Wombat Rescue: Review

There’s a long list of game themes out there, but this one’s pretty unique: poop cubes. Fairway delves deep into the world of wombats and wombat excrement in today’s review of Wombat Rescue.

Wombat Rescue is a one- to four-player route-building, pick-up and deliver game by Matt Wolfe and published by Eagle Gryphon Games. Players are mamma wombats trying to rescue their lost wombat cubs and return them safely to their homes. Most of our games lasted around forty minutes.

Initial Impressions ^

  1. There is something definitely kid-appealing to a game about pooping cubes around the board. It was funny just to watch the kids squirm a bit.
  2. The poop forms routes to more quickly get to your babies forcing you to do some strategic thinking about your wombat’s digestion.
  3. The 3d art is pretty cute with a very video game like feel.
  4. The game is relatively quick, but can play longer than most other kid-friendly titles.

Game play ^

In Wombat Rescue, players play as mother wombats trying to rescue their four wombat babies on the other side of the map.  The game is played over a series of rounds and the winner is the player who returns all of their babies to the den first.

At the start of the game, players assemble a map. The map is formed from 24 boards comprised of six hexes each. There are 19 standard boards and special ones for the starting “home” location and the four baby locations. There are a number of starting and suggested arrangements in the rule book, but you can construct a random as well. But the basic rules have the mama wombats and their dens on one side of the board and the lost babies on the other side.  The hexes represent one of five different terrain types. Some of the hexes contain icons for “food” and “boulders”.  In the standard game, randomly selected food tokens are placed on all of the “food” spaces.

Each food token is a different color. Each color represents a different value of food.  The significance is that wombats will “chew” food until the amount of food in their mouth reaches a threshold value, at which point it will be swallowed.

Each player is given a colored wombat figure, matching poop cubes, four matching baby wombats, a wombat player board, and some starting food tokens (depending on their player order).  The mother wombat and one poop cube is placed on the starting “home” hex.  The four baby wombats are placed on the “baby” wombat spaces (one of each color on each of the four locations).

The last player is also given the dingo die and places the dingo marker on one of the dingo den spaces on the map.

Beginning with the start player, the game proceeds over a series of rounds with each player taking one turn.  A turn consists of three phases: movement, digestion, and clean up. During the movement phase, players can move their mother wombat up to three times in any combination of three different ways. First, there are normal moves. Wombats can move in straight lines any number of spaces so long as they’re within two spaces of one of their own poop cubes (smell zone) and they don’t run into anything else. Put another way a single move ends when it leaves its smell zone or runs into food, another player’s poop cube, or a baby wombat. Second, there are special moves: wombats can move to an adjacent hex if there’s a baby wombat or food.  Third, wombats can wander.  To wander, players draw from a deck of “wander” cards that show one of two different terrains.  The player must move to one of those terrains — the some wander cards are also used to determine when to restock the map with more food.

After taking all the desired moves, the digestion phase begins. During this phase, players move food tokens through their wombat until they are excreted as a single poop cube onto the current hex location. Digestion works this way: when a wombat runs into a space with food, it is consumed and placed on the player’s wombat board in the mouth. The wombat will chew food until there’s a total food value of three or more in its mouth, at which point it is swallowed.  Once swallowed, each passing digestion phase causes the food to move one more space right in the following progression: mouth -> throat -> stomach -> intestine -> excreted. Having a relatively steady train of food helps build more interesting travel connections.

After digestion, there’s a quick clean up phase. If three wander cards were revealed with food markers, then food is replenished on the map.  In addition, if the player controls the dingo, he or she rolls the dingo die to move the dingo around the board. No wombats are consumed in this game. Instead, if a mama is caught by the dingo it is returned home and if she was carrying her baby, it is returned to lost.

The game continues until a player successfully rescues all of their baby wombats.

In the hole ^

Poop networks.  The highlight of this game is the network building. Early parts of the game are spent plotting your plopping so that you can build a high-speed, wombat path from your home to the locations of the babies. It is a really easy thing to understand, but one that’s relatively difficult to execute well on. You need to time food consumption and, more often than not, hope for a good draw from the wander pile.  We had a ton of fun with this part.

The other movement mechanics, including wandering, were very interesting twists that worked nicely to defeat perfect planning. It was funny to think about a wombat getting distracted to go smell pretty flowers or to go eat something.

Theme. The wombat game theme is very clever and cute. The kids really enjoyed the “rescue” baby wombats aspect of the game. The mechanics and educational concepts are well-integrated. And, on the whole, this game executes on its theme well.

The kids also giggled a ton when we’d talk appropriately about our wombat excrement. It’s safe to say they thought that that was the best part of the game.

As if you needed evidence other than this review, the game is loaded with potty-humor opportunities. I put that in the good category for now.

Art.  The wombat’s digestion track is a great example of turning science into family-fun. The whole game itself is well-illustrated from the box to the rules to the wombat boards. The only issue we had with any of the art was the somewhat awkward hexes tiles. They were okay, but they didn’t feel cohesive and often showed different things with different scales and perspectives. In one case, there’s two green hex tiles that are easily confused.

Player age & play time.  If you play to rescue all four wombat babies, the game can go quite awhile–although, once you get your poop network up and running, saving those last few babies goes faster. This puts it into a somewhat tricky spot for games that appeal to kids.  Our games, with three players, easily came in around 45 minutes and probably closer to an hour.  The upside: the kids hung in there, but just barely.

The game is also playable by pretty young kids. There’s no reading necessary to play this one. Some number sense and an ability to plan ahead helps.  You can easily remove boards from the game to shrink the map and make other game-easing & shortening rules to make it more playable for younger players too.

In addition, the rules also included variations to increase the complexity and difficulty of the game: adding boulders and letting the dingo eat the poop.

Wombat (and dingo) meeples!  These are worth a mention because what board game player doesn’t want to play with wombat meeples. They’re very nice little components.

Where it comes up short. ^

Rules. The rules were laid out in a way that makes the game hard to understand at times. But this is a pretty simple game. For example, I think it would have been helpful to explain what you do on turns before trying to explain the movement networks.  There were other things about the layout the were just a bit disconnected. In another example, the clipping from the rules breaks this paragraph up in funny ways and clips it around a figure that has nothing to do with “wander” movement. The most difficult thing is that it’ll describe components that aren’t in the game or describe things (like food spaces) without telling what a food space is.

The rule book is riddled with little things like that. Luckily, the game isn’t hard and the deficiencies were pretty easily overcome.

In the hole ^

Wombat Rescue is a adorable game with a pretty interesting mix of game play. The game is an interesting twist on route-building games: using wombat digestion and poop cubes to build a movement network across a series of hexes. It’s hard not to smile at the “charm” of that mechanic (or perhaps giggle at its silliness). This game definitely appeals to kids and adult-sized kids who want an excuse to say plop or poop or excrement, but manages to pack some serious game play into the box. Wombat Rescue is likely a game that’ll hit the table a bunch more times in the future.

Wombat Rescue is in the hole for a birdie. ^

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