Publisher: Lucky Duck Games
Player Count: 2-5 Players
Game Length: 30-60 Minutes per Session
Let’s get this out of the way… I’m a card-carrying “It’s a Wonderful World” super fan. I’m 50 plays in (which is like 200 for board game reviewers) and I feel I can quickly read my hands, form a strategy and make the most each game has to offer. I regularly play both solo and multiplayer and there aren’t too many surprises the game can throw at me. So I’m always excited for new challenges when it comes to my favorite engine builder.
Leisure & Decadence was originally available through the Heritage Kickstarter. This isn’t a legacy game, but rather a series of campaigns that build on one another and can be reset to play again and again. Once you’ve completed all the campaigns, you can integrate the various pieces back into the regular game… but more on that later.
WARNING :: Major Spoilers Ahead
I’ve decided to do a fully-transparent review. This will mean revealing some of the expansion’s secrets and narrative. If this doesn’t appeal to you, you probably shouldn’t read any further. I just feel I can’t do the game justice by staying cryptic with my findings. So without further ado, let’s dig into It’s a Wonderful World: Leisure & Decadence.
INEVITABLY, CULTURES CHANGE
It’s a Wonderful World is a story about building the perfect balance as you seek a utopian society. This means weighing industry, war, science and prosperity. But what happens when prosperity is achieved and there’s more time for recreation and personal enjoyment? That is exactly what Leisure & Decadence hopes to tackle. There has always been a dark underbelly, an almost satirical narrative that streaks through the futuristic achievements, fantastical findings and bizarre societal changes in It’s a Wonderful World.
Taking a cue from some of the great civilizations through history, we can see that when the need to work for preservation and the pursuit of progress fades and prosperity runs rampant, the population indulges in self and often collapses under itself. Take Imperial Rome. Their defeat wasn’t from an external invader, but from their own sloth. This is exactly the social question Leisure & Decadence proposes.
Of course there is still a balance to be found in resources and cards, but the pursuit of knowledge and production has been replaced with leisure and decadence. Culture even becomes a resource in the game and celebrities stand alongside the capitalist and military moguls of the base game.
Leisure and Decadence takes place over 5 campaigns. Each campaign reveals new story narratives as well as new mechanics and mini-games. These mini-games will divide your attention, change your goals and force you to completely rethink your tested IAWW strategies. Some will come and go while others will stick around offering you new pursuits through the campaign tied into the campaign’s story. Many of these additions create new modules you can later tie into the base game as you see fit.
So what are these new mechanics and do they have legs as legitimate game modules?
The first campaign introduces a simple “Cultural Production” card. It functions like a beefed up development card with a space for 1 of each resource. Once you complete all 5 resources, the card upgrades earn you supremacy bonuses during production, recycling bonuses and eventually 15 victory points. This is a cool, fun little addition that can create new dynamics between players and create new priorities when it comes to production.
Winning or losing also have an effect on players moving forward. Victory often provides additional cards to supplement your game in a positive way while losing does the same with a penalty card—or one with a lesser benefit.
The second campaign introduces new leisure components. These are revealed through a series of Secret Boxes that are a lot of fun to open. With the first mini expansions, players can now invest in culture as a resource. This pink resource is represented on a new set of development cards shuffled into the deck. Players work a small tech track that when upgraded earns the player a celebrity token and celebrity multiplier. It’s a Wonderful World typically plays very stingy on points… the culture production blows that up. Big time points can be scored when you pursue these limited resources.
I won’t itemize each campaign, but the biggest game changer aside from the culture production is the introduction of workers. These 4 workers must be placed on production cards prior to the production round. Production earned during this phase can only be placed on the cards with workers on them. This is a whole other layer to the typical production strategy. Planning completely changes and really makes you focus specifically on what you want to fulfill—there is limited room for mistakes. To compound things even further, each card featuring a worker gains an additional resource of your choice at the end of the production phase for that specific card. It’s really a fun and cool dynamic that changes the way you think about production and planning.
One of the later campaigns also features a “voting” system where players can choose to follow the path of freedom or justice. The result determines the game’s final campaign. During the final campaign, depending on how players previously voted, they will use a new empire card. I really enjoyed this as well. Instead of a standard initial production that remains consistent through the game, players will be losing or gaining resources on their empire card as the round progresses. Players choosing freedom also choose laziness. They start with 5 resources on their empire card, but their lack of production and laziness forces them to lose a resource of your choice each round. Likewise, the just side starts players with a limited number of resources, but gains 1 of their choice each round thanks to their good work ethic.
ARTWORK & COMPONENTS
Artwork and components are on par with what you’d expect from It’s a Wonderful World. The artwork is really solid and the cards are full of wild and bizarre ideas and culture functions. There is a lot of “stuff” in the box and there is tons of value.
PROS & CONS
➕ Interesting storyline is satirical and thought provoking
➕ The new mechanics generally enhance what you love about IAWW
➕ New pieces embrace the spirit of IAWW creating fun, new approaches to the game’s strategy
➕ Campaign can be reset and played again
➕ New modules can be used as you see fit in the base game
➕ Campaign isn’t terribly long and could be played in one sitting
➖ Fans of IAWW may not appreciate the added complexity to the game
➖ The culture resource, while fun, felt terribly overpowered. Culture production cards are limited, but I never felt like they were that rare. We couldn’t pursue them.
➖ Solo mode works great for the expansion, but there were some aspects that were a little gray on the rules and the challenge wasn’t quite as obvious as in multi-player games.
➖ I’m not 100% sold on the long term use of the campaign modules outside of the campaign
WHY WOULD YOU LIKE THIS GAME?
If you’re a fan of It’s a Wonderful World and you’re looking for a fun new experience that changes things up just enough to create new engagement while still embracing the game you know and love… this is probably for you.
WHAT IS THE BEST THING ABOUT THIS GAME?
The best thing about the game is revealing the next secret box. Each secret box could contain anything, from meeples, to game boards and tokens (and do). The first box really sets the tone and once you open the next box, you know something is going to change.
I had a blast playing through Leisure & Decadence. I mentioned in my introduction that I’m a huge fan of It’s a Wonderful World. This is 100% my favorite pure engine/tableau builder. I love the choices and variability depending on how the cards are revealed. Leisure & Decadence brings a number of new mini-games that seamlessly tie into the base game. Some are better than others, but together they are fun and interesting and provide new twists and turns. This is a great, accessible and relatively short campaign that builds on the IAWW lore.
I also really enjoyed the social narrative. I believe our culture is incredibly lazy and I do worry about our future. I don’t believe automation, technology and shortcuts make us better as a whole. Entertainment has become its own religion and over-indulging has led to neglecting responsibility and each other. Leisure & Decadence stirs a conversation that can actually challenge you and make you think. Maybe filling our down time with endless pursuits of pleasure and entertainment aren’t the solution… of course this doesn’t apply to playing board games.