Explore the world of The Wormworld Saga in this cooperative game for young players! Jonas must make his way through The Mysterious Forest with help from his wolpertinger Loki, and face the Queen of the Draconia at the end.
At a glance: The Mysterious Forest is for 2 to 4 players, ages 6 and up, and takes about 20 minutes to play. It retails for $29.99 and is available now in game stores and online. It’s one of the nominees for the 2017 Kinderspiel des Jahres, the prestigious children’s game of the year award. The game is purely cooperative, and could actually be played solo or with even more than four players, if you wanted to squeeze them in.
- Backpack board
- Jonas figurine
- Queen of Draconia standee
- 24 Path cards
- 55 Equipment tokens
- 2 Wanderer tokens
- 4 dice
The game components are pretty nice: the tokens are all extra-thick cardboard, and the cards are tarot-sized so that Daniel Lieske’s artwork really shines. If you’re a fan of the Wormworld Saga comic, you’ll recognize many of the scenes depicted on the cards: some of the illustrations have been lifted directly from the comic (though tweaked a little for the card format).
The Jonas figurine is cute, with Jonas holding his wooden sword. The dice have rounded corners with various equipment icons printed on them.
The box itself has a lot of space in it—it’s designed not only to hold the components but also as a sort of display case. The clear plastic insert holds the various components in place, and then the back of the backpack board (with a scene of Jonas looking over the landscape) shows through behind the components. The equipment tokens, once punched out, go in a well beneath the path cards. However, the Queen of Draconia standee (which is labeled as an extra on the cardboard sheet) doesn’t have a dedicated spot in the insert, so I just put it behind the backpack board. The box lid opens like a book, with a comic book introduction inside, and is held shut with an embedded magnet.
Overall, the component quality (including the box) looks and feels excellent, even if the box is a bit bigger than necessary.
How to Play
The goal of the game is to get through the forest and defeat the Queen of Draconia by using the correct equipment from your backpack.
To set up, you lay out a row of path cards face-down: the entrance, 4 path cards, 1 Wanderer card, 2 path cards, and 1 Queen card. Additionally, you shuffle the Loki tokens and put 4 of them face-down on the backpack board. (You can increase the difficulty of the game by starting with fewer Loki tokens and more path cards.)
The game has three phases, in which you will scout ahead, prepare your backpack, and then explore the forest.
Scout: During this phase, players take turns revealing the path cards in order, studying them, and then turning them back face-down. Each of the path cards shows an illustration of Jonas on his journey, and two or three icons at the bottom representing the equipment he needs to pass that card. Players work together to remember what equipment will be needed.
Prepare: Once all of the path cards have been examined (including the Wanderer and the Queen), you prepare your backpack. Taking turns, roll all four dice, and then choose two of the equipment shown, putting those tiles into the backpack. If you roll Loki on any of the dice, you must choose them. If you roll an equipment that has run out, you re-roll that die before choosing. This phase ends when all of the backpack spaces have been filled.
Expedition: During this phase, players again reveal the path cards, moving Jonas along to show his progress. As each card is revealed, use matching tokens from the backpack to get past the card.
If you don’t have the right equipment, you may send Loki for help by flipping a random Loki token from your backpack. Some Loki tokens show two or three different equipment types: take one of your choice from the supply and use it. Other Loki tokens show a swap: trade a token in your backpack with one from the supply. (Note: if you have nothing left but Loki tokens, the swap allows you to take a token without trading one back.)
The Wanderer card is a special one: the Wanderer will offer you two crystal weapon tokens, which are wild and can be used in place of any equipment. The costs for them are shown at the bottom of the card, and could be two identical equipment, or an equipment and a Loki, and so on. If you pay the costs, take the crystal weapon tokens.
If you have the right equipment to pass all of the cards, including the Queen of Draconia, you win!
The rulebook has instructions for 5 additional difficulty levels, which involve using more path cards and starting with fewer Loki tokens. There’s also a variant for the final battle: before revealing the final battle card, choose the equipment you are using and place it next to the card, and then reveal to see if you were right.
I first heard about The Wormworld Saga, an online graphic novel by Daniel Lieske, back in 2011, and wrote about it for GeekDad. It’s about a young boy who goes through a magical painting and finds himself in another world, where he finds himself hailed as a hero, expected to face a terrible foe. I fell in love with the lush visuals and contributed to Lieske’s homegrown crowdfunding campaign; I’ve got a big poster of the “Trapped!” image on my wall, and I keep my house key on a keychain featuring Jonas’ wooden sword. You can read the comic online here.
So I was pretty excited that The Wormworld Saga had been made into a board game. It’s a lovely looking game and it was fun to see the world of the comic in a game form.
There are some decisions to be made while you prepare the backpack: when you roll the dice, which items do you take? Do you pick up things that you don’t have yet, or do you go for the items that you know you’ll need several of? In the expedition phase, it’s mostly checking to see if you have the right equipment, but when you don’t, you’ll have decisions to make there, too. For instance, if you get a Loki swap token, what do you trade in for the item you need? Also, when you reach the Wanderer, you have to decide if it’s worth the price to get two wild tokens: it depends on what you remember from the last three cards.
The Mysterious Forest is definitely targeted at younger players; it’s a fairly light mix of memory and luck. My 4-year-old has a grasp of the mechanics but can’t necessarily remember 20 or so items (and doesn’t really care to listen if I try to remind her). My 10-year-old is better at remembering certain cards that we’ve seen. It’s not a game that will be as satisfying to more experienced gamers, even at the harder difficulty levels.
The components are great, but some of them aren’t entirely necessary. For instance, the Jonas figurine and the Queen standee aren’t really needed. You can keep track of your progress simply by the number of cards that have been turned over, and the last card has a Queen illustration on it anyway. So those items are a little more like toys than needed components—though I do have to admit that the Jonas figurine is pretty fun to have.
The Mysterious Forest received a nomination for the Kinderspiel des Jahres—it is a nice kids’ game, encouraging some memory practice and with some light decision-making. If you’ve got younger kids and you like the gorgeous art (and particularly if you’re a fan of the comic), you may want to give it a try. That said, I do also hope that someday we’ll see a Wormworld Saga game that is geared toward older players, too, because I would love to play some more in this world.
Disclosure: Iello provided a review copy of this game.