Before we even removed the lid from the box of Echidna Shuffle, Big Bean was asking “Daddy, what is an Echidna?” Truth be told, I hadn’t put much thought into it before that very moment, so we fired up a YouTube search, and were positively blown away by these spiky little puffballs. What did we learn? Echidnas are slow – comically, adorably slow. Toothless. One of only two egg-laying mammals. Male Echidnas wield a four-headed willy. The list of oddities goes on!
To learn more about these unique creatures, head over to this article from London’s Natural History Museum, or as we did, spend a half hour watching YouTube clips of their precious waddle and other peculiar habits.
For the purposes of this article, the most interesting piece of Echidna information is the “Echidna Train”. Clumping together in groups of anywhere between 3 and 11, these wobbly bobbly buddies weave in and around each other as part of a bizarre mating ritual. Although this tabletop title from Wattsalpoag Games leaves out the romance, the creature clumping is a key mechanic in how the gameplay flows.
Designed by Kris Gould (previous work includes 2008’s Jet Set), with artwork from Damon S. Brown (also contributed art to Reiner Knizia’s Dream Factory) and Mike Raabe (art credits include Magic: The Gathering as well as the original Netrunner CCG), Echidna Shuffle is a game of picking up tasty bugs, and delivering them to a matching tree stump. Welcoming from 2 to 6 players, this game plays in about 30 minutes, and is recommended for ages 6 and up.
Inside the box, you’ll find a large board, an assortment of plastic bugs and tree stumps, as well as a small pile of cardboard tokens in the six player colours. However, the crowning components in this box are the 12 Echnidnas themselves. These bulky, durable critters could easily be packaged and sold as a toy on their own, and handling these palm-sized pincushions is pure satisfaction. For my personal tastes, these are easily the best components I’ve ever seen for a children’s game.
Setting up the game involves placing the circular pickup marker, and the three matching bugs onto random board spaces. Opponents to each player’s left will place their three stumps onto the board, marking the homes that the bugs need delivering to. The twelve Echidnas are then placed randomly on the board, and we’re ready to start playing!
The board features a series of swirling arrows, dictating the directions that the Echidnas may move around. Movement is determined by the simple roll of a die, with the potential of moving between 2 and 7 spaces. Rather than asking players for a fresh roll each turn, every second turn uses the opposite side of that first die roll, meaning that all players will have 9 movements to use every two turns.
To pick up a bug, an Echidna simply needs to arrive or pass through the circular pickup token of that player’s colour. Each bug has a peg on the bottom to allow for comfortable riding on the back of an Echidna, and once mounted, a player can then start traveling to one of their three home trunks to deliver the bug. Victory is achieved when a player drops all three of their bugs off at their tree trunks!
Big Bean is now 5 years old. Echidna Shuffle brought us her very first gaming “lightbulb moment” – that instant where the goal of the game clicks, as well as the steps required to complete it! Watching her map out a turn or two in advance was an absolute delight, and speaks to the accessibility and intuitiveness of this game. The tactile enjoyment of the chunky Echidnas and bugs were clear in the way she engaged with the game as a whole, and a genuine celebration took place when she claimed victory over me in our first 2 player game!
We later invited Little Bean to join us for a larger game. At age 3, Little Bean didn’t grasp much of the rules, but was focused enough to roll the die, make binary choices about which Echidna to move, and count movement points along with us. Most importantly, she didn’t have the urge to destroy the board state, which was a pleasant surprise! The next day she also loudly declared “I WANT TO PLAY THE HEDGEHOG GAME”, and may have resulted in an epic meltdown when told she had to finish her apple first.
As you’ll read more about in just a moment, this game does offer the opportunity for some nasty decisions, which could lead to a negative play experience for young children. If you can make the occasional suboptimal choice for yourself, this is easy enough to avoid, but it’s important to be aware that the potential exists.
Given the intuitive gameplay and attractive components, I would not be surprised to see Little Bean catching up to Big Bean within the next year. Given their engagement, comprehension relative to their age, and follow-up requests to play, Echidna Shuffle is receiving TWO LITTLE THUMBS UP!
I have also had several opportunities to play Echidna Shuffle with all-adult groups. Much like my own reaction, everyone is blown away by the size and quality of everything in the box. It’s truly a showpiece! The game is also engaging for adults, with frequent choices that could be described as cutthroat. As the Echidnas don’t belong to any particular player, it’s possible to move one past an opponent’s home stump, even with a bug on the verge of being delivered. It’s incredibly amusing to watch the tone of this charming children’s game shift slightly in the direction of sinister!
The rulebook also provides several variants that serve to balance out a possible first player advantage, which may also bring longevity to the game for grown-up players. Speaking of the rulebook, this is the one shortfall of the game’s presentation. The “setup” and “how to play” portions of the rules are a literal wall of text, which manages to raise the barrier to entry by offering the impression of a more complicated game. Fortunately, everything else about the game works fluidly, making this hurdle relatively easy to overcome.
Despite the rulebook hiccup, Echidna Shuffle is also getting TWO BIG THUMBS UP!
For both younger children, and those of us with several decades under our belt, Echidna Shuffle is an absolute win. Unfortunately, the game is not integrated into the traditional distribution chain (at least not in Canada!), but can be ordered directly through the Wattsalpoag website.