Some of the best board games are the ones that capture an obscure bit of culture, some niche interest that people might not know much about. Take, for instance, The Whatnot Cabinet, a new tile placement game that launched on Kickstarter today from Pencil First Games. The game is themed around the titular cabinets (also called curio cabinets) that have historically been used by people to display strange, curious, or interesting items for visitors to see when they visit their home. Kind of like an old-timey collection of action figures. The new game puts players in the role of collectors filling their cabinets, with the winner being the one with the most interesting cabinet at the end.
How’s It Look?
This is a gorgeous game, as most games with art by Beth Sobel are (seriously, go check out Sunset Over Water), but it’s extra nice because the game is just…pleasant. There are games with good art that are incredibly detailed and epic, and there are games with good art that are cute and fun; it’s rare to see a game that is just easy on the eyes. I mean, hell, just having a mostly white box is eye-catching.
The interiors are super nice as well, with the titular “whatnots” all represented as the assorted shells, bottles, crystals, leaves and other strange objects that one might fill a real life curio cabinet with. It also has a wooden pawns (always a big plus from me) and a “landscape” board that represents the world you are exploring to collect your curiosities in a very naturalistic way. The colors are all incredibly vibrant through out without being blinding, and the game sticks to a set color palate for the sake of simplicity. It looks great laid out on the table and captures a perfect “outdoorsy” look, one that I think we’ve all been bereft of in recent times.
It’s also a very well made game, as the cards and cardboard are sturdy and the cloth bag used in the game is a lot more robust than some of the more delicate felt or silk bags I’ve received in past games. The box isn’t that big, but they pack quite a lot into it, and the final version of the game you’ll receive from Kickstarter will be even better.
How’s It Play?
The game is as simple and elegant as the art style, as it’s mostly a tile-placement game with a bit of set collection thrown in for flavor. You go out into the world, collect items, then place them in your cabinet. Some you can see laid out, others are drawn from the bag at random. Your placement of the items in your cabinet is the most important part of the game, as you get points for having certain combinations of items fill up rows and columns (like having all the same color or object type). You can also arrange them in a certain way to gain special cards that give extra points at the end of the round. It’s competitive, as you and your opponents are all going for certain objects and trying to thwart each other from getting high point combinations, but it doesn’t seem like it’s built to start fights and require master strategy to win.
A quick note on the solo mode, designed by the incomparable Keith Matejka of Thunderworks Games. It’s incredibly fun, like most of Keith’s solo design, and is a challenge without being punishing like other solo variants I’ve played (*cough* Everdell *cough*). You have a rival who has their choices and moves determined by cards each round, and while there’s a chance they’ll luck into a good move…there’s an equal chance they’ll make some bone-headed move you can easily counter.
You can add The Whatnot Cabinet to your game cabinet by backing it on Kickstarter, where the base game plus the fun “Fascination Pack” that alters the game in some subtle ways, can be gotten for about $39. Other tiers get you more games or lets you package the game with other Pencil First games like Herbaceous or Sunset Over Water. It runs through June 23rd, with fulfillment projected for May 2021 (just in time for Mother’s Day!)
Thanks to Pencil First for the material used in this preview. Images via Pencil First Games and Ross Thompson