This review was originally published on BoardGameGeek.com
The Party Game Spectrum
On a spectrum of all the party games I have ever played, Wavelength firmly plants itself at the top.
Wavelength is a game that minimizes the exceptions to its party-style fun and maximizes the engagement of its players. I can think of very few types of group gatherings where Wavelength wouldn’t be a great fit. Furthermore, every single person in our play groups have been fully invested and having a great time, despite our individual differences.
The designers knew exactly what kind of experience they wanted to provide when they crafted Wavelength. They wanted a game where both teams had compelling incentives to be thinking and engaged throughout. They wanted a production where the highs and lows of each round were built upon a supplemental foundation of solid components. Most of all, they wanted to capture the fun of a great social party game and build a framework of mechanisms that could consistently provide that experience from turn to turn and round to round.
Wavelength is no one-trick pony, unlike so many of the generic party games on the market. It is no flash in the pan that only occasionally provides what party gamers are looking for. It is the REAL DEAL.
A Contender Among Legends
Where Just One provides for clever moments at the cost of minimal social engagement, and Codenames’ genuine fun lives or dies upon the comparable capabilities of its competing clue givers, and Monikers heavily relies upon the breadth and depth of its players’ knowledge while pushing them potentially too far outside of their comfort zone, and Decrypto’s vast brilliance can strain under its AP inducing pressure and player-count-limiting secrecy… Wavelength somehow sidesteps all these drawbacks with grace and ease.
Wavelength manages to level the playing field AND stretch its potential far beyond the number of cards in its box. It accomplishes this with its random and continuous spectrum that demands pinpoint creativity while providing infinite possibility in each clue given by the Psychic of the round. The odds of a single player ending up with the same target location along the same spectrum card leading them to blurt out the exact same clue as before is practically zero. While I sometimes find myself in a game of Codenames or Codenames Pictures lamely relying on recycled clues to carry me through to the finish line of victory, I can’t see myself possibly being able to fall into the same rut with Wavelength. And that difference excites me.
The opposing team of each round is not a mere group of spectators, either. As Wavelength is wisely a fast “one more time” kind of game where the victors are crowned at 10 points, every point is critical; and the single point up for grabs during the opposing team’s turn is of utmost importance. Like any good discussion or debate, Wavelength is a form of meta-communication where the spotlight team discusses their insights and commits to an opinion; then, after listening to and absorbing the proposed logic, the opposing team briefly reviews the key points—adding insights of their own—and designates their own official opinion on the matter.
And this is where the real meat of the game is found… in the juicy discussion. Each participant finds themself exploring topics and ideas in new and exciting ways. Friends and teammates develop and discover opinions in search competitive consensus. The topics of discussion are tantalizingly limitless… Just how durable is a 4-year-old on a spectrum of fragile to durable? Just how sexy is that local church pastor? How wet is Tres Leches compared to completely wet and completely dry? How dangerous is a chef’s job? How hipster is a beanie? These discussions were captivating, tense, hilarious, and memorable. And they all segwayed perfectly in the second act of the game: the grand reveal.
A Thoughtful Production
Wavelength’s gorgeous production proves how essential game components can be. Where Just One’s fun dry erase colors perfectly complement it’s functional boards, Wavelength’s entire box is a thing of beauty. Wavelength requires no table, no surface, no extra fluff. One of its most underrated strengths might just be how physically simple and contained the entire game is; it is a self-contained box of limitless fun that gets passed around from one player to the next. The star feature is, of course, the spinning wheel target with its grandiose sliding screen and pinpoint dial. Few things in all of gaming feel more satisfying than flipping this screen wide open with a quick click-slide-thud to elicit genuine reactions from your entire group.
I can only knock the game in two minor ways, and both pertain to the production: 1. The device doesn’t lock into the box when stood up, allowing for frequent dislodging when players are too slow to budge the screen open. 2. The text on the spectrum cards is very small, being near impossible to read from across anything larger than a table. Fortunately, some instructional practice and verbal clarification can easily remedy each problem, respectively.
The Final Verdict
I honestly can’t think of a party game better than this one. It has all the ingredients of a fantastic experience for 6+ players, where it can soar upon the winds of discussion between team members, yet it’s still an entertaining experience with 2+ players, where a quieter game of cooperative or competitive introspection can abide.
For my house, Wavelength beats out other party classics including our very favorites (Decrypto, Codenames, Deception: Murder in Hong Kong, etc.) because of its consistent and simple one-two punch of memorable discussions and climactic reveals. From me, it earns a perfect 10/10, a score which I have never given a party game as I have never come to love one quite like this. Maybe 10 or 50 or 100 plays from now I’ll feel differently about it, but it’s genuinely hard to imagine myself enjoying it any less thanks to its excitingly endless possibilities.