Party games based on guessing games are already big business in the board games world, but Wavelength wants you to guess in a whole new way. Instead of a picture or a word association, you're guessing at loose concepts like hot vs cold, or fantasy vs sci-fi. And as befits these vague questions, it's not about being right or wrong, but trying to work out where a clue might fit on a scale.
What's more, Wavelength isn't a mere box of cards and pencils like so many of its peers. The engine of all this uncertainty, referred to only as 'The Dial', is quite a talking point itself. A big wheel that sits proud of the box like a plastic fairground attraction, nudging the dial a little this way and that as you guess never gets old.
It also means this game takes about 30 seconds to set up and start playing, and the same amount of time to pack away, and going from nothing to fun in short a time shouldn't be underestimated.
Wavelength board game: Price and who it's for
Despite its innovations, Wavelength is still a party game at heart and that means it's simple to learn and suitable for a wide range of tastes and age groups. Younger kids won't get some of the cards, like "Dystopia vs Utopia", nor understand some of the clues you give. But you can still include them if an adult screens the questions that come up and tailors their clues to the audience. So the 14+ age on the box is a rare overestimate: 10 and up will be fine, or even younger if you put the work in. There’s even a co-operative mode, which is great for family play.
With its bright chunky dial, it looks appealing to children too. It’ll accommodate anywhere between two and twelve players, working in teams. The sweet spot is around six to eight. With more, not everyone may get the chance at clue giving and guessing becomes a messy discussion. With less, you’re best off sticking to the aforementioned co-operative version.
Taking between 30 minutes and an hour to play, Wavelength does demand more mental investment than some party games, so it might not be best for a drunken night out (though it certainly works well for a slightly sloshed evening). On the other hand, that does give it some appeal to people who like a bit of strategy in their games, despite its cast iron party credentials.
It costs around £30/$30, which feels like a great investment for something you can break out a lot, if the mood takes you.
Wavelength board game review: How it plays
So how does this smart plastic skyscraper work in practice? First, the team draws a clue card: let's say it says 'Good Pizza Topping vs Bad Pizza Topping'. Then whoever is giving the clue that round – called the 'Psychic' in the rules – closes the cover on the dial and gives it a spin so that the scoring zone ends up at a random point. Then they turn it so that only they can see the result, and pull back the cover to take a peek at where that scoring zone is.
The zone runs from two points at each edge to four in the middle. Their challenge is then to give a clue that tells their team-mates where on the dial the scoring zone is.
Wavelength is easy to teach but hard to explain in words. At the table, a 10-second demonstration will show everyone how it works, but let's continue with our example. Imagine the scoring zone is way over to the left-hand side of the dial, which the clue card says is Bad Pizza Topping. You could say something disgusting like "maggots". Or if it's over to the right-hand side you could go with an undisputed classic like "pepperoni". So far, so easy.
Most of the time, though, it's between those two extremes. And that's where the fun and the skill lies. If it's a bit over toward Bad Topping and you know your team are pizza purists, you could say "pineapple". But if they're purists, would they think pineapple is as bad as it gets? Or if only some of them are purists, will that create a confusing discussion as to what you're hinting at? Once you give the clue, it's up to your team to discuss and put the dial’s needle where they think the hidden scoring zone is. They'll be saying out loud almost exactly the same things you were thinking in your head, wondering what you think about pineapple, and whether you'd give a clue based on your opinion, on theirs, on a kind of worldly consensus.
Giving and discussing clues is the heart of the game. And it’s just as chaotic and confounding and comical as you could want from any party game. While you’re in the throes of agony over where to nudge that needle, the opposing team has a much easier task. They just have to decide whether they think the zone is to the left or right of the other team's guess to earn a bonus point, so they’re not left out of the action as it unfolds.
The big reveal where the psychic slides the cover back and everyone gets to see the score never fails to disappoint. There’ll be cheers and groans all round. The first team to 10 points wins. Unless you’re playing the co-operative version which works basically the same, except you’re all on the same team. The aim here is to work through a stack of seven clues and see how high you can push your score in that time.
Of course, you can customise all this if you want. Play to more than 10! Do more than seven cards! Don't score at all! It doesn't break anything.
If you want to get a sense of how the full game works you can play a stripped-down version for free on Twitter. Follow @WavelengthDaily and suggest your clue for the dial shown in the replies to each Tweet. A winner is announced the following day.
Oh, and we mentioned that it takes 30 seconds to set up. The dial is one single piece that you just slot in and out of the the box's plastic base to hold it upright. Then you draw a card. That's the entirety of setting it up.
Wavelength board game review: Verdict
Rating things on a scale fulfils a basic need in the human psyche. We love to rank movies or ice creams and stuff, right? As such, Wavelength’s core appeal is universal.
The only people who might not get on with it are real hardcore strategy gamers. But even there Wavelength demands more skill than the average party trivial quiz, and so might fit a bit with the hobby game crowd.
Outside that it’s hard to see anyone not enjoying themselves with this although, like any party game, it can get repetitive after a while.
Wavelength board game review: Also consider
The king in this space of skill-based guessing games is Decrypto. It’s another team game where you give word-based clues. But the twist here is that both teams use those clues to try and decode what code-words the opposing team has. As such it’s a little more demanding, a little less light-hearted, but more rewarding overall.
Just One is an award-winning, fully co-operative word guessing game for a smaller player count and is thus ideal for families. Dixit is another fun and popular title that pushes the boundaries of guessing by using pictures instead of words. Using just images makes it playable across all ages.
There’s a whole family of word-clue games called Codenames which is very much worth checking out. The idea in all of them is to give one-word clues that help other players to pick specific words out of a grid of them. It comes in standard, two-player, pictorial and various branded versions, so if you want a game of this style there should be something to suit. Codenames is smaller and cheaper than Wavelength, but also requires a bit more brainpower.