Wonder Book looks the part of an imaginative kids game, but doesn’t play like one
Don’t judge a board game by its cover.
Wonder Book is a board game that was much discussed at this year’s Essen Spiel convention, with flyers advertising the title being spread across tables and a sizable crowd gathering around its stand in the hall. I almost missed out on playing the title thanks to the fact that press had to book a demo session in advance. Luckily enough, I was able to squeeze in a quick playthrough at the last moment.
The artstyle for the game is pleasantly whimsical, evoking the look of a Hans Christian Anderson storybook.
It’s unsurprising that Wonder Book has caught players' attentions because the game looks incredible. The demo I played was designed for just two players and took place on a board designed to look like a pop-up picture book with a 3D tree sprouting up from its middle, that was then surrounded by all sorts of colourful minutiae such as roots and a dragon bathing in a pool of water. The artstyle for the game is pleasantly whimsical, evoking the look of a Hans Christian Anderson storybook with its classical illustrations and bright colours. It’s safe to say that the presentation of Wonder Book is easily its most exciting element.
The game itself is a board game for kids that has players exploring the land of Oniria, a fantasy kingdom populated by an ancient civilisation of dragons that can only be accessed by the titular wonder book. Players take the roles of children who have discovered this magical book and experience its amazing adventures through a series of six scenarios - or chapters - each with their own mini story that comes together to form a complete narrative.
Wonder Book very much feels like a kid-friendly version of something like Descent: Journeys in the Dark or Gloomhaven.
But it’s not just the bright presentation and inviting premise that’s meant to appeal to children, as the gameplay for Wonder Book very much feels like a kid-friendly version of something like Descent: Journeys in the Dark or Gloomhaven. Wonder Book is essentially a dungeon-crawling game that’s intended for younger audiences, with the general gameplay loop remaining very easy to follow and the potential player actions being restricted to just a few options.
In the demo I played, my team-mate and I were exploring a forest in search of a treasure chest that we then needed a key for. We were able to find the treasure chest by interacting with an area of the board that was indicated by a card, that we were then encouraged to read aloud. The narrative language of Wonder Book is clearly intended to be suitable for children to follow, with just enough personality included so that it wasn’t a complete bore to read. However, I felt like there could have been a bit more to the story than what was included, especially considering that this is meant to be the main draw of the game besides its aesthetics. I know I would have loved to play a game like this when I was younger, but I think I might have lost interest in it quite quickly with its barebones story.
Unfortunately, the gameplay in Wonder Book wasn’t much deeper than its story. On their turn, players can move, interact with things on the board - if they share a space with them - or perform an attack. Obviously, this was a demo, so there could very well be much more in store for players with the full game in their hands. However, I spent most of the game performing the same basic attack move - there was a more advanced move which required resources I did not have and could not acquire - on enemies that continuously spawned and did little more than follow and attack me and my team-mate. The other player was able to interact with various different areas of the board, at one point causing the aforementioned bathing dragon to flip my miniature and an enemy off its back by pulling on its tongue, which was easily the most exciting moment of the game.
All in all though, Wonder Book certainly looked the part of an imaginative kids board game, but sadly didn’t play like one. I love how the board looks and its interactive elements, but the majority of the gameplay I experienced was decidedly uninspiring.