The Grimm Forest is a beautifully presented game that I hope will be a sleeper hit of 2018
Almost a year ago, I saw The Grimm Forest come up in my Kickstarter feed. At first, I was curious if the Grimm was just a play on the Brothers Grimm, and in a way it was. The magical forest has many inhabitants, from all sorts of fairy tales, and I was more and more curious as I looked at the project. Then I read the premise of the game, and I instantly backed it. It just appealed to my dark sense of humour.
So what is The Grimm Forest all about?
The premise is incredibly cute and surprisingly ‘adult’ at the same time. King Reginald the Greedy wishes to develop the land in The Grimm Forest for housing. Unfortunately, the Three Little Pigs, the Royal Builders, have grown old and presented the King with plans for pumpkin shaped houses. In a fit of rage, King Reginald fired the pigs and put out the word of a contest – build three houses, and become the new Royal Builder. And who else to best answer the call than the nieces and nephews of the original Three Little Pigs?
Looking at the Kickstarter project, The Grimm Forest looked like an almost standard push your luck resource collection game. All of the game mechanics used in the game are simple, and this was initially very deceiving. Upon reading the rules, I realised just how deep the gameplay and strategy options are. Another aspect that made me excited was that I never thought I would compare The Grimm Forest to Steve Jackson’s Munchkin. There are so many elements to what initially looked like a simple child’s game, and the further I looked into it the more I enjoyed what I saw. It wasn’t until I started playing the game though that I got to appreciate what a true gem of a game The Grimm Forest is.
There are two very distinct game phases and a final turn clean up. There is an excellent summary card for each player showing all of the individual steps of each phase to help players keep track of what is happening during the game.
The first phase is the Gather phase. Just as the name suggests, this is where players gather resources to build their houses. There are three resource types – straw, wood and brick. Depending on the number of players, there are three or four locations in the Forest that the players can go to collect what they need.
Players pick a location secretly and reveal their choices simultaneously. If a player is the only one at a location, they get to gather all of the resources there. If they are sharing the location, then they also share the resources, with each player getting an equal share.
On the surface, I thought this was the main part of the gameplay, and it sort of is. There are also Fable cards that can be played before the player’s destinations are revealed, and this can change the game in an instant. These Fables effects vary greatly between collecting resources first, moving players randomly, or even placing fairy tale monsters such as The Big Bad Wolf or the Giant to a location to affect what happens on these locations. I will talk more about this aspect later.
Once resources are gathered, you then progress to the Build stage. Again, the name describes exactly what players are expected to do. Here, players have two actions to either exchange resources for one of three components of a house, obtain a specific resource, or draw a Fable card.
If you build the walls of a house, here you can collect a Friend card. These cards offer the player an ongoing benefit, but The Grimm Forest plays this a little differently from a lot of games with similar mechanics. You can only have one friend at a time – this by itself isn’t unique. But you can choose to give the Friend to another player, replacing their current friend if any. I will talk more about this later as well.
Once this round is complete, you clear up by placing more resources on the locations, grab your player pieces and gather cards, put monsters back if required, and hand the first player marker to the left. The Grimm Forest is a very easy game to pick up and play, with rule exceptions and changes clearly printed on the cards that introduce the rules.
Bring on the fabled monsters
The Fable cards are the primary way of changing gameplay. These cards are almost all single-use effects and are selected and played at the same time as your Gathering cards. These cards are also a big part of why I compare The Grimm Forest to Munchkin – they are almost always some form of ‘take that’ action. Unlike Munchkin, while there are effects such as taking another players resources or Monster effects that always directly affect another player, it is rare that you get to choose the player. One thing I do not like about Munchkin is the ongoing reward for repeatedly attacking weaker players. Many games of Munchkin have been played where one player never gets more than a couple of cards to use because higher level players regularly upgrade themselves at the weaker players expense.
In The Grimm Forest, while a player may lose a section of a building or some resources, it is very hard to pick exactly the player this will affect. That’s because you pick the location that a Monster will be, and only players that chose that location will be affected by it.
There are also only five types of Monster represented by 12 Fables in a deck of 56 cards. This means when a Monster is used it can be a major setback, but it’s also not likely that players have a lot of them. There are also Fables that protect you from Monsters or move their locations, so the game has a strong ‘play the player’ aspect that was not initially apparent until I started playing the game.
Another change from Munchkin style play is that these cards can only be played at a specific time – just after the start of the Gather phase. Also, players can only play one Fable card at a time. Compared to Munchkin where players can get hit with card after card continuously, no player will ever really be in a state that they cannot recover from.
With a little help from your Friends
The Friend cards are another great aspect of The Grimm Forest. Friends are special cards that are earned when you build the walls of a house or as a first builder bonus if you are the player that built a type of house first.
Friends grant you a kind of special action, normally used as an action in the Build phase but sometimes at other times as well. For example, Tom Thumb lets you take one resource from a location at the start of the Gather phase, or the Evil Queen lets you wait for other players to select their Gather and Fable cards, then look at one of those cards of a single player before selecting your cards.
These sound great, and they are! If a player got lucky with a Friend that is helping their strategy, they have an amazing advantage. You can build walls and give them another Friend to help counter this, and it’s not hard to do. This sounds very Munchkin like again, but there is still a very important difference. In games like Munchkin or even Exploding Kittens and the Nope card, when you deny a player, it costs them the resource involved. This can turn a game into a no-win situation if timed correctly. In The Grimm Forest, while they will lose an ability, they do not lose a special bonus of some kind. Each Friend has situational benefits that help more than others at the time, but no Friend has a ‘useless’ power so losses are very temporary.
And the downside
The Grimm Forest has one major downside in my opinion. While the box states it’s a game for 2-4 players, really I think it’s only a 3-4 player game. Playing a two-player game, it’s almost a pure resource gathering race. If you stop and try to gather Fable cards rather than concentrate on resource gathering, you put yourself at a disadvantage that is compounded by the Friend cards. Generally speaking, if you are the first player with a Friend card (so you are the first person to build walls) you have an advantage, and it’s up to the luck of the draw to be able to counter this.
There is a die included that is rolled just after the start of the Gather phase that halves a locations resources which I can see was intended to be an evening factor for two player games. The problem though is rarely does a player want to concentrate on getting a single resource, so it’s best to skip that location this round most of the time. Having two players and three locations makes location interactions rare, so even if you are good at reading your opponent just playing randomly continues with this resource focus gameplay.
There is always an underappreciated character in every story
The unsung hero of this review is the games insert from Game Trayz. If this is the quality of insert they are producing, I would include this as a major selling point in any future Kickstarter projects. Opening the box for the first time and seeing everything laid out just so was a genuine treat, and pack up takes no time at all. Everything has its place, and everything fits just so.
The only small niggle I have is the area for the Fable cards is the same depth as the Friend and Gather cards, even though there are many more Fable cards than the other decks. This is a very small niggle though, as even after transporting the game to play at other locations (albeit in a Games Canopy bag), I have yet to open the box and find cards loose as the player boards fit over the pile, locking them in perfectly.
Until next time,