A Quick Look at Into the Black Forest (Brandon Kempf)
Green Couch Games has this uncanny knack of taking games that totally seem familiar and comfortable and making them their own. The newest game in their line up of “Great little games that make great big connections” is just like that. Into the Black Forest from designer Jason Slingerland is a new card game in the tradition of the “numbers on cards” games of old. It will be live on Kickstarter on September 12, 2018 and we were lucky enough to get a preview copy to tell you all about how it works.
It’s quite simple really, over 2 rounds with 3 encounters each round, the players will try to score as many points as they possibly can, while limiting their opponents scoring. Each player has a hand of 12 cards in their color, those twelve cards are numbered from 1-12. There are four different suits in the game as well and each hand of cards will have a unique distribution of those 4 suits, Wands, Swords, Spellbooks & Potions. Each card is also represented by an animal and there are 4 animals in the game, cards 1-3 is the Frog, 4-6 is the Squirrel, 7-9 is the Lynx and 10-12 is the Owl. So in essence, it’s a numbers on cards game, but each of those cards has 2 different identifiers with the Animals tied to the numbers and the suits being evenly distributed to each different deck on different numbers. To start the game each player shuffles their unique deck and draws six cards.
So what are you using those cards for to fight over? Each player in turn will place one of their cards on an encounter card and you have 3 encounter cards each round to fight over and gain as many points as you possibly can by winning different sections of the encounter. Each card has 4 possible ways to score, only 3 of the possible ways are required though, so as soon as those fill up, you score the encounter card. When a player plays a card to an encounter card they put it in one of 4 possible spaces. On the bottom there is room for two different cards and the winner of this encounter is going to be the card with the lowest value, they will score points equal to the value of the higher card. On the top there are spaces for 2 different cards and there the highest value is going to win, and they are going to score the value of the lower card. On the left side, only one card can be played and you are trying to match a suit played to the Top Space. If you played a card that shares a suit with one on the top spot, you gain points equal to the card you played on the left side. All this leads us to the right side, which is an optional play, but a spot you will want to take advantage of if you feel you have the card that will qualify to complete the variable condition, be it the lowest Wand or the highest Owl or any other possible combination. This is the only place where you will play cards face down where the information is not known to the other players. The successful player on the right side will score a base 6 points each time if someone plays there. The encounter officially ends though when the top, bottom and left side are filled, even if no one has played to the right side. When you score an encounter, the losing cards in an encounter come back to the player’s hand, while the winning cards are discarded from the game. After three encounters, the players will draw the remaining six cards from their deck and after six encounters, your winner is the player who scored the most points over the course of the game.
See what I mean, it’s a game that seems all together familiar, but yet different enough that it warrants your attention and you have to keep your wits about you to play it well. Out of the box, Into the Black Forest will play 2-4 players, we’ve played it at both 3 and 4 players but have not tried the 2 player variant presented in the rules, if we do before the Kickstarter ends, we’ll report back.
Game play here is light and it is quick but you do have some moments of strategy that will play out each encounter. There aren’t many choices to be made as to where to play, so you have to carefully weigh where you feel you will be the most competitive and try to limit the points of your opponents. If you aren’t going to score top or bottom, you have to play them to make sure that your opponents score the least amount of points as well. If someone throws a 12 up top, don’t follow it up with an 11, that’s not a smart play. I’ve seen a couple encounters be fought in weird places so that an opponent almost ensures themselves of points by simply playing a high card to the left and then everyone else missing it and they match it up top. In some ways you have to play more defensively than offensively.
The artwork on the cards in the prototype form is absolutely beautiful, and I can only imagine that in final production form Darryl T. Jones’ art and graphic design will get even better. Now, the question becomes will Jason tempt me into buying another stinking playmat for another Green Couch Games title because it will look fabulous on the table.