The game: Da ist der Wurm drin by Carmen Kleinert. The game was published by Zoch in 2011 and won the Kinderspiel des Jahres the same year. My copy is a translator’s copy, I did the translation for the Finnish Mato mato edition by Competo.
Elevator pitch: A worm race, where players roll dice to make their worms longer so that they reach across the board. Most of the board is covered, so there’s an element of surprise as to who wins.
What’s in the box? The box has a neat two-layered board, which has tracks for the worms to go, and a second layer that goes on top of that, covering most of the board with the exception of two peeking-holes.
The worms are made of cardboard chits of different colours and lengths. There’s also a die. The components are fine: nothing spectacular, but everything is bright and colourful and functional.
What do you do in the game? On your turn, roll a die, then take a coloured worm piece matching your die roll and shove it in the tunnel where your worm is, pushing the head of your worm longer. This is repeated until someone’s worm pokes its head out from the other side of the board: that player wins.
Since the worm segments have the lengths of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 centimeters, this game can essentially be reduced to a race to reach a total of 39 on a six-sided dice. Whoever hits 39 first, wins the game.
This, of course, lacks agency completely, and thus in the Mark Rosewater’s classification makes Da ist der Wurm drin an event and not a game. I call these kinds of games raffles or lotteries: something happens and then someone wins.
However, this is not all: there’s a small element of decision-making. Each player has two tokens that match the two peeking-holes of the board. Before any worms reach the holes, you can bet which worm reaches each hole first. If you guess right, you can add your token to your worm. If you’re wrong or late, you lose the token.
It’s a small thing, but critical in making the game a game.
Lucky or skillful? The game is almost completely determined by luck. The betting tokens add a small element of estimation and guessing, but that’s all. The rest is pure luck, with no decisions involved.
Best way to make sure you win is to position yourself first in the turn order: since the first worm out wins, the first player has an advantage.
Abstract or thematic? The worm theme is cute, and the way the worms make their way invisible, under the layers of the board, is really cool. It’s what makes the game: remove that, and there’s just no point in playing the game.
Solitaire or interactive? It’s a pure race game, with no interaction and no way to affect the other players. Best die-roller wins.
Players: 2–4, works well with all numbers of players.
Who can play? Anybody old enough not to eat the pieces. It’s not really a question of age, but a question of how much agency you expect to have in a game.
Da ist der Wurm drin is a fine choice for gamers of all ages who expect very little agency in their games: if you like a game where you don’t need to make any decisions, Da ist der Wurm drin will be a fun, exciting game for you, no matter how old you are. If you enjoy making decisions, Da ist der Wurm drin is not for you, no matter if you’re six, sixteen or sixty.
The game is simple enough that children can play the game without adult guidance once they’ve played it once or twice.
What’s to like: The worm tunnels are a cool thing and the game looks colourful. The colour die means you don’t need to know numbers to play the game and the rules are really simple (to the point of being vague about the exact timing of the betting tokens).
What’s not to like: There are hardly any decisions to make in the game.
My verdict: Da ist der Wurm drin is a game I enjoy more than I really should. The Finnish version came out when my kids were 6 and 3 years old, and it was received well. My daughter is now 9 years old, and still likes the game and plays it with her friends.
I’ve myself played this simple worm game 50 times. It has hardly any decisions to make, but somehow the layered board and the tunnels add enough to the excitement that the game just works. It helps that it takes maybe five minutes to run through a race.
Da ist der Wurm drin is a good example how a game can be better than the sum of its mechanisms and how nice, interesting components can improve a simple game idea.
On the scale of Enthusiastic, Suggest, Indifferent or Avoid, Da ist der Wurm drin gets Suggest from me as a game for children and those who don’t like decisions; Avoid otherwise.