“JET SET RADIOOOOO!”
One of the themes of my reviews: video games. The older, the better.
As an olden-time Sega Dreamcast guy—and as an even older Sega guy, having run through the Master System, the Genesis, Sega CD, even the Game Gear—one of my all-time favorite games was Jet Grind Radio (Jet Set Radio in Japan), which had maybe my favorite video game soundtrack ever and a DJ who called out “JET SET RADIOOOOO!” on one of the tracks.
The game had style. As one of three very slick-looking, cel-shaded street artists, your goal was simple: tag graffiti symbols all over the city (a city that looked a heck of a lot like Tokyo, at least early in the game) while trying to outrun the cops. Whenever you found a spot where you could unleash havoc on an unsuspecting wall, car, billboard, you name it, you had to enter joystick commands to simulate spraying the wall in real time.
I still have my Dreamcast, and I still occasionally play Jet Grind Radio, mainly for the soundtrack. Oh, the soundtrack. As I am writing this review—and whenever I play the new game Wildstyle (2022, Pandasaurus Games)—I am listening to all of the ridiculously great songs from Jet Grind Radio’s soundtrack.
And now that I’ve played Wildstyle, I’m going to play the Jet Grind Radio soundtrack every time I play Wildstyle. Nothing has reminded me more of my video game crush quite like this game, and just like the video game it is almost certainly inspired by, chaos reigns supreme.
Tag Everything, Fast
Players in Wildstyle take on the role of a crew member who has to show the world who’s boss by tagging various buildings around the city before opposing crews do the same thing.
Over the course of three rounds, players have at least six tags per round that they can place across a hex-filled map with symbols matching the cards that must be played from their hand, or a “share pile” of discards that are scattered around the map, within reach of all players. Wildstyle is essentially a set collection game. Using a player mat with space for two sets, players will try to build sets of three cards matching icons on the board to place a tag and score end-game points.
Another way to score: three public objectives that will score more points for each player if a crew can tag adjacent spaces that line up in various shapes, in straight lines, in certain patches of the board, in small clusters, and lots of other ways.
Tags that are not adjacent to at least one other tag of that player’s color are removed from the board at the end of the game, scoring zero points. Another complication: the cops.
One of your five actions in Wildstyle is to rush a set. By doing this, you can complete a set without the full three cards needed to place a tag as normal. You’ll still place the tag on the map, but you’ll also add a police car token to your personal supply. At the end of the game, you’ll have to remove a tag for every police car token you acquired during the game.
Now, all the above sounds interesting, and making those sets in Wildstyle is pretty simple, particularly when you consider you can cheat the system by rushing a set. So, to make sure Wildstyle speeds up the action (and, the chaos), everything is done by all players at the same time.
That’s right—players will draw cards from piles around the table, snatch cards from face-up discard piles, build sets, and complete sets while racing everyone else in real time. The chaos in each game I have played, or witnessed, is absolutely a blast because each round ends when either all the draw piles are empty, or only one player is left with tags on their player mat.
Witnessed, You Say?
On a recent game night, after I had done a couple of plays earlier in the week, three friends were looking for something to play after we wrapped up a seven-player game of Ready Set Bet. So, while the rest of the group was setting up Tiletum, I taught this group of three how to play Wildstyle.
As I went over rules I heard the groans as a couple of players clearly didn’t want to stroll into a real-time set collection game.
“Don’t worry,” I claimed. “Even if you don’t like it, the whole game takes about 20 minutes.”
So, I sat down at the first table and started my teach of Tiletum. Behind me, the yelling began.
“AHHHH!! I needed that card!”
“FINALLY! I found the cards I need to tag the police station!”
“I touched that one first!”
I looked over, amused, but mostly glad that the group found something fun to play. So, I kept going with my teach of Tiletum…but then, something funny happened.
As I wrapped up the Tiletum teach, I expected the other table to switch games. Instead, they played Wildstyle again.
More yelling, more tagging, more chaos, higher scores, harder objectives; in Wildstyle, there are a choice of 12 different objectives on six double-sided tiles, and this group decided to up the ante and play three “B” side objectives to amp the difficulty and the scoring. One player ended up smoking the rest, but good times continued at this table.
I stood up to get something to drink. The three-person group finished their second play, and considered whether everyone was going to go home. By the time I grabbed a snack and sat back down at my game, something really, truly magical happened:
Wildstyle got a third consecutive full-game play.
I don’t know if I have ever seen one of my review copies get three consecutive plays, but these guys were having a blast. I have had fun playing Wildstyle, but not enough fun to play it back-to-back-to-back. It was amazing to watch Wildstyle get this kind of love.
Even better: their three plays, at three players, took a total of 65 minutes.
Family-Weight, Absolutely Bananas
Wildstyle caught me by surprise. The bright cover and colorful production elements are standard issue given the other Pandasaurus productions I’ve played (games like Wild Space and Dinosaur Island Rawr ‘n Write), but just like those games, there’s a surprising depth to the gameplay.
I say that because one thing I’ve seen players do is sit and wait for the right cards to come along, by subtly waiting for other players to discard cards that might help with their sets. Or, someone will play a card, then stare at the share piles to see if there’s a card that can be added to their sets without having to draw new cards, especially if those can combo into objective scoring.
That’s dangerous if other players are rushing to the finish line, because some tag icons are easier to complete as sets than others, thanks to an imbalance in the number of high-point tag cards in the 115-card deck. (Another fun twist: a decent percentage of cards are not even available in each round, so you have no idea how many of the more valuable icons are in play.) But it’s an option, one that has led to just as many big scoring rounds as there have been busts because a player only got to play four or five of their six tags in a round.
There’s even a chance to make up for a slow round: any tags not placed in a round are added to the six you’ll get to place in the next round, and as long as you can move quickly, you could get eight or nine tags out in a single round.
Wildstyle scores major points as a game that works with my kids (at least, my eight-year-old) and with adult gamers.
The only glaring negative in my experience with Wildstyle: the insert. It’s a strange storage solution. The boards don’t fit inside very well, and when stood on its side, many of the tag markers (basically Life Savers candy pieces in a box) will fall out of place.
But, if this is the only thing wrong with the game—in other words, there’s nothing with the gameplay—then you are in great shape. If you love real-time games with a chance to provide lots of fun moments, give Wildstyle a look!