Dust In The Wings Review

"Dust in the Wings is a family game of perception, planning, and picturing the beauty of nature. Built on the wisdom of Mancala — a beloved game known for thousands of years — Dust in the Wings creates an experience that is light on rules, engaging in its gameplay, and wondrous to the eye!" - Board&Dice

It's nice to actually get to play some games that are just intended to be light, pleasant affairs. No £75 price tag, no giant box with miniatures or 1,000,000 chits, no complicated rules that require a membership with Mensa to understand, just quick and light hearted fun.

Dust in the Wings is based on what is known among gamers as the "Mancala" mechanic, introduced many decades ago in the game of the same name. The concept of picking up a group of tokens and then distributing them one by one in adjacent spaces/containers until eventually the final one you place triggers an effect. It's a very dry mechanic, but a really engaging one and yet not commonly seen in modern games. The big portrayer that springs to mind would be Five Tribes by Days of Wonder, a great and brain-burning Mancala game in my Top 100 that will drive colour blind players insane.

Board&Dice appear to have taken the Mancala mechanic and put it into what looks like an extremely light gateway level game. This is a gap in the market I feel and if they pull it off, it could work out nicely. The question is, does it succeed in capturing the attention of more than just the casual gamer or will the more appropriate title be "Dust On Your Shelf"?

Let's go into more detail........



D-URATION


Starting off on a positive note, this is "blink and you miss it" levels of quick. This game can be taught in less than a few minutes and it will barely take 20-30 minutes to actually play through it. . . well providing you haven't got that chronic sufferer of Analysis Paralysis (AP) in your group, then I can't help you.

And that is a rather big caveat, more so than in other games. The Mancala mechanic is solid, but it has one huge glaring flaw which permetates in every game that uses it. It's one of the biggest generators of AP out there. After all, you're staring at a grid littered with tokens where you have dozens of eligible moves to choose from. Obviously you won't see them all, but you bet you'll be trying to. Those who can't handle that level of optional choice tend to struggle to make quick moves - Five Tribes players will testify to that.

That being said, it's not as problematic here due to the inherent simplicity of this game and most players should be able to cope just fine - but you've been warned.




E-ASE OF PLAY

Any game that can be taught in a matter of minutes is going to be easy to grasp. There are barely any rules to learn and what rules there are, are family level simple. It's clear that this was the target audience for Dust in the Wings and it may end up being a little too simple for most Euro gamers.

The one slightly fiddly aspect is having to populate the butterfly objective cards with point crystals each round and scrapping them occasionally. With the speed this game moves at, it's very easy to accidentally miss a round and forget to update them. It's also a bit of a pain constantly having to reach into that bag and draw them out - you have to for fairness, but you feel sometimes that you spend more time sticking your hand in a bag then actually taking your turn.

Of course, if it wasn't painfully obviously from the pictures, if you're colour blind, you're outta luck. If red, blue and yellow cause you issues, you won't be able to make out anything on the board. Now granted you could simply ignore the colours and focus entirely on positional objective cards - however as we'll get into very shortly, that's a very bad idea.



T-ACTICS & STRATEGY


The beauty of the Mancala mechanic is having all those tactical options in front of you and trying to deduce which one is the best move, subject to annoying other players with your AP that is. There are plenty of choices, but this is a game that children need to be able to understand so don't expect brain burning decisions here.

It's also going to be devoid of any strategy. You don't plan ahead except possibly in a two player game and even then it's about reacting to what's offered to you. In a 3 or 4 player game the board state is just going to change too often to form anything more than a short 1-turn plan.

But we now come to possibly the most important aspect I need to bring up. I can't talk about subsequent printings of this game, but in this current edition, there's one big flaw in the scoring. Being only able to achieve either a Gathering or Composition card usually results in the obvious choice being the Gathering option because the points are usually always greater or involve less "work" to achieve. This makes it very linear and one-note for adult gamers and end game scoring results in 90% Gathering cards across the players - the point rewards for Composition cards are simply too low to be worth glancing at.

Now the publisher has recently released an official Variant for the game, published on BoardGameGeek (link at the bottom of this review) with the premise that the retail released rulebook is the family rules and the variant is for expert gamers. I can't stress enough how mandatory it is for anyone older than a child to play with the variant rules, it actually for me fixes the game as a whole.

It's a small change as well - you are now able to claim BOTH a Gathering and Composition card in the same turn. On top of that you only stack crystals if a Gathering Card was scored in that round. There are no words to describe how much this improves the game for gamers. It balances the scoring in one fell swoop. But it does turn the issue of analysis paralysis for some players up to 11 because now you're having to try to find a move that will gain you two cards instead of one.

However I will say that the family rules are still fine, but be strict in that you only play this with families.


A-ESTHETICS

The components and artwork are pretty decent across the board - nice and colourful for a relatively inexpensive package. However do publishers get a discount on certain box sizes or something? This box which is Ticket To Ride sized has to hold a small board, a bag of tiny gems, a bag of tiny butterflies and a low quantity of cards. That's it! Why is it so large? It's completely un-necessary and frustrating to open a big box and basically realise you just essentially bought "air".

This could have easily fit within a Gamewright sized container - think Sushi Go Party or Forbidden Desert if the board came with more folds. Or at least let's say a Splendor box. It's not the biggest problem ever when rating a game, but it's still one of those annoying quirks in the industry we'd like to see the back end of.


I-MMERSION


Another quirk about the Mancala mechanic, it's not the most thematic inclusion in any game. And to be honest, theme isn't what Dust in the Wings is all about. This is meant to be a quick mechanical affair, but with a pleasant look to it and it succeeds in that regard. It's a dry game, but doesn't have the appearance of one.


L-ONGEVITY


There's very little variety in the cards to keep this fresh but younger players I think will still keep coming back to this for the colourful butterflies and simple gameplay. I can see this being brought to the table every now and again within a family environment or in a game cafe as an introductory tool and would say it's best suited to that purpose.

But for older gamers or those wanting a bit more meat, I can't see this appealing to them. They'll play it and probably be content at that and then move on to one of the harder, more involved Mancala games. For me, I enjoyed the first couple of plays, but then found myself getting bored when bringing it out in subsequent plays - clearly though I don't think I'm the target audience.



MY FINAL WORD...........


Dust In The Wings is the quickest and easiest Mancala game you're likely to see these days. However a pleasant look and simple mechanics aren't enough to make me reccomend it other than to families with young children.

The advanced rules can add to the experience for older players, but even with those, this is one of those games that will get the odd play, but struggle against the heavy competition in the gateway games market.


6/10 (7/10 for kids or families).


Complexity Rating





Link to Advanced Rules:

https://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/183197/official-rules-variant-advanced-formations




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