07 November 2018
Robbed of the possibility of being good
It is always a little treasure to get a board game, no matter how big or small, that does something truly original, whether with its theme, mechanics or components. With so many new board games coming out each month, it seems the pressure has increased on designers and publishers to add something to their game to make it stand out. While a decent sentiment in premise, it can also lead to a design taking a wrong turn, where a game is laden with a gimmick for the sake of being different, instead of contributing something worthwhile to the experience of playing. Unfortunately, that is true in the case of Wallet.
While attending the fancy party of a mafia boss, players – here taking on the roles of various criminals – are ambushed by the police. The boss, of course, uses his helicopter to escape before the doors are kicked in but, as luck would have it, leaves behind his wallet, full of money, credit cards, IDs and jewellery. (Seriously, how big is that wallet?!) Being the good little criminals that they are, players end up rummaging through the compartments of the wallet to enrich themselves and hopefully find an ID that will make them look innocent to the police.
In theory, Wallet has a number of elements that promise potential fun. The IDs alter the basic rules of the game, allowing players to have multiple identities, carry more cash or even make achieving perceived innocence easier or more difficult. There are special abilities that encourage player interaction through stealing and exchanging cards. Even the basic premise of the wallet itself, with secret compartments and the chance to either draw the perfect card or one that will render the player guilty, sounds exciting.
Yet, the game loses momentum almost immediately, and the biggest culprit is the component that is also the most enticing part of the game – the wallet. That’s right: the game fits in, and is played with, an actual wallet.
The wallet absolutely could have been a fun, original part of the game, but its design is so generic that it ends up hindering the gameplay rather than enhancing it. Out of the three compartments it has, only one – for extra IDs – fits the cards comfortably. A small zipped-up section for the victory tokens can barely hold all of them in, promising to overflow every time someone opens it. Meanwhile, the compartment for the rest of the cards is too big so, instead of a neat deck, the cards are mixed and fall sideways, preventing the wallet from folding as it was seemingly intended to do.
Passing the wallet from one player to another proves more fiddly than fun. With the bigger compartment always in a mess, most of our players didn’t bother to zip it up at all. This meant that every other round all the cards would spill out on the gaming table, interrupting the game and breaking any semblance of thematic illusion. If that happened once or twice, the players’ sloppiness could have been to blame. When it happens almost every single time, it is a design flaw.
The harsh truth is that if a game has a central component that players interact with almost every turn and that component is fiddly, hard to manage and looks average in design and quality, it does not matter if the game is good or not. The excitement of drawing a random card from the wallet’s compartment fades to the experience of the cards falling out over and over again. Passing the wallet becomes an ordeal, rather than fun. The rest of the clever little twists and characters, special powers and hidden identities that are tied to one frustrating component end up ignored and forgotten.
Having a wallet in a game called Wallet about rummaging through a wallet just makes sense, and could have offered a unique experience – but the (non)practicalities of its design and poor integration in the gameplay result in the feeling of being left out of pocket.
Designer: Marie Fort, Wilfried Fort
Artist: Oksana Dmitrienko, Anastasia Voropina
Time: 30 minutes
This review originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.