29th May2019

‘Wendake & New Allies Expansion’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

wendake-box

In Wendake, players each choose one of the many tribes that made up the Huron Nation and attempt to steer them through seven years of hunting, gathering and ceremony, all the while observing the movements of the recently arrived French and English.

In the recent expansion to Wendake, known as New Allies, the latter part of this theme is expanded to allow the players to trade openly with the European’s and to ally themselves with one or the other – or to play both sides. In today’s review, I’ll take a look at the base game and call out some of the specific features of the new expansion.

At heart, Wendake is a relatively traditional worker placement game that is won or lost based on a victory point system, but there are a few unique features that differentiate it from the norm. Firstly, the winner is not determined simply by obtaining points from any source, it is won by the tribe who scores the most on two randomly paired score tracks.

I say randomly paired because during setup, the players will place tiles that determine which two areas of focus (economic, military, mask and ritual) will be scored on each track. During final scoring, the players will only score their lower value on each track. These values will be added together to provide a total.

This approach is an interesting one because it forces the players to think about all of the different aspects of life among the Huron people, rather than purely on what it takes to win. The different victory tracks also tie in nicely with the action selection mechanism, which is the other area where Wendake is truly unique.

To manage what they will do each turn, each player receives their own village board, each of which is a quality piece of cardboard that has several indented areas on it for storing cylinders, various villager pieces and, most importantly, action tiles. The action tiles are the interesting bit, and at the beginning of the game, each player will have an identical set of nine that are placed randomly (except for the central fire) within the indent.

Each year is comprised of four actions, each of which is chosen by placing one of the cylinders that reside on the left side of the village boards. Three actions will relate to the action tiles in the centre of the village, whilst the fourth will always be used to determine turn order for the next year. Players place their cylinders in turn, beginning with the starting player and rotating around the table, but all of that is fairly standard.

Where Wendake is different is in the way that actions can be chosen. Once a player places their first cylinder, then they will need to place any further actions in a row – be it horizontal, vertical or diagonal. You’d have thought that placing the first cylinder would be the most agonising since it affects all the others, but but usually it’s the second once that takes time, since it effectively decides the third action as well.

Deciding when to effectively sit out for a turn and choose your place in the turn order is an important choice, since there are some interactive and first come, first served elements to the game that I will get into in a moment. It take a while to work out how important choosing your position for the next year is, but once you’ve missed out on a few of the early bird benefits, you’ll realise why it can be a worthwhile investment.

Another interesting feature about Wendake’s action system is what happens during cleanup. When a year ends, each player will slide the bottom three action tiles off their village board. They may then select one advanced tile from a display and use it to replace one of the tiles that has just slid off. The new tile, plus the two that were retained are then shuffled and added to the top row of the board.

Any action tiles with cylinders are on them (used in the previous year) are flipped over onto their ritual side, changing their purpose until the next year. At this point, they flip again (assuming that they don’t slide off as a result of the same process.) As a result, player action boards will generally get more and more powerful with each year, with some of the advanced action tiles allowing two or three actions to be performed at the same time.

Explaining all of the actions would be very time consuming and probably fairly boring in a review, but I’ll pick a few out and talk about some of the key features, as well as how they affect the game. Firstly, there are several actions that allow players to move their warrior meeples out onto the map board. This map is made up of several boards that have a variable number of spaces based on the player count.

Each movement action will come with a number, denoting how many movements it will allow – either one warrior moving multiple times, or multiple warriors moving once. When a warrior arrives in a location, it can either stand guard (and remain there) or be laid down in a resource production spot, allowing it to be converted into a woman or a hunter (which I’ll explain a bit) at which point the warrior will return back home.

Production is another broad action that relates to two or three of the action spaces. Choosing to hunt will allow the player to take a beaver token for each hunter in a productive area, whilst choosing to produce in the fields will mean each woman gathers the vegetable in the space she occupies. Canoes, as you might expect, produce fish.

With beavers (converted into pelts via another action,) vegetables and fish in hand, the player can take the trade action. Rather than the usual boring swap one resource for another action, trade in Wendake is incredibly powerful. Players can swap their goods for one of the available upgrade tokens, each of which gives them a powerful bonus, such as adding additional movement or bonus resources to standard actions.

These upgrades come in three tiers, from the weakest (and cheapest) to the most powerful and expensive. Obtaining one or two of these upgrades early on in conjunction with a couple of upgraded action tiles can transform your turns from being relatively mundane to being extremely powerful and this is when Wendake really wakes up and begins to get interesting.

There are a number of other important actions that can affect the scorecards I mentioned earlier. Taking the mask action allows the player to take a mask from the deck (which can also open up the risk of smallpox, which is bad) and can allow that player to score mask points based on the combination of mask cards they hold.

This, unsurprisingly, affects the mask track, but the key thing to note is that mask cards will be retained between years, even if they score in an earlier year. This means that there are several fairly easy ways to score mask points (with a pair, for example) but these spaces will quickly be taken up if a player decides to use their mask action late. They’ll still get to draw a card, but will be unlikely to score.

The military action can be used to obtain turtle tiles, each of which has a specific benefit of its own, but must be obtained by trading pelts, which are only obtained after a beaver has been hunted and then tanned. With the New Allies expansion, it’s also possible to trade with the European’s for rifles, but the mechanics for doing so are similar enough to not require a separate explanation. Turtle tiles advance the military track, but also have printed benefits on them which are unknown until they are taken.

When New Allies comes into play, it introduces a whole new track of its own that includes loyalty levels that track each players alignment to the two warring European factions. Alliance cards can be used to enable different alliance actions and when taken, will often provide immediate or long term benefits and sometimes both.

Swings in the posture of your alliance can provide benefits on the military track, whilst in general, New Allies results in higher scoring games and as such, it comes bundled with an extension to the basic score tracks. I’d be willing to suggest that overall, New Allies falls into the “more of the same” kind of expansion, but it also introduces a lot of refinements, cards and tiles that improve the base game.

Based on about six games of Wendake in total (two of which were without New Allies) I’d be willing to suggest that a new player should begin with the base game on its own and then decide if they like it. If so, then adding New Allies is a definite must, since it feels like an overall improvement to the base game, but it also adds a few new layers of complexity that take some getting used to.

There’s a lot that I like about Wendake, even though I have to temper my own personal opinion by stating that I think it is a relatively complex worker placement game. Wendake takes a bit more know how to manage than many lighter games, making it a high maintenance but rewarding experience that slowly rewards repeated playthroughs.

The component quality in Wendake is generally very high and the box is absolutely packed to the brim. The warrior meeples are nicely carved, whilst the individual resources are also made of wood, except the beaver tokens (oddly) which are card. I mentioned earlier that each tribe comprises of warriors, women and hunters, but only warriors are meeples.

I should also comment on the fact that Wendake uses the specific term “women” to describe the pieces that gather in fields and hunters to describe the male tokens that do the hunting. I’m not really capable of determining the absolute historical accuracy of the roles depicted in Wendake, but I will say that I’ve had to grit my teeth teaching the game whilst describing the women’s roles a number of times.

A few oddly chosen cardboard pieces (which only stand out because the wooden pieces are so generous) and a slightly misogynistic approach to representing women are not enough to dissuade me from recommending Wendake. Similarly, if you do begin to play it and find it to your liking, then the New Allies expansion certainly adds to the overall experience for players who’ve mastered the basics.

The unique scoring, interesting take on action selection and development, as well as the varied in game activities all mean that I think I’ll enjoy Wendake for some time to come. It’s a heavier game, for sure, but it’s fun, interesting and challenging over the medium to long term and it will certainly repay frequent players.

**** 4/5

Wendake and the New Allies expansion are available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator

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