Raya’s Journey – An Enchanted Forest Game review

We’ve all had games in our closet growing up, mass market junk that was basically rolling dice and moving around a board with no agency at all, or that regurgitates yet another flash card memory match game with some hot children’s IP on the box cover.

At least, that’s the kind of IP games we had in our household. Games with themes around Casper the Friendly Ghost or Scooby Doo, that were paper thin in both theming, mechanisms, and frankly, production, too.

It was not until I became an adult gamer that I ever ran across Alex Randolph and Michael Matschoss’s Spiel des Jahres winning game, Enchanted Forest. Sure, on the surface, it has some pretty vanilla elements, but the game has continuously been in print for a long time. Does it still hold up?

The folks at Ravensburger sent us a copy of Raya’s Journey, an Enchanted Forest Game, the newest version of Enchanted Forest that is based on a recent Walt Disney Pictures’ animated feature called Raya and the Last Dragon. The film depicts the brave but complicated warrior daughter of a chief tasked with reuniting her home land by setting out on an adventure with her friends to recover the missing shards that bind their world. That’s a pretty good setup for a board game, wouldn’t you think?

PRODUCTION:

Raya’s Journey comes in the standard Enchanted Forest box, flat and long, with easily recognizable artwork from the movie. Opening the box will be a delight with the younger members of your family, as right away they will spy the big chunky pieces. There are thick tiles depicting each of the characters in the movie (Sisu the dragon, Tuk Tuk, the mischievous Ongi and many more), plus the well known little pine trees (orange in this version) that hide the characters spread out among the beautifully illustrated map.

Although I’ve never played the original, in doing some research, it seems that Raya’s Journey is a shorter version of the original, with fewer characters to find. But all the major characters are here for your family to enjoy.

All in all, this production is perfectly suited for family gamers, with good table presence, and four different representations of the main character (Raya) on standees to give every player a chance to be the hero. There has never been any arguments in our household over what was going to get to play Raya!

GAMEPLAY:

Many of you are familiar with Enchanted Forest due to its 1982 win at the Spiel des Jahres, but I’ll give you a high-level overview. The board depicts the enchanted landscape of Kumandra, the magical setting of the movie, although to be honest, it was not exactly like the map that I recall featured prominently in the feature. On the map, there are sevenwhite circles where the eight trees will be placed, with each tree having one of the seven characters that will be hidden.

Players will roll two dice — yes, this is a roll-and-move game at its heart — and then move a corresponding number of spaces. Players have some choices here: they can move the total of the two dice in one direction, or move forward one dice value, and backwards the other. You can even just use one die. If players land on a golden flower space, they can peek underneath the tree and try to remember what character is there. If they land on another Raya standee, they can send that player back to the start space in the left hand corner.

In the meantime, there are seven character cards each depicting all of the characters hidden under the trees. The players will reveal exactly one card, and then take turns moving around the board trying to figure out which tree holds that character (secretly, of course.)

Once they figure it out, they can then race to the finish line in the upper right side of the board, and reveal the character to claim that card.

Once all the characters are found, the person with the most characters located wins.

BUT IS IT ANY FUN?

As you can see, Raya’s Journey combines roll and move concepts with some memory elements. There is nothing innovative or particularly imaginative with these concepts, but they are done smoothly in this game. The box says that the game is made for 6+, and I think that’s about right, but you can also house rule the game’s difficulty a bit, by scaling up or down the number of characters that need to be found to win the game.

With my youngest grandbug, I typically play with a winning condition of finding two or three characters, because she is looking for games in the 5-10 minute range, and finding all seven characters with a four year old can take considerably longer.

We’ve played it with the full set of characters with older kids, who enjoy one particular mechanic that spices up the game considerably. The rules state that there can be only one Raya on any one space at a time, and that means that if one player lands on another, it’s back to the start for the player that was originally there. Sure, it can be a little mean, but it adds another layer of player interactivity that mitigates the luck inherent with randomly putting out trees and randomly rolling dice with no other intervention.

We know what the target is for this game: fans of Disney themed board games, but especially hobby board game families. It’s not just a roll and move, because of that player interaction and because of the memory element. (ie., did your niece find Sasu? She sure bolted straight for the final space pretty quickly, didn’t she? You might want to run over there and try to send her back to the start while stealing the Sasu claim for yourself.)

If I were not playing it with the younger kids just based on their love of the theme, but instead, I was playing it with a group of pre-teen family members, I could see that it would be even more fun if they had the experience to understand and pull off one of the two different strategies at work, namely (a) the racer who tries to see all seven trees as quickly as possible then running to the finish line to claim then, and (b) the interactive one who focuses on sniping trees based on guesses from the other players’ actions.

But playing with the younger ones yields its own magical moments, too. Just this morning, my littlest gamer wanted to pull out Raya again. We set up the game, and the first card that showed up was Sasu. She rolled a few times, carefully counting the pips before making her choices. Sasu was apparently on the second tree, because her eyes lit up with this mischievous, happy little grin. She immediately started bolting for the big circle, so I knew she probably found Sasu, and she did.

But after collecting the card, she started looking for the next one (the little funny baby character that I cannot recall the name right now). She again looked under a tree, and had that some little Chesire cat grin. Thinking I knew what it was, I headed over there to see if it was the baby. To my surprise, it wasn’t! Evelyn looked at me with a big beautiful smile, laughed, and said, “I fooled you!”

Priceless moment. A true gamer. (I wonder if she is ready for BSG?)

If you already own Enchanted Forest, and are not a collector, then you probably will not need Raya’s Journey. However, if your family is like mine, and Raya’s Journey is still on heavy repeat at the house on Disney+, I can definitely recommend picking up a copy of Raya’s Journey if you have kids in the 5-10 age range. I do not think there is enough agency for my adult game groups to enjoy the game, but it has certainly been a pleasant game experience for us to play as a family, especially since we really enjoy the theme.

And apparently, my little grandbug is good at bluffing.

Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!

— BJ from Board Game Gumbo

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