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Explore the Depths of Space in the Family-Friendly Board Game Wormholes

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Explore the Depths of Space in the Family-Friendly Board Game <i>Wormholes</i>

Wormholes is the newest title from Peter McPherson, the designer of the acclaimed 2019 game Tiny Towns, where players move their spaceships around the board, ferrying passengers from this planet to that one, but where they can also make their return trips a little shorter by building shortcuts through wormholes that anyone can use. It’s a very light, fast-playing game, perfect for playing with your kids, especially if they’re into the space theme.

Wormholes is a pickup-and-delivery game, meaning that players pick up something from one place on the board and bring it to another place on the board. This mechanic is most commonly found in railroad games like Steam (and Age of Steam) and Whistle Stop, but it shows up in games as disparate in themes as Broom Service, Istanbul, and Century: Eastern Wonders. It’s about as simple as it gets in Wormholes—each card you draw during the game shows one of the planets on the board and represents one passenger who wants to go to that planet. Get your ship to any of the spaces adjacent to that planet and you can drop off the passenger for two points, which will account for the bulk of your scoring in the game.

You have three energy tokens to use for movement on every turn, but also have a bunch of free actions you can use at any time. Regular movement (that is, not through wormholes) costs one energy token to move one hex in any direction, and it’s slow progress until everyone gets their wormhole networks up and running. When you’re next to any planet, you can discard any of your cards in hand, deliver any passengers who want to go to that planet, and then draw back up to your hand limit of four cards. None of those actions requires an energy token, and if the board cooperates, you can actually deliver to multiple planets in one turn.

You can also place a wormhole token on the space where your ship is or on any adjacent space as a free action. Each player starts the game with 10 wormhole tokens in their color, five pairs numbered one through five. When you’ve placed both of your tokens of the same number, you flip them both over to indicate that they’re online, and the route between them is now available for anyone to use. Zipping through a wormhole route also doesn’t cost an energy token (which I feel like violates the laws of physics, no?), but if you use someone else’s wormhole route, they get one victory point token from the supply, so you don’t pay them but they do benefit. It’s always worth doing this if you’re delivering even one passenger and don’t have your own wormhole route to use.

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The first player to place a wormhole token near a planet gets a bonus from the exploration stack, which starts at one VP, jumps to three VP, and then abruptly stops once every planet has a wormhole next to it. From that point, you complete the current round, then play three more rounds (using the countdown tokens in the exploration stack), and the game ends. You score for passengers delivered, exploration bonuses, victory points from others using your wormholes, and then get a three VP bonus for every planet to which you delivered passengers beyond the fifth one (so delivering to eight planets means three points times three, for a total of nine VP).

The end comes very quickly in Wormholes, which makes it a family game, shortening the playing time and limiting the advantage that a better route-builder might have if you kept playing. But it also means that you won’t use your wormhole routes very often, and might never use some of the ones you build, because the game ends when the eighth planet gets a wormhole (two to three players) or tenth planet (four to five players). For more experienced gamers, or fans of crunchier games, it’s going to feel short—although I see no reason you couldn’t just house-rule it and agree to play some set number of additional rounds, as the deck of passenger cards is big enough for you to keep going.

There’s one strategy point that does make this more than a pure kids’ game, and gives some meat to the more experienced players. If you take your ship back to the space station where all players start the game, you can draw two new cards from all cards discarded by other players—the one situation where you can choose your cards, so you can go back there, grab two more cards of planets near your wormholes, and then zip back out quickly to deliver them. I think a longer game would make that strategy even more powerful.

Wormholes takes about 30 minutes for two to three players, and maybe 40 minutes with five players, with turns happening very quickly. My nine-year-old had no problem picking up the basics of the game and did everything but use the space-station refill mechanic, and I think you could probably play this with kids as young as six if they have the attention span for it. Nobody asked me, but I’d market this as a great game for the family. It’s easy to learn, and because individual turns and the entire game are so quick, you can sneak in a whole game on a school night. I have to admit, though, that I wish the game ran a little longer.


Keith Law is the author of The Inside Game and Smart Baseball and a senior baseball writer for The Athletic. You can find his personal blog the dish, covering games, literature, and more, at meadowparty.com/blog.