I love it when board games take me by surprise. I was interested to play and review Waggle Dance, by Mike Nudd, because I had a feeling that it would be a great choice to play with my 9 year old son, and it is. I really enjoy worker placement games, and I love the dice-as-workers mechanic, and I knew that he would find the theme appealing. What surprised me about Waggle Dance was the strategic depth that I found once we began to play the game, especially considering how easy the game is to learn and play.
Each player in Waggle Dance begins the game with 6 worker bee dice and 3 sections of honeycomb. The players need to race to be the first to produce a set amount of honey, usually 5. They accomplish this by assigning their worker bees to perform various tasks, such as gathering Nectar, expanding their hive, or creating honey. The conflict and the crunch of the game comes from the fact that players roll their worker bee dice at the beginning of each round, and can generally only assign those bees to locations that match the value rolled on each individual die. The amount of space to place bees is limited, so players will need to play around their opponents as efficiently as possible in order to succeed.
It is important for players to pay attention to what numbers their opponents have rolled, because, of the seven actions that can be taken, only two are number independent and have no limit to the number of bees that can be placed on them. The others require a matching bee. The majority of those cards have exactly six spots to place bees, numbered 1 – 6, and as each number is taken by a bee, it becomes unavailable to the other players. These spaces will be hotly contested throughout the game as players attempt to complete their own objectives while simultaneously blocking their opponents when possible.
The Claim Nectar cards are different still. Instead of a single card with six spots for bees, it consists of six separate cards, each related to one color of Nectar. Rather than being a first-come, first-served action, each of these card’s rewards is determined by area control. The player who places the largest number of bees on each card gets exactly two Nectar of that color. The player with the second highest bee count claims one Nectar of that color. In the case of ties, the rewards are decreased, meaning players may sometimes want to place bees on the Nectar cards in order to reduce the effectiveness of their opponents’ actions. Since it usually takes four nectar of the same color to create honey, and only two of any color can be claimed per round at the most, the Claim Nectar cards are very important for both resource gathering and opponent interference.
Once resources have been gathered, players are required to place them in their own individual hives. Space is limited by the number of honeycomb present, and decreases as each honeycomb is turned in to honey. This adds another layer of depth to Waggle Dance, and has a puzzle-lite feel. Each hive space can only contain an egg, honey, or nectar, although different colors of nectar can occupy the same spot. Additionally, two bees with matching numbers need to be placed on an egg, or with nectar, in order to hatch a new worker bee or produce honey, so players have to decrease the number of bees that they send out to take actions in order to get work done inside their own hive. Running out of space or having workers stuck in the hive for more than a short time can cause serious setbacks, so players have to be smart about how and when they place resources and bees into their hives.
While much of the player conflict in Waggle Dance is indirect, with the area control conflicts for Claim Nectar cards providing the closest form of direct player interaction, the Queen Bee deck can be specifically tailored to increase player conflict. The deck is made up of 10 different card types each game, yet contains 14 different cards. A few of the cards allow players to directly effect their opponents’ bees, so simply changing the deck composition can give the game a different feel. The ability to tailor the deck also adds replayability to the game, as some of the cards can have a drastic effect on how effective various strategies will be.
A note on ‘chrome’: Waggle Dance has excellent components. The dice are unique and the art style is vibrant and adorable. Unfortunately, the rules are printed on both sides of a folded piece of paper, which I really dislike, as it is easy to rip when passing around the table. The reason the rules get passed around the table so often in Waggle Dance boils down to the Queen Bee cards. Each Queen Bee card shows a picture, representing the effect that the card will have once played. Not all of the pictures are intuitive though, even after multiple plays, and especially if different card combinations are used game to game, so the rules pamphlet inevitably gets passed to people during the game as they draw cards. It’s unfortunate that some of the Queen Bee cards are so obtuse when the rest of the game is so easy to learn and play.
A note on player count: Waggle Dance plays 2 -4 players and it really shines with a full compliment of 4. In order to decrease the player count, certain spots on the action cards are covered for the entire duration of the game. Having those options locked for the entirety of the game changes the feel of the game for the worse, as the majority of the strategy of the game comes from playing off of and around the other players. While it technically still works with lowered player counts, it’s nowhere near as fun, especially with only 2 players.
The bottom line:
Waggle Dance is a great worker placement game that hides its strategic depth beneath an adorable exterior. The mechanics are simple enough for kids to easily grasp, and the strategic depth is robust enough that a group of competitive adults can still sink their teeth in without getting bored. When playing with mixed groups of kids and adults, the more savvy players will have to pull their punches in order for the kids to remain competitive, because experienced players who know how to play efficiently will have a huge advantage. This actually makes Waggle Dance an awesome choice for groups of older kids who are interested in playing, but aren’t quite ready to compete in, more serious games, and for groups of players who want a game that can help them transition to heavier, more strategically demanding games. Don’t hesitate to pick it up if you are already an experienced board gamer though, there is a ton of fun to be had in Waggle Dance for you as well.
Get this game if:
You like worker placement games.
You want a game to play with kids that is robust enough to keep adults interested.
You enjoy board games and want a game that can help bridge the gap between the lighter and heavier ends of the boardgaming spectrum.
Avoid this game if:
You dislike dice.
You prefer cooperative games.
The copy of Waggle Dance used for this review was provided by Grublin Games.
Waggle Dance is a great worker placement game that will appeal to both younger gamers and adults. It's quick to learn, and easy to play yet has enough depth to remain interesting for avid board gamers.