I picked Wongar (Goldsieber 2000, Richard Borg and Alan
Moon) up in a trade I made with Richard Borg. I had never really
heard of the game before, and since it was one of Goldsieber's big
box games, I was immediately intrigued, as I had had good success
with them in the past. The theme, that of Aborigine dreams (or
something) was a unique one, and coupled with the massive amount of
beautiful pieces, inspired me to try out the game as soon as
My first impressions, however, were not good. So much
confusion occurred (much of it from the theme or lack thereof),
and a lot of the game seemed random and pointless. Wild point
scoring occurred, and general impressions were not good. But, I saw
under this layer of insanity an excellent game one with the
opportunity to be a great game. At its core, Wongar is an area
control game, and with three different types of tokens, the gameplay
is unique and exciting.
A large board with ten joining areas is placed in the middle
of the board. A pile of 15 cards that match each area is shuffled
and placed face down in the area. Each player also receives a pile
of tokens (called "tjurungas") of one color 18 discs, 15 cubes,
and 12 cylinders. Each player places four of each type in a cloth
bag which is shuffled around, and then tokens are randomly put into
each of the ten areas one for each player playing the game, and
double that amount in the middle two areas. A stack of cards,
called the "Rite" deck, is shuffled, and two are dealt to each
player with the remainder being placed face down next to the table.
Each player places a score token on the first space of a scoring
track that goes around the board, and one player is randomly chosen
to go first. That player receives the boomerang and an ancestor
figure (brown), and the second player receives the elder figure
(tan). Another matching ancestor figure is placed in one of the two
center areas, with a second elder figure being placed in the other.
A yellow time marker is placed at the bottom of the time track, and
the first round begins.
Each round starts with the player who has the boomerang, who
then passes it to the player on their right at the end of the round
(along with the ancestor figure if they have it). The start player
turns over the top card of every area pile that is currently not
showing (which is all ten in the first round). For every scorpion
revealed, the time marker is moved up one spot on the time track,
and the active player is "stung". This simply means that they lose
one point for every player currently behind them on the score
track. If two scorpion cards have been revealed from the same pile,
they are shuffled back into that pile, along with all other
discarded cards. Any scorpions are replaced with the next card in
the deck. Once all scorpions are resolved, the player who currently
controls the elder figure gets the top card of the Rite deck (if
it's a Scorpion, they get "stung" instead).
After this, each player, in clockwise order, picks one of
the face-up cards in one of the areas and follows the action on it.
- Card cards: This card gives the player that takes it four
- Single Tjurunga cards: These cards show one disc, cube, or
cylinder. The player MUST (if possible) place one of their tokens
of that type in the area the card was drawn from. The player then
has three choices: They can place two of the same type tokens
anywhere on the board, place one token and draw a card, or draw two
cards. Players keep single tjurunga cards for scoring purposes at
the end of the game.
- Triple Tjurunga cards: These cards allow the player to
place three tokens (all the same type) anywhere on the board.
- Ancestor card: The player takes the ancestor figure from
the player and then moves the ancestor figure on the board into an
adjacent territory (mandatory). A ceremony is immediately performed
in that territory. All players who have tokens in a territory
participate in a ceremony. Starting with the player who took the
ancestor card, and going clockwise, each player may play a Rite card
or pass. Most rite cards show a single token of a certain type,
allowing the player who played the card three choices: They can
take another player's token of that type out of the area and return
it to that player, or they can move one token of that type of their
color into an adjacent area, or they can move one token of that type
of their color into that area from an adjacent area. Some Rite
cards show double tokens, and allow a player to do the above options
twice. After all players pass, the ceremony is over. Each type of
tokens scores, with the player who has the majority of that type
receiving the points for the ancestor (as noted on the score track
the points change over the course of a game.) Ties are broken by
whoever controls the ancestor token, or whoever sits closer to them.
- Elder card: This card is identical to the ancestor card,
except that the elder figure is moved one or two spaces on the
board, and a ceremony occurs there.
- Ancestor/Elder card: This card allows the player to take
both figures from the players who have them, and move both figures
on the board to the space the card was drawn from performing a
Once each player has taken a turn, the round is over, and the
boomerang (and possibly the ancestor figure) is passed. If, during
the round, the time marker is moved to the final space, that round
is the final round. After the round is played out, all players
reveal their single tjurunga cards. The player who has the most
cards of each type gets a bonus eight points and then the player
who has the most points is the winner!
Some comments on the game
1.) Components: I enjoyed the components in Wongar they were
one of my main attractions to the game. Remarks about the artwork
were varied from those who played, with some liking it quite a bit,
and others taking the opposite view. I found it bizarre, but not
entirely unpleasant on the eyes. The box, of course, is of the
large sturdy type that all Goldsieber games are stored in. The box
is nigh indestructible, but the large size makes the game more
unwieldy and slightly annoying to transport. The board is large,
and the pieces move about it fairly easily. Speaking of the pieces,
I enjoyed them quite a bit an attractive assortment of wooden
counters although it does look like they are all necklace beads.
The boomerang, as well as the two "elders" and "ancient" pieces were
beautiful, large wooden tokens (we did mix them up a lot, but it
wasn't that big of a deal.) The area cards are small and easy to
handle, but have strange artwork on them that can distract from the
card's function. The ceremony cards are large, which helps
distinguish them from the area cards (a nice touch). Overall, I
liked all the components; they were visually stunning, but not
entirely user-friendly when learning the rules.
2.) Rules: The rules looked nice, but I had to download an
English translation (why, oh why did I not take German in college
rather than Spanish!?) from the web. The rules as written were
fairly clear but the components, especially the cards, didn't
really help with ease of play. Therefore, even with only five pages
of (translated) rules, we found ourselves constantly referencing
them and frequently playing things incorrectly. The biggest
offenders were the cards, but remembering which piece (elder or
ancient) did what was often quite confusing.
3.) New People and Theme: My first playing of the game was with
a group of experienced gamers, with hundreds of "German" games under
their belt. And yet there was still rampant confusion. The game is
frankly not intuitive; and this is certainly not the fault of the
mechanics, but because the theme is weird and detracts from
gameplay. I'm sure that the dreams of Aborigines sounds like a
good, unique theme; but how is this helpful to the gameplay as is?
I read that the designers' original theme was changed, and that's a
shame because the new theme simply does NOT work. A theme is
added to many of these "abstract" games to help people better
associate pieces with the rules and mechanics. I am a big fan of
adding themes to games, but this is one case where they should have
just left it alone.
4.) Strategy: Once gameplay is actually understood, however,
some interesting strategies present themselves. Most area control
games use only one type of unit (a la the caballeros in El Grande).
Here there are three types of units, each with a different level of
rarity. This, combined with the initial setup should determine
one's strategic drive for the remainder of the game; but if a player
hoards cards, they can possibly pull off a coup in a certain area.
A player can try to maximize their hand, or they can try to maximize
their presence on the board. To my chagrin, I quickly found out
that making a strategy out of collecting card sets might serve well
as a tiebreaker, but that it wasn't very viable as a main strategy.
Knowing when to score a territory is also crucial; and if it wasn't
for the scorpions, the game's strategy would be elegant and superb.
5.) Randomness: But those scorpions are extremely random and
annoying. They often cause the game to feel close to a total luck
fest and can destroy one's carefully placed strategy. Yes, they
will keep the scores closer together; but who wants to gain a pile
of points, just to lose them again solely because they are in
first place. This is a game that "bashes" the leader, no help from
the players necessary. Fortunately, however, the game
includes "Advanced" rules. They include:
· Scorpions no longer sting. This is the biggest and most
important change. Let's keep the scorpions as a time mechanism, but
· Players can place their initial token setup on the board.
This will probably appease some although I personally like dealing
with how the initial setup turns out.
· Remove one ancestor card and one elder card from each pile
giving one card of each type to the players. On a turn, a player
can play one of these cards instead of the card from an area. This
changes the game a lot, but for the better.
· Remove the two Scorpion cards and five double cards from the
Rite deck. Each player starts the game with one double card. This
really helps eliminate randomness from the deck and keeps play fair
I really like these "advanced" rules; in fact, if you play the game
with me, they are "required" rules. They make gameplay so much
better, and I can't imagine playing without them. I would go so far
as to recommend that all four of them should be implemented into
gamers' first games there's just no point into playing the basic
6.) Fun Factor: When I play a game with people who've never
played "German" games before, Wongar is not on my list. Its theme
(an important factor for new players) is retroactive, its mechanics
are slightly complicated, and good strategy is fairly elusive in
it. Yet, for those who love El Grande, this game is slightly
similar, but with a touch of other mechanics thrown in. When played
with the advanced rules, Wongar can be a lot of fun; but only with
And that wraps up my view on Wongar. I like the game, and will
gladly play it again; but only with the advanced rules. The theme,
which doesn't have to be present, is not just laid on top of the
mechanics, but overshadows them, confusing all. The game is
beautiful, and plays well so if you don't mind the strange theme,
and like area- control games, this is one of the best, rules wise.
The combination of Borg and Moon has produced a fantastic game for
us here. If only Goldsieber had left it alone.