Instant Game Night Reviews: Wavelength
Updated: Jan 5
“Is Wavelength a good game to bring to game night?”
Year Published 2019
Designers Alex Hague, Justin Vickers, Wolfgang Warsch
Artists Nan Na Hvass, Sofie Hannibal
Publisher Palm Court
Age Range 14+
Playing Time 30-45 Minutes
Wavelength is an interactive social guessing board game where players attempt to get into each others' minds and find the same wavelength of thought. We've all rated things on a scale of 1 to 10, but where would you place coffee on a spectrum of hot to cold? Sure it is hotter than iced tea, but is it as hot as a car engine? As the sun? It's up to you to read your teammates' mind and hope for a perfect guess!
Below you will find a brief summary of the game play along with our thoughts on whether or not Wavelength is a good game to bring to your next game night get-together.
Please note: We do not intend this review to be a thorough explanation of the rules of a game or how to play. Rather, our reviews are aimed to provide you a basic overview of the game play along with our thoughts on how suitable a particular game is to bring to a game night with family or friends. If this is your first time reading an Instant Game Night review, please click here to read about our review format and rating system.
Wavelength is unique in that it is played entirely inside the box it came in. There is a device that is inserted into a slot in the box insert and a scoring track is also built into the box as well. Players can simply pass the box around the table as they play.
To begin, players will divide into 2 roughly equally sized teams and decide who will be their psychic for the first round. The team who goes first starts the game with zero points and the other team begins with one point.
The starting psychic then closes the screen on the device and spins the knob to randomize the target location. The psychic then draws a wavelength card, which is placed in the slot in front of the device. The wavelength cards will contain two opposite words on either side. For example, it might say “feels good” on the left and “feels bad” on the right.
The psychic then secretly opens the screen and looks at where the target location is on the spectrum. For instance, if the target location was all the way to the left of the spectrum, the psychic would need to think of a clue that describes something which “feels extremely good” (i.e. a massage) but if the target location is all the way to the right, the psychic might say “a hot stove”. The clue can be any word or phrase with 5 exceptions:
Must convey a single thought
Cannot be something that is invented or made up
Must be “on topic” or relevant
Cannot use words on the card or synonyms of those words
Cannot use numbers or percentages
Once the psychic has given the hint, they close the screen and turn the box to face their team. The team must then turn the outside dial to the position on the spectrum that they feel matches the clue. The team can openly communicate with no restrictions, and can turn the dials as many times as they want during the course of deciding. Once all players have agreed on a position, they inform the other team that they are finished.
At this point, the other team gets a chance to earn points by deciding if they believe the actual position of the target area is higher or lower than what the team chose.
Once both teams have made their guesses, the psychic reveals the actual position of the target area by lifting the screen. If the active team turned the dial to within the colored region, they score points based on how close they were to the center. The other team can also score points if they correctly predicted that the actual position was higher or lower than where the dial was placed.
Play continues in this manner with only one exception – the catch up rule. If a team should ever earn 4 points for a perfect guess and still be behind in points, they are allowed to immediately take another turn.
Play continues until a team has earned 10 points. That team is declared the winner. In the event that both teams reach 10 points on the same round, a sudden death round will be played and the team with the most points after the sudden death is declared the winner.
Wavelength feels like one of those classic guessing games that have been played at so many game nights over the past many decades. In fact, if you take the game mechanisms and rules by themselves, it doesn't sound particularly innovative in any way. What makes Wavelength interesting is “the device” which sits inside of the box and really brings the game to life in a tactile way. Some people might call this a gimmick, but we really enjoyed the look of this game and the satisfying nature of turning the dial and revealing the target area.
We enjoyed our plays of Wavelength, and there was certainly plenty of laughs and fun moments throughout. However, we just couldn't help but feel like something was missing. We were expecting a bit more from the game than just a simple guessing game, and unfortunately it did not deliver this. Had the game not been as hyped as it was upon release, perhaps this wouldn't have been such an issue for us, but after having heard so many rave reviews, we really were hoping to be wowed by this game. And unfortunately we just weren't. It felt like so many other party games we've played before. Don't get us wrong, it is a fine game and it would probably go over really well at a lot of game night groups. But for us, it just feels like there are so many better choices that exist in the party game genre nowadays. If we do decide to keep Wavelength in our collection, you can be sure it is for one reason only – the device. Gimmick or not, it works!
Our rating system:
G rabs your attention
E asy to play & teach
N ewbie friendly
G ood rulebook
H olds attention
! our experience
Wavelength Rating Breakdown
Grabs Your Attention
The first thing to say about Wavelength is the box art is as striking and eye catching as any box we've come across before. Add to this the device standing tall inside of the beautiful box with the knobs and levers, and there is just no way Wavelength won't be an attention grabber on the table.
Wavelength takes a total of one minute to set up and is quite simple to explain the concepts of the game. Game play itself is fairly quick unless you have someone who really struggles coming up with hints, which can bog the game down a bit. Overall though, Wavelength is a very agile party game.
Again, it might be a gimmick, but it works. How could you play Wavelength and ever forget it? The device is just so novel and unique of an idea that this game will be one that will almost certainly stick in your memory, for better or worse.
Easy to Teach and Play
Again, Wavelength is incredibly easy to teach and play, we found no real blockers in terms of teach-ability, although we would recommend going through some of the example clues in the rulebook to give players some idea of what a good clue looks like.
If Wavelength demonstrates one thing, it's that there is more to being newbie friendly than being a simple game. Wavelength is certainly easy to pick up on and play, to such an extreme that it is a fault. There is so little going on in this game that even my casual gaming family asked after the first round “is that it?!”.
While we do place a lot of value on games being simple to pick up on for new players, sometimes being so simple is actually not a good thing, as it doesn't pull people into the game or give them the satisfaction of a game with more strategic thinking. As it is, Wavelength in our mind runs the risk of reinforcing the “board games are boring” feeling of so many non-gamers, which is exactly the opposite of what we mean by “newbie friendly”.
Wavelength wants so bad to be an interactive party game, and for the right group perhaps it is. For us, the extent of the interaction was “where do you think they would rank that? Maybe here? Or here? Yeah that works.” It's not that the concept isn't interesting, but it just doesn't feel like that much is at stake or that you are really working towards anything interesting. Because of this, while the game is technically interactive, it just doesn't feel like it matters.
Good Rule Book
The rule book for Wavelength is about the size of a coupon booklet you might get from fast food chain. It makes it kind of fiddly to flip through but it works ok, especially since it means that it fits nicely inside the box. The rules themselves are pretty clear, although it feels like there are too many rules for the hints, but the book does say you can add or remove rules if you wish. Overall, it gets the job done.
I find my mind wandering every time I play Wavelength and this is not normal for me. I don't really feel like I need to pay any attention to what the other team is doing until the last second, and even when it is my team's turn, there is about 20-30 seconds where we will discuss where to place the dial and that is about it. I don't know, it just doesn't do it for me and I find it a difficult game to stay focused on.
Wavelength has no theme. It is impossible to give the game any credit in this category. Yes, we understand it is a party game and most party games (especially guessing/trivia games) don't have a strong theme. But it doesn't stop us from wanting one...
Finally it's time to tell you about our personal experiences with Wavelength. As you have probably gathered by now, this game just didn't go over well with our group. We have played the competitive version of the game several times with 5 players and we've played the cooperative variant with 2 players. In both cases, I finished the game and just wanted to say “meh”. The game is fine as far as party games go. But I can think of so many other party games I'd rather play. I'd go as far as to say I'd prefer a traditional card game like rummy or UNO over this game. Beyond the unique device in the box, Wavelength very much feels like just another party game to us.