I grew up loving Robin Hood, one of the Disney animated features made in the 70s, not for technical prowess (it had none) or memorable dialogue (far too little), but because it told the mythical story of a dashing young rogue and his friends who save Merry Olde England from the evil Prince John. Sure, the Disney animators in this bleak time for the studio took a lot of liberties, but the songs were catchy and the action frenetic. Oo-de-lally, anyone?
I’ve always had a soft spot for the story of the Merry Man since then. I was pumped to get a copy of The Adventures of Robin Hood from KOSMOS for that reason, and for many others.
The promo stuff we saw on the intertron promised a gorgeous production worthy of the Robin Hood mystique — a story telling game, with a beautiful, interactive, ever-changing board by artist and game designer, Michael Menzel, as well as a gorgeous leather-looking storybook that facilitated this campaign. Plus, it promised family friendly fun.
But I had to wait to see if it lived up to its billing.
Bradly got his hands on the copy first, and shot a detailed inside look which we should have on the channel pretty soon. He soloed it before finally releasing it to me this week. We plopped it on the table as soon as we could and dove right in.
The Adventures of Robin Hood is a 2021 co-operative game for two to four players designed by the aforementioned Michael Menzel and published by KOSMOS. It’s a campaign game, and each session from set-up to tear down takes about an hour.
Robin Hood is, of course, a story game that teaches families how to play it intuitively, meaning a lot of the critical discussion of the gameplay would spoil the experience. So this review will mostly focus on the experience instead, and anything we can talk about that gamers can see from the back of the box. In Robin Hood, you and four of your friends will take on the roles of Robin, or Little John, or Maid Marion, or even Will Scarlet. You’ll take on the prince and the evil Sheriff, and explore a giant — seriously, this thing is a table hog! — map of the castle and the forest.
There are a couple of unique things right off the bat about the gameplay that I can talk about without spoiling the experience of discovery. Menzel has fashioned a movement system for what is essentially a board based game that makes sense. Players get figures which represent movement but rewards caution, two things that don’t always jive together.
Plus, the bag system used for turn order, battle and hazards, is also easy to grasp and keeps the pace of play moving quickly. Finally, the innovative way we unlock areas of the board was something I wasn’t expecting before diving into the promotional materials, and other than some issues with the tiles themselves (they fit very snugly on the board), every bit of this production will make you and your family gasp with delight.
Jerod and I were a little worried after playing the introductory scenario that the game may be geared for only families, and not gamers. Fear not, brave adventurer! The play picks up quickly in the second scenario and beyond. There’s plenty of meat in this game for all ages and skill levels, and a way to scale the game for the younger set, too.
In my mind, KOSMOS has always been known for solid, if not spectacular, productions. Not here — the team at KOSMOS outdid themselves in producing this game. The board is humongous, taking up half of our (large) game table. The pieces representing Robin Hood, Little John, Maid Marion, and Will are all chunky wooden bits and discs, painted in bright colors that make it easy to see who’s who on the table.
The board itself is unique in that there are “flippable” tiles that change what’s happening on the board each round or even during your turn. The gorgeously painted landscape of Nottinghamshire, the forest, and the imposing castle are done in a isometric format that really makes each element pop.
There’s almost a “Where’s Waldo” feel to some of the elements, as you search for clues on the board for your next move. Very satisfying, even if I worry a bit about how much flipping the tiles and the seals can take during regular gameplay. I’m also not a big fan of the single bag that was given in the game, for reasons one will see during the gameplay. Luckily, Donna Dinger made for me a long time ago a superhero bag that I keep around just in these types of circumstances!
But the kicker, the pièce de résistance, has to be the story book that contains all of the adventures. It is the first one I”ve seen in a regular board game that is actually a book — not the spiral bound kind we are used to in Near & Far and Sleeping Gods, but an actual hardcover book made to look like your family’s leather bound copy of Robin Hood’s adventures. Well done, and something you’d want to put on a bookshelf when not playing.
BUT IS IT ANY FUN?
Jerod and I purposely kept ourselves in the dark before playing so as to preserve the enjoyment of what comes out of the box and what happens during the game. When Jerod and I set up the introductory scenario, knowing very little other than the promo materials we have seen, I must say right off the bat that we were a little underwhelmed by the gameplay experience in the intro. It was very easy and very scripted.
But now I understand why. This game is obviously geared for that segment of the gaming market who isn’t used to lengthy rulebooks, that doesn’t want to sit down with rulers and matrixes to figure out how to play the game, and that just wants to get involved in the game as quickly as possible. I’ve seen Paul Grogan teach games that way (and I’ve tried myself to emulate that when teaching Reavers of Midgard at a con), in effect putting pieces in players’ hands and getting them along with the story fast. it’s more engaging right?
That’s what that intro scenario was, and I am sad Jerod tapped out after it. Without spoiling anything, the designer knew what he was doing by teasing out the rest of the story — and the game elements — each time you turn to the next scenario. Again, this is tough in a campaign game, but let’s just say that I felt challenged playing each scenario, and enjoyed the twists and turns that (a) the story and (b) the mechanics and (c) the characters exhibited in every session.
There were dual moments of cleverness in the game that really spoke to me. Sometimes, I would spot a move using a combination of the stuff we found, the distance we could move, and the clues we discovered to pull off the right combo to leap us closer to victory. More often, the start of each scenario added little twists to the experience that felt purposeful, and frankly, clever, on the part of the designer. Nothing seemed to be left to chance or happenstance.
I see The Adventures of Robin Hood as an experience that I cannot wait to bring out as each of the wee ones gets older, exploring the adventures of Robin Hood & Co and seeing their eyes light up as different areas of the board work differently in each adventure. I don’t think I will have too long to wait. The actions themselves aren’t that challenging, although the long term strategy might be a little complex for younger gamers, but that can be solved with some mentoring. What I can’t wait for are the discussions we will have, poring over the board, looking at our characters and talking about what we should do next.
Never did I feel like I was playing an abstract game, it was all about the story. If you are looking for a good way to spend family board game nights with a gorgeously painted co-op game that will keep the interest of the younger set, you should check out definitely check out Robin Hood. It’s in the top two or three family games I played from 2021 and I expect to hear more and more about it as it makes its way to families around the globe.
Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!