Curate your collection of knickknacks and doodads, and arrange them artfully in The Whatnot Cabinet.
What Is The Whatnot Cabinet?
The Whatnot Cabinet is a tile-drafting game for 1 to 4 players, ages 8 and up, and takes about 20 minutes to play. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $39 (plus shipping) for a copy of the game. It was designed by Steven Finn, with development by Eduardo Baraf, illustrations by Beth Sobel, and solo rules by Keith Matejka, with graphic design by Kim Robinson.
New to Kickstarter? Check out our crowdfunding primer.
The Whatnot Cabinet Components
Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality. Some of the curiosity cards shown in my photos will be stretch goals in the Kickstarter campaign.
Here’s what comes in the box:
- Journey board
- 4 Cabinet boards
- Cloth bag
- 4 Reference cards
- 24 Curiosity cards
- 5 Wonder cards
- 24 Rival Cards (for solo rules)
- 8 Pawns (2 per color)
- 85 Curio tiles
- 150 Point tokens (in values of 0, 1, 2, 3, and 4)
The cabinet boards look like an empty case, with a colored rug underneath for player color. The rugs even have different patterns on them, which is a nice touch.
The curio tiles come in five different colors, and five different item types (with every combination possible). Each tile has a ribbon on the top corner with an icon showing the item type. The bottom edge of the ribbon has a different shape to indicate color as an aid for color-blind players, though the tiles (and the ribbons) are pretty small. Some of the tiles have a crown icon at the bottom. All of the curios are fun to look at, and I like that each combination of color and type is a unique item—there are five different types of leaves, five different shaped bottles, and so on. There are also some tiles with special actions, illustrated with icons.
The player pawns are wooden, shaped a little like little bottles, and they’re not only different colors but also different shapes. Not only is that more color blind friendly, but it’s also fitting in a game about collecting little trinkets that these have unique shapes.
Overall, the components are great: both visually appealing and functional. The journey board has illustrations as reminders of five different actions you can take, but these are also explained in text on the reference card. The one detail I hope will be changed is the tile backs: there is a small flower icon on the backs of some of the tiles (see the photo above), which are removed in a 2-player game. It’s a very tiny icon that’s a bit hard to spot, and since it’s only in one corner, you might not always spot it right away. Since the tiles are all mixed up and drawn out of the bag, there’s no reason that this icon needs to be so subtle—they could have entirely different backs. Hopefully the finished version will make the difference in the tile backs a little more distinct.
The prototype even had a plastic insert. Although it’s not final, it’s a pretty good design, with spaces to keep everything in place.
How to Play The Whatnot Cabinet
The goal of the game is to score the most points by arranging curios in your cabinet and completing curiosity cards.
Place the journey board in the center of the play area. Shuffle the curiosity cards and place 5 face-up nearby. Shuffle the wonder cards and place 1 face-up nearby. Return the rest of the cards to the box. Place the point tokens in a supply. Mix the tiles in the bag. (In a 2-player game, remove all the tiles with the flower icon.)
Give each player a cabinet board and a pawn. Place the pawns in turn order on the journey board from left to right. (In a 2-player game, each player gets two pawns. The first player takes spaces 1 and 4, and the second player takes spaces 2 and 3.)
Each round, there are three phases: Prepare, Take Turns, and Clean Up.
Prepare: Draw 4 tiles from the bag, placing them face-up below the journey board, forming the “outdoors.” In the first round, if any of the special action tiles are drawn, return them to the bag and redraw.
Take Turns: The order of the pawns on the journey board determines the player turn order. When it is your turn, move your pawn to one of the five actions on the bottom portion of the journey board that doesn’t have a pawn on it already, and take the action depicted there.
Here are the five actions, all of which will result in you gaining 2 tiles:
- Draw 3 tiles from the bag. Keep two and discard the remaining one.
- Draw 2 tiles from the bag. Keep 1 and place the other in the outdoors. Take 1 tile from the outdoors.
- Add 1 tile from the bag to the outdoors. Take 2 tiles from the outdoors.
- Add 2 tiles from the bag to the outdoors. Take 2 tiles from the outdoors.
- Discard all tiles from the outdoors. Add 4 tiles from the bag to the outdoors. Take 2 tiles from the outdoors.
Tiles are placed into your cabinet immediately, and may not be moved around once placed.
There are two types of special action tiles. If you take one, it triggers immediately. The first lets you take a random tile from the bag—you keep this tile for an extra point at the end of the game. The second lets you sweep the outdoors (similar to action #5), place 4 more tiles into the outdoors, and then take 1 tile.
There are always 5 curiosity cards in the game, which are goals that can be completed. If you meet the conditions of any curiosity cards at the end of your turn, then you claim the card and place it near your cabinet for scoring. These may require tiles in particular positions of your board, or certain color or type combinations.
When you fill a row or column of your cabinet, you place a scoring token next to it. Scoring in columns is based on color, and scoring in rows is based on item type:
- A column of a single color: 4 points
- A column of all different colors: 2 points
- A row of a single type: 3 points
- A row of all different types: 1 point
All other rows and columns are worth 0 points.
After all of the pawns have been moved from the turn order section onto actions, this phase ends.
Clean Up: If the game isn’t over, then discard any tiles left in the outdoors. Move the pawns directly up onto the turn order section of the journey board, determining the new turn order for the next round. (Note: do not slide them to the left to fill in gaps.)
The game ends at the end of the round when everyone’s cabinets are filled (6 rounds in a 3- or 4-player game, 3 rounds in a 2-player or solo game). You score points for the rows and columns of your cabinet, curiosity cards you claimed, and the special 1-point action tiles you’ve acquired. In addition, everyone scores points based on the wonder card, which gives 1 point for a particular type of tile, and a 1-point bonus for each crown on their tiles. Finally, the players with pawns in the first three spots of the journey board earn bonus points as well (as shown on the board).
The highest score wins, with ties going to the player with the most blank (0-point) tokens, and then by the player closest to the #1 space on the journey board.
Setup for the solo game is similar to the 2-player game, except you do not use a second board for the dummy player, known as the rival. Instead, you use the deck of rival cards. Your turn is played as usual, but when it’s the rival’s turn, you draw a card from the deck.
The rival card indicates which which action to place the rival’s pawn on (with an arrow indicating which way to move if that space is already taken). Instead of taking an action, the rival discards a number of tiles as shown on the card. Then, add 1 tile to the outdoors from the bag.
If there are ever no tiles in the outdoors during either player’s turn, add 1 curio tile to the outdoors from the bag.
During each round, you’ll immediately earn bonus points (tracked with point tokens) for choosing spaces 1, 2, or 3 on the journey board (instead of only at the end of the game).
At the end of each round, discard two of the unclaimed curiosity cards—they are no longer available to be earned.
Scoring is the same as in the multiplayer game, except for the bonus points earned for position. Compare your score to the chart to see where you fall on the scale from “clumsy collector” to “relic fanatic.”
Why You Should Play The Whatnot Cabinet
The Whatnot Cabinet is the latest title from same team that created Herbaceous, Herbaceous Sprouts, and Sunset Over Water. Although these games aren’t too similar in gameplay, they do have a few things in common: they have casual themes, they’re fairly easy to learn, and they feature lovely artwork. The Whatnot Cabinet fits nicely into that line-up. Its theme of finding neat objects outside and putting them on display in a curio cabinet is charming, and Beth Sobel’s artwork helps bring the theme to life.
The core of the gameplay is pretty simple: every action you choose will result in adding two more tiles to your collection. The later actions tend to give you more control over your choice of tiles, but the trade-off is that you’ll go later in turn order for the next round. It adds a little bit of tension to that decision, on top of picking which tiles you get, especially in the last round, when you’ll also score points if you’re earlier in the line.
Placing objects into your whatnot cabinet is a fun puzzle—well, fun for me, at least. It has a little bit of a sudoku-like quality to it, where the more objects are placed into the grid, the more restricted your options become if you want to score points. The highest scoring possibility is to have same-color columns, and same-type rows, but of course that can be difficult to achieve, whether because of the luck of the draw or because other players intentionally hate-draft tiles that you need. Fortunately, you also score points (though not as many) for having columns of all different colors and rows of all different types. The trick, though, is that once you place the second item in a row or column, you’ve made a commitment to “all same” or “all different,” and if your gamble doesn’t pay off, then you’ll score nothing at all.
There are, however, some other wrinkles to consider: tiles with crowns, tiles that match the wonder card, and the curiosity cards all provide additional ways to score points. Finding a tile with a crown that matches the wonder card is worth 2 points in itself—more than a row of all different types. If you try to hard to get your rows and columns exactly right, you might miss out on a lot of other points.
I’ve tried The Whatnot Cabinet in all possible player counts, and it has worked well in each version. (My multiplayer games have been over video chat, so my friends haven’t been able to enjoy the details of the artwork as much as I have.) The solo game does a good job of reproducing the feel of the multiplayer game, using the cards to remove certain tiles from the outdoors and taking up spaces on the journey board. The one thing it doesn’t do is allow you to predict what the other “player” is interested in. In multiplayer games, you can tell when a particular tile is worth a lot of points to your opponent, and decide whether it’s worth taking it yourself or using the “sweep” action to discard it.
I do have to admit that thematically I think it’s a little funny to have items arranged in the optimal scoring pattern. If I were arranging things on a shelf, I don’t know that having solid-color columns is more aesthetically pleasing than mixing them up a bit. (But I’m also not somebody who arranges my books by color or size, so what do I know, right?) It also means that it’s not always intuitive: it can be hard to remember that type doesn’t matter in the columns, or that color doesn’t matter in the rows. For new players, it may take a little bit to get used to that.
The design of the cabinet boards immediately brought to mind the ubiquitous Kallax shelves that many gamers use for their board game collections. My friend Christopher suggested that there should be a board game version, where we use themes going across and game mechanisms going down, so I made the image above as a game in progress. What games would you fill your cabinet with?
If you like puzzle-placement games like Sagrada or Azul, you may enjoy The Whatnot Cabinet as well. For me, I found the overall gameplay a little simpler than both of those titles, in part because there are only 12 spaces to fill in the grid. But it’s still just as satisfying when you manage to find just the right object to complete a row or column, and at the end of the game you get a lovely collection to admire.
For more information or to make a pledge, visit the The Whatnot Cabinet Kickstarter page!
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Disclosure: GeekDad was loaned a prototype of this game for review purposes.