Wacky Wacky West
Teaching Time: 15 mins
Playing Time: 30-45 mins
Setup Time: 5
Value For Money: Mid
Wacky Wacky West is a re-print of Spiel Des Jahres winner Drunter and Druber by legendary designer of Barbarossa Klaus Teuber (he also did something about people settling some godforsaken island somewhere, but no one ever heard of that game again right?). It’s a weird re-skin, in equal measures more niche and more usual than the original, essentially it makes the game about working to re-build a town in the wild west. At heart though this is a tile laying hidden information game that is simple and effective if a little weird for an SDJ winner.
The game revolves around a town (a wild west town in this re-skinned version) which has destroyed all of its road, railways and rivers (read sewers) for some non-specific reason. Players have to re-build them, but there are already buildings such as shops, churches and schools and, for some reason, lots of public toilets. Each turn players lay straight tiles of road, river or railway out from previously laid tiles. Tiles can only cross over each other with the use of bridges and can only be laid from the location of a set of shared workers who always progress to the end of each tile when laid. So it’s a bit like playing a shared game of four way ‘snake’ in that the tracks can get tangled up enough to stop them being able to be laid. That part is pretty standard Euro game, it’s the scoring and the toilets where things get interesting. At the start of the game each player has a card with one of the building types on the board marked on it, that is their secret scoring card, they get points for every one of that type of building not torn down to build roads, rails or sewers at the end of the game (by them not being covered by the snaking tiles). There are only two ways of saving your buildings, by leading the snake past and around them, or by voting against demolishing nearby public toilets. If a tile would cover a toilet all players vote to save the precious commode, if the vote is a against wrecking it, the tile gets removed and can be placed on a later turn, voting cards then being removed. Play continues until no more tiles can be laid, then buildings are scored.
It is, frankly, quite a weird game and quite a weird SDJ winner, especially because its quite clearly a Euro game with Euro mechanics and a Euro core, jammed up in such an odd fashion. The game swings depending on the number of players, with two its tight and tactical, the tile snakes able to be made to overshoot or eat their own tail with some reliability. With four players though the odds of maintaining any control whatsoever where the road goes between turns or of your vote having any real weight pretty much vanish. In theory voting becomes a de-facto indication of which buildings you want people to think are yours, but since most people are pretty much going to be crushing whatever buildings the snake passes that aren’t theirs anyway, the double bluffs are usually lost on the crowd.
Either way, the game is quick and there’s a lot of satisfaction to be gained from laying tiles snaking around the board, so long as you don’t demand too much control in your multiplayer Euro and are willing to accept a score that’s just better than your opponent rather than one that’s perfect you’ll probably get some quick fun out of this. For an SDJ winner its quick enough to just about make it in as a filler before or between heavier games on a game night and as a filler it’s got a lot going on. Not everything gels perfectly in the game, as with its mangled story and weird setting, but it just about gets away with it.
As for deserving the SDJ, or at least fitting in with some sort of logic from the Spiel judging panel its hard to say. The Spiel likes to have each genre of game represented and tile layers aren’t strongly covered in its list, there’s nary a polyomino in the whole list, and while this won’t satisfy fans of the full-on tile layer, it at least has some. But its not a tile layer, its not hidden objectives and its not voting, not really. It lacks the sort of table presence that many SDJ winners have and its not even like Klaus Teuber was the Catan guy (that was four years later). It lacks the imaginative weirdness of Klaus’ first win Barbarossa, the neatness of Adel Verpflichtet or the all-around Euro origination of Catan so it doesn’t even make sense within Klaus Teuber’s personal history of work.
As a game Wacky Wacky West is fine, quick, silly and enjoyable. As a Spiel Des Jahres winner, it makes sense only in that it adds a chapter to the Teuber legend, and games have won the SDJ for worse reasons, although nobody knew it at the time. There are worse SDJ winners out there, but there are certainly better.