When it comes to taking passengers to destinations, our thoughts often turn to trains. Especially so in board games. We love us some trains. Wormholes takes the concept but takes it to SPAAAAACE, and throws in the titular wormholes for good measure. Peter McPherson’s game warps spacetime to speed up the slow part of pickup-and-deliver games – moving between the place you pick something up and the point where you drop it off. In doing so he’s created a game which is so streamlined and accessible that anyone can play it, and enjoy a game which is finished within an hour.
It’s the future, right? Passenger space travel is a thing, and some bright spark has come up with a wormhole fabricator. The fabricator enables the captains of the spaceships to punch a hole in the fabric of space, and stitch the two ends together, allowing instantaneous travel between two points. It’s a pretty cool concept, and every time I face the drive from Cornwall to Harrogate for Airecon (which I wrote all about here), I wish it were real. As the captain of your own interstellar Uber your job is to take passengers (cards, in Wormholes’ case) to their destinations. If you’re lucky, you’ll end up with a handful of passengers who all want to go to the same planet, gaining you lots of points for one trip.
Wormholes are tunnels, and the thing about tunnels is that they have a hole at either end. So before you get all excited thinking “I’m going to take off and immediately warp to the edge of the known universe”, keep that enthusiasm in check. At any point in your turn, you can drop a wormhole token on the hex your spaceship is flying through. Wormhole tokens come in pairs, and as soon as you drop the second of a pair somewhere – punching a hole in the other end of the tunnel, if you will – the tokens are flipped and immediately active. From that point on, anyone landing on either end of the wormhole can warp to the other end for free!
Wormholes being a free trip is a big deal. On your turn you get three movements, and moving from one hex to another costs one of those movements. It means the first half of the game starts slowly as the players slowly spread out using movement points, searching for the right places to hitch either end of their interstellar ziplines. As the game progresses though, you soon start to realise that when wormholes butt up against one another, you can start to move really far with only a few movements.
Once the board starts to fill up with players’ wormhole tokens, you’re left with some painful – if not difficult – decisions to make. You might have a ship filled to the brim with passengers who want to go to the planet that looks like a fuzzy ball, but to get there quickly you’ll have to use other players’ wormholes. You can do that, and they can’t stop you doing it, but they’ll get VP chits by way of compensation for using their intergalactic highways. I had a really funny game of Wormholes with my wife and son, where my son deliberately ruined his chances of winning by refusing to use my wormholes. Rather than let me earn VPs, he went on a slow, spiteful crawl around the cosmos. So for those of you wondering “Can I just use my own network and avoid any interaction?” – no, you can’t. It’s baked-in, and it’s great.
The biggest issue I have with the game is the legibility of the wormhole tokens. In a game where being able to quickly trace routes across the board is key, some of them are really difficult to read at a glance. When a token goes on the board without a matching one, they start on a black side with a bright number, and things are good. When the wormhole is completed, the token is flipped and black is replaced with the player colour, and the number is a kind of silver colour. The silver is reflective and hard to read at a distance. The little arrow that points to the other token in a pair could do with being bigger too. Too many times I heard someone say “Where does this one go to?”, which shouldn’t be a question in a game dependent on that mechanism.
Gripes aside, Wormholes is a lot of fun. It plays out so quickly, which makes it perfect for a start or end game for a game night, and I’ve also found it really good for playing with non-gamers. I wondered if there’d be a min-max problem where cunning players were just taking on passengers who rely on their own routes, but the problem doesn’t exist. The end of the game is driven by players placing wormholes next to each planet, which also rewards bonus points, so it’s usually in your best interest to weave a wide web through the stars.
I have two sets of shelves that I use to store games. The upstairs shelves hold my collection of Euro and wargames – the sort of games I’ll play with my regular group, or at a convention. The downstairs shelves are for family and party games – the games I know I can regularly get to the table with my family. Wormholes has earned a coveted spot on the downstairs shelves. If you were looking for a heavy space game to sit alongside Gaia Project, Eclipse, and Twilight Imperium, Wormholes isn’t it. This is a much lighter, more accessible game.
Regular gamers will enjoy the mixture of the initial planning of routes, and later trying to optimise their turns to milk every last point out of the game. Non-gamers might find the start a little slow-going on their first game, but just watch their eyes light up towards the end when they’re zipping all over the place. It’s a game which does a great job of making you feel like you’re enacting really clever plans, whereas it’s really just following the path of least resistance, but that’s a big part of hooking new gamers in. Make them feel like they did something clever.
I like the way the boards are double-sided and include different kinds of obstacles and features. It mixes things up enough to keep it interesting, without making it feel like a different game. AEG are undoubtedly one of the best at producing these light-mid weight games at the moment, and Wormholes happily sits alongside the likes of Cubitos (review), Whirling Witchcraft (review), and Peter McPherson’s other hit, Tiny Towns (review) as games which hide layers of strategy behind a newbie-friendly veneer. Speedy pick up and deliver action with a nice twist, I really like it.
Review copy kindly provided by Alderac Entertainment Group. Thoughts and opinions are my own.
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Design: Peter McPherson
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
Art: Caring Wong
Playing time: 45-60 mins