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[Review] Relax Wow

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Joined: 03/23/2011

Many of the kids I teach, and in fact many Koreans in general, really love Halli Galli. I don't really find the game that attractive, but the young folk really enjoy the frenzied play, and the game is loud and boisterous. Thus, when I first played Wow (Enjoy Board Game Co., 2005 - Chan-oh Jung), I instantly knew that it would be a hit amongst the same crowd. And after playing it with my game group, I found that my intuition was correct - they loved it.

But more than kids loved the game. It went over well with adults - even those who weren't impressed upon my explaining of the game. It's simply a game in which players must quickly scan the board, and the fun and frenzied nature of it - especially when playing with six players. I found it to be a lot of fun - something that I'll play if I'm in the mood for shouting, and we have fifteen minutes to burn. It's not a game that I'd want to play all the time, but I certainly enjoy it more than Halli Galli!

A deck of cards is shuffled and dealt out to each player (player's need not have the same number of cards), and each player places their deck in front of them. One player says "Ready, set, go", and each player flips the top card of their pile over. Depending on what cards are revealed, several things may happen.
- If two or more players throw down cards that have the same colors (red, yellow, blue, or white), they must both throw up their hands and shout "Wow". Players do this regardless of the symbols on their cards.
- If a player throws down a "Trick" card, it has a colored background like normal cards but does not count as one of them. So if Joe throws down a red Trick card and I a red Sun card, neither one of us says anything. If the same thing happens and Bob also throws down a red Cloud card, only Bob and I would shout "Wow!"
- If a player throws down a "Change" card, players must look at matching symbols, rather than colors. Symbols include a cloud, raindrop, sun, and moon. The "Change" stays in effect until one player is given all the cards.
- If a "Mute" card is on the table, no one says anything. The Mute card trumps all other cards; and if anyone says "Wow", they must take all cards on the table.
- If a "Wow" card is on the table, everybody must throw up their hands and yell "Wow!" A player who does not must take all the cards. A "Wow" card is trumped by a Mute card.

If one player messes up, by saying "Wow" when they aren't supposed to, or forgetting to say "Wow", or just being too slow (speed determined by the players), they must scoop up all the cards on the table and place them at the bottom of their deck. If no player makes a mistake, then the cards are left on the table, and the next card played by the players is placed on top of the ones already there. If more than one player makes a mistake, they must play "Kawibawibo" (Korean for Rock, paper, scissors), with the loser getting all the cards.

Play continues until one player is out of cards - in which case they are declared the winner. If players wish, they can continue the game until one player has all the cards, at which point they are declared the loser!

Some comments on the gameā€¦

1.) Components: The cards are coated on each side, which makes them easy to handle and durable. This durability is important, because these cards are going to be thrown down constantly during the game. I did find the font for "WOW" humorous, because it looks like "Mom" upside down - so much so that many of us call the game "Mom". The card design is great, with each card having a bright colored background, and a design motif for those who are color blind, so that they can easily recognize the cards. The symbols are simple and clear, and it's very simple to differentiate between them. Everything fits inside a box that comes with two sections: one for the basic game (which only handles up to four players), and one for the extra cards (which adds up to six players). The basic game uses only three symbols and colors, while the expanded game adds another color and symbol. The artwork for the game, done by Byung-hoon Kim, is fun and interesting, punctuated with fairies running throughout.

2.) Rules: The rulebook is in Korean, even though the cards all have English words on them. I was taught the game and got some clarifications when corresponding with the author; but if you read my review, you know how to play. The picture illustrations in the eleven page booklet make it pretty clear when a player should say "Wow", and I usually follow these examples when teaching the game. Even still, someone usually forgets what card does what, but a few mishaps will quickly jog their memory.

3.) Silly: The game requires a certain level of silliness. Some people just have a difficult time raising their hands and shouting anything, it's a bit unnatural for them. I understand this, and therefore won't bring the game out for these folks. But if people just try the game once, raising their hands slightly off the table, and saying "wow" in a monotone voice, they gradually get more and more animated. Near the end of the game, the staid person will be shrieking with the rest of them, and the game will have succeeded! For a group that's already in a silly mood, this game will cause that mode to spiral down into utter nonsense and laughter.

4.) Levels: Some people are going to simply be better at this than other players. One has to quickly scan the table and see what's out there. I follow a system - look for Mute first, then Wow, then Change, then at my own card. Of course, I sometimes lose the game miserably, so my system is probably not the best. But I believe that the game is fun enough and quick enough to not matter if one player dominates over the others.

5.) Ties and Length: The game could conceivably go on forever, if two players are of equal ability, and consistently just trade cards off and on. We usually stop once the game is down to only two players, and declare them join losers. I've also modified our game so that when players both make a mistake, that they split the cards on the table, rather than playing "Rock Paper Scissors", which the developer admitted was a good idea.

6.) Fun Factor: This game is just a pile of fun, reminding me of similar games such as Slamwich. But unlike Slamwich, in which only one card is flipped over at a time, this game has all players flipping simultaneously, which not only decreases cheating, but also helps keep the game moving at a fast clip. The game is best when played at a rapid clip, with the next round starting as soon as the player has picked up the cards from the last round. At breakneck speed, players make more mistakes, and the hilarity increases.

Relax Wow won't ever make my top 100 games, as it's too fast and short to really give a satisfying gaming experience, like eating a piece of candy. But that piece of candy tastes might fine and won't ruin my diet, so why not eat it once in a while? Relax Wow works best with a group of raucous teenagers but can be played with a group of adults and turn them into harebrained, childish rogues. If you like these moments of levity and nonsense, then Relax Wow is for you.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"

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