[Note: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]
Today, we’re reviewing the latest release from the fiendishly clever folks at Looney Labs: Wonderland Fluxx.
There’s only one way to properly start this review, so come down the rabbit hole with us, won’t you?
For the uninitiated, Fluxx is a straightforward card game. You collect keeper cards and put them into play. Different combinations of keeper cards complete different goals, and each player has the chance to put different keeper cards and goal cards into play in order to win. So you might find yourself working toward completing the goal at hand when suddenly somebody plays a new goal, and the object of the game changes.
Along the way, players affect how the game is played by utilizing action cards and new rule cards which alter what players can and can’t do. Suddenly, you’ll have to trade your hand with another player, or start drawing three cards each turn instead of one.
The game can turn against you or spin in your favor in an instant; that’s both the challenge and the fun of playing Fluxx.
I’ve reviewed a number of games from the folks at Looney Labs, particularly when it comes to new editions of Fluxx. In fact, I have a set series of steps I take when looking over and playtesting a new deck.
First, I spread out all of the cards in front of me so I can admire the artwork. Every edition of Fluxx has its own style — from the photorealism of Astronomy Fluxx to the almost Cubist style of some of the Star Trek Fluxx games — and I like to take in the aesthetic choices all at once.
Next, I pore over the keeper and goal cards. These are the heart of every game, and exploring which aspects of a given world — science, pop culture, nature, etc. — are highlighted helps immerse me in that world, which is part of the fun of playing a themed Fluxx game.
Finally, I delve into the action and new rule cards. This allows me to see how the new setting/theme is incorporated into the gameplay itself. Whether it’s the clever renaming of a rule card (one I’ve seen before) to reflect the new setting, or a brand new rule that mentions something intrinsically memorable about the setting, this whets my appetite for actual playthroughs to test the game’s refreshed mechanics.
Reviewing Wonderland Fluxx made these steps a delightful experience. The art is, as you might expect, wonderful, full of whimsy and charm, often incorporating Sir John Tenniel’s actual illustrations.
The hand-sketched style immediately gives the game the classic feel of the stories, putting players in the mindset of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings.
Some of the keeper cards also grant additional actions to the players who use them — like taking additional cards, resolving creeper cards that would prevent you from winning the game, canceling surprise cards played by other players, etc. — that make them more desirable and handy than Keepers in other editions of the game.
They do so in thematically appropriate ways for the stories as well, like the “Drink Me” potion affecting gameplay or the vorpal sword dispatching the Jabberwocky creeper card. (Though I was surprised the Cheshire Cat keeper didn’t make something disappear.)
This pattern continues with the action and new rule cards as well, right down to how the rules are worded. Some cards evoke the demanding mercurial style of the Queen, while others are more playfully worded. As you might expect from a card introducing a rhyming rule, the text of the card is written in verse.
And naturally there’s a card that makes everyone get up from their seats and move around the table.
[Hey, we’ve taken a crack at this riddle once or twice ourselves.]
These little touches are what keeps each new edition of Fluxx fresh and interesting. It’s not just a new deck with a new theme, it’s a genuinely different play experience from that offered by a different Fluxx deck.
Alice in Wonderland has been revisited and reworked in pop culture many times — from American McGee’s Alice and Jeff Noon’s Automated Alice to Frank Beddor’s Looking Glass Wars series and Batman’s Mad Hatter — but by choosing to stick closely to the original, Wonderland Fluxx already feels timeless, a familiar denizen of the family game closet, plucked off the shelf over and over again to enjoy.
Kid-friendly enough to welcome players of all ages, yet tricky enough to keep regular playthroughs fun and engaging, Wonderland Fluxx is a terrific gateway game, sure to open a door to a whole new world of tabletop play and surprises.
[Wonderland Fluxx is now available from Looney Labs and certain retailers.]
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