Wongar is an interesting game in what I call the "El
Grande" family: games that feature less than a dozen regions
into which players play pieces via action cards to control by influence
(rather than through military means). I like many games in this family,
so I was looking forward to trying Wongar. Sure enough,
I think it's an excellent game and recommend it if you also like such
It has some problems in the graphic presentation, and in fact some gamers
I've talked with say the graphics bother them so much they don't play
the game. This is too bad, as the game rewards repeated playing with
deeper enjoyment. If you feel this way, I urge you to try it again -
it's not so bad as it first looks, and is well worth another play.
Wongar has an Australian Aboriginal theme. The word
wongar is usually translated as "dreamtime" (though it is not
in universal use throughout all Aboriginal tribes). Another concept
in the game is that of the tjurunga (sometimes spelled churinga).
A tjurunga is a sacred wood or stone object that can have many meanings
in Aboriginal culture. The artwork is heavily drawn from Aboriginal
art, and I find it all fascinating - but then I've had a long love
affair with the Aboriginal culture, and am always looking to buy or
trade for books on Aboriginal myths and legends, in particular.
(Please email me if you have any for sale
or trade - even children's books!)
The game is certainly striking! A little too striking for its own good,
though, as it's hard to make sense of all the components. The board
would be very handsome, actually, if it weren't so busy. The largest
part of the board contains ten regions. Each region is represented
by artwork which corresponds to the backs of ten small decks of cards.
Basically, this simply lets you know which areas to stack which deck of
There is a scoring track around the outer edge of the board, and a time
line that denotes both when the game is over and the change in scoring
values as the game progresses.
There are two types of cards: Ritual cards used in Ceremonies (scoring
rounds) and Area cards. Area cards are smaller, and are split into ten
different decks. The backs of the decks match the art in the ten areas,
while each deck is composed of an identical assortment of action cards.
There are some interesting wooden figures included with the game: two
fairly large pieces representing the Ancestor, and two representing
the Elder. There is also a wooden boomerang to show the start player
each round. There is also a scorpion marker to mark the timeline,
and scoring markers in five different colors.
Finally there are the tjurungas. Another strange graphic design choice,
tjurungas come in three shapes. Each player has 18 disks in their color,
15 cubes, and 12 cylinders. The pieces unfortunately resemble
craft beads you can buy at many craft shops. In addition, games should
never have cylinders - these things roll, folks, and in a game
where the most pieces in an area is very important, it's too easy for a
piece to roll from one area to an adjacent one. Ah well, at least the
cubes stay in place.
In the Beginning ...
To start the game, shuffle each of the Area decks and put them in their
respective areas. Each player starts with three Ritual cards - two random
cards and a "double." A drawstring bag is included in the game - put 12
of each player's tjurungas in the bag and mix them up. Randomly pull
them out and put a number equal to the number of players into each of
the starting areas. The two center starting areas each get a double
amount, and one each of the double wooden Ancestor and Elder figures.
Randomly determine the first Elder player and first Ancestor player,
set the scoring markers and scorpion at zero, and you're ready to play.
A Typical Turn
The Ancestor begins by turning over the top card on each of the
ten Area decks. If a scorpion appears, the scorpion is advanced.
(After the 11th advance, the game will end.) The Ancestor then picks
one of the Area cards (which really should be called Action cards),
performs the action, then play passes to the next player, and so on until
each player has taken a card. Pass the boomerang to the new Ancestor,
and the next turn begins by turning up cards on any Area decks which do
not have a face-up card on top. The game continues this way until the
scorpion reaches the last space. At that point there is a final scoring
for the players who collected the most tjurunga Area cards.
There are a few different types of Area cards:
Much of the first part of the game is taking the first three types of
cards to increase your power, and only later taking the Ceremony cards
when you're ready to score an area you've got the most influence in.
However, this has to be planned carefully, as the Elder figure can only
move two regions and the Ancestor one.
- Tjurunga cards, which let you place tjurungas on the board or take
- Triple Tjurunga cards, which just let you place three tjurungas of
the same type,
- Ritual-Card cards, which allow you to draw more Ritual cards,
- Ceremony cards, which allow you to move either (or both) of the
Ancestor or Elder figures to a region and declare a Ceremony (scoring
in that region).
- Scorpion cards, which advance the time marker - place the scorpion
card face-up on the bottom of the Area deck and draw another card,
Once you take a Ceremony card, you move the appropriate figure to an
area of your choice. You may then play a Ritual card. These allow you
either to bring tjurungas in from an adjacent region or remove tjurungas
from the region back to someone's stockpile. (Ritual cards show an
image of a single type of tjurunga - playing the card lets you move one
tjurunga of that type in or out of the Ceremony area.) Only those with
tjurungas in a region can play Ritual cards, so banishing an opponent's
only tjurunga in a scoring area early in a Ceremony is a powerful move.
Once you've played a Ritual card, the next player in the region has the
opportunity to play a card, and so on around the table. Once you pass
the right to play a Ritual card, you may not play any more - but if all
others have passed, you can keep playing as many as you wish.
The point of Ritual cards is to give yourself the majority in as
many of the three types of tjurungas in the scoring area as you can.
Each region can be scored three times per Ceremony: the player with the
most disks scores points, the player with the most cubes scores points,
and the player with the most cylinders scores points. Ideally, you want
to have all three majorities, but having two is better than one ...
How much you score depends on which figure you used to call the Ceremony:
using both scores less than just using the Elder, who scores less than
just using the Ancestor. Also, the further along the time line the
scorpion is, the more you score in a Ceremony. This is clearly shown
on the board and you don't have to remember any part of it - just look
at the numbers next to the scorpion turn marker.
Calling a ceremony also gives you control over the relevant wooden figure.
Controlling the Ancestor at the beginning of a round makes you the new
start player. Controlling the Elder gives you an extra Ritual card.
Oh, there are lots of routes you can take here. It's important to watch
your opponents carefully - although a figure must move in order to score
a region, if an opponent gets a lock on the majorities in two adjacent
regions, he can simply go back and forth between them racking up points.
So it's important to keep a few tjurungas in other's strongholds, while
trying to build up your own areas. Never an easy choice!
Ritual cards are another aspect of the game you must consider. Once a
ceremony starts, you can't add tjurungas from your stockpile - you can
only move them in from adjacent areas by playing Ritual cards. So Ritual
cards are power - but only if you have enough tjurungas in an area that
they won't be kicked out before your turn!
So choosing which action card to take each turn is usually a tough
decision: do you place tjurungas, draw Ritual cards, or begin a
Ceremony? And if you do place tjurungas or call a Ceremony, where?
Lovely decisions, lovely game!
Why Wouldn't You Like This Game?
Well, the graphics confuse the heck out of a lot of people. I was used
to them before my first game was half over, but I've talked with gamers
who said they still didn't understand which symbols were which by the
end of their first game. My own advice would be to stick with it -
you'll get used to it eventually, and the game is worth it. However,
I admit some people are more affected by poor graphic design than I am.
Then there's the type of game it is: allotting your limited stock of
influence markers over ten regions. In this way the game is similar to
El Grande, and some people simply don't like such games.
If you don't use a couple of the advanced rules, the game can be too
random. In particular, we play:
Using these two advanced rules reduces the luck factor considerably,
making the game more skill-based. The fact that they're called "advanced"
may put some players off from trying them, and thus may give them a poorer
impression of the game than they might otherwise have. Use these rules
right from your first game!
- The double Ritual cards are dealt out one per player at the beginning
of the game, and any excess returned to the box. Once a double is used,
it's out of the game - don't shuffle them back into the Ritual cards.
(Double cards let you move two tjurungas of any type with a single card -
too powerful to leave to random draw!)
- Scorpion cards don't "sting" - they only advance the time line marker
and cause the Ritual deck to be reshuffled. (In the basic game, turning
over a scorpion card means you lose VP unless you're in last place.)
There can be a runaway leader for a game or two, until everyone learns
some of the pitfalls of the game. I don't find this to be a problem
with experienced players, though. Still, it means it's a tough game to
introduce newcomers to.
There can also be some stagnation, if too many Ceremony Area cards
are turned up at once. You don't have much of a choice on your turn
in such a case, and games without choices are always less interesting
than those with choices. And to be honest, this can occur fairly
easily later in the game: as non-Ceremony cards are chosen each round,
the Ceremony cards remain face-up. Area cards which are face-up at the
end of a turn remain on top of their stack on the next turn. So it's
possible to build up too many scoring cards gradually. I suppose you
could institute a house rule that when all ten cards are scoring cards,
remove five of them from the Area decks which still have the most cards
in them - but I haven't found it necessary to do that yet.
All in all, a very fine game if you can get used to the graphics. I find
the choices to be interesting and difficult - and rewarding when I make
the right ones. It plays well with three or four players, but I haven't
yet played a five-player game, to be honest, so can't comment on that.
Although it hasn't been published in English, the rules are available
on the web, and none of the components have any text on them at all.
Given the low net.presence of this game, I'd have to call this the
sleeper of the year for me. That is, the best game with the fewest
number of electrons devoted to discussing it.
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