It’s cold and dark outside, and you hear a knock at your door. You rush to open it only to be handed a strange box with claw marks on the cover. ‘Warning!’ it says. ‘Giant angry koala’. You hesitate. What next? Do you open the box?
Of course you do, because it’s What Next? from Big Potato Games, and that’s just their fun way of posting it to you. Ten out of ten for branding. What Next is a cooperative adventure game that does indeed feature giant, angry koalas. Inside the warning-bedecked box, you will find another, smaller box with a magnetically hinged cover and a lot of goodies packed inside. (Even better, the goodies are really easy to pack back in once you’ve unpacked them.) This outward presentation is a great indication of the quality inside, and there wasn’t a hint of plastic, either, even in the packets the components come in.
Once you’ve opened it and read through the cheerfully slim rulebook inside, you come to the three boxes of cards within. Each of these is a different story, each one slightly more difficult than the last. Of course, we began with ‘Drums of Koala Cave’, since we’d been set up to expect giant koalas. There were three decks of cards inside the box, conveniently in three different sizes to make them easy to tell apart: locations, challenges and items. We assembled the spinner used to indicate the time of day, then flipped over the first of the location cards to begin.
Play is refreshingly simple – we only had to check the rulebook once or twice to clarify when we needed to change the time of day and what the specifics of certain challenges were. Changing the time of day is really the only thing you need to remember to do, as the location cards guide you through everything pretty smoothly. You take it in turns to move the time of day on one segment, then draw a location card and read it out to the rest of the group. You don’t need to worry about shuffling, either (thank goodness, as I can’t), as each card in all three decks is numbered. Every location card tells you the number of the next one you need to pick up.
This is an adventure game, however, so you usually get to choose where you go – you discuss it and vote as a team, but whoever’s turn it is has the final say. Sometimes, your choice might lead to a challenge, so you head to the challenge deck and pick out the right number. This is where you get to try your hand at the minigames.
There are three kinds of challenges you can get – or three components you can use, rather. One, the puck push, has you pushing or flicking a puck along a track. You have to aim for it to stop in a certain section of track marked on the challenge card. This is trickier than it looks, even with three practice runs, and makes for a quick little test of skill. Second, the shape build, has you arrange different-shaped blue tiles into the shape outlined on the card within a time limit. This, for adults, is quite easy, but harder storylines may have more difficult shapes, and children may find the simpler ones more challenging. Third, the item search, has you rummage around in a bag for a yellow tile that matches the shape shown on the card. We also found a variation where you had to drop a tile from high up and have it land in the bag, and half the challenge there was in keeping the bag upright enough for there to be a sizeable opening.
These all make a fun addition to the base game. The only downside we found may have been a fluke of the cards we drew and choices we made, or the way it turns out with three players rather than two or four, but one of us got the vast majority of the minigames and one of us got one in the entire playthrough. If you’re finding that a player is missing out, it might be worth passing over a challenge or two to make them feel less like they’re missing out, or maybe make some home rules so the challenges pass around players independently of the main turn order.
Succeed in a challenge and you move onto the next location, possibly with a new item or two. Fail, however, and your next location probably involves a certain amount of peril. Whenever you encounter a skull symbol on a card, you have to add that number of blocks to your ‘tower of peril’. This starts with nothing, and you get a bunch of thick purple tiles (made of some quality-feeling non-slip material) that you have to stack on their sides. Only the first two tiles are allowed to touch the table (or whatever surface you’re using) – everything after that has to stack on top of those two. This gets difficult after a while, so you want to avoid peril at all costs. And at nighttime (one segment out of four on the time dial), the challenges are harder and consequences more severe.
When the tower of peril falls over, it’s game over. It’s a little bit of an anti-climax since there’s no ‘next card’ to describe the nature of your demise, but that does provide a good opportunity to improvise a description. Since it’s so quick to play and you’ll inevitably be left wishing you had more chance to improve at the challenges, it’s natural you’ll want to take another stab at it. We imagine you might get to know all the storyline and its branches in a few playthroughs, but with three different stories in the box, that should keep you occupied in a little while. (It could even be a fun activity to try making your own decks if you really run out of content.)
What Next? is fun, quick and easy to get your head around, which is great when you’re fed up of lengthy and convoluted rules in other games. The stories are a slapstick kind of silly that really make you look forwards to drawing the next card. We played this as three adults at a little family get-together, but we couldn’t help remarking as we played how good a game it would be to play with young children. Reluctant readers would have a chance to read and get involved in the process. The little minigames would provide a lot of interesting variation. The only thing you’d have to watch out for is the excitable ones flinging pucks at high velocity into the chinaware.
You can pick up a copy of What Next? on Amazon.