Do you fancy a gentle but whimsical, family-friendly card game which makes intestinal parasites cute? If so, then let me introduce you to Tapeworm designed by Edmund McMillen.
The aim of Tapeworm is to get rid of all the cards in your hand. You do this by playing them to the table. In doing so, you grow a variety of different coloured tapeworms with interesting faces.
How To Play
You begin a game of Tapeworm by finding the Start card. Place that in the centre of the table and then shuffling the rest of the cards. Make sure you have plenty of table space. Each player takes a rule/icon reference card and 5 cards are dealt to each player. You then draw one card and play a card. If you are then able to play another card without changing the colour of the tapeworm that your first card started building, then you may play that card too. In fact, you may continue adding segments to your tapeworm until you either play a card that changes its colour, or you run out of cards of that colour. If you managed to create a tapeworm loop, hooray! You may discard two cards! The first player to empty their hand wins!
But wait! This is not just about colour matching parasitic worm chunks. Many of the cards will also have small icons on which allow you to take extra actions. There is a small shovel icon that allows you to take the Dig action. This lets you draw another card and then discard one card. You could play a small eye icon to undertake the Peek action, allowing you to draw another card and then place one of your cards back on the top of the deck for the next person.
The Hatch action forces another player to draw cards. The Swap action allows you to select a card from someone else to steal and replace it with one from your hand. The final special action is the Cut action, which I underestimated on my first playthrough of Tapeworm. This action is denoted by some scissors and allows you to snip a tapeworm in the middle somewhere. Discard the detached cards and then you may rebuild that worm using your hand. There are very few Cut cards in the deck so you should treasure these (learn from my mistakes). Later in the game, it can become tricky to play cards so a Cut action is a real boon.
When I first started playing Tapeworm, I was really taken by the graphics of the game, both on the box and on the cards. The different coloured tapeworms all seem to have distinct personalities. The black tapeworm, for example, has tiny maggots coming out of it (which also have little faces) and it seems a bit of a derpy worm. The red striped worm is definitely the scary/angry one…I would not want to meet that one on a dark night! The pink one feels like the sweet and cuddly tapeworm (if there is such a thing) while the white worm seems either confused or pained. The Cut cards are also well designed, with the special rainbow card having nice details like all 4 tapeworms looking scary in the background (as they should be mwah haha!).
The only thing I’m not quite certain about is the background of the tapeworm cards. They all appear to be tunnelling through brown, soil-like material and I can’t decide if that makes them look more like garden-dwelling worms or whether the brown is supposed to represent human waste material…perhaps I’m thinking about this way too much! I think I would have liked to see them tunnelling through intestines a bit more but that’s likely because I have a medical background and a fascination with learning about parasites…no doubt the soil background is more friendly to those with less solid constitutions. But regardless, I had good fun playing this game.
Tapeworm is a sweet, light-hearted and easy to learn game. It is ideal for a gentle after-dinner game with family or friends. Currently, Tapeworm is quite small and doesn’t have much complexity.
However, I can definitely envisage a wide scope for expansions if this game does well. The card matching aspect of Tapeworm reminds me of games like Tsuro and the hugely popular Kingdomino. But unlike those two games, Tapeworm is less mentally draining and would be my choice for those nights when my brain doesn’t feel like a tonne of thinking. I would also reach for Tapeworm if I was playing with young gamers or anyone who isn’t used to board gaming. Plus it gives me a nice excuse to reel out all the facts I know about yucky parasites!
There is something UNO-like about how this game works- well…UNO crossed with dominoes I guess. It’s also worth noting that the original printing had two accidental duplicates so the publishers have released an update pack of two cards to replace the duplicates (not that I would have really minded). I hope this game does well because I’d love to see a couple of little expansions for it and I look forward to enjoying many after-dinner Tapeworms to come.