Full disclosure: A review copy of Wormholes was provided by Alderac Entertainment Group.
Alderac has been doing quite an impressive job, game-wise, lately; The Guild of Merchant Explorers was excellent, their partnership with Flatout has been delivering in spades, and they’ve got even more games coming! That’s a lot of fun. I’ve been excited about Wormholes since I heard about it, so, I’m looking forward to being able to tell you more about it. Let’s dive right in!
In Wormholes, players take on the roles of passenger starship captains in control of a new technology! You can bend space to your will, which, honestly, makes traveling between planets so much easier. If you want to make a ton of money, though, you need to create the best possible network of planets to enable rapid transit! That said, you can always just use someone else’s wormhole, though it benefits them when you do.
First off, place the Space Station board with the side up matching your current player count. If playing with more than four players, also spin it around. Then, place the other boards around it! There are a few valid configurations, so you can do a bit of what you want. Just remember to remove the boards with a 4+ if you’re playing with two or three players. If you want to, you can flip the boards over, randomly, for the full experience. For a basic game, only use the sides of the boards without an X-symbol.
Stack up the Exploration Tokens (removing the 9 and 10 when playing with fewer than four players) from low to high (low on top):
Stack them on top of the Planets Connected token (top-right), and then the 3 / 2 / 1 Rounds remaining tokens. Next, make a stack of the points tokens:
Give each player three face-up (active) energy tokens:
All players get a ship and ten Wormhole Tokens (two each of numbers 1 – 5) in their player color:
Also give them a card pickup token in the same color:
Then, form the Passenger Card deck:
Give players Passenger Cards:
- First player: 1 card
- Second and Third player: 2 cards
- Fourth and Fifth player: 3 cards
Once you’ve done all that, you’re ready to start!
A game of Wormholes is all about picking up passengers and dropping them off where they want to go! You can speed yourself up by placing some wormholes around space to quickly connect two locations, but be careful! Once you place them, they can’t be moved! Let’s get into the game.
On your first turn, you place your ship and your first (1) Wormhole Token adjacent to the Space Station. Then, take a standard turn!
Every turn, you have three Energy you can spend to move your ship around, as well as any number of Free Actions. To move, spend one Energy and move to an adjacent space. You can move onto a space containing any other players’ ship(s) or any wormhole token. You can’t (sadly) move into the Sun, or any planets / any asteroids / the Space Station. Basically dark background no, light background yes. Note that you only spend energy moving between locations; everything else is Free Actions. Let’s go through those.
Placing Wormhole Tokens
This one’s easy. As a Free Action, you may place the next Wormhole Token in sequence (starting with 1, ending with 5) on your current space or on any adjacent space, with a few caveats:
- Other ships may be on the space, but no Wormhole Tokens can be.
- You cannot have more than one of your Wormhole Tokens adjacent to a given planet or the Space Station.
- You cannot move or remove Wormhole Tokens, once placed.
If you place the second Wormhole Token in a pair, they both activate! The connection is now linked and both should be flipped to their active side. You can place multiple Wormhole Tokens in a turn, but you have to place them in numerical order.
When you place a Wormhole next to a planet with no Wormhole Tokens already adjacent to it, you gain the top Exploration Token! That’s worth points at the end of the game.
Warping Through a Wormhole
As a free action, you may move your ship between two wormholes of the same color and number. Note that you are not considered to be on both wormhole spaces; you have to warp between them. You can also move onto a space with a wormhole and not use it.
You can also use another player’s wormholes and their connections, if you want! When, you do, however, that player gains a point token from the supply.
Dropping Off Passengers
When adjacent to a planet, you may reveal any cards in your hand matching that planet and place them face-down near you. They are worth two points at the end of the game.
Picking Up Passengers
When adjacent to any planet or the Space Station, players may, once per turn, pick up cards and add them to their hand. To do so, flip your Pickup Token face-down. Then, you may discard as many cards as you’d like from your hand, placing them face-up near the Space Station in piles of the same type.
When adjacent to a planet, you can draw cards until you have four cards in your hand. If you draw cards that match the planet you’re adjacent to, discard them in a pile near the Space Station and continue drawing until you have four cards in hand.
When adjacent to the Space Station, you may take cards from up to two piles until you have four cards in hand. You cannot draw from the deck when adjacent to the space station.
Using Map Features
There are special spaces on the map that you can also use, for free, depending on what they are. Some warp you around, some allow you to freely move between them, and the Photon Cannon just fires you in a straight line through all obstacles. So that’s fun. Do that at least once.
End of Game
Once all planets are connected to at least one wormhole, the Planets Connected token will appear. Finish that round, and play three more rounds (discarding a round token each time). After that, the game ends. It’s possible that the Passenger Deck will run out during the game; if that happens, the game ends after one more round.
Players then total their points from Exploration Tokens, Point Tokens, Passenger Cards that have been delivered, and the Galactic Tour Bonus (3 points per different planet you’ve delivered passengers to after 5 planets).
Player Count Differences
The big thing you’ll notice with more or fewer players in Wormholes is, predictably, the wormholes. With more players, the board is bigger, yes, but there are also more players dropping wormholes all over the place, so it’s easier to move around. With two, you can end up creating two pretty disparate networks, which may make it easier to score points from getting your opponent to use your pathways in lieu of their own. With more, you’ll tend to see these pathways emerge, so you may be able to use a few different players’ pathways to your advantage (and, hopefully, avoid giving one player all the points). I would say that one thing that disappointed me with more players was that the game can move pretty quickly, since the game ends as soon as there’s a wormhole beside every planet (or, rather, enters its end phase). With fewer players, it takes a bit more time to get to the planets, since you can’t just take advantage of other players’ existing networks (since there are fewer players to establish them). To compensate, the board is smaller. But, I do appreciate the interactivity of higher player counts, so it’s hard to place a strong preference on player count for Wormholes. Maybe three players? That might be a more happy medium.
- Try not to follow behind another player when discovering; you’re essentially letting them get the Exploration Bonus without you getting anything useful in return. You’re functionally better off just heading towards a different planet and getting your Exploration Bonus from there. Plus, if your opponent explores a bunch of planets before you and spends all their Wormhole Tokens, you’ll end up able to get even more points from your Wormhole Tokens (since later Exploration Bonus tokens are worth more points). This, of course, is slightly superseded by what cards are in your hand; it may be worth following them if your Passenger Cards are all pointing towards the same planets, which can be a bummer.
- I usually try to get to a planet on my first turn so I can fill up my hand; that tells me where I want to go next. I started the last two games of Wormholes I played, so the game left me with only one card in hand. As a result, I needed to fill up my hand and get some initial direction, yeah? Moving to a planet as quickly as possible is usually ideal for that, and I’ve been fortunate that there are some starting placements that worked really well for that. If there’s no such option for you, try to get to a planet by the end of your second turn, at least; more cards can help a lot.
- There are a lot of different features on the board; figure out how to make them work for you. Some let you warp around and shoot various locations and all sorts of exciting space phenomena; anything that boosts your movement can be a huge boon. For the Photon Cannon, specifically, I usually place a Wormhole Token nearby so that I can warp there and then shoot myself where I need to go later.
- Make a quick route back to the Space Station; later in the game, you’ll want to head back there to pick up some quick wins along your network. That should be somewhat accomplished by your first turn, but I tend to create nexus points where I can, making it easy for me to warp between a few sets of wormholes. Just remember that you can’t place multiple Wormhole Tokens by the same planet!
- Don’t spread your network too far apart; you don’t want to have to spend two turns getting from one place to another. Having to spend two turns to get from one node in your wormhole network to another is uniquely inefficient and may end up costing you the game if you’re not careful. Try to keep your nodes easily accessible.
- If it’s cheaper for you to use another player’s wormhole, do it! Giving them a point so that you can earn 8 isn’t a bad trade at all. Sometimes it’s worth just popping through someone else’s network so that you can get a bunch of passengers dropped off! Plus, if your opponent is connected to planets you don’t often frequent, you might be able to leverage that to boost yourself towards the Galactic Tour Bonus!
- Try to drop off passengers at extra planets to earn the Galactic Tour Bonus! It’s usually a pretty good amount, if you can do it right. It’s potentially an extra 15 points (in a 4 / 5 player game), so that’s usually helpful. Adding in that you get points from dropping off Passengers, it’s usually worth it to go to all the planets unless you can establish a really good cycle between a few planets that you’re just consistently hitting every turn.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art style is super nice on this! I always like space games with a nice color scheme to them. Like, I understand that fundamentally space is mostly empty and black, but giving it some soft colors to reflect against nebulae or some bright and colorful and interesting planets makes the game feel more engaging for me, as a player. It’s also just a nice-looking game at its core. I really like bright and colorful space games, and Wormholes is among good peers in that group.
- I really like the various extra features on the boards. They’re fun, and I appreciate that they’re not always present on both sides of the boards! It makes the game a bit more exciting when you’re not 100% sure how the initial board layout is going to go.
- Thematically, this is super fun! Space manipulation works really well for a pick-up-and-deliver game. This is one of those games that, when you play it, you’re just surprised that it hasn’t been done before, to a certain degree? Pick-up-and-deliver is a well-worn genre that is routinely pretty fun, and adding the ability to essentially warp between spots adds a nice wrinkle to the game, which I appreciate.
- I like that using another player’s wormhole is friendly, not mean. It makes interactions more pleasant when you don’t have to pay someone a toll to use their wormhole, and it incentivizes players using other players’ stuff for a more interactive game. I tend to prefer positive interactions to negative ones, and I appreciate that it’s completely positive, here. Naturally, you may want to avoid giving the player in the lead a bunch of extra points, but that’s a you problem, at that point.
- The elegance of just bouncing from wormhole to wormhole on a turn to traverse huge distances is really cool, too. Wormholes are a really fun concept! But it’s nice to just be able to cross a huge chunk of the board for free (or because you got shot out of a proton cannon, but I’m not particular).
- Pretty simple to teach. It’s a very straightforward pick-up-and-deliver game, and the wormholes add a nice wrinkle, but it’s still a fairly casual game. I think I might have preferred a more complex version, but it is nice to have a quick teach game.
- The components are nice in both quality and design, as well; no surprise, given Brigette Indelicato is on graphic design. I really like the Wormhole Tokens! They’re quite nice and colorful. Brigette always does an impressive job (further accentuated by Caring Wong’s impressive work on illustration), and the game looks great as a result. The components are also reasonably nice quality, as well, which I appreciate.
- I kind of feel like I want an expansion of some kind to add some complexity or effects to the game? I’ve had this feeling a few times, but Wormholes does, a bit, feel like there was a more complex game initially pitched that got reduced down to this. I could see there being more intense interactions / routes / effects occuring, and that would probably draw me in a bit more? At the core, I’ve got no problem with the game, but it’s a bit simpler than I expected, I think. Then again, this might just be because last time I played a Peter McPherson game, Tiny Towns melted my brain a bit. Who knows.
- There’s a part of the game in which players are just gathering large quantities of the same card(s) from the Space Station to deliver them that feels like it could be a bit more interesting. Eventually, players just zip through their established networks to go back to the Space Station, pick up a bunch of cards of the same type, and drop them for a bunch of points. It’s not bad, since it relies on establishing a useful network earlier in the game, but there feels like there could be a more interesting interaction near the endgame, here.
- The game can end pretty quickly at higher player counts, if players scatter and essentially all connect their wormholes to different planets, which may catch some players by surprise. It was kind of odd how quickly our first game went; every player basically targeted a non-overlapping set of planets, so we went through the Exploration Token stack pretty fast? Not sure why that happened, but it also seemed like it may not happen altogether that much. In my subsequent two-player game, that wasn’t as big of an issue. Just something to keep an eye on.
- Just watch out for mildly pathological board constructions, as well. We had one that was a bit of a bummer, where an asteroid belt cut off part of the board (making it only accessible from one direction), which kind of gave the start player a bit of an advantage. Wasn’t ideal. Just make sure you’re maybe intervening a bit if you need to.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, I think Wormholes is fun! I like the concept, a lot, and I think the game pretty successfully delivers on “what if you had a game about delivering passengers, but you could add permanent wormholes to the board?”. It’s a fun idea, and the execution is both solid and straightforward. Add to the game some really nice, pleasant illustrations and colorful styles along with some approachable and intuitive graphic design, and you’ve got a pretty solid product, across the board. I think, for me, when I play Wormholes, though, I’m left wanting something a little more, from the game, which is odd? I’m not entirely sure what it is. It feels somewhere in the vein of some sort of route complexity or more complex passenger dynamics, because as it currently stands, the game feels a bit basic, to me. It’s a fun basic, don’t get me wrong, but I’d love to see how a more complex version of the game stretches the design until it arrives at something even more compelling. But in the meantime, I still enjoy the game, as-is; I just wonder what could be beyond it with an expansion or an iteration of some kind. It’s an interesting and fun design, to be sure, however, so Wormholes might be a great way to teach the pick-up-and-deliver mechanic without the additional trappings of intensely complex titles. If you’re looking for something like that, you want to expand your collection of space games, or you just love pushing the boundaries of interstellar travel, you might enjoy Wormholes! I had fun with it.
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