18 August 2021
Anything but a-maze-ing
Love for Jim Henson’s camp kids’ fantasy Labyrinth has only grown over the years since it was first released in 1986. And you’ll need to be feeling a lot of that love if you’re going to wring any kind of enjoyment out of Ready, Steady, Worm!, the movie’s third official tabletop spin-off from publisher River Horse in the past four years.
The concept begins with a question that nobody has ever asked, or needed to know the answer to: “Ever wondered what the worms get up to in the Labyrinth?” You know, the worms. Those scarf-wearing, weirdly baby-faced things with little tufty bits of hair. Well, it turns out they don’t just squirm around eating dirt and having sex with themselves like normal worms do. No, they take part in races, on which the titular maze’s goblin denizens gamble.
So this is not so much a racing game as a race-betting game, which comes with a two-tiered circular, modular maze-track board, a quartet of worm miniatures and even a neat little cardboard podium. The idea is to try and hold the right point-scoring goblin cards in your hand when one of those four wrinkly wrigglers manages to escape the board and take its place on the podium. For example, if you’re holding two single-green-gem cards and the green worm is the first off the board, you’ll save those two cards and score one point for each them at the end of the game.
This is where the rules get befuddling. Say the second worm off the board is the pink one. Any pink gems in hand then score two points each. And if the blue worm is third, you’d get three points per blue gem. So… You earn more points for the worm that placed third than the worm that won. Huh?
It’s not even like the race itself is that exciting. You start each turn by rolling a pair of custom dice to determine which worm (or worms) moves where. They wriggle around, one space at a time, in an irritatingly random fashion: clockwise! Counter-clockwise! Towards the edge! Towards the centre! Back towards edge! Back towards the centre! If they’re blocked by an obstacle or another worm, they go the opposite way. If that way is blocked, you choose where they go. Even for younger kids, it is so… damn… dull: a roll-and-move where nothing really happens on any move.
The second half of the turn seems more promising, and offers pretty much the game’s only element of strategic engagement. Here you can play a goblin action card which allows you to mess with the board. Perhaps you’ll nudge a worm of your choice along a space. Or switch the positions of two worms. Or swivel one of the board’s tiers around, changing up the track. Or maybe you’ll play one of the game’s “’Ello Alexa” cards, where Alexa owners can say “Alexa: Ready, Steady, Worm!” to be told a special move in a creepy robot-lady voice. Except during our games this bit of novelty app functionality simply didn’t work. Not once. Not ever. Alexa was as flummoxed as the humans in the room.
On the plus side, the game is over pretty quickly. But in a race this boring and clumsy, nobody truly wins.
Saying, “But really it’s for little kids” is no defence. With barely any interesting decisions to make and a broken scoring system, you’d be better off giving any little ones the components and letting them come up with their own game.
And only if you’re a mega Labyrinth fan looking to complete your collection of movie spin-off stuff.
Designer: Jack Caesar
Publisher: River Horse Games
Time: 20 minutes
This article originally appeared in issue 58 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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