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Players strategically place wooden Aboriginal ceremonial objects (tjurungas) to gain majorities in meetings. Each section of the board holds an identical stack of cards, shuffled, and 5 or 10 wooden objects. Through card play, players vie for score by gaining majorities in various types of wooden pieces. Mik says this game has "a lot of player interaction, strategy and tactical decisions with a limited amount of luck".
My family buys and plays a lot of games. I give Wongar my 'Best Game of 2002' rating (I bought it in 2002). It is exactly the type of game I like. I find the graphics soothing and atmospheric. The game has multiple layers of complexity and strategy. The more often I play, the more I discover new ways to try to score or advance my position. This gives the game great replay value.
The game has a very different feel when you play with two players vs. more. There are enough pieces so that five players can play at a time.
I am a big fan of German games, which seem to have a certain style to them. This is one of those games in which you have to plan ahead and make difficult choices about what to do--only to have your best laid plans destroyed by your opponent!
The rules are complex at first, especially since the English translation supplied with the game is less than perfect. I am thinking that this is why the game hasn't received more notice. The first few times we played the game we interpreted a few rules incorrectly. We've got it straightened out now and the game keeps getting better.
If you like abstract strategy games, want something different with a new atmosphere and great replay value, you'll like Wongar.
'Wrong' is the answer. I blame Randall (next review) for that, needing a clever title and all. And I agree with him on all of his points except one: Mr. Howe did not 'seem' to get the rule wrong, he absolutely did and as a result he did not play Wongar. This game was one of the most innovative board games to come out of Germany in the year 2000. It is a superbly designed game combining strategic dynamics with a high level of interaction.
Yes, forget the aboriginal theme that Mr. Howe so readily dismisses, but not the game. This is combat: mean, tense and nasty. At all times you must try to maintain a balance between your presence on the board and the power of cards in your hand. At the same time you must be aware of the position and potential power of your opponents. Temporary alliances must be struck to keep parity on the board, while at the same time seeking to create positions of advantage for yourself.
Bargaining and bluffing are an integral part of the game. This aspect has much of the flavor of the classic Sid Sackson game, Kohle, Kies & Knete. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to win this game on your own. You need to be able to create partners or allies. If you push out ahead on your own too strongly too soon, you force your opponents into alliances against you.
It is regretable that Wongar did not get the Samurai theme envisioned by Mr. Moon. It might have more readily drawn players into this game. But do not let this game slip by because the German market requires non-military themes. Let the Ancient be the Samurai and the Elder be the General. The discs, cubes and cylinders are spearman, archers and swordsman. The area cards are strategic opportunities on the battle field, the rituals are combat and the ritual cards are tactical choices.
Are you tired yet of gaming in Venice? Does archeology make your temple throb? Has city building put you in the dumps? Do you want a true test of 5 spielers' grit and gall? Seriously, this game has been grossly under-rated. If you have been living on Wolfgang Kramer (Kramer/Ulrich, Kramer/Kiesling, etc.,) games--and I love these games too--you want this game. It's on par with El Grande, more intense than Tikal, more interactive than The Princes of Florence (I know, so is solitaire on your computer), and Java... I need to play that one a few more times. This game fits in there yet is different, that strong KK flavor. Wongar belongs in your collection.
Okay, this game does take some getting used to. It's really a bit like El Grande, but with more conflicts. It looks great, nice colours and graphics. This is a game you can play again and again. Just try it!
And one thing about the review below... if you turn a scorpion card, you move the scorpion forward and draw a new card... forget about the losing points stuff.
In my last review I said I would not try for clever titles for my reviews, but the temptation was just too great with this game.
As described in Alan How's review, this is a game of placement and majorities. It is also rather abstract, rather like El Grande and Carolus Magnus. While it lacks the variety of the former and the simple elegance of the latter, it does strike a good middle ground of its own.
The components are quite nice, with brightly colored beads in 3 shapes littering a board of good aboriginal cave paintings. While the setting is bizarre to say the very least, it does make the game stand out from other titles. Rather too many games in the past few years have been set in Venice, for example. Australian aboriginal shamans duking it out in the Dreamtime is somewhat less used as a setting. Wongar provides a breath of fresh air in this respect.
Mr. How does seem to have made an error in one respect, namely the scorpion cards. My reading of the rules indicates that the Elder player turns up the cards at the beginning of the round, and is the only player 'stung' by the scorpion, which is then removed and the next card turned up. Players are, therefore, never selecting the scorpion cards as they never stay on their stacks. This makes choosing the Elder something of a gamble, since payoffs are greater in a Rite, but those hard-earned points might be stung away the very next round.
I do suggest using the advanced rules that come with Wongar, and are the rules preferred by the game's designers. They add only a tiny bit of complexity to the game, but allow for more strategy and far less luck. The rules changes will appease any nay-sayers who feel that there is too little control in the basic game.
I have read that some people are turned off by the artwork of this game, but to me it is one of the most visually appealing games in my burgeoning collection. Overall, the game has a remarkable look and feel to it, and the strategies are deep and rather mystifying. This is a game that must be played a few times to be appreciated, but once discovered is not likely to be forgotten. Recommended.
I picked Wongar (Goldsieber 2000, Richard Borg and Alan Moon) up in a trade I made with Richard Borg. I had never really heard of the game before, and since it was one of Goldsiebers big box games, I was immediately intrigued, as I had had good success with them in the past. The theme, that of Aborigine dreams (or something) was a unique one, and coupled with the massive amount of beautiful pieces, inspired me to try out the game as soon as possible.
My first impressions, however, were not good. So much confusion occurred (much of it from the theme or lack thereof), and a lot of the game seemed random and pointless. Wild point scoring occurred, and general impressions were not good. But, I saw under this layer of insanity an excellent game one with the opportunity to be a great game. At its core, Wongar is an area control game, and with three different types of tokens, the gameplay is unique and exciting.
A large board with ten joining areas is placed in the middle of the board. A pile of 15 cards that match each area is shuffled and placed face down in the area. Each player also receives a pile of tokens (called tjurungas) of one color 18 discs, 15 cubes, and 12 cylinders. Each player places four of each type in a cloth bag which is shuffled around, and then tokens are randomly put into each of the ten areas one for each player playing the game, and double that amount in the middle two areas. A stack of cards, called the Rite deck, is shuffled, and two are dealt to each player with the remainder being placed face down next to the table. Each player places a score token on the first space of a scoring track that goes around the board, and one player is randomly chosen to go first. That player receives the boomerang and an ancestor figure (brown), and the second player receives the elder figure (tan). Another matching ancestor figure is placed in one of the two center areas, with a second elder figure being placed in the other. A yellow time marker is placed at the bottom of the time track, and the first round begins.
Each round starts with the player who has the boomerang, who then passes it to the player on their right at the end of the round (along with the ancestor figure if they have it). The start player turns over the top card of every area pile that is currently not showing (which is all ten in the first round). For every scorpion revealed, the time marker is moved up one spot on the time track, and the active player is stung. This simply means that they lose one point for every player currently behind them on the score track. If two scorpion cards have been revealed from the same pile, they are shuffled back into that pile, along with all other discarded cards. Any scorpions are replaced with the next card in the deck. Once all scorpions are resolved, the player who currently controls the elder figure gets the top card of the Rite deck (if its a Scorpion, they get stung instead).
After this, each player, in clockwise order, picks one of the face-up cards in one of the areas and follows the action on it.
- Card cards: This card gives the player that takes it four Rite cards.
- Single Tjurunga cards: These cards show one disc, cube, or cylinder. The player MUST (if possible) place one of their tokens of that type in the area the card was drawn from. The player then has three choices: They can place two of the same type tokens anywhere on the board, place one token and draw a card, or draw two cards. Players keep single tjurunga cards for scoring purposes at the end of the game.
- Triple Tjurunga cards: These cards allow the player to place three tokens (all the same type) anywhere on the board.
- Ancestor card: The player takes the ancestor figure from the player and then moves the ancestor figure on the board into an adjacent territory (mandatory). A ceremony is immediately performed in that territory. All players who have tokens in a territory participate in a ceremony. Starting with the player who took the ancestor card, and going clockwise, each player may play a Rite card or pass. Most rite cards show a single token of a certain type, allowing the player who played the card three choices: They can take another players token of that type out of the area and return it to that player, or they can move one token of that type of their color into an adjacent area, or they can move one token of that type of their color into that area from an adjacent area. Some Rite cards show double tokens, and allow a player to do the above options twice. After all players pass, the ceremony is over. Each type of tokens scores, with the player who has the majority of that type receiving the points for the ancestor (as noted on the score track the points change over the course of a game.) Ties are broken by whoever controls the ancestor token, or whoever sits closer to them.
- Elder card: This card is identical to the ancestor card, except that the elder figure is moved one or two spaces on the board, and a ceremony occurs there.
- Ancestor/Elder card: This card allows the player to take both figures from the players who have them, and move both figures on the board to the space the card was drawn from performing a ceremony there.
Once each player has taken a turn, the round is over, and the boomerang (and possibly the ancestor figure) is passed. If, during the round, the time marker is moved to the final space, that round is the final round. After the round is played out, all players reveal their single tjurunga cards. The player who has the most cards of each type gets a bonus eight points and then the player who has the most points is the winner!
Some comments on the game
1.) Components: I enjoyed the components in Wongar they were one of my main attractions to the game. Remarks about the artwork were varied from those who played, with some liking it quite a bit, and others taking the opposite view. I found it bizarre, but not entirely unpleasant on the eyes. The box, of course, is of the large sturdy type that all Goldsieber games are stored in. The box is nigh indestructible, but the large size makes the game more unwieldy and slightly annoying to transport. The board is large, and the pieces move about it fairly easily. Speaking of the pieces, I enjoyed them quite a bit an attractive assortment of wooden counters although it does look like they are all necklace beads. The boomerang, as well as the two elders and ancient pieces were beautiful, large wooden tokens (we did mix them up a lot, but it wasnt that big of a deal.) The area cards are small and easy to handle, but have strange artwork on them that can distract from the cards function. The ceremony cards are large, which helps distinguish them from the area cards (a nice touch). Overall, I liked all the components; they were visually stunning, but not entirely user-friendly when learning the rules.
2.) Rules: The rules looked nice, but I had to download an English translation (why, oh why did I not take German in college rather than Spanish!?) from the web. The rules as written were fairly clear but the components, especially the cards, didnt really help with ease of play. Therefore, even with only five pages of (translated) rules, we found ourselves constantly referencing them and frequently playing things incorrectly. The biggest offenders were the cards, but remembering which piece (elder or ancient) did what was often quite confusing.
3.) New People and Theme: My first playing of the game was with a group of experienced gamers, with hundreds of German games under their belt. And yet there was still rampant confusion. The game is frankly not intuitive; and this is certainly not the fault of the mechanics, but because the theme is weird and detracts from gameplay. Im sure that the dreams of Aborigines sounds like a good, unique theme; but how is this helpful to the gameplay as is? I read that the designers original theme was changed, and thats a shame because the new theme simply does NOT work. A theme is added to many of these abstract games to help people better associate pieces with the rules and mechanics. I am a big fan of adding themes to games, but this is one case where they should have just left it alone.
4.) Strategy: Once gameplay is actually understood, however, some interesting strategies present themselves. Most area control games use only one type of unit (a la the caballeros in El Grande). Here there are three types of units, each with a different level of rarity. This, combined with the initial setup should determine ones strategic drive for the remainder of the game; but if a player hoards cards, they can possibly pull off a coup in a certain area. A player can try to maximize their hand, or they can try to maximize their presence on the board. To my chagrin, I quickly found out that making a strategy out of collecting card sets might serve well as a tiebreaker, but that it wasnt very viable as a main strategy. Knowing when to score a territory is also crucial; and if it wasnt for the scorpions, the games strategy would be elegant and superb.
5.) Randomness: But those scorpions are extremely random and annoying. They often cause the game to feel close to a total luck fest and can destroy ones carefully placed strategy. Yes, they will keep the scores closer together; but who wants to gain a pile of points, just to lose them again solely because they are in first place. This is a game that bashes the leader, no help from the players necessary. Fortunately, however, the game includes Advanced rules. They include:
Scorpions no longer sting. This is the biggest and most important change. Lets keep the scorpions as a time mechanism, but thats it!
Players can place their initial token setup on the board. This will probably appease some although I personally like dealing with how the initial setup turns out.
Remove one ancestor card and one elder card from each pile giving one card of each type to the players. On a turn, a player can play one of these cards instead of the card from an area. This changes the game a lot, but for the better.
Remove the two Scorpion cards and five double cards from the Rite deck. Each player starts the game with one double card. This really helps eliminate randomness from the deck and keeps play fair and balanced.
I really like these advanced rules; in fact, if you play the game with me, they are required rules. They make gameplay so much better, and I cant imagine playing without them. I would go so far as to recommend that all four of them should be implemented into gamers first games theres just no point into playing the basic game.
6.) Fun Factor: When I play a game with people whove never played German games before, Wongar is not on my list. Its theme (an important factor for new players) is retroactive, its mechanics are slightly complicated, and good strategy is fairly elusive in it. Yet, for those who love El Grande, this game is slightly similar, but with a touch of other mechanics thrown in. When played with the advanced rules, Wongar can be a lot of fun; but only with experienced gamers.
And that wraps up my view on Wongar. I like the game, and will gladly play it again; but only with the advanced rules. The theme, which doesnt have to be present, is not just laid on top of the mechanics, but overshadows them, confusing all. The game is beautiful, and plays well so if you dont mind the strange theme, and like area- control games, this is one of the best, rules wise. The combination of Borg and Moon has produced a fantastic game for us here. If only Goldsieber had left it alone.
A board and cards featuring Australian aboriginal art, not to mention the piles of "tjurungas" (tokens of three different shapes in players' colors), should clue you in to this detailed game's off-the-wall theme. Each area of the board is randomly assigned a fraction of each player's tjurungas, and 12 cards, with one turned faceup each round. Players in turn select a card and follow its instructions--for example, adding the tokens it depicts to the board or initiating a ceremonial contest in which points are awarded to players with a majority of each type of token. Players keep the cards they select throughout the game. Scorpion cards hasten the game's end and cause all but the player in last place to lose points. At the end, after bonuses are calculated for collecting certain sets of cards, the player with highest score wins. Plan to play Wongar a few times to get the hang of this picturesque strategy game; we especially like it because it allows players who fall behind early to jump back like kangaroos.
This is from the duo of Alan Moon and Richard Borg, a double-teaming of SdJ winners. The game is essentially an abstract one with an aboriginal setting. While the theme might be set this way, I defy any player to live with all of the themed words--Elder, Boomerang, Scorpion, Tjurungas, so I will describe the game without these terms. The game is decided by scoring points, which are recorded on a track on the outermost portion of the board. Points are earned by having tokens in one of the ten areas of the board where the action is taking place that turn. The points increase in value later in the game as players move from phase one to phase two to phase three.
To begin the game each player receives a set of tokens, which includes discs, cubes and cylinders in their colour. These are set out in the different areas to obtain a starting position. On your turn, you have the chance to earn points in an area by having the majority of a type--discs, cubes or cylinders. Which type of token will decide the outcome is decided by cards played from your hand, cards which you then replenish by drawing from one of several piles. Playing a card can also increase the number of tokens in an area.
The best aspect of the game is the ceremony, which takes place when one of the main game pieces is moved into an area. Players then play Rite cards which allow you to move in more pieces of your own colour or to remove (from the game board) pieces belonging to other players. Removed pieces go back to their owner's stock. When players have finished playing these cards, the majority token holder receives points from a table on the board. The value of these awards increases as the game proceeds.
A timing device, in the form of scorpion cards, is incorporated into the drawing of cards and this allows the scoring marker to move up a chart. These cards also have a negative effect, with the player losing as many points as there are players behind him. So the player who is last suffers no negative effect but the leader gets hit significantly. Unfortunately, the cards can't always be avoided as the piles that contain them can quickly reach the point where only scorpions are revealed, at which point someone has to take one.
By taking a scorpion, a player does not get one of the more helpful other cards, so in the games I have played so far, no-one takes scorpion cards unless they have to. I'm not sure this is what was intended in the design, but the effect is to stifle options and slow the game down. The game ends when the last part of the scoring track is reached or when the last card is drawn from an area.
I'm not a fan of abstract games, and when you have a theme as far removed from one's experience as you have here, an abstract game is effectively what you have. The production values are good--nearly 200 cards, over 200 tokens and a solid board--but I do not like the colour scheme. They are colours that are appropriate to the theme--the sort that you associate with drawings on caves from man's distant past--but to my eyes they are dull and that detracts even more from the game. Of course, others may like them and find the colour scheme adds greatly to their enjoyment.
Overall, the game works, but it is not very exciting and will suit only the abstract fans amongst you. And preferably those with a taste for primitive art.