Making a Connection
Wavelength is a party game from one of the hottest designers in the board game scene right now, Wolfgang Warsch. If you’re unfamiliar with his work he’s made a big splash over the last year and a half with games such as That’s So Clever and The Mind, and he won the 2018 Kennerspiel des Jahres with The Quacks of Qeudlinburg. Given that pedigree, this game has a lot to live up to.
Your goal in Wavelength is to lead your team to victory by acting as a “psychic” and giving clues to your team based on where a bullseye target is on a device in front of you. Sounds simple enough, right? The only question is does Wavelength hit its mark, or is it simply another one-and-done party game? You can either try reading my mind or simply read on to find out!
What Am I Thinking?
At the start of the game, players split into two teams, as evenly as possible. If you have odd numbers of players, one team winding up with one extra member isn’t too big of a deal. The game setup is probably one of the quickest you’re ever likely to see. Other than shuffling a few cards, and placing two cardboard markers into a track in the plastic insert, there’s not much else that needs to be done, allowing for a party game that is super quick to get going.
Instead of a board the insert itself, which is made out of hard plastic material, simply stays in the box and acts as the score tracker, holds the card deck and discard pile, and holds up the large plastic bullseye device that acts as the centerpiece of the game. This clever minimalist design choice works incredibly well and allows for the box to be slid around the table to the other players as the game goes on.
On a team’s turn, one player is tasked with being the “psychic” for that round. They start by spinning the white dial on the plastic device that is propped up in the center of the box. This device has a plastic window that blocks the player from seeing where the dial is pointing. At any time they can stop spinning the dial and then open the viewing window. Inside is a pie-wedge shape with numbers ranging from 1-4 printed on the different colored wedges. The psychics’ job is to try and get their team to guess where the 4 is on the dial, but how do they do this?
Once the dial is set, they draw a card from the top of the deck. On this card is a set of binary extremes. For example, “Good game” on the left, and “Bad game” on the right. This psychic must come up with a clue using this binary to try and lead their team to figure out where that 4 is. Using this example, let’s say that the 4 is almost entirely to the left side labeled “Good game”. I may give a clue like, “Super Mario Bros 3” to my team. It’s then up to them to deduce where the 4 could be based on my clue by turning a red dial on the device to where they think the bull’s eye might be. Maybe they think Mario 3 is the best game ever, or maybe others think it’s not that good so they might argue it’s on the bad game side of the spectrum. It leads to some interesting arguments and discussions which can be absolutely torturous if you are the psychic and your team takes your clue in unintended directions.
When your team is finished setting the red needle, the opposing team then gets a chance to try and gain a point as well. By looking at where the opposing team sets the needle, they can guess if they think the bullseye is to the left or right of the needle by placing a marker into the insert. When this is finished the psychic player then opens the window to show exactly where the target was. If the needle is in any of the pie wedge spaces that team earns points equal to the wedge it’s in. The other team also gains a point if they correctly guessed which side of the needle the bullseye was on, and then play continues with the other team now repeating the process. The game continues until one team reaches ten points and is declared the winner.
Wow! Wow! Wow! I really enjoy this game. Party games are often a dime a dozen, but every now and then one hits the market that you can just tell will be a part of family get-togethers and parties for a long time to come, and this is certainly of those.
The first time this hit the table I acted as a teacher and moderator for the game, as we had an odd number of players, and I wanted to get an outside perspective on what the eight other players at the table thought of it. The game is super easy to teach, we got it up and running in about two or three minutes, and the way our players’ face’s lit up from just round one I knew it was a home run.
What Wavelength gets right is allowing the players to feel clever because of its open-ended nature. It’s not a trivia game or a game that makes you do dumb things like a lot of party games insist on doing to their players. Those moments where you come up with the perfect clue to give to your team and they nail it are incredibly satisfying. Other times you might come up with something you think is obvious, but your team ends up taking it in a completely different direction and you just want to yell at them, but you have to sit there biting your tongue as they misinterpret your clue. If my card is “Light Side of the Force vs Dark Side of the force” and the bullseye is right in the middle, what character could I come up with that perfectly hits that mark? It’s such a good time, and it’s so light and breezy that when a game is finished it’s very likely everyone’s going to want to play it again.
There’s actually two ways to play the game, the competitive mode I just outlined, as well as a co-operative mode that is laid out in the back of the book. The competitive mode is certainly the main attraction here, and it does a really good job at large player counts. The co-op mode deserves mention as well. The gameplay is similar, but instead, all players are working together to try and get a high score. You start with seven cards and are attempting to get a high score by giving clues just as you would in the normal game. The big difference is if you hit the bullseye you only get three points, but you also get to add another card to your clue pile, essentially giving you more and more opportunities to score points.
I enjoyed this mode as well, not as much as the main game, but it works much better at a smaller player count, whereas I think the competitive game requires larger numbers. It’s something I could picture pulling out at the end of a game night, where things I sort of winding down and you want to do something relaxing before it’s time to head home
The production is really well done. As mentioned earlier the score track is the insert itself and simply remains in the box. Set up is super quick, the cards are easy to shuffle, and there are even some advanced cards you can choose to try out once you have experience with the game. The large dial is big and chunky and certainly stands out like a giant monolith once it takes its spot, propped up in the middle of the game box. The dial and red needle are all firm and have satisfying little clicking sounds as they’re moved around and feel like they’re going to hold up over time and not become loose over extended use.
My one minor complaint is the plastic viewing window that is used to block the sight of the pie wedges. In our copy, it often is very hard to open, more than once a player accidentally turned the dial itself slightly as they tried to open it up, which is a problem, though not a huge one. I don’t know if this is a common problem between all copies but it’s something to be aware of.
The only other thing that is a small issue when you’re first teaching the game is the number of rules around what clues you’re allowed to give. Near the back of the book are extra rules around what clues are legal, as well as some suggested rules to keep the game fun, and a FAQ. These rules take up a full four pages in the book and can feel like a bit of an information dump for such a light game. All these rules make sense, such as not being able to “invent” something, or using numbers for your clue since these would break the game. However, it’s a lot to internalize for a first-time player.
These minor issues aside, Wavelength is just so much fun. It’s a game I’m going to bring out at parties for years to come. No two games of this will ever be the same. I could picture fans coming up with their own homebrew cards to extend the life of the game out even further should they wish to do so. The system is so elegant and simple that the official Twitter account for the game tweets daily with a picture of the dial and a new card, allowing fans to play the game digitally in the Twitter-sphere. There’s no reason not to give this one a shot. Wolfgang Warsch absolutely knocked it out of the park yet again.
Final Score: 9/10