- Designer: Peter McPherson
- Publisher: AEG
- Players: 1-5
- Age: 14+
- Time: 40-50 minutes
- Played with review copy provided by AEG – 5 times in during a COVID quarantine afternoon
Well, I’m usually not one to pen such a quick review; but these are some unusual times that we live in – and with Origins coming up real soon, I thought it would be nice to get a first impressions piece out about an upcoming game that should generate a fair amount of attention at the show. Additionally, I’m confined to my office in my house as I am currently under cootie quarantine. Without much else to do, I’m playing all the solo games that I can find – and this one happened to hit my mailbox this morning! Four solo games later, I figure that’s enough experience with the game to write about it, and to make some guesses as to how the multiplayer game will work out (but I still have 3-7 days until I can be around other people… so that part of the review will have to wait until much later).
According to the publisher blurb: “In a peaceful galaxy, a new technology has been invented: wormholes. They allow ships to warp from one point to another, which opens up countless possibilities for commerce and travel. As the captain of a passenger spaceship newly equipped with a wormhole fabricator, you can make some serious space bucks by building a robust network of wormholes. Link the farthest reaches of space while delivering passengers to become the most successful captain in this golden age of spacefaring. It’s time to bend space and go fast. In Wormholes, players collect passengers from planets, each of whom have specific destinations they aim to reach. However, this pick-up-and-deliver process can be quite different once you establish wormholes between different points of the galaxy — and like any good business, your service can be used by other players…at the cost of a few points.” The designer has mentioned that the game was inspired by Becky Chambers’ novel The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.
So, again, I’ve only played the game solo – which is essentially a 2p game with a rubric of rules for the AI – so I can describe the game setup and play as usual.
First, you have to set up the universe of the game. You first take the Space Station board and place it on the table, then draw a number of space boards for your player count – these are double sided, and you can randomize them to either side if you like – they even give you a tool for this!. As you place the boards, just make sure that the planets have at least 2 spaces between them. The exploration stack is constructed (height varies by player count as well). You also have to fix the deck of passenger cards so it only has the planets on your board.
Each player gets a ship, 10 wormhole tokens (5 pairs, stacked with 1 on top, 5 on bottom), a pickup token, 3 Energy and a reference card in their color. The deck of passenger cards is shuffled and each player gets a starting hand, with the first player getting the least and slightly more for later turn order. Note that on each player’s first turn, they each place a wormhole on an empty space adjacent to the space station.
On a turn, a player can do a number of things. They can use up to 3 energy to move their ship to an adjacent space (flip your energy tokens over to keep track). The player can pick up passengers once per turn if you are next to a planet or the space station. Also, there are plenty of free actions to take (place a wormhole, warp, drop off passengers, or use a map feature). These things can be done in any order.
When you pick up passengers, you can first discard any cards you like from your hand – putting them in the Space Station Docks (discard pile). You then draw cards from the deck if you’re next to a planet – up to a hand limit of 4, and placing any cards that match your current location to the Docks- or from the Docks if you are next to the Space Station – taking cards from up to 2 different planets, again to the hand limit of 4. At any point in the turn, you can deliver passengers that match the planet you are adjacent to – placing them in a facedown pile next to you.
So what about the wormholes? They are made up of a matched pair of tokens, and you warp from one to the other. Your wormhole tokens are stacked in order, and when placing them, you must always place the top one in your stack. Wormholes are placed in any empty space adjacent to your current location, but you cannot have 2 wormholes around the same planet/space station. If you are the first player to place a wormhole around a planet, you collect the exploration token for that planet.
To use a wormhole, you must be in the space that contains one of the wormhole markers, then you can freely warp to the space of the matching token. You can use anyone’s wormholes! If you use an opponent’s wormhole, they collect a VP chit from the supply as a reward. You are not obligated to use a wormhole in your space.
As you move around the board, there are also plenty of features that you can take advantage of:
- Orbits – you can move from one space in an orbit to any other for 1 energy
- Nebulae – allows free movement when you leave from a nebulae space
- Wild Wormholes – allow you to travel to your own matching wormhole
- Photon Cannon – shoot yourself in a straight line for one energy
- Black Hole – flip the top of the passenger deck and move adjacent to the planet on the card
Your turn is over whenever you say it is over. You actually have to say when it’s over because you’re not obligated to use all your energy and you can also take as many free actions as you like when you’re out of energy. So it won’t always be clear when you are done. The next player then takes their turn.
This continues until the planets connected token is revealed; this means that all the planets on the board have been discovered (there is at least one wormhole next to each planet). The current round will finish, and then the start player will remove the next disc in the stack to count down the three final rounds of the game. The game also ends if the passenger deck is exhausted; in this case, play one more full round after the deck is exhausted.
Now scores are tabulated.
- 2VP per delivered passenger card
- VP for opponents that have used your wormholes
- 1 or 3 VP for each exploration marker you have collected
- Galactic Tour bonus: 3 VP for each different planet delivered to beyond 5
The highest total wins; ties broken in favor of the player with the most passenger cards delivered.
As I mentioned earlier, the game comes with a solo variant; and due to my circumstances, this is how I first played the game. You essentially set up the game as a 2P game, and choose one of three levels of AI opponent. The AI gets its own set of wormhole tokens.
The human plays a normal game with one exception – when you pick up passengers at the Space Station Docks, the AI gets a VP chip. The AI follows specific rules; and the player gets to decide on placement on wormholes (so put them in places that help you out!). The AI first discards some cards from the deck to the Docks (number based on the difficulty level). Then you look at the Docks, and check for each planet that has 2 or more cards. If the AI has an active wormhole adjacent to the planet, the AI takes all the cards. If the AI has an Inactive wormhole next to the planet, it gets 1 card. If the AI does not have a wormhole next to it, it takes 1 card and then you get to place his next wormhole token next to that planet.
The game ends in the usual way, and the goal is to beat the AI. The player scores points in the usual way. The AI scores points for passenger cards, exploration tokens, Galactic Tour bonus, VPs when you use its wormholes, and it also scores 1VP for each time you pick up passengers at the docks.
My thoughts on the solo game
Well, as a diversion on a day of solitary confinement, this really helped me pass the time. I enjoyed the mini puzzle that each turn presents – how do I use my 3 energy to best move around the galaxy and pick up / drop off the passengers. While you don’t get points from opponents using your wormholes in this version, you do get the advantage of being in charge of placing all the wormholes – you need to use this to your advantage so you can make chains of wormholes to allow you to bop around the board to deliver passengers as efficiently as possible.
I enjoy the exercise of plotting my path through the wormholes, taking advantage of the board features, and trying to figure out where and when to pick up the passengers. It often works out well to start the turn out with a delivery, and then pick up cards from that planet (to maximize the number of cards seen per turn) – though there are times when you want to pick up cards from the Docks to limit the numbers there or to prevent an exploration token from being collected…
There is a constant race to deliver passengers because the AI will put cards in the discard pile each turn, and it will soon have wormholes everywhere allowing it to collect lots of cards. The AI also has a mild advantage in the collection of exploration tokens because it doesn’t have to actually travel to a planet – just wait for a pair of cards to be put into the Docks. Though, this may not be a bad thing for you because this might open up access to a far away planet that you couldn’t get to before!
Just remember that before you go out there, try to drop your own wormhole close by so that you have a way to escape the boondocks without having to continually give the AI points for using their wormhole pairs. There is a bit of an art figuring out where and when to drop the wormholes – sometimes I’ll put one adjacent to one of my other wormholes (but not around the same planet; just kinda out in space) – to give me a one energy move to then jet off somewhere else. This can set up nice combo deliveries where I can get to three planets in one turn, and possibly drop off lots of passengers (especially if I can combo a pickup midway thru the turn and get lucky on the draw).
The difficulty of the game can be changed, and essentially each successive level puts more cards into the Docks each turn – just meaning that you have to be more and more efficient to stay ahead of the AI. You can also change things up by changing the shape of the board. The rules give you a few suggestions based on player count, though realistically, you can probably make any arrangement you want so long as you use the correct number of tiles…
One thing to be aware of is how fast the game can come to an end. The trigger is getting all 8 planets explored (having a wormhole next to them), and this can really sneak up on you. Solo games are now finishing in 15-20 minutes as I have the flow of the game down. It’s amazing how quickly the wormholes can show up across the board. The most remote planets end up collecting cards in the Docks quickly, and before you know it, the AI has a wormhole out there.
I’ve kept it set up on the table here, played with different AI levels, and changed the board around a bit – both changing the layout as well as flipping some of the tiles over. Each new setup has given me a new map to explore, and I like looking at the board before we start, trying to plot out the important connections I want to make in that game.
Component wise, the game has ups and downs. I really like the art, and I think the individual images are pretty well illustrated. However, I have a number of usability issues. Foremost are the passenger cards; the target planet art is pretty big, and they should be recognizable – but a few of them look fairly similar. And, on the board, they’re actually pretty small, about 1 inch across. It can be pretty confusing at times to know which card goes to which planet. It would have been helpful to either have them more distinct or perhaps index the cards with a smaller icon for the planet (and repeat the icon on the board).
Further, without a meaningful index nor a color coded border on the card, when you have them in your hand, you can’t tell what they are easily – thus you are constantly flipping through the cards instead of easily glancing at them. Whether you stack them or splay them, you don’t get any meaningful info from the handful of cards. This also becomes an issue when scoring the Galactic Tour bonus at the end as there is really no easy way to determine how many different planets you’ve been to. Also, one of the planets looks a lot like the Neubulae spaces; and it two of my games, they were right up against each other, making them a bit tough to pick out…
There are multiple ways this could have been made easier. It’s not a deal breaker in any sense; but it makes the game a bit more fiddly than it needs to be.
The other issue I had was with the red and purple player colors. To me, they look a lot alike, especially on a super busy board with plenty of different pieces. Obviously, when I play, this will only be an issue if we try to play with 5 players, but I foresee plenty of issues (for my bad eyes) if we ever play with that number.
But, usability issues aside, the game is fun, and I don’t think that the artistic comments I noted above take away from the game. Especially in the sense of a solo game where I can just lay my hand out on the table (because I don’t care who can see where I’m trying to go). So far, I can easily beat the first level AI, and I’m even with the second level. I’ve made a good afternoon with this one, and I look forward to getting to try it with real people in the coming weeks (though probably not more than 4 people).
The game should be on demo at Origins this coming week, so if you’re going to be at the show, maybe give the AEG booth a buzz and see what the game is all about. I think that you’ll find the game to be enjoyable, with lots of decisions to be made in a fairly short time period – a hallmark of games that I like. This is a game that is high on my “to-play-soon” list; now I just need to escape quarantine!
Until your next appointment
The Gaming Doctor