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Introducing Worm Up!
See that guy pictured on the side of the box of Worm Up! above? That, ladies and gentlemen, is the distinguished Alex Randolph! Let me begin with a humble confession: I had never heard of Alex Randolph until I played Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization.
If a game designer is good enough to make the grade to be one of the "leaders" in a civilization game, then perhaps something was lacking in my own education as a gamer! Shame on me! I resolved to address this gap in my knowledge by doing a little probing on the internet, and quickly learned that Mr Randolph (1922-2004) is regarded as one of the great games designers of the 20th century, and his more well-known creations include games like Twixt, Inkognito, Raj, Ricochet Robot, and Enchanted Forest. Ricochet Robots - hey I've heard of that one! And Enchanted Forest - okay, I hadn't heard of it previously, but this was the Spiel des Jahres winner in 1982? Why aren't people telling me these things! And his abstract strategy game Twixt earned a Spiel des Jahres nomination in 1979? Wow! I'm getting more impressed by the minute! Here we see Alex Randolph playing Twixt:
And that's not all - two of his games went on to win Spiel des Jahres awards for Children's Game of the Year! So why I haven't I heard more about this guy? Maybe I'm just too young?
My experience with Alex Randolph in "Through the Ages" was enough to make me recognize Mr Randolph hiding on the cover of Worm Up!. His name also struck me as familiar when my wife and I decided to pull out Worm Up! out for my daughter's fifth birthday. A children's game by a legendary designer? This sounded promising! I quickly discovered that Alex Randolph had first published the game way back in 1994, under the name "Kamel Treiben" or "Blazing camels". Wow, this game was 15 years old - three times as old as my daughter! Let's go find out more!
Our game box cover features (on the bottom right corner) Mr Randolph striking a pose besides some water - a pose that was destined to become the model for the Alex Randolph artwork in Through the Ages:
The photo of Mr Randolph begs many pressing questions: Why is he wearing a hat and trench-coat? Was he on a covert spying mission? What is the document in his hand? Is it some top secret military secret? Or is it simply a draft of the rules for a revised edition of Ricochet Robot? And who are the guys in the fast approaching canoe? Are they Russian secret agents?
We will probably never know the answers to these desperate questions, so instead we turn ourselves to asking questions about the other artwork on the game box. Worms ... wearing helmets ... dashing for the finish line! Why is the blue worm winking? What sinister thoughts are going through his mind? Why is the green worm licking his lips? Doesn't he realize he's in third place? And what about the worm holding the chequered flag - are those ear-muffs he's wearing, or headphones connected to his mp3 player? If he is listening to iTunes, just what exactly is on his play-list?
These are of course very important questions that every five year old wants to know the answer too. And as Jody Moore points out in her comment on this image, when adults see one eyed worms with helmets, they might just be having a different line of thinking altogether. But we must leave these questions for now, because the back of the box beckons.
There, in four different languages, we discover the following: "Worm your way to the finish line as you try to out-bid and out-smart your opponents! But don't be surprised if the worms take an unexpected turn. Fast, frolicking family fun! Alex Randolph wasn't just a game author, many consider him to be the archetype of game authors. This game is a homage to his memory."
When depart the face of the earth, I'm not quite sure how much of an honour it would be to have as a homage to my memory a race game about worms in crash helmets. But each to his own! And who am I to question to the wisdom of game publishers who decide such things? Surely, just the fact that it has "wooden pieces" should make me feel warm and fuzzy inside!
So what do we get inside the box? Well, what are you waiting for, take of the lid and find out! You're not opening a can of worms you know! Oh wait... maybe you are... perhaps Mr Randolph was using the worms to go fishing in that mysterious picture? Or is that a red herring? The mystery deepens, but let's not get distracted, but press on, and open the box!
Inside, we find a real can of worms, in fact, a box of worms...
● 4 posts
● 5 sets of 7 worm segments in 5 different colours
● 5 sets of numbered tiles (4, 5, 6, 7, and X) in 5 different colours
● 1 finish line
The rule book - well, there isn't one. Well, not really. There's just a square of paper, with instructions on both sides:
Worms aren't that intelligent, you see, and are known to have an IQ that's lower than your average egg plant. So we gotta keep things simple here. That's good news, because it means that the game is easy to learn and teach! In fact, if you want, you can even teach it in another language! Yep, there are rule sheets in four different languages!
So if you're finding that your worms are disobedient, perhaps it's just that they're ethnically challenged? Try a foreign language, something like this: "Du musst als Erster die Ziellinie erreichen!" Isn't doing the trick? Try a thicker German accent! And if that still doesn't work, try this: "del gioco e raggiungere col proprio verme la linea di arrivo!" Or this: "etre le premier ver a franchir la ligne d'arrivee!" My worms are bilingual, but when they really aren't cooperating, I just stick to the English equivalent: "Be the first worm to reach the finish line!"
Components: Finish line and posts
There are four wooden posts, which are used to mark the start line and the finish line:
The finish line has two holes in it, because the two posts are placed inside these holes:
The reason for this - whenever you successfully play a certain tile (the "X"), you may rotate one of the two finish line posts, and readjust the finish line to an angle that might benefit you!
Components: Worm segments
The worms consist of seven separate segments:
Should I be disturbed that the rules describe the components as worm "segments"? I'm reminded of the old joke: "What's worse than finding a worm in an apple? Finding half a worm in an apple." In case you didn't get the punch line, finding half a worm means you ate the other half. Squirming yet? Sorry, once again, I'm getting carried away. Mind you, one can't help wonder if Mr Randolph had some terrible childhood experience with half a worm in an apple that led him to develop this game. But I'll leave that kind of psychologizing to our Freudian experts, and stick to the game itself.
There worms come in five different colours:
Components: Player tiles
Corresponding to the five different worm colours, are tiles in matching colours - each player gets 5 tiles in the colour that matches their worm, i.e. a 4, 5, 6, 7 and X:
These are what will be used for the simultaneous selection. Five cards for each player with these values would have worked just as well, and perhaps even been a little less fiddly. But this method works okay too.
That's it for the game components. Let's try to discover more of the mystery behind this game and move to game-play!
Start and finish line
Two posts mark the start line, and about 2 feet away two posts mark the finish line with the Finish tile.
Each player gets a worm of their chosen colour, and matching coloured tiles. The worms are placed in a line behind the starting line.
Game-play: Flow of Play
Everyone secretly selects one of their five tiles, which are then revealed simultaneously.
This is an exciting and tense part of the game, because you have to try to guess and second-guess or out-guess what others might bid!
If two or more players have bid the same number or X, their bids are invalid. For example, in the three player game pictured below, green and yellow both bid 7! This cancels each other's bid - neither player will get to move this turn!
Unsuccessful bids like this are returned to players and can be attempted again the next turn. Tiles for successful bids, on the other hand, are placed aside and may not be chosen in the next round by those players.
So if you are the only player who has bid a certain number, you are allowed to move your worm that amount of segments! Hurray! Being the only player to bid an X means you can choose any number that hasn't been successfully chosen by another player.
When moving, you can take the last segment of your worm and move it in front (or vice versa) - you do this for the amount of segments corresponding to your successful bid.
But now here's a really nifty part of the game: Movement is executed in order with the lowest successful bid to the highest. Are you the only player who bid 7? Fantastic, you get to move your worm the furthest this turn! But the disadvantage of picking the highest number is that you have to move your worm last! Which means other players might just block you! Because you can bend your worm in any direction in order to block other worms - this is the fun part of the game!
As a result, worms will typically squirm all over the place, rather than make a direct worm-line to the finish line! In the example below, the Finish Line is on the left hand side. The four players have bid 4, 5, 6 and 7, so all the players' bids were successful, since there was no duplication. Blue will get to move 7, but Red and Yellow get to move 4 and 5 segments first, and they cleverly conspire to block Blue!
This nicely will allow Green - who bid 6 - to go crawling into the lead! Blue, on the other hand, is going to be forced to move backwards!
There is one other special rule about bids using the X: Players who successfully bid an X also get a special benefit - they may move one of the finish line goal posts! To do this, you put your finger on one of the posts (to keep it stationary), and move the second post - you can use this technique to move the finishing line closer to your worm, or else further away from your opponents' worms! But beware - if both you and another opponent play an X, neither of you will get to do anything at all - which could even be worse!
Winning the game
As soon as one player's worm reaches the finish line, the game ends, with that player being the winner!
The blue player pictured above has cut off red in a previous turn, and now becomes the first to reach the finish line!
As one of the first professional game designers, Alex Randolph designed over 100 games, and Worm Up! was from the last phase of his career as a designer. It has appeared under different names throughout the years, including the title "Wurmeln" in German:
Note that instead of using cardboard chits for simultaneous selection, dice were used in this edition.
Worm Up also appeared at one time under the name Blazing Camels ("Kameltreiber" or "Knudde Kamelen"). Here it was themed as a game of racing caravans rather than a worm race.
Although Blazing Camels has essentially the same mechanics as Worm Up, it features camels, palm trees and pyramids, instead of worms and a finish line. As we'd expect, the components were quite different, and what you see appears to be almost identical to some of the game components of Through the Desert:
Camel Herder dice were used to reveal the players' choices, and players had camel trains with 4 segments instead of worms with 7 segments. The rules for repeating bids were also slightly different in these older editions of the game.
What do I think?
For its class and when played with the right audience, Worm Up is a solid game. It's particularly suited to families with younger children, although it can be fun with adults as well, especially when you start blocking each other! Strictly speaking it's a zero-luck game, but the simultaneous selection adds a psychology element which makes it hard to anticipate what the outcome of your choices will be, and you can get frustrated if others keep choosing the same numbers as you. But this is all part of the fun of the game! I've always enjoyed the simultaneous selection mechanic immensely, and in this game it is perfect. It also makes it ideal for people of different ages to compete against each other fairly and have fun together. Probably the best way to describe the game is: fun!
But not all fun is created equal. In this case, the "fun" factor is strengthened by several other considerations: nice looking wooden components; a very accessible racing theme; easy rules; and a very quick game time. All in all, it's a novel and fun light game, that will provide amusement to people of all ages. If there are any quibbles, it would be that there are a couple of simple rule questions that I wouldn't mind getting clarification on, but aside from that, I'm more than happy to have this on the shelf! And so is my five year old daughter!
What do others think?
Here are a few representative comments to give you an idea of the reasons why Worm Up! fans enjoy the game. Let's start with the grandfather of reviewers, Mr Tom Vasel:
"A fun racing game that is interactive and thematic. Loads of fun!" - Tom Vasel
No surprise there! Notice the "fun" word? Like me, Tom is a big fan of fun games! He, along with me and others, owns a Fan of FUN games microbadge (), and games like Worm Up are one reason why!
So what do others have to say about the game? Well many of them use the "fun" word too:
"Simple and brilliant." - Chris Comeaux
"One of the more unique racing games out there. Fun to see the worms inching their way forward and some interesting decisions regarding which number to play. A good game for mixing kids with adults and a good time for both." - Tim Thomas
"Very light and silly game which makes it lots of fun." - Lorna Wong
"This is stupidly fun. It's the best "novelty" game I own, asides from Tsuro, which I get excited to play and introduce nowadays." - Andrew Frick
"Great, light racing game, with outguessing and some strategy. Great with kids too." - David Kuznick
"We thought this game was great! Something about the blocking, moving the finish line around, repeatedly picking the same number as my mom...just a fast, FUN game." - (bigkat)
"A little gem. Quick, funny, replayable." - Marco Signore
"Lots of fun and love trying to work out what opponents will play." - (nnf1)
"This goes down well whenever I produce it as it is very simple and fun. Excellent for family gatherings with people of all ages." - Edward Rodhouse
The final word
Is Worm Up for you? There's room in virtually everyone's game library for a small filler that plays quickly, and is fun to play. A simultaneous selection game with a wacky racing theme in a small box - it's really hard for anyone to go wrong by buying Worm Up!
The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596
- Last edited Mon May 11, 2009 7:12 pm (Total Number of Edits: 3)
- Posted Mon May 11, 2009 6:37 pm
Handsome devil huh?
Nice review, thanks. I will try a game of Worm Up! with my Through the Desert components, to see if I find the gameplay enjoyable.
Excellent review for an excellent game (thanks for the quote, BTW).