Days of Wonder was founded in 2002 by Eric Hautemont. By 2004, this French company had blossomed into a force in the publishing world with a very unique model of only publishing a limited number of games. Their philosophy has always been to focus on producing the best game possible, and it has paid off. This list will go through a brief, incomplete history of their games, starting with
Gang of Four is a game originally published in 1990 by The Game Dealers. It was created by Chinese designer Lee Yih, and Eric Hautemont was a big fan. It’s a climbing game, like Tichu, where players take turns playing higher ranked sets of cards than the previous player. When a player runs out of cards, the round ends and the other players take a penalty in points. When someone reaches 100 points, the low score wins.
The big differences between this and Tichu are that this is not a partnership game, and this one emphasizes a low score (like golf) rather than having the most points (like most other games). It was DoW’s first game, along with Fist of Dragonstones by Bruno Faidutti and Michael Schacht. I’ve played neither of these games.
In 2003, Days of Wonder released their first big box games, both reprints of previously released titles. One was Pirate’s Cove, a dice rolling piratey game that I don’t care for that much, though it did help establish the company as a force in component quality. The other was
Mystery of the Abbey first came out in 1995, as designed by Bruno Faidutti and Serge Laget. In the game, a monk has been murdered, and you have to try to maneuver yourself around the abbey to try to figure out whodunit. On your turn, you move one or two rooms away from your current spot, then ask one question of another player in that room. That player may answer (which entitles them to also ask YOU a question), or take a vow of silence. These questions should be framed in order to help you narrow down who the ultimate culprit is. Then, depending on the room you are in, you may get to take an action. This continues until someone figures out the culprit, at which point the winner is determined by points – it may not be the person who figured it out.
I haven’t played this one either, but it sounds to me like the perfect replacement for Clue. Not only does it remove the roll-and-move mechanism, it also introduces strategy in place of random shots in the dark as you try to eliminate all impossible suspects. It looks like something I’d enjoy.
Of course, these days, if DoW is known for one thing, it’s for the next game on the list:
Ticket to Ride was published in 2004, designed by Alan R. Moon. It’s a 2-5 player game where players are trying to connect routes across America. On your turn, you can either play cards to connect two cities, draw new cards, or take new tickets (specific routes that when completed score you points or lose points if left incomplete). It’s that simple. Once a player gets down to two or fewer trains, everyone gets one more turn and there’s a final scoring. The player with the most points wins.
Odds are good that if you’re in the hobby, you know Ticket to Ride already. It’s one of the most successful gateway games there is. It combines rummy-style play with a train theme to great effect. It’s quick, fun, and can be highly cutthroat if you play with experienced players. The game is still getting support, with standalone sequels, expansion maps, and other variations. Recently, that includes a junior version and a Sails and Rails version that introduces ships.
As successful as Ticket to Ride has been, 2004 was also the year of another major hit for Days of Wonder, this one called
Memoir ’44 was designed by Richard Borg and is the second game in his so-called Commands & Colors series (which oddly enough was named after the THIRD game in the series). It’s set in World War II, specifically in the events around the D-Day invasion of 1944. In the game, which was originally for two players only, one player is the Allied powers while the other is the Axis. On your turn, you play a command card which will activate some of your units. Combat is resolved by rolling dice and seeing if you rolled the correct symbols to hit your opponents. The game is scenario based, and there’s a different goal for each one. It’s usually to take out a certain number of enemy units.
I’m not a wargame guy, but I really like this one. And before you get after me about this NOT being a wargame, it’s a game about war, so that’s my definition. It’s a lot lighter than a lot of the epic simulations that some people like to play, and a good deal less intimidating. It’s been very successful for DoW who continue to support it through expansions and scenarios. DoW also produced another Commands & Colors game in 2006 called BattleLore, though they eventually sold that property to Fantasy Flight.
Next on the list is a game that could be called one of the most influential in DoW’s catalog.
Shadows over Camelot, by Bruno Cathala and Serge Laget, is a cooperative game about the Knights of the Round Table. Your goal is to build up a majority of white swords on the Round Table before darkness overtakes Camelot. On your turn, you can move to a new quest, play cards to the quest they’re on, or build up their hand. However, each round they also must do an evil action – bring out a siege engine, draw a black card, or even lose a life point. If you fail quests, black swords are added to the Table. And watch out because someone at the table may be a traitor.
In 2005, cooperative games were around but weren’t nearly as big as they are now. And Shadows over Camelot stood out because of the traitor mechanism, which is everywhere now but wasn’t very common at that time. That and the mechanism of making the players choose the bad stuff that would happen every turn helps to make this game very interesting. I feel that it’s a little too difficult to get anything going in this game, particularly with too many people, but it’s still a good one that everyone should try out.
At this point in Days of Wonder’s history, it was time for a bit of a lull. The games were still very high quality and fun, but they didn’t take off the way the last ones had. One of these games was
Cleopatra and the Society of Architects, by Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc, was a game about building Cleopatra’s castle. On your turn, you can go to the Market, which gets cards in your hand – resources, worshippers, and corruption. You could also go to the Quarry, which means you are playing resources from your hand to build a part of Cleopatra’s castle – obelisks, pedestal, throne, sphinxes, mosaics, walls, and door frames. In the end, the player with the most talents is the winner, but only after the person with the most corruption is fed to the crocodiles. Even if they would have won.
This game was probably way overproduced. But the components were quite amazing. Lots of plastic and very pretty to look at. I really enjoy the game as well – the market selection process is very interesting, as is the building of the palace. The only thing I don’t care for is the auction that happens at irregular intervals that may give extra corruption to the loser. Still, fun game, and I’m sad that it’s no longer in print, especially since I never got my own copy. The game also got no expansions.
Colosseum was DoW’s 2007 offering, from designers Wolfgang Kramer and Markus Lübke. This one was a game about trying to put on shows in order to impress the Roman emperor. Players can invest in improving their arena before bidding on different markets that will provide needed resources. After a trading phase, players move nobles around the board, then put on their show. After five rounds, the person who has done the best is the winner.
Colosseum is a game that has never really interested me. I’m not a Kramer fan, I’m not an auction fan, and the Roman theme is one I can take or leave. But the game does have its supporters, and Tasty Minstrel recently Kickstarted a reprint that will be available by 2017, just in time for the game’s tenth anniversary.
2008 was the first year that the company put out no new games, only expansions and the French language version of Wits & Wagers (called Gambit 7). Some wondered if their day had passed. But then, we got
Small World was published in 2009, designed by Philippe Keyaerts building on concepts introduced in his 1999 game Vinci. In Small World, players get a fantasy race paired with a special power (combinations change every game) and then use that race to try to conquer land in a very small world. To conquer a region, you must place two units, plus one for every bit of cardboard in that area (other units, structures, mountains, etc). You then score points, and after a certain number of turns, the player with the most points wins.
Small World was very popular for the company. The variation in the race/power combos combined with very easy gameplay made this a hit. And that variation keeps increasing with each subsequent expansion and new version that is released (Small World: River Worlds is due out at Spiel this year). Last year, DoW also produced a beautiful designer’s edition. I got a chance to play it, and wow. Talk about a gorgeous (if slightly pointless) edition.
After the success of Small World, Days of Wonder hit another lull. They continued to focus on expansions for Ticket to Ride, Memoir ’44, Shadows over Camelot and Small World while producing three original games between 2010 and 2013. 2010 was the year of Mystery Express, and 2013 was the year of Relic Runners. In between was
Cargo Noir was a design by Serge Laget that came out in 2011. It was a pure auction game where payers are various unsavory characters smuggling goods. On your turn, you can sail to a port and make an offer on a display. If your turn comes around and no one has outbid you, you win whatever was there. These goods can then be traded for more ships, victory spoils, or other purposes. The most spoils at the end of the game wins.
I remember hearing about Cargo Noir and wanting to try it out because simultaneous auctions like this, where several auctions are going on at once, are probably my favorite form of the genre. However, the overall reaction was quite mixed and the game kind of sunk on impact. No one denied its component quality, but the gameplay itself got extremely mixed reviews.
In 2014, Days of Wonder introduced its first advanced strategy game, which was called
Five Tribes is a game by Bruno Cathala that was a lot more complex than anything DoW had done before. Not heavy, mind you, but definitely more intricate. You are trying to maneuver around a marketplace with meeples that belong to the Five Tribes, attempting to gain influence. The game uses a mancala style mechanism where you pick up all meeples in a location and move them away, dropping one in each spot you cross. The spot where you drop the last one is the one where you’ll take an action based on the tile and the last meeple placed. When there are no legal moves left, the game is over and the high score wins.
I’ve gotten to play this once and enjoyed it. There’s certainly a lot going on with many paths to victory. A lot of people seem to like the way it uses bidding for turn order, but like in Cleopatra, it’s my one big dislike in the game and a bigger issue for me than the corruption auction. Still, this one is currently the highest rated Days of Wonder game on BGG, which, considering the pedigree of its predecessors, is quite an accomplishment.
Shortly after Five Tribes premiered at Gen Con 2014, it was announced that Days of Wonder was merging with Asmodee. It was a big shock at the time, but with the subsequent merging with Fantasy Flight and possible acquisition of F2Z, the shock has worn off somewhat. Time will tell what this ultimately means for the company, but in the meantime, they produced.
Quadropolis is a 2016 game by designer François Gandon. This is a city builder where players are using architects to claim tiles from certain rows and columns on a community board, then place those tiles in their cities to score points. Each building type scores in different ways, and your job is to maximize what they can offer you. After the fourth round, the player with the high score wins.
This is one I haven’t gotten to try yet, but the worker placement aspect seems very interesting. I like how players must use an architect that will allow them to reach the tile they want and also block spots from other players. It’s one I’ve wanted to try, and seems to be pretty well regarded in its brief time being available.
So there you go. Hope you enjoyed that. Thanks for reading!