I was really happy when we decided to do a special trick taking week on the DWP. I grew up with a family of game players and one of our favourite go-tos was Euchre. We spent countless nights at the cottage playing and still play a few social tournaments a year. I learned how to play Hearts on the computer and that was a consistent time-killer for me. I feel in love with the concept of ‘shooting the moon.’ I learned how to play the game version of Tarot in my 20s. It’s a game best played with five in my opinion. One player makes the highest bid and calls a King, giving them a secret partner. The rest of the game hinges on finding out who that is. Simple brilliance, long before its time. These are just a few of the trick taking games that have made an impact on my life. It’s a genre I return to again and again.
So, I came to The Fox in the Forest with a good deal of experience with trick taking games. Before anything else, I was struck by the art of the game. For a little box game, Renegade Games and Foxtrot Games spared no expense with the illustrations by Jennifer L. Meyer.
The next pretty neat feature of the game, is that it’s a trick taking game for two players only. That’s a pretty rare thing.
The Fox in the Forest is a fairy tale of a game. In fact, there is a whole story you can read here. The story gives a bit of context to the special cards and how they play in the game. It’s a nice touch if you want a little theme added to the game.
The deck is made up of 33 cards in three different suits numbered 1-11; Bells, Keys, and Moons. Each round, 13 cards are dealt to each player and the leftovers form a draw pile. The top card of the draw pile is flipped, becoming the Decree card, essentially trump.
Starting with the non-dealer, players play one card per trick, with the winner leading the next round. Here is where you really feel that it’s a two-player game. To win a trick you only have to consider the cards of one other person. If you didn’t lead the trick, then you are definitely last to act…which can be helpful when knowing what to play.
Now, the normal rules of a trick taking game apply. You must follow suit, highest card wins unless it’s trumped, the winner leads the next trick, etc. However, there are some magic cards. All the even cards are normal suited cards, but all of the odd numbered cards are characters with special abilities that play with the regular rules of a trick taking game.
Ones (the Swan) allow you to lead the next trick whether you win or lose. Threes (the Fox) are quite interesting. They allow you to swap the Decree card with one from your hand. This can change trump mid- round, or have no change if the player chooses not to use its effect. Fives (the Woodcutter) allow you to draw a card from the deck and then discard a card. Sevens (the Treasure) are worth one point (more on that later) for each one won in the trick. Nines (the Queen) is considered to be trump, if it’s the only Nine played that trick. Finally, Elevens (the Monarch), when played, force the other player to either play the One of the same suit or their highest card in the suit. This can mean losing your Ten at an inopportune time.
The goal of The Fox in the Forest is to gain points, but that doesn’t mean, winning every trick you can, necessarily. After the round, you’ll get points for the amount of tricks you’ve taken. If you take 4,5, or 6 tricks you’ll be ‘Defeated’ and take a handful of points. Getting 0-3 tricks means you were ‘Humble’ and win six points. Winning 7-9 tricks means you were ‘Victorious’ and you’ll get six points for that effort as well. However, if you can’t seem to lose a trick and win 10-13, you’ll be considered ‘Greedy’ and earn no points. If you have a particularly bad hand, it can be in your interest to lose as much as possible, which I think is a neat idea. A kind of reverse shoot the moon.
You play until one of the players has earned 21 points or more at the end of a round.
So, I am very impressed with the game Joshua Buergel has come up with. It’s not easy to find balance in a trick taking game, especially one for two players. The way the special cards play with the rules make a huge impact on the game. Each of them if used strategically can swing the tide in a set of hands. Trick taking games are already one of my favourite mechanics, and The Fox in the Forest is definitely one of the best I’ve played in a long time.