Go Wild!

Designed by Grzegorz Rejchtman
Published by Wizards of the Coast
Reviewed by Mike Siggins

£5 ($7.00)
2-6 players
15 minutes

When, a couple of years back, Wizards of the Coast announced they were pulling out of boardgames because they couldn't make a profit, there was a silent groan around the hobby. As much as some people resented Magic:TG (the game, the players, the cardies, its impact or the marketing approach - choose your poison!), here was a company that had the funds to produce and effectively distribute the games we love. But profitable is a moveable feast and our favourite gaming behemoth could not make them earn enough to justify their existence, and a veil was drawn on all but the curiously popular RoboRally.

You can perhaps imagine my surprise when, at the London Toyfair, I spotted six new family games from the same source. I can only presume this is an element of business diversification, a realisation that Magic, CCGs and even Portal are not as generally accessible as gamers would have you believe, and hopefully a new weapon in the stated campaign to make games as big as movies. All that is fine and dandy, but what appeared at Olympia were four card games that, charitably, were conservative in outlook and design and looked like nothing more than the solid foundation blocks for the new family game range with more due later in the year. Presumably these were chosen for their reliability rather than their innovation, and in all but one case that sensible, but dull, plan paid off. The interesting anomaly was Go Wild!, a trick taking card game that has some good ideas, is to my knowledge original and failed only in final execution.

Go Wild! has a pack of 108 cards: 18 each of five colours plus 18 wild cards. One extra marker card shows who has won the previous trick and is the Wild One! of the title. Play is the first to twenty points, reached after a series of three trick rounds. The first trick in a sequence scores one, the second two and the third three. At the end of the round, players replenish to twelve cards. Play is simple: you lay any number of cards of the same colour. So six red is a good opener. It is topped by more cards of any colour, including the same colour. If you can't match the ante, you can throw away legal cards (eg three yellows - this is vital, as we shall see) but you won't win the trick. The largest meld played wins the trick, leads to the next and takes the Wild One marker. This means he can, exclusively, play wild (joker) cards. These can be added to normal cards as long as they constitute no more than 50% of a meld. Their power is incredible. It means you seldom lay less than four of anything, and as first player (on lead) has priority in draws, the rivals have to go one bigger.

The resulting difficulty is in winning a trick and upsetting the status quo, so your tactical plan shifts to the longer view - improving your hand to have strong, long, single colour suits plus as many jokers as you feel you need to survive once you have the lead. The problem is everyone else is doing this, so your mighty seven of a kind may still not win and you often find you have put so much effort into building the winning hand that you haven't got enough to hold the lead until you replenish cards. Thus the big effort often comes in the third trick - big points and instant reload. The final drawback is that you are only as good as your last redraw. If it is a mixture of colours, it is of little use to anyone but the Wild One. You need three or four of one colour, and you need it to match...

The major flaw, and it is a real shame, is that the play balance is just off. The Wild One has too much control, and as well as leading (a big advantage) he is the only one able to use jokers - this is a double whammy. Not only is he using them to win more points, but the pretenders holding them in their hand are carrying dead weight - the point is reached where you so despair of ever getting the lead that you actually throw off jokers to see if you can improve your hand! The onus then is firmly on the downtrodden to upset the Wild One from his perch - one is quickly reminded of Karriere Poker and its many look-alikes. Because of the nature of the game, this doesn't happen enough and when it does happen, it may not last for long! I think all the game needs is one simple rule to establish slightly more equilibrium and it could be a good card system. As it is, despite us giving it a real workout in the desire to see it working, the game isn't quite there.

Go Wild! is playable by up to six players, and we have tried with every number. As long as you are happy to play largely for laughs, the higher end seems better, but make sure they are all sitting under a good lamp - the graphics designers have been at work and, once again in gaming, they have used two very similar colours. Lord preserve us from creative types with no common sense. None of this deflects me from the final conclusion - that Go Wild! is a novel design that hasn't been made to work. It doesn't miss by much, but it misses. I don't know why this would be, and we can point immediately, and quizzically, at playtesters and Wizard's management, but there is enough here to make me think there will be better games coming and what works, works well.

The Game Cabinet - editor@gamecabinet.com - Ken Tidwell