Wind the Film, blandly re-named “Photograph” in its English printing, is one of the best card games I’ve played in years. It’s the kind of no-nonsense, airtight design you expect Knizia to pull out a couple of times a decade and most other designers to dream of making once in their career. Along with Let’s Make a Bus Route, re-named Get on Board in its English printing (more of a lateral move, that rechristening), it puts Japanese designer Saashi on the short list of designers whose games I’m going to start actively seeking out.
It’s not just that it’s a good game, but that it’s so void of any chaff. And it’s not just that it’s simple, but that its strategies reveal themselves in layers, deepening the experience with each repetition. It’s elegant; the sort of game that’s smarter than you but doesn’t put on a show about it. Instead, it gracefully accommodates whatever effort you’re willing to put in to master it. And, as a cherry on top, it’s a drafting game that works well with two players. In fact, it might be best with two, doing at that player count the kind of push-pull tempo games I last saw in 7 Wonders Duel but without as much fuss.
Wind the Film (look, I don’t care what’s printed on the front of my copy, I’m not calling it “Photograph”. What level of desperation does one have to reach to settle on that name? You can’t even google it) is about spending a day trying to capture the best pictures possible. This is functionally played out with 5-7 suits of cards (depending on player count) numbered 1-12. You start with five random cards in hand and draft cards from a grid display to add to your roll of photographs. The catch is that the number of cards you take dictates how many cards you must then play at the end of your turn. Reminiscent of Lost Cities, you must play cards to your tableau in relative sequence, though here you can choose to go in the ascending or descending direction for each given suit. Oh, and you can’t change the order of the cards in your hand. Newly acquired cards go to the back of the line, pushing cards off the front to be played. Once a turn you must move exactly one card to the front of the line. That’s the only rearranging you get, so you’d better plan around it carefully.
That’s the first layer in Wind the Film’s strategic onion. Every card you play illegally becomes negative points, so you must plan well to not find yourself stuck in a situation from which you can’t escape. However, you also want to try your best to draft as many cards as possible to maximize your score. That’s much easier said than done, because half of the cards in the display are face down, only showing you if they’re a 1-6 or 7-12. How much are you willing to risk? If you take three cards this turn, are you going to regret that decision the next couple of turns when you’re semi-forced to draft only one card in order to effectively sort the order in which they appear?
That’s only the basic puzzle. Your opponents will be frustrating you even more as they draft the cards you need. Hate drafting is real in Wind the Film, and you need to pay close attention to what everyone at the table needs and wants. Since the card backs still display the suit and that 1-6 or 7-12 mark, you’ll have a good idea of what they might be going for. If you manage to take three numbers in a row in a suit you’ve made an unsurpassable barrier no one else can cross, as each card played has to have a value within three of the previously played card in that suit.
Tempo is another consideration, not only with how you plan out the speed in which you take and play cards, but in relation to the draft display itself. Once only three cards remain in the grid it’s reset to its full size. With some careful planning you can manipulate it to get first crack at the fresh set of cards.
I’m still discovering little nuances every time I play, new arguments and rebuttals to my default heuristics. I don’t know if I’ll ever tire of this game. It gives and gives even as it remains fundamentally simple, reminding me of games like Castles of Burgundy, Battle Line, or Tak. It’s a game of numbers and colors, but I can find a sliver of thematic resonance in the idea that film photography requires fundamentally more care. Planning, patience, and expertise are rewarded more when the photographic medium isn’t functionally infinite. Wind the Film is about foresight and the balance between risk-taking and caution: that thing we call wisdom. It’s a shame that it seems to be difficult to acquire in the states right now. If you encounter a copy, get it.