I never really understood why autumn was known as “fall” in North America. Until I lived here, that is! Coming from the land of mostly evergreen trees, there weren’t a lot of opportunities to crunch through fallen leaves in the park in Australia. (Well, except for Melbourne where there’s a good deal of introduced trees planted, but that’s neither here nor there.) I’ve grown to love seeing the leaves turn, spreading their autumnal tones throughout my neighbourhood’s streets and parks; so as soon as I heard about Bosk, I was on board.
One thing that really stands out before even experiencing gameplay with Bosk is the quality of the production and the gorgeous art. Even before a turn has been taken, this game’s got table presence. Kwanchai Moriya’s landscape details on the board create a gorgeous patchwork of colour that immediately draws the eye. Next, everyone’s little copses of trees waiting to be planted out on the board are such a lovely burst of colour and a really fun three-dimensional addition to the game. And last but not least, the wonderful wooden leaves and everyone’s adorable little squirrel meeple. All of this together creates a gorgeous spread, a feast for the eyes — and the best part is, when you scratch that wonderful surface, you’ll find beautiful gameplay too.
Before you wonder, no – this game isn’t like Photosynthesis. I know, I know – the trees. But! At its heartwood, Bosk is a wonderful back and forth, and truly abstracted with its aspects of area control and majority scoring; the theme and pieces and art help drive the gameplay and are helpful in visualizing the four phases of the game. Players take a gentle wander through the four seasons, alternatively placing elements on the board and scoring, ultimately facing off in often mean circumstances when it comes down to who’ll win a certain area of the board. This game hits all of the high notes that Photosynthesis missed for me as a phase-based spatial tree game.
Spring and summer bring trees to the forest, and visitors to enjoy them. Players take turns in spring placing their 8 trees out into the forest, somewhere on the intersections of the grid layover of the map. Values assigned to the trees (2 of each value, 1 through 4) come into play during the summer phase when both horizontal and vertical lines are scored depending on majorities, ties and the like – that finishes up the sunnier half of the game. It might be due to the three-dimensional nature of placing the tree standees out on the map, or the planning out of placing a tree and how useful it can be on the grid lines that cross under it for edging you toward a victory on that particular forest trail, but I feel so much more that this is the real dig-in spatial part of Bosk. And placement does matter when it comes to the second half of the game due to wind direction, but it’s a little bit of a mystery until that kicks off. All I’m saying is, just picture me with a tree standee in hand and imaginary math floating around my head as I try to figure out optimal planting, brow furrowed.
At some point, the seasons must change, and the forest along with it. The latter half of the game flows out of the set up of the former and has little more to it, split up into 8 turns plus a scoring phase. Trees drop their leaves and it’s up to the players – and the direction of the wind – as to where your leaves may fall, and your squirrel might perch. The gorgeous landscape of the board is separated into various areas, and the wind will shake leaves loose – you’re hoping to cover the bulk of a type of terrain in order to score points once the winter phase arrives. The player with the lowest score will take the wind indicator and place it on one of the four sides of the board, thus setting up the directions of the wind. This element (ha!) is certainly something that needs to be considered when planting trees in spring – if you end up with a tree too close to the edge of the board leaves may not have the room to fall – but you might have to take your chances.
In each of the 8 stages, you’ll not only select a tree that will drop its leaves but also how many leaves it’ll drop by using one of your tokens (one for your squirrel, and then 2 through 8). The first four rounds will be trees 1 through 4 in order – but having planted two of each number in the spring, you have a little flexibility regarding which one you choose. In the direction of the wind, leaves drop and spread out square by square on the grid, each adjacent to the last, filling up space on the board and in each terrain type. If there’s plenty of room for your leaves you’d likely select a higher number in order to take control over more of the map – however, the number you select will also indicate your turn order next turn (lowest going first)! It’s a delicate balance of opportunity – especially considering that players can cover each other’s leaves by discarding 1 of their leaves per leaf covered, sneaking in a majority here and there.
This half of the game is delightfully just complex enough without being too overwhelming, and I love how intertwined the first half of the game is with the second. Determining how many leaves you want to drop – or perhaps securing one of the spots with your squirrel – at the same time as figuring out if you’d rather go sooner the next round, as well as considering the wind direction and which of your trees to drop from is a fantastic balancing act. Bosk is really a joy to play – and it’s one that you’ll likely find is an easy introduction to folks, as well as being reasonably quick to play. And if you’re like me, you’ll likely be hankering a trip out into the forest for a good day’s hike when you’re done.
Bosk is an abstract strategy forest game for 2 – 4 players taking approximately 20 – 40 minutes to play. It is designed by Daryl Andrews and Erica Bouyouris, with art by Kwanchai Moriya, and published by Floodgate Games. Thank you to the Floodgate team for providing a review copy for us to play. Bosk is available for pre-order in your friendly local game store right now, and will be in retail as of July 12th, 2019!