Posted by: gschloesser | August 13, 2011

Wayfinder

Design by:  Benjamin Corliss
Published by: Allumbra / FunAgain Games
2 – 4 Players, 30 minutes
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser 

A devastating typhoon has scattered the native tribes across dozens of islands.  Your job as “Wayfinder” is to help gather your people from these far-flung islands, reunite them, and form villages wherein they can begin a new life.  The player most successful at forming villages will ultimately lead his tribe to new heights of greatness and achieve victory.

This is the theme of Wayfinder, a clever and succinctly abstract game from Benjamin Corliss.  Packed in a clear tube, the game features a rubberized playing mat depicting a 6×6 grid superimposed over a variety of islands.  An assortment of plastic gems representing tribes is included, and one of each of the four colors is placed upon each square on the map.  Players each receive a Wayfinder pawn, which they place onto the map, and six huts of their color.

A word about the components is in order.  The rubberized mat is quite nice, with some crisp, bright graphics that evoke the feel of tropical islands.  The plastic gems are functional, but the colors in the original version are a bit too close in tone.  It is difficult to tell the difference between the red and orange gems, and the yellow gems have a sickly greenish tint that does not match the yellow huts and Wayfinder.  I understand that this has been corrected in the second edition.  The most annoying part, however, is the plastic tube, into which it is extremely difficult to replace the map and components once extracted.

The objective of the game is to gather five tribes of the same color into one square, thereby creating a village.  More points are earned for forming villages of your own color.  Additional points – and these can be considerable – are earned at the end of the game for tribes and huts that are gathered together.

Each turn, a player will take all of the tribes in the space occupied by his Wayfinder and move them, one space at a time, across the map.  Certain movement rules must be followed:

  • The tribes must move in a straight line, with only one ninety degree turn allowed
  • One tribe must be left in each square traversed
  • If a space being passed over contains tribes of only one color, the same color tribe must be left there
  • If an empty space is being passed, any color tribe can be left there.  Alternatively, the player may place ALL of the remaining tribes he possesses in that space.

Moving tribes can be a bit confusing, and it is often difficult to visualize which moves are legal and which are not.  It is a common occurrence for players to begin moves, only to discover that they cannot legally complete the migration due to either being unable to place the required color onto an island, or by reaching the edge of the board with multiple tribes remaining to be placed.  This forces the player to retrace his steps and attempt another migration.  This can be frustrating and cause the game to drag.

When a player places the fifth tribe of the same color onto an island, a village of that color is formed and placed onto the island.  The active player removes the five tribes and sets them aside.  These will score 25 points if it is the player’s color, or 5 points if it is an opponent’s color.  New tribes can subsequently be placed on the island with the village, and additional villages can possibly be formed there.

Forming a village of your own color is quite rewarding, but do not overlook forming a village of your opponent’s color just because of the meager points it earns.  By forming an opponent’s village, you do deny them the possibility of earning 25 points by forming the village themselves.  They can still score points at the end of the game by migrating tribes to that village, but you have made their task considerably more difficult.

After a player completes his turn, he removes his Wayfinder from the board and has until the conclusion of the turn of the player to his right to place his Wayfinder on a new space.  He can only place his Wayfinder on a space containing tribes of at least two different colors and that is free of any opponent’s Wayfinder.  This will be the starting location for the player’s next turn.

The game ends when no further legal moves can be made, at which point a final scoring is conducted.  Each island that contains tribes of only one color is scored for the owning player.  Tally the tribes and villages of the player’s color, and add one point if the wayfinder circle is the same color.  Square this amount to derive the score for that island.  For example, if a player has one village and three tribes present on an island, and the waypoint matches his color, he will score 25 points for that space (5 x 5 = 25).  All of the points a player scores in this final scoring is added to the points he earned for forming villages during the game.  The player with the greatest tally captures the victory.

A tremendous amount of points can be scored at game’s end, so players should attempt to gather their tribes into spaces where they also have one or more villages present.  Gathering tribes together requires the player to carefully analyze the board when placing his Wayfinder between turns and making migrations.  This requires a certain visualization that is not easy to perform, and has baffled numerous players with whom I have played.  It seems to get a bit easier with practice, so the game does appear to reward players with some experience.

While the rules are fairly simple, Wayfinder is not a game that is easy to learn.  It really is not very intuitive, and, as mentioned, it is difficult to visualize the possible moves and choose which one is best.  Movement errors are commonplace, which can be frustrating.  For some folks, the game just does not “click”, and they will tend to not enjoy the experience.  Others, however, will enjoy the challenge of spotting the proper migration paths and quickly grasp the game’s nuances.

I fall somewhere in between.  While there is an attempt at a theme, it is only a thin veneer, and the game is undeniably an abstract affair.  Generally, I am not a big fan of abstract games, but there are notable exceptions.  I am also not the best at visualizing my moves several turns in advance, a skill that is required in order to play this game well.  In spite of these aspects, I do enjoy the game.  There is a satisfaction derived from completing a migration that forms a village or denies an opponent the chance to do so.  It is also rewarding to successfully gather multiple tribes in one space and earn double-digit points on an island.  Apparently, Wayfinder scratches an itch that I never knew I had!

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