The Whatnot Cabinet is a tile-laying board game where players strive for the best looking shelves of wonderment. There is something quintessentially exciting about a cabinet of curiosities and I have always admired them. While I haven’t accumulated an entire cabinet I have formed a little shelf of whatnots in my study. A fossilised dinosaur egg, sits beside a large lump of cuboid pyrite, a Roman urn and a piece of amber with a bug trapped in it. The latter just in case I can one day extract dinosaur DNA and recreate dinosaurs, maybe open a Jurassic theme park… what could possibly go wrong?
Sorry, back to the game! I have ‘collected’ my thoughts on the Whatnot Cabinet and ‘gathered’ them into a review which is ‘displayed’ below…
Setup is fairly quick, but differs slightly if you are sitting two, or three to four players around the table. Solo is another variant I will discuss a bit later.
For all player counts, place the Journey Board in the middle of the table. Below the Journey Board draw four tiles from the bag to form the Outdoors. Above the Journey Board draw five Curiosity Cards, then select one Wonder Card and place it nearby.
In a three or four player game, allocate a coloured pawn and matching cabinet board to each player. In a two player game give both players two pawns of the same colour and the matching board. There are also tiles you can optionally remove for a two player game.
The aim of The Whatnot Cabinet is to fill your cabinet horizontally by type and vertically by colour. Each row and column is scored separately. Maximum points are gained by having all the same type or all the same colour in each row and column. This achieves four and three points respectively, however, if all the colours or types are different to each other this gains two or one points respectively. A row or column scores zero if they are a mix of both the same and different tiles.
Other scoring opportunities come from the Curiosity Cards, these are first come, first served, one-off bonus objectives. The Wonder Card also gives a point to every object of that type in your cabinet. Some tiles have a crown in the corner, these are extra special trinkets that will give you an additional point. There is also a special tile that gives you a bonus at the end of the game too.
Every turn, each player will place two tiles in their cabinet, how they go about this is dictated by the Journey Board. Turn order is dictated by the pawns positions on the Journey Board and the first player gets their pick of how to select their tiles. This will in-turn dictate the turn order for the next round. The handy player aid tells you what each space does far more articulately than I can, so check out the photo of it if you want to know the different options!
You probably already know I’m not much of a solo gamer, but I have tried the Whatnot Cabinet to see how it works. This section is more of a first impressions, as I have only briefly tried it to get a rough idea of what it is like. It plays pretty smoothly solitaire I must say and recreates the flavour of the main game. The automa deck works pretty well and overall my solo experience was as pleasant and quick as the multiplayer version. My solo scores have been mid-table mediocracy, but I guess that gives me something to strive for if I play it solo more.
What it’s like
The puzzle of The Whatnot Cabinet comes from trying to maximise the yield of each column and row. It is far too tantalising as the game tricks you into thinking you can reach whatnot cabinet organisation utopia. It seems so possible at the start of the game it is hard to resist, but I’m yet to see someone hit maximum points with shelf perfection. More often you are balancing which shelf to score zero on as the drawn tiles are more of a hindrance than any sort of help. This element of luck may not be for everyone, but with the weight and duration of the game, the luck element does not bother me. In fact, I enjoy trying to place the tiles efficiently to allow for adaption in the later rounds and that is largely the puzzle to solve – and the risk to take.
The bonus achievements are good to get but aren’t always worth chasing. They do add a little bit of variety and another element to think about.
Because of the pawn placement dictating turn order, the first two turns tend to stick in the same order, which can be a hindrance for the player in last position.
Two player games can be super quick. Placing two pawns instead of one whittles the rounds down and all of a sudden your cabinet is complete and you’re left with that lovely option of saying “shall we play again?”. Reducing the tile count for a two player game is a bit of a faff and one I avoid by just looking at the back of every drawn tile as it saves a boring sort at the start of the game. The Whatnot Cabinet shines much more at three and four players for me.
What the kids thought
Harrison (13): it’s a clever game, a little bit of luck, but it’s fun. I really like getting the tiles you want and the tricky decision of what to do with others you don’t.
George (10): it looked quite complicated the first time I played it but soon got to grips with it and I can now win. I also really like the different animals, leaves and things and aiming for the bonuses.
Max (6): I’ve never played it before but it looks really pretty and I would like to try it soon.
This may sound strange, but I got strangely excited about the size and shape of the rulebook for The Whatnot Cabinet. As the rule teacher in my house it is nice to have a rulebook that doesn’t take up too much space. The lovely-size of the rulebook is still really easy to follow and grasp. The player aides are also brilliant and really help new players to understand each different option on the Journey Board.
The artwork throughout is delightful. The collection categories are interesting, shells, crystals and leaves I understand wholeheartedly, I even get finding old bottles but the animal category is questionable. In no way does it spoil my enjoyment and I get that they represent little trinket animals, but offering me fossils, old coins, arrowheads, or other quirky curios would’ve been my preference. The tiles are good quality and are adorned with pretty illustrations. The score tokens make adding up at the end easy enough too.
Finally, I adore the colour of the drawstring bag that the tiles are pulled from. The Whatnot Cabinet is a lovely production.
Final thoughts on The Whatnot Cabinet
In my head, The Whatnot Cabinet is best described as the love child of Sagrada and Kingdomino, not in terms of theme but in terms of mechanics. Balancing the decision of how to obtain your tiles with turn order is a great little quandary. It really does remind me of the claiming of tiles in Kingdomino. The later squares give you more choice and less risk, but turn order is important, especially as the game progresses. Where you place your tiles is reminiscent of Sagrada. Less of a headscratcher but still plenty going on, and often going wrong, to keep you entertained.
This board game may not recreate the scavenging treasure-hunting walk along the beach or over the hill it tries to represent. However, The Whatnot Cabinet certainly embodies the beauty of such a stroll and provides a relaxing gaming experience akin to a refreshing walk.
If you are looking for a lightweight puzzle game, this is certainly a fantastic option for your consideration. At two players I think I have better options, but when three or four of us are sitting at a table this is a game that I will always be happy to play. It also provides plenty of eye candy while playing it, which is no bad thing!
Number of players: 1 to 4
Board Game Review Recommended Age: 8+
Publisher’s Recommended Age: 8+
Playing Time: 18 minutes
Setting Up and Take Down Time: 1 minute
Designers: Eduardo Baraf, Steve Finn and solo by Keith Matejka
Publisher: Pencil First Games
The Whatnot Cabinet is a brilliant game when you want a lighter puzzle. It’s fun to play and a breeze to teach. It also gives you enough to think about without dragging out gameplay or overcomplicating things. This board game has firmly placed itself high up the list of games I will grab to entice new gamers to the hobby.
Artwork and Components
Value for Money
- Pretty production
- Fast to play
- Not overcomplicated but plenty to consider
- Great lightweight filler
- Luck of the tiles on your turn
- Two player game can be too quick
- Player turn order may not change much
Need more games?
If you already own The Whatnot Cabinet and enjoy it, or are looking for other inspiration, you might also like these similar games:
- Wreck Raiders
Buy The Whatnot Cabinet
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