WARNING: You need to know that I foster Native American kids. So I have a bias, but also perhaps a bit of insight. I also majored in Intercultural Studies. So I care about cultural stuff, and I'm a bit PC. This review is going to be a bit preachy in spots.
Wakanda is a two-player game by designer Charles Chevalier with art from Loic Billiau. It works for ages 8 and up and plays in about 15 minutes. It's published by Blue Orange Games.
In Wakanda, tribes are said to gather to create representations of the values of their families. The player to build the three most prestigious totem poles wins.
How it works
Players each get three headdresses, either blue or red, that will go on the top of a totem pole, finishing it. Six village tiles are laid out on the table, and they each give a different way for players to gain points according to the totem poles they build. Three are available at the beginning of the game, and one will be added each time a totem pole is completed.
The 21 totems — an eagle, chiefs, tomahawks, animal skins, teepees, and suns — are placed in a bag.
The first player takes a totem out of the bag and puts on a tile, then the second player does the same.
Play continues the same way until a player puts a headdress on one of the totem poles instead of placing a totem on top. That pole is finished, and the player has one extra totem to choose from each turn.
The game ends when all six totem poles are finished.
Why you might like Wakanda
Wakanda is easy to learn, and you can teach it to anyone.
It’s a good game for young players because the choices are quite limited.
It’s nice to see a game that uses space, building up.
There is enough strategy to engage adults, and the game is quick.
Why you might not like Wakanda
Wakanda is extremely simple; you won’t be making lots of choices, but the choices you do make are critical.
Wakanda uses lots of stereotypical images of Native Americans and doesn’t use images that indigenous people use on totem poles. The eagle is the only image that seems appropriate.
The theme says each tribe will be building a totem pole representing its values, but the gameplay has players trying to steal the work other players have done. The gameplay isn’t bad, but it doesn’t feel thematic. In fact, it feels the opposite.
I like Wakanda’s gameplay, but the art overtakes it. It plays into stereotypes of indigenous Americans, who are living and vibrant. It feels disrespectful to me. Different images or a different them altogether would have made this game one I would be happy to play with my children. But this doesn’t teach lessons I want them to learn.
Other reviewers' opinions
To the Table: Junior Edition liked the artwork and components. He described it as "a really interesting gameplay experience." He said the timing and location tiles create good tension and strategy. He didn't have anything negative to say about the game.
Game Gumshoes Presents called Wakanda "a nifty little game" with good strategy, and is good for teaching kids.
If you're cool with the artwork, absolutely. Blue Orange is great at creating games that teach kids strategy but aren't boring for adults, and Wakanda is no exception.
What my husband wants to do to the game
Andrew wants to change the theme. He thought it would be equally interesting with a power pole-building theme. Instead of the symbols, he would go with straight up colors. In fact, he keeps telling me that's exactly what he's going to do. I'll post pictures when it happens.
I got a review copy of Wakanda from Blue Orange Games. That doesn't affect my ability to give an honest review. If it did, I wouldn't take the game. Much of this review first appeared at News for Shoppers, where I wrote it.