstarter campaign; raising £20,048 ($29,934) from 662 backers. Released by Grublin Games Publishing, Waggle Dance is the company’s 2nd game since 2013 and it is anything but a sophomore slump.

Before I get too far with this review, I feel I need to ground myself from the possibility of making too many bee puns, including but not limited to: “This game is the bee’s knees!” or “What’s all the buzz about?” There. I’m glad I got that out of my system.

Let’s bee honest (dang, there was one left in me), the name Waggle Dance won’t pique many people’s interests. “Waggle dance” is a term used in beekeeping for a particular figure eight dance of the honey bee. Bees use this dance to share information about the direction and distance to patches of flowers with nectar, water sources, nest locations, and so on. Once you start to play the game, the odd name no longer matters because the game is really good.

waggledance_nectar_playareaI’m not sure there is a game with a truer mechanism of “worker placement”. Quite literally, players take on the role of a “Forebee” (foreman bee—that one wasn’t me, that’s straight from the rulebook) facilitating worker bees in building a hive, generating and hatching eggs, and creating honey to fill the honeycomb. In the center of the play area, a beautiful array of six different nectar cards are placed to form a multicolored floral arrangement. In addition to placing workers on different action areas, players may also place their worker dice on these nectar cards to harvest specific colors of nectar. Honey is made by collecting sets of four of the same-colored nectar. As nectar “cubes” are collected, players add them to the hexagonal honeycomb tiles until a set is made and a pair of worker dice are placed on the tile to transform them into honey (signified by flipping the tile over to its golden honey side). The honeycomb tiles can either hold one egg or up to four nectar cubes at a time. This adds a resource management and set collecting aspect to the game. The first player to fill x-amount of honeycombs with honey wins (x-amount is based on number of players and desired game length, usually somewhere between five and nine honeycombs).

As you might have noticed, worker placement is just the beginning of Waggle Dance. On another level, perhaps equally as important, the game is also area control-ish. Each player starts out with a handful of dice (workers), rolls them, and then places the resulting dice at different stages of the play area to signify that they are taking a certain action. These action areas are cards with six die slots numbered 1–6. Once a die slot is taken by a worker die, no other die can occupy that slot, therefore controlling a portion of that action area. Knowing that the game rotates from player to player, each placing one worker die at a time until all dice are placed, a player can really spend a ton of time making informed decisions on what one player’s goals that round might be and how their workers can optimize their place in turn order. Here is where Waggle Dance really shines. Imagine multiple players rolling their workers. Once rolled, everyone surveys the table and starts to formulate their plan as to what order they intend to use their workers and what action they want them to take. Turn by turn you take a risk by placing one die over the other and deciding you can bide your time to take a different area with a later die, almost like a draft.

waggledance_cardsAnd there you have it; dice rolling, worker placement, area control, resource management, and drafting—what more could you want from a game? It plays up to four players. The two and three player game setup requires you to start the game with a portion of the six slots on each area to be full which seems a little blah at first but doesn’t take anything away from the gameplay in my opinion. Waggle Dance takes about 30 minutes per player in my experience (again, depending on the difficulty level). The game itself has been designed to be completely language-independent and solely visual, making it globally accessible and more available to all ages. That being said, I’d be comfortable playing this game with ages 10 and up. Explaining some of the ins and outs of the game with placing workers might be a bit of a steep hill to climb at some ages, but with the right kids I don’t see why you couldn’t.

waggledance_diceWaggle Dance involves so many mechanics wrapped into one and tied with a wonderful bow of theme. It manages to merge concepts of efficiency, luck, and strategy in a way that no game I’ve ever played has—or quite honestly, could. Some say Euro-style games don’t need the crutch of a theme; the mechanics should be enough. I’m not saying they are wrong or right but what I will say is that the theme takes this game to newer heights than most worker placement games could hope for. The sense of managing a hive of worker bees toward generating honey more efficiently than other hives is spot on. The components and artwork are absolutely stunning. Every little detail makes the experience that much more enjoyable. Down to every pip on every die face, Grublin Games Publishing has taken the time to really make a great game.

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