Of late, there has been a dirty phrase flying around our home—one a parent never really expects to hear from their children. Yet over and over again, they keep saying, “Can we play with the unicorn poop, Dad?” Can a game about playing with droppings really be taken seriously?
Somewhere Under the Rainbow, the first design from Lara Koller and Kiwook Nam under the Tickle Bear Games label, is a feast of color and a treat for the imagination. But beneath the outer shell of excremental puns and prismatic frivolity, an interesting blend of mechanics gives this game a unique flavor.
The wee wingèd ones of Glistening Grove are tangled up in the cycle of harvesting delightfully vibrant triangular unicorn droppings in order to load their rainbow maker, which will, in turn, help fund the unicorns’ proper fibrous diet so that the sordid cycle can continue in mythical perpetuity. Intrigued? Check it out.
A Land I Heard of Once in a Lullaby
Where to begin setting up Glistening Grove? First, you’ll need a rainbow maker, a stepped cardboard construction that features a clear, triangular acrylic tube for the collection of colorful muck.
Second, you’ll need the field of number two. A movement grid, a triangle of triangles stacked three deep which will represent the game’s puzzly challenge. Players, in the role of buzzy bugs, will swarm this atypical moor collecting lovely rainbow tokens in order to feed the rainbow maker.
Third, you’ll need a marketplace full of charming little ingredients boasting of primary colors. You’ll need rainbow milk, mystery boxes, and the whimsical dishes aimed at attracting more unicorns and their lucrative and luminescent dung.
Players each receive a board for the collection of tokens, glitter cubes, and ingredients. In clockwise fashion, each player selects a first triangular token to begin their collection, places their player marker into the ordure (i.e. droppings), and play begins.
The Dreams You Dare to Dream
On any given turn, players choose one of two actions:
- Make a movement to a new triangular location, claiming the top token with the miniature plunger, or
- Visit the marketplace for any number of effects.
Movement in the fecal field is a fascinating puzzle. The player markers feature a triangular base to match the tokens with a distinctly marked forward direction. When a new token is chosen, players then replace the removed rainbow piece with their marker, carefully choosing what will be the direction of their next move. This means planning ahead.
The primary restriction on movement is the height of the player token in relation to the treasured night soil and the other players. The little bugs cannot move beyond a pile whose top sits above their current location. They may ascend the tall mound, but that’s where the current turn must end. This means planning ahead not only for color, but for elevation.
Players steal away their tokens to their player board, which can hold a maximum of four pieces at any given time. If a fifth piece is claimed, the oldest piece must be returned to the field in one of the spaces the player has flown over during the current turn.
When visiting the marketplace, two to four tokens may be fed into the rainbow maker in exchange for precious glitter cubes. Each token count returns a varying reward. Rare golden tokens may also be part of an exchange, each providing a set bonus. The catch in visiting the rainbow maker is that in any of the four rounds, the ROYGBV (sorry indigo) colors may only be traded once each, with a completed rainbow in the tube signalling the launch of a skyward rainbow and a new rainbow cycle.
The Marketplace contains a number of options. Glitter cubes may be exchanged for ingredients of matching primary colors-red, yellow, and blue. In one fell swoop, two ingredients may then be exchanged for prepared food dishes, each worth Tasty Points.
Food dishes are available in all six rainbow colors and cost two Ingredients each. The pairs of Ingredient cards must be matched in order to create the appropriate color. Red foods require red ingredients, but red and yellow are required to make orange; yellow and blue to make green; red and blue to make violet. This means collecting the right combinations to prepare the best dishes.
Adding one more wrinkle to the foodie fantasy is the fact that unicorns prefer that their diets vary only gradually from turn to turn. This means that each successive meal must not be a radical color departure. If the first meal was orange, the next must be either red, orange, or yellow. Working your way into every possible combo will take planning across the four rounds.
Helping in this color-shifting endeavor is the Rainbow milk card, which can be purchased for Glitter cubes to cleanse the unicorn palate and allow for the next prepared food to be any color. Mystery box cards, each boasting a single-use special ability, round out the marketplace options.
Where Troubles Melt Like Lemon Drops
After four rounds, players tally the Tasty Points gathered from completed dishes, bonus cards, bonus tokens awarded to the first three food dishes prepared, and the careful examination of collected dung tokens.
The rainbow maker is lifted, spouting a cascade of collected tiles around the table in a multicolored mishmash. Six of each tile are removed from play, and the remaining pieces are then given to the player whose collection featured the highest point total in that food color. So if you have the most points in red, you will receive the stack of red bonuses. Strategically, there is a significant score to be collected in these little stacks, so the volume of each color in the rainbow maker becomes a matter of attention.
The player with the most points is declared the finest rainbow maker in Glistening Grove, to the praise and admiration of scores of envious winged companions.
Away Above the Chimney Tops, That’s Where You’ll Find Me
Beginning with the most obvious praise, Somewhere Under the Rainbow is a strikingly vivid game on the table, an explosion of color and whimsy that serves up a delectable feast for the eyes. The theme owns a unique charm, to say the least. From the moment I first mentioned the game until we opened the box, the kids were chattering about the unicorns.
The components only add to the experience. The rainbow maker is a beacon for the rich world at play. The triangular droppings are the right kind of sturdy, and it’s a lot of fun filling the rainbow maker. In case you worry about having to reset the pieces at the end of the day, the storage component works like the vintage Boggle. Fill. Flip. Shake until the dung settles into its randomized readiness. I can only describe these little details as satisfying. Even as a late prototype, this game is an attractive and tactile treat.
Sometimes a game with a light-hearted cover has an unexpected amount of strategy inside. The triangular field is an engaging puzzle. Because the spaces alternate in their orientation, it is not always possible to take the most direct route in token collection, which leads to interesting decisions in every round. Because other players are moving, stealing, and changing the elevation of the pieces along the way, the field is delightfully dynamic.
Perhaps it should be noted that this doesn’t seem like a game that could be described as color-blind friendly. The mechanics all depend on the recognition and blending of marbled acrylic tiles and walking along a color wheel. The integration of aesthetics and theme demand color clarity. The color mixing in food creation is a lovely touch, though. Shopping for ingredients that will enable movement across the various colors means every trip to the market has a certain tension. What manner of fish tail and sultry ground vegetables am I buying here? Should I spend 3 tokens to snag a Mystery Box and save an ingredient for next time? Should I spend 4 to serve up the Rainbow milk for future color freedom?
The endgame scoring is a nice mix of monitoring and mystery. The hope of victory lies in keeping a sharp eye on the completed foods of every other player while maintaining a rough idea of which colors are going to pay out the most when the rainbow maker unleashes its chaotic kaleidoscope on the table. There is an inherent desire to try every food color tugging against a need to focus and secure bonuses. Bolstered by the interactive movements of the player markers, Somewhere keeps all eyes all over the table.
If I get hung up on a potential disconnect at this stage of development, it is in the surprising length and depth of the game. Such a playful theme doesn’t seem like it should push past an hour, but 60-90 minutes is possible if not likely at all player counts, especially as new players get acclimated to thinking through a field of triangles. The economy under this rainbow is extremely tight, and time is needed to navigate. I wondered at times what would happen if the economy were a little more footloose and fancy free, leading the way to higher scores and perceived productivity. But at the same time, I cannot begrudge a game for sticking to its formula, and there is an interesting formula here.
We came across a couple of minor hiccups during our sessions with the prototype. Lara and Kiwook were available and swift to answer our questions, and we came to find that they were already aware of our discoveries and had been testing solutions to resolve the matters before the rulebook heads to print. I bring this up not to raise concern, but rather to say I was impressed at their quick and diligent efforts and thoughtfulness along the way. I am excited to see how the Kickstarter campaign, with its updated rules and stretch goals, unfolds.
Without a doubt, I enjoyed the experience with this one. Between the prototype in hand and the conversational sneak peek into the finished product, I have high hopes for this upcoming Kickstarter. Everyone from our 8-year-old to the adults found something to appreciate. We were effectively playing 90% of the final product, but there is a lot of potential in this fanciful box.
Somewhere Under the Rainbow heads to Kickstarter on October 21, 2021. Check it out!
One Year Later…
If you followed the saga, Somewhere Under the Rainbow never made it through the original campaign. However, the team from Tickle Bear has gone back to the drawing board and reworked the game. If you are interested in the changes, you can seek them out on Tabletop Simulator!