WATTSALPOAG: This is a family tactical game for 2-6 Players aged 6+. It is easy to learn, simple to play, frustrating as heck and will be some of the most entertaining and amusing 20-30 minutes gaming you ever get to play
To begin with, it has the usual bright and cheerful, multi-coloured appeal of the majority of WATTSALPOAG games. It has a simple mechanic with no grey areas and offers players the opportunity to play on a nice warm Spring Forest board or a snow-covered wintry board, both boards using the same movement rules and having the same winning conditions but with slightly different pathways that keep the game interesting. WATTSALPOAG could easily release an expansion pack of tiles that could be laid over the current board spaces to create even more game paths (placement rules as to how to direct the arrows on the expansion tiles would be required but that wouldn't be too difficult to design), anyway, I digress ...
Certain things about games draw players to them. It may be the designer's name, the publishing company, the theme or more likely the components. A few years ago two companies brought out the same game, titled it differently, but it's beautiful 'sheep' pieces drew people to it like, err, well like sheep.Echidna SHUFFLE doesn't have any sheep, but it does have the most adorable, moulded rubbery/plastic Spiny-Anteaters and a good selection of colourful plastic moulded Bugs as pieces. If these pieces do not draw you to the game then you have probably no sense of wonder or humour.
The game is all about moving the Echidna around the board following the directions of the arrows, no diversions across spaces unless an arrow points the way. To know how many spaces you can move any (you may move one or more) of the Echidnas you roll a die and place your counter on that number on the top line of the conveniently named 'Number Board'. Your next turn's movement is the number directly under your counter, an arrow points down towards it. The following turn and every other turn the die is rolled so that you get two movement turns for each die roll, a neat, clever movement mechanic which shares out movement fairly, the die is numbered 2 - 7 (there is no #1).
Players begin by placing their 'Pick-Up' space large counter onto one of the spaces (on the Forest board these are leaves) and then their closest neighbour to the left places your three Tree Stumps. The idea of the game is to maneuvre the Echidnas around the board so that you can land one onto your 'pick-up' space; once you land an Echidna, and end its movement, on this space you place one of your Bugs onto it. Once on an Echidna the only way the Bugs can be removed is when you move the Echidna to land on or pass through the space containing one of your Tree Stumps, the Bug then jumps off onto the stump and both Bug and stump are removed from the game. As gamers we have discovered that after a few plays almost as much time is taken determining where to position opponent's Tree Stumps as in playing the actual game; families and youngsters play more for fun and aren't as tactical in their Tree Stump placement. Hint: When placing your Pick-Up counter look for a good place on the outer ring. Inner ring Pick-ups are generally tougher to get to, especially on the Snow side, because it is easier for other players to move your Echidnas past them.
KRIS GOULD has designed a really fun game with great rules-book and box illustrations by Damon Brown. Mike Raabe's game pieces are, of course, exceptional (like his fantasy and MtG artwork) and if you have the space the Echidnas look super on a shelf instead of buried in the game box. They make a great talking point and as long as you don't lose them they are always there to remind you to play the game regularly.
It plays as well with 2 players as it does with 6 players though we have made one minor clarification to the written rules to keep it in-line with its 20-30 minute playing time. The rule on How to Pick Up a Bug says that if an empty Echidna (one not carrying a Bug) is on your Pick-Up space on your turn you may put one of your Bugs onto it - one Bug per Echidna. It reads "On your turn" which can be read or can be misread to mean at the 'start' of your turn, as in 'on your turn you do this, that or whatever ... etc'. We play that if you end your turn with an empty Echidna on your Pick-Up space then you can place a Bug on it if you wish.
With Echidnas not allowed to pass, land on or jump over each other a lot of your movement is in maneuvering the 'road-block' of Echidnas in front of yours so that you can move yours. Of course because you can move literally any Echidna (as long as there is an empty space in front of it) this maneuvering is a good way to steer opponent's Bug-carrying Echidnas onto paths that will make them take the longest route to their Tree Stump/s.
ECHIDNA SHUFFLE can be found in UK game stores and online for about £24.00 which is a more than ideal price for a good family game with such luxurious pieces. The rules offer four minor variants, mainly involving the use of 'Catch-Up' tokens that give players extra moves or other ways of speeding the game up. We tried these ideas but honestly couldn't see the point of speeding up a 20 minute game. We did come up with a couple of game changing variants ourselves, such as having opponent's Bugs jump off of the Echidna rides when they land on another player's Tree Stumps. This obviously lengthens the game because it now becomes more tactical to have players trying to rescue their Bugs from (wrong coloured) Tree Stumps. I thought I'd mention this because it seemed like a good idea that perhaps you might like to try it, but I will add that after a couple of games using this variant we returned to the basic game as the length of play was detracting from the fun element. The Snowy side offers a little more in the way of tactics because of the way the direction arrows are located, especially in the central area where getting round is by no means as easy as it is in the Spring Forest.
This game was available at Spiel Essen 2018 where it became very popular. As I couldn't get to Spiel I was lucky enough to have friends pick it up there for me and then send it on to me. This is a game that everyone can enjoy mainly because there is nothing about it not to like. Components are superb, Rules are short and simple, Movement Mechanic clever and easy, Gameplay is for families and gamers and the Retail Price is unbelievably good, what else could you want ?
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