Publishers Board&Dice have put out some great games since their inception in 2013. I reviewed their Superhot game back in 2017 and have backed their Agent Decker deckbuilder based on a previous iteration. They are also behind such quality games as Escape Tales: The Awakening, Exoplanets, Pocket Mars, and are probably best known for Teotihuacan: City of Gods.
Board&Dice games are known for their willingness to try out unusual mechanics, or use them in unusual ways—such as Superhot’s Moebius-strip-like deckbuilding. They’re also marked by strong graphic design and artwork and well-written rules, which I think we all agree make the difference between good and great games.
Sometimes, though, the product is less than the sum of its parts, and World Shapers is an example of this. The game has all of the quality inputs one would expect of Board&Dice, but suffers from a design that is derivative and shallowly-themed.
Over 2 or 3 rounds, depending on player count, up to four players draft cards from a four-suited deck to put into personal tableau. Each suit represents one of the elements, the idea being that players are competing to construct the “best” world (measured in points) from the four elemental forces. They can play their chosen card into their personal tableau, exchange it for one of three in a common pool which they get to play instead, or once per round discard it for a power crystal which they can put on a card to goose its scoring potential.
Cards score in many possible ways: their proximity to cards of other suits in their tableau; having the most of a suit; having pairs of particular suits; and so on. As implied above, certain cards score more if they have a crystal on them at game’s end.
There is a decent solo variant where you play against a bot who draws randomly from the deck to place their cards and never uses power crystals. They don’t score; instead, they act as a spoiler when it comes to having the most of a suit, as well as denying you cards which you might really want.
I applaud designer Marius Milewski’s attempt to freshen up the drafting genre with the positional tableau-building and crystral buffing, but the fact is that, as I played World Shapers all I could think was how I’d rather be playing Tides of Madness, from 2016. That game, although only 2-player, has the same multi-suited drafting and scoring mechanics but with much more tension because of the slow accretion of madness icons. I don’t know if Milewski knew about Tides, but commenters on BGG remarked on the similarity between Elementium (the previous iteration of World Shapers) and Tides.
So if you’re looking for a decent pass drafting game for three or four, or a puzzle-like solo mode, then check World Shapers out. But for two-player pass-drafting, I’d pick Tides of Madness.
Thanks to Board&Dice for providing a review copy of World Shapers.