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That Old Wallpaper Card Game Review

WBG Score: 8

Player Count: 2-5

You’ll like this if you like: Sagrada, Azul, Cascadia.

Take one look at below box art. How does it make you feel? Nostalgic to your nan's old flat? Or repulsed by the ugly old style? Well, it doesn't matter. Its just a box art. What's inside is what counts. Ooh, tricked you there. But aren't you thankful of the tired and patronising life lesson? No? OK, back to the more simple world of board games. Let's get this one to the table and see how it plays?

Set Up

Take the small deck of patterned Wallpaper cards, shuffle them up and place them face down in the middle of the table. Then draw one card face up into a central line of cards, one per person playing in the game. If any cards with a red oval in the centre are drawn, you must add one extra card next to this one. Place the Hazy wild cards into a central space so every one can reach them, along with the round tracker cards for round one, two, and the final round. Finally, assign each player a colour, and give them their matching cards and coloured disk. Each player will place their disk onto the table in order of age, youngest first. They will then shuffle their personal deck and draw five cards from it to form their hand. You are now ready to play.

How to Play

All players will now begin the game simultaneously. Looking at the Wallpaper cards on offer and deciding which ones they would like to acquire for their wallpaper. From the five cards in their hand, they will decide which one to play, to "bid" for the Wallpaper cards. If the card on the far left is the one you want, you will want to play a lower card. The lowest card played will win this card. The highest card played will win the far right card. Of, course, at this stage on turn one, you will find it hard to judge what to play, as you will have no idea what other people will play. But the first card you win is not that important. Each player will play one face down card, and then when all players have done this, the cards are flipped and organised into sequential order. Players will then take back the card they played, and leave it face up in front of them for all to see in later rounds. Then they will take the Wallpaper card they won, and arrange it into their wallpaper tableau.

Players will then draw back up to five number cards in their hand and go again. When their draw pile runs out at the end of the 6th turn, players must take the six played cards in their discard area shuffle them up and create a new draw pile. At the end of the 12th turn, do the same. Each time you do this, change the current round using the round cards so you know where you are in the game, either round one for turns one to six, round two for turns seven to twelve, or the final round for turns thirteen to eighteen.

The Wallpaper cards can be arranged and placed into your tableau in any way you wish. You do not need to match patterns, but if you do, they will score you more points at the end of the game. Some cards will have a wild hazy pattern on them, such as the far-left card on the bottom row below. On the left side, you can see a shiny pattern. This is the wild design. Any other pattern joined with this is considered complete. But, you cannot score two conjoined wilds.

The end game scoring is quite clever. You will notice that each pattern has a large and small variety. Check the top card below in the row on its own. It has one large and one small of the sunshine and red flower design. At the end of the game, after the 18th round, you will count all the completed patterns for each color and size. You will then see which is the lowest number for each pattern and multiply that by two. For example, if you had four large red patterns completed and three small red patterns done, you would score six points. The lowest number was three, so double that. It is all about getting matching pairs of patterns. Don't just build any pattern you can. You need to try and build them up evenly.

If players play the same card, you will place them into the same column as above. The tie will be broken by the circular disc you placed at the start of the game. The player who is further to the right on this breaks the tie and takes the cards. The other player will draw one hazy wild card. The wild cards only have one side with a pattern from the four possible sides, and they do not have to be placed until the end of the game. Unlike the usual wallpaper tiles which must be immediately put into your tableau, these can be held back until the end. The winning player will then move their disc to the far left of the line. So, in the above example, the blue player takes the tie and the cards, and will then move their disc to the back of the queue for the next tiebreaker.

Players must place their Wallpaper cards as soon as they get them. They cannot be moved or rearranged later in the game. So, you need to make plans for later card placements and try to see the bigger picture. What do you need? What are you short of? How could that be most easily rectified?

When you are playing cards to bid on the Wallpaper cards, you will begin to have more information to help you guess what card your opponents will play. As players will leave previously played cards face up, you will know which cards they may have left. All players have the same deck of cards running from one to ten. If you really want to win the card on the far right, and you can see that all other players have already played their nines and tens, and you have both in your hand, you will know that either one will win you the card you want. If, however, one player hasn't played their ten yet, but has played their nine, you will know that they could be in for this as well, and a nine from both players will cause a tie. You can then check to see where you sit in the discs and decide if you can play your nine this time, or if you need to play your ten. Other reviewers have commented on this part of the game, suggesting there is no strategy. There most certainly is. It is just something you need to work at.

But in truth, I rarely found I ever wanted a specific card that much more than any other. Generally, they are all good. Apart from one extra part of the game.

You will notice that on the above card on the far right, there is a shiny square icon. In the game, there are four different icons: squares, hexagons, diamonds, and triangles. If you have all four of these in your final wallpaper tableau, then you will score an additional ten points. Three unique shapes will score you six points. Two will get you three points. And you will get one point for one. These icons are quite rare and do not show up that often. As such, when one appears in the row that you don't have yet, you will want to do all you can to get it.

Likewise, the red oval symbol means that if you win that row, you will claim more cards. In the above example, you will get two. This helps build your tableau, but at the end of the game, the player with the highest number of these symbols will lose two points. Conversely, the player with the least will score two points. There is also a bonus of two for the player who is currently in the lead in the tiebreaker line. After the 18th round, all players can then add in any wild cards they got and calculate their final score.

Is It Fun?

That Old Wallpaper is a fascinating game. It reminds me of Sagrada in a way that whilst playing, I always feel like I am not thinking about enough of the game. I feel like I am missing something. Focusing on one scoring area, and forgetting another. I like this feeling. It keeps me on my toes. But it is a lot simpler than you first think. It just takes a game or two to get into the swing of things. Checkout the score pad below. Looks a bit intimidating doesn't it? But it, like the game, will all fall into place quickly. First, you can ignore the top or bottom half, it's the same thing replicated for another player or game. Second, the left side is just to tally up how many pairs you got for each size and colour. The right simply goes through your score for each colour, total icons, most or least red ovals, and the person who fished first on the tie breaker track. All quite clear really. It comes into place very quickly, starts to make sense, and much like the game, brings a sense or order to my brain.

I was intrigued by the theme of this game. I reached out to one of the designers, Nathan Thornton, as I was interested about their motivation and inspiration behind this game.

"You know how when you're a kid and you're spending the night at your grandma's house and you can't sleep and you're just staring at the wall, tracing the pattern in the wallpaper with your eyes, following the lines and shapes and colours, finding weird patterns and making weird connections. And then years later, you realize you haven't thought about that wallpaper in years and you're talking to your older sister and you're like, "Remember that old wallpaper Grandma used to have" and together you try to piece it together, but you remember it totally differently ("I swear it had pink roses on it" "No, they were like orange starbursts, I thought"), but you realize that you both internalized that memory of a random detail from your childhood and it's something that is at the same time 1) intensely personal to you, and 2) deeply shared with your family members."

"And anyway, I'd already had the idea for the bidding/drafting part and the pattern-making part, and the theme seemed like a fun one that hadn't really been used in any games I could think of. Originally, I wanted to call it "Remember That Old Wallpaper We Used To Have?" but everybody agreed that it was way too long and nobody would get the name right."

This makes sense to me. This cosy, nostalgic sense of calm, belonging, and enjoyment rings true for me in the game. As I play this, I think I get what Nathan was trying to achieve. Yes, this is a strategy game on the surface. But at it's heart it is also a blanket. A memory. A childhood friend. For what is essentially quite an abstract experience, just having this knowledge of the designers motivation has enhanced the game a lot for me. I look at the tableau I am building, and I picture my grandparents house from when I was young. An old house, situated on a long leafy road. I loved it. The house had two floors but they only used the downstairs. The upstairs was full of "stuff." Downstairs, the décor was green, yellow and brown. The carpets were well trodden and dusty. The furniture was warn, but welcoming. The wallpaper, well, that's another story.

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