Spirits of the Forest Review

Spirits of the Forest Board Game Review

From the box to the insert, from the score pad to the tiles, Spirits of the Forest, is quite simply enchanting.  You’ll quickly read the rulebook – don’t be alarmed, it's multilingual, the rules just about cover two pages and are very, very simple.  You’ll set the game up and take a moment to just look at it, it is, as one has come to expect from Thundergryph Games, very pretty.

Your journey into this colourful and quaint bakerlite world is one of simple purpose, collect the most of each type of spirit that inhabits the forest.  That’s it, nice and simple.  There are 150 in total….no, hang on, that’s Pokemon.  There are nine different spirits to collect and 3 ‘elements’. If you have more than your opponent then you’ll score a point for each one.  If you have none you’ll suffer a 3 point penalty.  

Spirits of the Forest Review

Collecting these tile, however, is slightly more difficult than it may first appear.  You can only take a tile from the edge of the forest, and when you do it must have either 2 spirits depicted on it, or be a matching spirit pair-with each only having one spirit on.  These spirits aren’t even distributed evenly, with ‘Moss’ (the green Pikachu) being pretty rare making a humble 5 appearances throughout the entire forest, whereas the ‘Webheads’ are flippin’ everywhere (10 of them).  If, like me, you remember when Ash needed only 150 Pokemon, you’ll notice some resemblances in a few of these spirits.

Spirits of the Forest Review

This very simple limitation creates one wonderfully light brain-grinding experience, as you’ll repeatedly be asking yourself “Which is the best tile to take?”.  Best is all very subjective, as you’re not just trying to collect Spirits, but you're also trying to hinder your opponents.  A tile with 2 spirits is always good, but a pair with ‘elements’, well that’s 4, and 4 is better than 2, but what opportunities are you opening up, what are you leaving for your opponent.  There’s also the consideration that sometimes you just need to get on the board, that 3 point penalty can really sting and it can all too quickly creep up on.

You’ll need to keep one eye on what each of your opponents are collecting, and you’ll need one on what tiles you’re leaving open and another to what they are going to leave for you.   Most people only have two eyes, so already this is a problem.  But, it’s not so much of a problem to weigh the game down, far from it, ultimately there are at best 8 tiles to take, and as the game progresses that number quickly goes down.  To succeed you’ll have to form a strategy, you’ll have to plan two or three turns ahead, but not be so rigid in that plan that you can’t adapt to opportunities.  Playing this you’ll string ‘moves’ together, predicting what each opponent will try and do, you’ll block, counter block, you’ll try and keep the look of excitement from your face when you see an opportunity that (you think) no one else has spotted.

Spirits of the Forest Review

In Spirits of the Forest, you’ll quickly come to realise that you’re not only playing your game but also your opponents.  More than occasionally your turn will be spent taking an action that is sub-optimal in the short term in order to influence to your advantage on your next or to lure your opponents into an even more undesirable selection.

Often you’ll find that you are spoilt for choice in the forest, other times you’ll find yourself irritatingly (and briefly) limited, in either case, you’ll have a good idea of what you want to accomplish, along with a rough idea of how, but getting that plan into motion…well, that is the true core the core of this game. It’s about taking a little here, a little there, like some sort board game of sculptor, slowly but surely revealing the plan you knew was there all along.

Spirits of the Forest Review

At the top of this review, I use the word ‘iteration’ as this isn’t this game’s first outing, it been here before as Kardinal & König and then a few years later as Richelieu.  In one form or another this game has been around for 17 years – which in board gaming puts it a quite a fine vintage, so despite Spirits of the Forest being a storming success on Kickstarter, it is very well tired, tested and ultimately, good.  This latest version, along with adjusting the theme, tweaks the presentation level up to 11 so to not look at all out of place amidst those board game Instagram darlings like Azul and Sagrada.

The second iteration of this game, Richelieu, was a two player game, and Spirits of the Forest particularly shines at this player count, with only one opponent this is far more a game of outmaneuvering, of being one step ahead, with additional players this feeling is diluted somewhat making it a light-light game.  Which really is the only ‘criticism’ I can levy at it, and that’s no bad thing at all.  In fact, Spirits of the Forest has quickly become a go-to gateway game to hook new gamers into the hobby for me, it’s a simple, light, and beautiful set collection game.  The (deluxe) box comes packed with 5 mini expansions, adding a little variety, a little more complexity which veteran games will be more keen to explore adding a touch more complexity and weight to the decisions.

Spirits of the Forest Review

With the eye-catching presentation, slick simple rules Spirits of the Forest will cause a lot of light head scratching and from the offset, it all seems too easy, too random, and too shallow; but you’re not seeing the forest for the trees.  There’s more of a game here than first meets the eye, and it is a game worth exploring.

As a side note, Thundergryph games have decided that for each game bought in 2018, they will plant a tree as part of the Trees for the Future scheme, making an actual Spirits of the Forest forest, which is, I’m sure you’ll agree, wonderful.
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