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Game Preview: Wayfinders, or Connect the Island Dots

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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My SPIEL '19 previews continue, this time with a look at Wayfinders, a 2-4 player from Thomas Dagenais-Lespérance and Pandasaurus Games.

Wayfinders will likely remind you of pick-up-and-deliver games with which you are familiar or possibly collect-resources-then-build-stuff games that you know as it blends those two game genres into one tiki-fuelled, island-hopping environment.

On most turns of the game, you'll place one of your five workers in the one of the resource hangars, possibly segregated from your fellow players as in the image below and possibly in the same ones. Resources come in five colors, with those colors matching the five colors of islands. How convenient that all is! It's almost like you're playing a game instead of actually managing an inventory of resources ahead of a Polynesian excursion...

On the right, two turntables and a microphone pair of headphones

On your non-worker placement turns, you collect goods from the hangars equal to the number of your workers in that hangar, specifically the good (or goods) closest to the exit, no matter your place in line. You slide those goods out into your collection of stuff on the table, then you move your plane around the islands — orthogonally only, mind you, due to airspace restrictions — with you needing to pay a resource matching the color of the island if no one has established an airstrip there. (If anyone has established an airstrip on an island, which is indicated by a player's hangar being present, then all players can move onto this island at no cost.)

If you want to place one of your hangars on an island, you must pay the 1-4 resources depicted at the bottom of the tile, after which you place a hangar in the lowest empty slot. If you establish a hangar after someone else did earlier, you pay these resources to them because you're a follower who must pay tribute to trendsetters; if you're the first to establish a hangar, then you pay the bank and hope that someone else will follow in your path.

The dark green player color is somewhat absorbed by the surroundings

Some islands give an immediate bonus of 1-3 random resources from the bag, some provide a permanent bonus, e.g., using green resources as whichever color you wish, and some grant you a special way to score points at game's end — and these are the ones you need to focus on should you want to win the game instead of simply moving a tiny airplane across cardboard squares for 20-30 minutes.

Those first two types of islands earn points, but they're worth 1-5 points with a fixed value; the latter type of island scores based on how well you meet the condition on it, such as placing your hangars in a horizontal line or on blue islands or on islands surrounding this island. They're limited in value only based on the random layout of the tiles and how well you can abuse them over the course of the game. If this game has only two blue islands, you might want to skip that blue-multiplier to focus on something else; if six blue islands are present, well, how close are they and what does it cost to establish hangars on them and are those goods available.

Place tiles adjacent to one another only if you want to make gameplay difficult

You can always use two matching goods as a joker for a missing color, but anyone who does that consistently is simply moving a tiny airplane across cardboard squares for 20-30 minutes instead of trying to win.

I've played Wayfinders three times on an advance production copy from Pandasaurus Games, one with two players and twice with three, and I quickly learned that my typical approach to game-playing is less than optimal for this design. You can't simply wing it and see what happens, but instead need to figure out from the get-go which islands might provide the most points and what path you might follow to place hangars on them and which permanent bonuses might help you along the way and where you might place hangars instead should you not want to hand over four resources to an opponent who will then use them to fuel their own growth in the future.

The resource market isn't huge, so you can't plan long-term there, but instead need to have an overall island-hopping plan that you then adjust on the fly based on what other players take and what gets dropped into the troughs as replacement resources. The final round of the game begins as soon as someone places their eighth hangar on the board, so you don't have a long time in which to make things happen, so get moving!

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