Full disclosure: A review copy of Wayfinders was provided by Pandasaurus Games.
It’s always kind of exciting reviewing games from a company you haven’t reviewed many games for. Mostly that publishers tend to have a certain flavor or style or quirk, and figuring out which publishers have quirks that tend towards games that you enjoy makes it easy to find which places are going to push out games that you really get excited about. For instance, look at how much I love pretty much everything that itten and Oink produce; that means every time I hear about a new release, I’m pumped to play it. Wayfinders is the latest from Pandasaurus, and I guess I covered Qwinto a while back, which they eventually localized? So that’s cool. Either way, let’s see what’s going on with this new release. Silver & Gold is also coming soon, excitingly, but this one came out earlier, so, priority.
In Wayfinders, you play as explorers trying to build out routes to check out various scenic islands of various types. This isn’t the terrifying high seas, though, no; this is the bright and colorful skies above them. Much more whimsy, much less piracy. Though sky pirates would be rad. Either way, compete with your fellow explorers to create new routes and build up your network of airstrips in a game that seeks to take route-building to new heights. Will you be able to soar above your competition? Or will you end up crashing and burning?
First off, set up the board area. You’ll do this by organizing the tiles:
They come in three varieties:
Separate them out and then take some of each:
- Yellow tiles: 7 tiles
- Blue tiles: 8 tiles
- Red tiles: 9 tiles
Shuffle those 24 tiles and make a 5 x 5 grid of them, with the starting tile in the center. If you’re playing with the Exploration Variant, keep the 24 tiles face-down (but reveal the four surrounding the starting tile). Now, give players their various pieces:
Place the airplanes on the starting tile. Place the resources in the bag, shuffle them, and give each player one:
Place the rest on the Hangar until each column has three resources on it (ignoring spots with a player count higher than yours):
Choose a player to start, and place an Airstrip down on the starting island in player order. You should be ready to start!
A game of Wayfinders is a game of exploration. Travel around up to 24 islands, looking for various places to build airstrips for, you know, tourism and economy reasons. As you do, you’ll create a network of places where other players can also travel to (though if they want to build there, they’ll have to pay you, which is nice) as well as unlock various scoring effects. Once you’ve built enough Airstrips, the game will end and the player with the most points wins!
So, on your turn, you may do one of two things: Place a Worker or Recall Workers.
Place a Worker
To place a worker, add one of your worker meeples to the Hangar in any column you want. You may only have up to 3 of your workers in any one column at any time. If all your workers are placed, you cannot do this action. Once you’ve done this, your turn ends.
There’s a lot going on in this step, so bear with me. When you Recall Workers, take the topmost resource from the Hanger column for every worker you have in that Hanger column (ignoring other workers from other players). As you do, bring your Workers back to your play area. Once you’ve collected all the resources for your workers, the second half of your phase begins.
Now, you may move your plane and place Airstrips, if you want. To move to an island without an Airstrip, you must spend one resource of that color and return it to the bag. To place an Airstrip on that island, you must then spend the combination of resources depicted on the tile. If you’re having some trouble, keep in mind that you may spend 2 of any resource as 1 of any other resource. That should help alleviate some movement issues.
- If you are the first player to build an Airstrip on this island, pay your resources to the bank.
- If you are not the first player to build an Airstrip on this island, pay your resources to the first player. So that’s fun.
Once you’ve done that, add an Airstrip to the lowest-numbered available space on the tile. Some give you permanent boosts (making certain resources wild), others give you scoring effects (3 points for every tile in this row with one of your Airstrips on it), and others still give you instant effects (gain 3 resources). Those are but a few of the many effects available, as well.
Notably, you may move to as many islands as you want and build as many Airstrips as you can afford during this phase. Don’t limit yourself if you have more resources to spend.
Once you’re done, discard down to 3 resources (unless you have a bonus that lets you store more) and then refill the Hangar Board in the spots where you took resources. Slide the remaining resources up and fill from the bottom.
End of Game
Once one player has placed all but two Airstrips, the game enters its final round. Finish the round (so that all players get an equal number of turns) and then enter final scoring. During that phase, calculate all the bonuses you get from your islands but also add in 1 point for every resource you still have and every worker still on the Hangar. The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
I’ve tried this a few times at a couple different player counts and I haven’t observed a lot of differences. The game does a nice job of expanding out the Hangar as you add more players so it always feels tight but never particularly cramped, I’d say? It’s tough when there’s a lot of competition for a resource that isn’t well-represented on the Hangar Board (especially when you have a player that craves that resource for any number of silly reasons). But I never feel like there’s not enough room for everyone, as players tend to gravitate to very different strategies. I suspect that the reason for this is that players don’t want to ever pay other players to use their islands, but your guess is as good as mine. As a result, it means that players tend to stay out of each others’ ways beyond using Airstrips to move around the island more quickly. This generally means I don’t have a strong player count preference, though I find the resource gathering and planning is usually a bit easier if you’re playing with two people; you get swooped a lot less often.
- I generally recommend the higher-value islands. They’ve often got either good combos or will let you randomly pull additional resources, which may allow you to quickly move again to claim more islands, which might be nice. The lower-value ones are good, but you need to remember that you can claim more than one Airstrip in a turn if you want them to be worth your while, ultimately. One turn for 1 VP isn’t a particularly good move.
- Make sure you’re setting yourself up for good combos. There are several, like getting all the islands of the same color and the “3 points per island of this color” bonus is solid. Even moreso if, as I mentioned, they’re all in the same general vicinity and you can get the “3 points per island in this row / column / nearby” island. Stuff like that is going to astronomically boost your score if you can get it all to fit together.
- It may be worth paying extra to skip some islands and then staying in one part of the map. This prevents other players riding your coattails and getting to use your routes, which may be helpful if you have designs on being the first player to place Airstrips on some islands. That said, players may get bonuses that allow them to skip certain island costs or just barrel through, so you should be prepared. Ultimately, this may just lead to your opponents also wasting some resources, which may be useful?
- That said, being close to another player allows you to move farther more quickly, as you can leverage their routes as well. I think this is the preferred interaction mechanism for the game, since it forces you to be in close quarters with other players (and enables fast transit around the board). I also think this is a good idea, pretty much no matter what your strategy; you’d rather pay fewer resources to move around, if you can.
- Try to keep the wild resource away from players who have unlocked wild resources. Some islands grant their occupants the ability to use certain resources as wild ones. That means that this person gets pretty annoying about only taking those resources. Try to take them yourself, if you can; you’ll likely need them anyways. Just remember in multiplayer games that blocking other players usually just helps the player not being blocked and ultimately hurts you, if you’re making otherwise bad decisions for yourself.
- Keep your score in mind when you end the game. It’s totally possible to place your last Airstrip and lose. It may not be worth doing that unless you can pull a pretty good combo and guarantee yourself success. Make sure you understand your bonuses so you have a rough idea of where you are before you initiate that endgame.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I love the art. It’s exactly what I wanted to see from this game and part of the reason I wanted to review it. It’s got the Samurai Jack thing with no outlines going on, but it’s bright and vibrant and colorful. It looks like a really nice artsy vacation magazine. I’d love to see if it were possible to get pins or prints or something of some of these vistas; they’re quite lovely. I haven’t seen enough work from Gica Tam, but I’m hoping to see more.
- The randomization of the tiles makes the game interesting. I like not knowing what’s going to be in the game or where it is. Certain placements are generally better than others, yes (if everything you want is in one row or column, that’s very nice), but you still need to be able to go out and get those. I’d love to see what other configurations players come up with, especially if they start getting names or descriptions. I wonder if Pandasaurus is going to host them on its website? That would be cool.
- Plays relatively quickly. You can probably bust out a 2P game of this in 20 minutes once everyone knows how to play. Setup takes a bit more time because you have to assemble that 5×5 grid, though, so, keep that in mind. It’s a solid game for lunchtime, though.
- I like the way that you gain resources in this game. It’s an interesting mix of worker placement and racing; you may place last but you can still take first, if you want. It may be worth doing so in order to disrupt everyone’s schedules, if you think you can pull it off. Doing that exact thing is pretty cruel, but it works super well if you can do it.
- I also appreciate that as the game progresses, it becomes much easier to move certain places. I think of that somewhat as a catch-up mechanic allowing other players to move to places that haven’t been explored yet, which is nice. Plus, it’s just nice to make the map easier to move around; it allows players to build more airstrips, if they’d like to do so.
- The little plane tokens are very nice. Biplanes are my favorite kinds of planes, I think.
- I think the game is vulnerable to min-maxing if you’re not playing with the Exploration Variant. You can have players really taking a while to plan and make decisions if they can see every tile. Part of the reason I appreciate the Exploration Variant is that it forces players to either move outwards in small increments (typically quickly) or you have to deal with some uncertainty. What will you find beyond the horizon? Only one way to find out. I think it’s also kind of exciting, which is fun.
- The meeples have some printing problems. It seems like whatever mold was used didn’t do a particularly good job with the bottom of the feet, so I may have to file that bad boy down so that they’ll stand flat. That probably would have been a smart move before I did all my photography, but, you didn’t come here because I’m particularly bright.
- The game ending after every player has played an equal number of turns can feel dissatisfying for the first player, if they don’t get to play again. I think that’s generally true for games like this, but given how much of this game is wrapped up in planning, not getting to fire off your full plan to its execution can be a bit of a bummer.
- None of the tokens are double-sided? This would normally be a meh if you didn’t have to place the tokens every time someone took them and inevitably have to flip them over a bunch. It manages to get very frustrating, very quickly. It would be nice if they were radially symmetric, but that’s asking for a lot. I just get grouchy when things aren’t all facing the same way.
- It’s difficult to remember what the various abilities do. I frequently have to look them up and even then I forget from time to time. I’d have to say, even after three games, I’m not finding the graphic design particularly intuitive for games, which is an issue for me.
- It’s also challenging to remember what abilities you actually have obtained. This one is a bit of a pain because that affects what you do on your turn and what you can do. The airstrips aren’t quite enough to be able to browse quickly and say “oh, yes, headphones are wild for me”. It would be nice to have some sort of well-organized board that you can display all the abilities on so that players know what they’re up against and what abilities are at their disposal, but that’s also gonna add a lot to the game’s cost.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, I think Wayfinders is a solid title! I’d probably rate it a bit higher, personally, if it weren’t for some of my issues with the graphic design. I just don’t find all of the abilities intuitive. Some are, for sure, for me, but others I’ve consistently forgotten and had to look up. Even then, it’s tough to remember which ones I have at any given time, which can really impact my planning in a game where planning is critical (especially for resource gathering; I’d recommend not losing focus on your goal until you’ve pulled your workers). The thing that really irks me is that the resource tokens aren’t double-sided; it means that you end up wasting a lot of in-game time realigning them if you want to make sure you’re being colorblind-friendly (or, if you’re me, you get irked if things don’t generally Face The Same Way). That’s not my favorite thing. But I’m also getting a bit off track, since there are a lot of things I do like about Wayfinders! I love tile games, and I like a tile game with some route-building to it. I actually love the way Wayfinders presents routes as something positive for everyone, and the friendliness of the game is only enhanced by the art, which is absolutely perfect for this title. Bright, colorful, and inviting; it’s everything you’d want a game like this to be. It’s kind of funny that the game is so much about mutual benefit given that the Hanger is about aggressive schedule blocking, but, you gotta both it, sometimes. Either way, I find Wayfinders particularly interesting; if you’re looking for bright and colorful games that can move pretty quickly and tend to have players build each other up, I think this one is one to check out! Either way, I hope to see more games with this art style soon; I’m really into it.