Hand-to-Hand Wombat

Hand-to-Hand Wombat

Designers: Cory O’Brien
Artist: Matthew Inman
Publisher: Exploding Kittens
3-7 players 15 min ages 7+ MSRP $26
Time to Teach/Learn: 3 minutes

Written by: Stephen Conway

No one knows why wombats enjoy architecture. A desire to build towers is buried deep in their bones. But there are exceptions, wicked wombats, born to make trouble. Hand to Hand Wombat pits a team of builders against fuzzy little secret sowers of chaos. The builders must stack pieces to create three towers, while the bad wombat works to sabotage them without getting caught. This might seem easy or impossible depending on what team you’re on, until you discover the twist. Everyone plays with their eyes closed!

The entire game takes place within the confines of the box lid.

In it, you’ll place all the pieces needed to complete three towers. Each tower has a spindle and six nubbly square pieces. The pieces have holes in the center, allowing them to slide onto the spindles. The piece with 6 nubs along its edges is the base of the tower. The five nub piece stacks nicely above it and so on.

To play, deal out wombat cards to see who is on the builder team and who is the wicked wombat. Do not share your identity with anyone else! Place all the tower pieces and the spindles in the box lid and you’re ready to go.

The goal in Hand to Hand Wombat is to complete towers if you are a builder, or to keep towers from being built if you are wicked.

Each game round is 90 seconds, plus a vote. When the timer starts, everyone closes their eyes (no peeking!). Builder Wombats try to assemble the three towers, using one hand only, placing the widest piece of each tower at the base (the six nub piece), then the five and so on. You can communicate with everyone at the table. You can pass pieces to each other. You can even place your hand over a spindle to prevent others from messing with it. You can never take pieces out of the box to sort or save them.

While the Builders are building, the Wicked Wombat is trying to screw things up. You must be subtle, though! If you’re too obvious, you’ll get caught. You might give someone the wrong piece, or place a piece on a spindle out of order. You might even rotate the box lid! Even TALKING REALLY LOUDLY could be enough to throw things off.

At the end of the round, all players vote on who they think the wicked wombat is. If one player has more than half the votes, that player is out! That player does not reveal their identity and the game continues. Reset the timer and the goal is the same. Build towers or cause trouble.

Each round, one team scores. The builders must get at least two towers built to score one point. If they build all three, they score two points. If only one tower is built, the wicked wombat scores one point. If no towers are complete, the sneaky side gets two points. First team to score three points wins the game.

A subtle but important note: the wicked wombat can win even if they have been voted out, since the builders won’t know they have discovered the traitor! The Builders have to complete 2 towers each round or the wicked wombat still scores points. The Wicked Wombat will cackle with glee if they win because the builders didn’t trust each other.

It is hard to think of another game that combines such disparate elements: cooperative stacking paired with a traitor. By all rights this game could be a hot mess. And yet, this marriage works! Playing blind with just the right amount of time pressure balances everything. Even without a player trying to wreck things, getting a group of people to work together without sight to build three simple towers takes an incredible amount of teamwork and communication. The traitor certainly needs to play a role in creating chaos, but the clock and the cloak of darkness allow each side to figure out a way to play that works best for them.

Hand to Hand Wombat is a hilarious invitation to play. Teamwork based on touch and talking and trust is a challenge you’ll almost certainly stumble through the first few rounds. And therein lies one kind of fun. You can’t take yourself too seriously in order to find a way to accomplish this ridiculous task. If you’re wicked, trying to listen and literally feel your way through the game to find ways to subtlety wreck everyone else’s plans is a deliciously fiendish kind of fun. But wait, there’s more. Hand to Hand Wombat yearns for an audience. It is play as a form of performance. It’s hard to argue that any onlookers might have even more fun watching than the goofballs playing the game!

June 2023

Written by: Stephen Conway

About Stephen Conway

Currently serving as Major Fun. I'm also a writer, filmmaker, game designer, podcaster, and host of The Spiel (http://www.thespiel.net)

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