In Wonderland, players play either Alice or the Red Queen, and take turns placing cards in a six-by-six grid to earn points in each of the rows and columns. The trick is: each player only knows the value of either the rows or the columns, and the other is a mystery! This is because, at the beginning of the game, each player places secret cards face-down that determine the scores of the rows or columns, which will not be revealed until the end of the game. There are also potions and cakes on certain cards, which can help you increase your point values or undercut your opponent. Beautiful Alice in Wonderland-themed art was created for the game by Beth Sobel.
Wonderland is a quick-playing two-player abstract game designed specifically to be well-balanced, so one player can’t run away with victory immediately. It’s a great play for intense gamers, newbies, or a mix of both.
We sat down with the designer of the game, Daniel Solis, to ask him about Wonderland, his other projects, and what he thinks makes a good two-player game.
G&S: Why did you decide to design this game? Where did the idea for these mechanics come from?
DS: I like two-player abstract games (like Onitama and the Duke), but I don’t like knowing who’s going to win five turns ahead of the end of the game. The two solutions I came up for that problem were to make the whole game five turns basically, and to have the players secretly determine the value of what they’re fighting for.
G&S: What do you think makes a good two-player game?
DS: A good two-player games feels like a tennis match. You are responding to your opponent while also setting up something for your opponent to react to. A game falls down when an opponent has no chance to respond, or no chance to set something up. I personally like two-player game when players are on their own parallel tracks, and occasionally bump shoulders with each other, but are not always in direct conflict.
G&S: What are your favorite two-player games?
DS: Targi is a worker placement game, feels very Euro-y. It has so much lovely engine-building in it. My wife loves Seasons as a two-player game. It is a deck and dice game, and she loves building engines—she can put three or four things together and become an unstoppable point machine. Lost Cities is an old classic that my wife and I both love. And of course, Jaipur is fantastic.
G&S: How do relate theme to mechanics when designing a game, like the theme of Alice in Wonderland for Wonderland?
DS: It’s kind of like ping-pong. Theme will bounce something onto mechanics, and then mechanics will bounce something back onto theme. Hopefully that happens enough times that you can’t even tell when the game began. Optimally, if I’m doing my job you can’t tell where I started.
Of course, sometimes the theme changes over time — Junk Orbit (coming from Renegade Game Studios this June) started as a game called “Penny Farthing Catapult,” about wealthy Victorian people hurling their wealth at one another using badly-constructed catapults that would recoil after shooting. By changing this game to be space-themed, I was able to add new mechanics that made it even better! I was worried at first that people wouldn’t be interested in a space game, so we had focused on the more steampunky theme, but fortunately, after the film the Martian came out, people were way more knowledgeable about astrodynamics.
G&S: You make so many weird and wonderful games with new approaches to game mechanics. Do you have any advice for aspiring creators?
DS: I think of a bit of advice an art professor gave me — it’s easier to do something good in a new space then something good in an old space. When you’re the first to do something, nobody knows if it’s any good or not!
What games will you be playing on International Tabletop Day? Tell us in the comments! And be sure to join us on April 28th on Twitch for our International Tabletop Day stream hosted by Ivan van Norman, and help us support charity:water to raise money for a project to get water to a community of people who currently lack access to clean water.
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Image Credits: Daniel Solis, Renegade Games