The Deduction, Hidden Information, Bluffing and Trick Taking game all in one tiny package!
Oink Games publish some brilliant games. They also make tiny games. Not always simple, but a lot of their games are smaller than a box of cigarettes. That makes them easy to carry with you, and also limits the components required to play.
Not all games are for everyone, and In A Grove is one of these. The premise is excellent, but when I try to describe it to people, it’s hard to get your head around.
All right, what is In A Grove?
At its core, In A Grove is a mystery trick-taking game. Yes, I know that makes little sense – its part of the reason getting people excited to play is tricky.
There are eight people in a park, and someone has killed one of the group! So you would think your job is to find the killer. It is, but it also isn’t. Your job is more to be the person accused of lying less than everyone else.
Finding the killer is secondary in terms of ‘winning’ the game. Making others choose the wrong suspect is your tactic of choice. But be careful in employing it!
Yep. It’s a mystery game where you don’t have to find the killer. Your job is to get more people to believe you, even if you are wrong.
All but one of the eight people have a number between 2 and 8. One is blank – this person is always innocent. These cards are shuffled, and three are placed in the middle standing up. These are your suspects. One card is placed sideways, marking the murder victim.
Each player then gets one of the remaining four people. Not playing with four players? Put these in the box without seeing their values. Each player then looks at their suspect without revealing their number/identity and passes them to their right. You then look at the number on the suspect moved to you.
The point of all this is to give you some starting information. The killer is almost always the person with the highest value, so you know if you have seen 7 and 8, 6 is the highest possible value in the centre.
You said ‘Almost always’. Mid game rule changes?
Yep. It’s not always as simple as find the highest value suspect. You see if there is a 5 amongst the suspects, the rules flip – the killer is the person with the lowest value. Hence, the blank silhouette is always innocent.
It almost always takes players a couple of rounds to get their head around all of this. The rules aren’t hard, but having to remember rules based on hidden information is tricky.
In A Grove can be hard to teach, especially as everything we have talked about is before the game/round starts – this is all setup.
If the setup is this hard, what is the actual game like to play?
The explanation can take a while – execution doesn’t. Once you have all the rules straight, the setup can take 30 seconds.
Going in turn order, the first player looks at two of the three suspects. They can also swap the victim for one of the suspects. They then place one of their tokens below a suspect.
The next player can then does almost the same thing. The only catch is they can’t look at the suspect the previous player ‘marked’ with their token.
If you agree with another player, you place your marker on top of theirs. This means accusations/guesses/bluff are marked in piles.
So why mark a player? What’s the point of that?
I’m getting there, I promise. When all players have marked a suspect, all of the suspects are flipped to reveal their values.
If you marked the correct suspect, you get your marker back. For the player on top of the pile for wrongly accused suspects, you flip them over to the ‘liar’ side, and you keep the whole pile. Each and every one.
If you get 8 or more ‘liar’ tokens, you lose. If you run out of tokens to mark suspects with, you lose. So as you can see, it’s not so much a case of being right – you just need more people to be wrong.
Who would want to play a game like that?
In A Grove sounds like a niche game, and it is. But the number of people that can enjoy it is bigger than you think.
You wouldn’t play In A Grove all night. It fits well as a game night opener/closer or in-between game choice. Once you know the game, even with 4 players you can belt out a full game in 10 minutes.
You can even play rounds as games if you are passing the time between other games. Just make the player with the most ‘liar’ tokens the loser and reset. This creates a game that lasts only a couple of minutes – excellent as a time killer.
Because In A Grove comes in such a small box, playing it this way is a great way to pass the time in convention queues and the like. It also lets players switch in and out with people around you.
And this is the catch with In A Grove – trying to explain to people why they might like it, and I usually get glassy-eyed silence in response. Once people see it played, they often want to jump in and give it a go.
This is In A Grove’s biggest weakness. There are plenty of ‘so simple it sounds boring’ games out there that work against it. In A Grove sounds much more complicated than it plays, and people don’t want to overthink a simple game.
That feeling of satisfaction when you can steer someone to take ‘Liar’ tokens is fun. The disappointment at being the person receiving the tokens is palpable.
The biggest problem with the game is the learning curve. When I play with people that have played before, it’s almost always a fun game. When I need to coax people into trying it, players come away disappointed.
My advice – you have basically all the rules in this review. Play with 8 playing cards and some tokens. Use the 2-8 of one suit, and a joker as the ‘blank’.
I encourage people to support game designers always, but In A Grove is a game that you will need to get used to before deciding if you enjoy it or not.
- Quick and simple gameplay
- Easy to transport or make your own version
- Retail version very cheap if you can find it
- Teaching rule changes dependant on hidden information is tricky
- Because of the quick and semi-random outcome, players can get put off from playing again
Until next time,