As I play more and more games each year, I have discovered more and more companies that produce games right in in my wheelhouse. We’ll talk about one of those games that could fit, but first it is confession time: I have never backed or played a Green Couch Games release, and I honestly do not know why! The company’s bread and butter are some of my favorite types of games: small box games that have a lot of depth to their play. Games like Ladder 29, Best Treehouse Ever, and Rocky Road a la Mode have been on my wish list for a while, but I have yet to try them.
When Jason Kotarski from Green Couch Games sent me a prototype copy of his newest Kickstarter game, Into The Black Forest, I was understandably excited. This was my first chance to see if these little box games live up to their reputation.
Before I discuss the looks, let me reemphasize that this was a prototype copy sent to me by Green Couch Games. This is not the final presentation, artwork, or graphic design. I am posting some of the pictures I took during game play or while exploring the contents, but understand that the project is not yet funded and so there could be many changes to the way the game will look before it becomes its final form.
Here’s what came in the box:
There are four separate and unique player decks, made up of cards numbered from 1-12. As each number gets higher, there are four different sets of animal artwork, and the thematic elements in my mind that differentiate them in the game:
- 1-3 Frogs, the slowest moving and most vulnerable of animals, but able to get into places the other animals can’t;
- 4-6 Squirrels, faster and stronger than frogs but not always focused on winning;
- 7-9 Lynx, fastest of the land mammals in the game, and can really complicate the decisions in the game; and
- 10-12 the mighty Owls, perched high above the Black Forest, looking down at the other animals.
The game is themed around players exploring the magical and mystical Black Forest of Germany, so the suits have appropriately themed symbols: wands, swords, potions, and spell books. And finally, there are the “encounter” cards, which are basically how each person will score.
As you can see, the game cards are showing off some gorgeous artwork from Darryl T. Jones, and those striking illustrations caught my eye. I know this is just a prototype, and the artwork is not final, but I like what I see so far.
The gameplay is surprisingly straightforward and easy to teach.
There are four sections marked on the edges of the four sides of each Encounter card. Players can see the card they are playing, and the other two in the three card series that makes up the first and second rounds. This gives them a chance to plan better as they manage their hands. They will take turns playing cards around the edges of the card, until there are no more empty spaces on the BOTTOM, LEFT and TOP spaces. Then they score and move on to the next encounter card.
Let’s look at how they score:
- BOTTOM: Players have only two slots here, and the lower card wins the play, scoring the points on the higher card. The winner loses her card, while the loser gets his card back;
- LEFT: Players have only one slot here, and will try to match their one played card to a symbol found on one of the two played cards on the top of the card (more on that later). They will score the points on the card they played in this area, but have to discard it after scoring is complete.
- TOP: Players again have two slots here, but this time the higher card wins, scoring the points on the lower numbered card. The winner loses his card, while the loser gets her card back; and
- RIGHT: This is the only area played face down, and can have from 0-4 cards (depending on the number of players). As you can see the encounter card dictates what the “match” must be, and if a player plays the highest numbered card matching that symbol, that player will score exactly six points (despite the number of the card) and lose the card to the discard. All other players get their cards back.
The trick? Once the BOTTOM and LEFT and TOP are full, that stops any further play on this encounter card, EVEN IF NO ONE played on the RIGHT section. That’s right, there’s a little Push Your Luck happening in this small box trick taking game! Can you chance trying to take some of the best scoring spots on the left, bottom and top before you are closed out of placing any card at all on the right? Do you go straight for the right side, knowing that it will extend the turn long enough to perhaps give people two bites at the other spots? All of these questions come into play on every round.
Once the three Encounter cards are resolved, then the players show three more Encounter cards in order and draw cards equal to their initial hand size again, discarding back down to the initial hand size after getting rid of any cards that might not be useful for the next three encounter cards. Finish all six encounter cards (three in each of two rounds), and then total up the score to find out who is the winner. (Every time a player is the first player on an encounter card, they get an extra point toward victory, too).
BUT IS IT FUN?
I have played at two player and at four player counts, I did enjoy my plays at both counts. I think I enjoyed the four play game a little more, because the scoring seemed a bit tighter. Plus, there was definitely a lot less room to maneuver around the encounter card since the spots filled up pretty quickly. If there was a particular space you wanted to play, you better take it right away, .because it might not be there when your turn comes around (if the round goes that far, anyway).
My two player games were fun, but I wonder if the two player version needs a little bit more development. Normally in higher count games, laying a card down first in the “match the top spot” is risky, because you do not know yet what will be the matching symbols. But in two player games, it almost seemed the optimal strategy.
Here’s why: if you pulled two cards that matched the symbol in that area, and there was some reasonable distance in numbers on the cards, it was a no-brainer to dump the higher card in the match knowing that the other player was powerless to stop you from playing the lower number in the top section. You not only caused the player winning the top to score very little points, but you also scored big on the match area points.
This is a Kickstarter Game, and if my few play tests are accurate, then I am sure that the community during the campaign will play test those issues and make suggestions, if they are needed.
Overall, I enjoy this style of game — there is a good combination of a little bit of bluffing, a little bit of push your luck, and fun decisions of when and where to win points. And I think that the designer got the Goldilocks formula for the six encounter cards — it is just short enough that it could be a good opening game while waiting for people to show up on game night, or even play this in the middle of the night a couple of times in a row.
I like the artwork on the cards, I like the easy teach, and I am curious as to what will happen in the campaign. If the production copies look anything like the prototype artwork and graphic design, then the game will not only be beautiful but also easy to teach and intuitive to play. It is not a “must back” for me, but I do see why people talk so highly of Green Couch Games if Into The Black Forest is any representation of that company’s wares.
So that’s Into The Black Forest from Green Couch Games, designed by Jason Slingerland. It is coming to Kickstarter on September 12. I do not know the pricing or pledge levels yet, but will update the blog post once the campaign starts.
Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!