Waggle Dance Review
A waggle dance is something a honeybee does at a hive to indicate where food, water, or even other hive sites might be. When they jiggle their bee bums around, the other bees know which direction to head, and the distance. It’s all been translated (check this video out, it’s amazing), and understanding how smart bees are, just makes me love them all the more. Seriously, I’d love to stroke a bumblebee, they look sooo fluffy. Waggle Dance in this context is a new version of the classic game from Mike Nudd and Grublin Games.
Waggle Dance is a straight-up worker placement game, and that makes sense, given how anecdotally busy most bees seem to be. The aim of the game is to make honey. Yeah, I know, that’s a shocker, right? Your initial hive grows, your bees (dice) multiply if you get some little bee eggs in, and you collect nectar. Lots and lots of nectar.
As the title of this section alluded to, Waggle Dance is a worker-placement game. Instead of a board, however, the worker spaces are on cards which are laid out on the table. It’s a pretty novel approach to worker-placement games, even now, let alone in 2014 when the game first debuted. For that reason alone, Waggle Dance is a game you can play on pretty much any table, which isn’t something you could say for the majority of worker-placement games. Try playing On Mars on a tiny coffee table and see what it’s like.
Each card has an associated action, and most of them have a slot per dice value. At the start of a round you roll your dice (your bees), and then it’s a case of comparing your results to the other players and trying to guess which spots are going to be hotly contested. It’s a game where the designer forces your arm up behind your back and says “no min-maxing for you, you need to do a bit of everything”. In theory, it’s a great idea, because it forces players to compete for spaces, and adapt their plans when things don’t go their way.
That theory doesn’t always hold up, unfortunately.
Two bee, or not two bee?
The biggest part of Waggle Dance is collecting nectar. Each of the six flowers on offer provides nectar pieces to the bees, and each flower’s nectar is a different colour (and a different shape, colour-blind friends take note). When it comes to converting that nectar into precious honey, it doesn’t matter what colour the nectar is, all that matters is that all four pieces match.
The problem comes when you play with two players. Nectar is awarded by area majority on each card, so if you have the most bees on flower 1, during the night (resolve) phase, you take two pieces of nectar. It doesn’t matter which nectar you take, so there’s no impetus to choose the same flower as your opponent. Granted, you put blocking dice from an unused player colour on some of them, but it doesn’t really have an impact on play, because it’s random.
With that loss of competition for flowers that you get with four players, the game feels quite sterile. When I played Waggle Dance with my wife, we realised after half the game that we were just doing our own thing, and it ultimately turned into a race to finish, and I found that it made the game lean more heavily on the luck of your dice rolls.
It could be that you really like a lack of interaction in games with your significant other. Maybe you hate the minor conflict of fighting for area majority in games like El Grandé. If so, you might love Waggle Dance for this very reason. Personally, I’d much rather play this with at least three, and preferably four players.
My grumbles aside, Waggle Dance is still the clever game it always was. It’s unusually thematic for a worker-placement game. Everything makes sense, which really helps when you want to teach a non-gamer how to play. If you want more bees, you need to hatch eggs. Not enough space to put everything? Add more cells to your hive. If you want to make that sweet, golden honey – go get some nectar. It certainly makes more immediate sense than something like Praga Caput Regni – a city-building game which used eggs as resources.
The Queen Bee deck doles out cards which give you pretty neat rule-breaking abilities, which add a nice bit of asymmetry, but without really making the game feel too lop-sided. What I particularly like about Waggle Dance is how welcoming it is. Without a big board full of distracting imagery, the worker spaces on cards keep things clear and obvious. It’s an easy game to both teach and learn, and a ten-year-old could easily pick it up. Things like that matter when you have a game with such pretty box art, full of bees and honey, and Bright Eye have done a great job in refreshing the artwork in this new version.
As I mentioned above, I wouldn’t get Waggle Dance if I knew I was mostly going to play with a player count of two. With three or four though, for a game that’ll set you back around £30, I really like it. People used to complain that Waggle Dance took too long in later rounds when players have lots more bees to place, and a lot more going on in their hives. While that’s still true to some extent, we live in a different world now. We live in a world where games like Everdell have rounds that take exponentially longer as the game goes on. In other words, don’t worry about it, it’s not that bad.
If you’ve already got a copy of Waggle Dance, there’s no need to buy this new version. There are some tweaks, and there is a solo mode, but it doesn’t warrant owning the same game twice. Unless you really like bees, maybe? If you’ve never played it, however, then it’s a great, lightweight worker-placement game, with a deadly cute theme, and I recommend it to anyone looking to fill that lighter, space-is-an-issue, worker-placement gap.
Review copy kindly provided by Bright Eye Games. Thoughts and opinions are my own.
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Waggle Dance (2022)
Designer: Mike Nudd
Publisher: Bright Eye Games
Art: Sabrina Miramon
Playing time: 30-60 mins