In the realm of board game mechanics and their marriage to theme few games do so well as Waggle Dance, taking worker placement and applying it to a theme synonymous with hard work, with busy work, with lots of work. With this game, the worker placement mechanic has never been more at home. That is not to say that Waggle Dance is not the most thematically rich game you’ll ever play no, but one can not help but admire the simplicity and elegance of this pairing.
Game: Waggle Dance
Designer: Mike Nudd
Artist: Mateusz Szulik
Publisher: Grubblin Games
Player Count: 2 – 4
Runtime: 30 – 90 minutes
Waggle Dance is a term used in beekeeping to describe the moves a bee performs when returning from a bountiful trip out in search of nectar. Upon returning to the hive, said bee communicates through the method of dance the location of these wonderful flowers, allowing the other bees to further aid the hive in success. This game is not about interpretive dance, it’s about working really hard and really smart to make loads of honey.
Once the very beautiful array of low polygon art cards are laid out, running A – G, and colourful cubes of nectar are positioned and the exquisite dice are handed to up to four players you can set to work increasing your beehive, your workforce and ultimately making honey. Your worker bees are dice, and at the beginning of each day/turn you’ll roll them all, and then start to allocate them in turn. With the exception of the central six flowers, each action card has six available slots for workers to be assign, numbered one through six, meaning you can only assign your number two worker to the number two spot, but on any action.
Alternatively, you can always place a worker on one of the six types of flower, again numbered one through six, however this time, it comes down to more of an area control thing, as the more bees you have on any one flower the more nectar you take, and the more you deprive your opponent bees.
Of course, you’ll want more bees, as more bees means more actions, more dice rolling, and as every gamer knows rolling more dice is better than rolling fewer. But, to get a new worker you first need to get your queen to lay an egg and then you to incubate and nurture that egg in order for it to hatch, not only that, but an egg takes up a lot of space in your hive, very valuable space needed for honey. Managing your hive is an extremely important part of this game, making your hive bigger is easy – providing there is space on that action card for one of your dice, getting an egg is easy, again assuming you can get one worker to that action.
Hatching an egg, making honey or moving nectar around your hive are all slightly trickier actions as it requires not only you to roll a double; any double will do (they’re just like dreams that way), but then you have to allocate that double to that task instead of monopolising on some precious nectar. Yet converting nectar to honey is the whole aim of this game, and as should always be the case with great games, that should be easier said than done. Honey can only be produced when you have four types of the same nectar in the same honeycomb, making the whole process of collecting and organising the nectar, followed by turning it into honey not only a time consuming and laborious task but also very fitting.
Bear in mind though that each honeycomb of the hive can only support up to four pieces of nectar or one egg, and if you are only able to snag bits and pieces of nectar and not consolidate the types your hive will end up in a hodgepodge mess of colours and cubes. Further to this, once nectar has been converted into honey, the honeycomb can’t store anything so playing this game means you have to be diverse, you have to play the long game, having a lots of workers or a big hive are great, but only if they can be supported, and there’s no point doing that if you’re not bringing in any of the much-needed nectar.
Waggle Dance supplies choices hand over fist; with but a few cards and a few dice from the first turn to the last each turn you’ll be questioning not only what you will do, but how and when you’ll go about doing it. Since this game has perfect information you can see and try and gauge what your opponents will be doing, and that is part of the brilliant and beautiful puzzle Waggle Dance presents. One of the things I love most about this game is the move away from the “issue” normally presented by dice chucking games, luck, although there is still a degree of getting the dice you want when you want them, this is significantly mitigated by the fact that rolling a one in Waggle Dance is just as good a rolling a six. It is more of a question of the array of dice rather than any individual die roll. If you’ve seen this game and thought to yourself “I don’t really like dice games” then stop, look closer. This is a worker placement game with a great twist.
All of this choice does come with a sting in the tail however in the form of Analysis Paralysis, more so in the early turns, players can become overwhelmed by choices and figuring out what to do, when and how can be a little too much. As the game progresses though this does flatten out somewhat, yet the possibility for it is ever present in this type of game.
Another thing you might be surprised to hear of though is the player interaction, not something terribly common in worker placement games, yet Waggle Dance does provide this too in the form of the Queen cards. These cards present special abilities ranging from getting a temporary worker bee, to being able to mix your nectar or to giving one of your opponent’s bees a bug so the call in sick (I know, hilarious right?). These Queen Cards can cause a little confusion, in a bid to make the game language neutral there is no text beyond the rule-sheet, which will need to be heavily referenced by all players until they are very familiar with what all these cards mean.
Now, let us not forget about how flipping beautiful this game looks. Just putting this game out on the table is an open invitation for summer to arrive, the vibrant colours, the minimalist low polygon art and the dice – true story, I played this at my FLGS one Saturday afternoon with my other half, as soon as she saw the dice she told me I had to buy the game, so I did. The pips are honeycombs, the one is a bee, they’re so bright they could easily be confused with sweets.
I do wish the Queen cards had text on them so they could be more easily understood, and I’d love to see a board or better yet a cloth/neoprene play mat for this game, mainly so I could play it in a beer garden at the height of summer and not have to worry about the wind blowing the cards away. Once you get past the AP, once you dive in and start making decisions and doing the work this game shines. The rules are slick and simple, roll dice, follow the order of cards, make honey. Everything else, all the magic and charm of this game is in the playing of it – as all great games should be.
Waggle Dance is my favourite worker placement game, beautiful, fun, and it scales perfectly with player count and game length, I know I’ll never have trouble getting it to the table!
This review was based on a full-priced retail copy of the game and was paid for out of my own money from my own pocket.