Worm up!

There’s something gently lovable about Worm up! O, it’s fun, all right. Major FUN, in actual fact. But it’s funny, too. And so spare in its design that it’s what you might call endearing.

The colorful little game box contains 5 sets (each in a different color) of 7 wooden hemispheres. These are used to make worms – take a set, put the hemispheres, hemi-side down, in a column, and there you have it, your basic worm.

Then there are 4 black cylinders. Also wooden. And some cardboard pieces. Thick, durable cardboard to be sure. One of these pieces serves as the finish line, and two of the cylinders fit on either end of it. The other two cylinders are placed about 2-feet away to create the starting line. The other cardboard pieces are also in 5 sets. Each set consists of 5 rectangular tokens, numbered 4, 5, 6, and 7, and one with an X on it.

Once the goal and starting line are set up, players line-up their worms. Each of the 3 to 5 players selects one of the cardboard tokens, places that token face-down on the table, and turns their tokens over simultaneously. Players who have chosen the same number token don’t get to move their worms. The others move their worms, one segment at a time, starting from the last segment, and sliding that segment to the head of the worm, the player who chose the lowest number going first. The X token allows you to either move your worm (any number that hasn’t been already chosen) or move the goal (which takes on evermore strategic significance as the game progresses). To move the goal, you put your finger on one of the cylinders (anchoring it), and then, with your finger on the other cylinder, rotate the goal as far as you want to.

You can move your worm in any manner you wish, positioning pieces so as to make it twist and turn to block your opponents, as long as each worm piece is placed adjacent to the piece most recently moved to the head of the worm. Even though you’re just sliding these little wooden half-domes from the back to the font of the line, as the game progresses, the worms seem to move in a wonderfully wriggly, worm-like fashion. Because the pieces are so simple, the illusion is that much more powerful.

And of course trying to predict what tile the other players might choose so you can choose differently is endlessly surprising, turn after turn.

The game takes maybe 10 minutes to play, though we had to play it twice before we felt that the game was over, and then had to have a quite serious discussion about why we should really be playing it at least one more time. It’s good for families whose kids are a precocious 7 or older. It’s good for kids. It’s a good game to play between more serious games. Gentle fun. A happy little diversion.

If I were Alex Randolph, the designer of the game, I would consider it a minor masterwork. And I would take equal delight in the production quality. The packaging is very spare – very little space is wasted. The rules are brief and easy to learn.

There’s a quote by Randolph on the side of the box. I think it explains much about why his game is as fun, and as elegant as it is:

“Somehow,” he writes, “I feel that boardgames are the beginning of everything truly human, and so, ultimately, of the highest human endeavors, especially those which I find most precious, because they have no purpose outside themselves. They are, themselves, their purpose. Poetry, art, music, story telling, pure mathematics, pure science, philosophy…all are spiritual luxuries. Luxuries are things that delight us, that we long to possess, but that we can very well do without. They are not practical. They are not needed for our survival. And board games? Board games are luxuries, too, of course, albeit minor and marginal, but in the sense of non-utility, perhaps the purest.”

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