Saturday, December 15, 2018

Board Game Review: The Grimm Forest

There is a debate amongst enthusiasts in the board game community about the importance of the quality of components. Some people think that games with lots of well-crafted miniatures, like those from Scythe, are essential. Other players feel that a game is just as enjoyable with simple cardboard tokens as long as it doesn't affect gameplay.

I have stumbled across a game that puts that idea to the test. The game is called The Grimm Forest, and it is a delightful little game by Tim Eisner, published by Druid City.

The game box, with whimsical fairy tale illustrations including, at its centre, the three little pigs in miniature standing on an open storybook from which the game title emerges, on a table behind a game in progress. Several player mats are seen around the table, each with houses of brick, straw, and wood in various stages of completion on them, with a number of cards and miniatures on display around the table as well.

The game is a very simple affair, thought it packs in a surprising amount of depth. But the real draw of this game is the miniatures. In addition to the player pieces (whimsical representations of the characters from the story of the Three Little Pigs), there are monster pieces (a dragon, some wolves—including one 'big bad wolf'—, a troll, and others), and a gorgeous lectern with an open book to serve as the first player token. The object of the game is be the first to build three houses (of wood, brick, or straw, as in the fairy tale), and the houses are also represented by absolutely beautiful plastic pieces.

Most of these miniatures are completely superfluous. When we played, we often forget to move the miniatures around the table, mostly because it wasn't necessary to do so. They were placeholders, memory aids, guides to help with the timing involved in turn order. But we understood the mechanics so well, even on first playthrough, that the minis weren't really necessary.

So we have a game here that presents a dilemma: do you buy it because the components are absolutely stunning, even though they're not really necessary? Or do you buy it because it's a fun game, regardless of the components themselves?

I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's look at the ratings.

Strategy and Randomness are rated from 0 to 6. A 0 means the rated aspect plays no part in determining the game's outcome; and a 6 means that it is the only factor that determines the game's outcome. Complexity is also rated from 0 to 6; a 0 means that it's so simple a six-year-old can play it, a 3 means any adult should have no trouble playing, and a 6 means that you'll need to refer to the rulebook frequently. Humour can be rated as 'None,' meaning the game is not meant to be funny, or it may have one or more of the following: Derivative (meaning the humour is based on an outside source, such as a game based on a comedy film), Implicit (meaning that the game's components are funny, such as humourous card text), or Inherent (meaning that the actions the players take are funny). Attractiveness has nine possible ratings. Ideal: the game is beautiful and makes game play easier. Pretty: The design is beautiful and neither eases nor impedes game play. Nice: The design is beautiful but makes game play harder than necessary. Useful: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but eases gameplay. Average: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Useless: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but makes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Utilitarian: The design is ugly, but eases gameplay. Ugly: The design is ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Worthless: The design is ugly, andmakes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Average Length of Game Play describes how long an average game will probably last, give or take. Gamer Profile Ratings measures how strongly a game will appeal to players based on their interest in one of four areas. These areas are measured as High, Medium, or Low. Strategy describes how much a game involves cognitive challenges, thinking and planning, and making sound decisions. Conflict describes how much direct hostile action there is between players, from destroying units to stealing resources. Social Manipulation describes how much bluffing, deceiving, and persuading there is between players. Fantasy describes how much a game immerses players in another world, another time.

Strategy: 4
Randomness: 3
Complexity: 1
Humour: None
Attractiveness: Pretty
Average Length of Game Play: 60 minutes
Gamer Profile Ratings:
  Strategy: Medium
  Conflict: Medium
  Social Manipulation: Medium
  Fantasy: High

An Overview of The Grimm Forest

One of the player pieces. A grey plastic miniature of an anthropomorphised pig wearing a sun bonnet and scarf, holding a scythe and a bundle of straw, on a light blue base.

Players take on the roles of the relatives of three little pigs, from the fairy tale. They have decided to have a house building competition, with characters from other fairy tales watching and occasionally helping out. Each player has a play mat on which they organise their resources. On this mat, they keep their building materials (cardboard tokens representing wood, straw, and bricks) as well as the houses they're building. There are three levels to each house (floor, walls, and roof) in the three building materials. On the player mat in the foreground of the photo at the beginning of this article, you can see a wooden house that is so far only a floor, a straw house that has a floor and walls, and a brick house that has floor, walls, and a roof.

Play takes place in two phases: the gather phase and the build phase. In the gather phase, players compete to get the building materials they need. In the build phase, players use the materials they have accumulated to construct their houses. Once a player has three complete houses on their mat, they win.

Gather Phase

In addition to the player mats, there's a series of locations: the brickyard, the forest, the fields, and the market (the market is only used in a four-player game). Each of these receives a number of material tokens at the start of each turn (3 bricks in the brickyard, 4 wood in the forest, and 5 straw in the fields - the market, if present, gets one of each). These are added to any tokens that may be remaining from previous turns.

The players reveal cards simultaneously to indicate which location they want to go to. Ostensibly, you're supposed to put your miniatures on the location you've chosen, but we didn't mess with it, because it seemed to add an unnecessary extra step to the game.

Regardless, the resources on that location are distributed evenly amongst the players who are there. Players move these resources to their player mats. 

Build Phase

Players then take turns using the resources they have to build their houses. It costs 2 of the appropriate resource to build a floor (two bricks for the floor of a brick house, for example), 4 of the needed resource to add walls to a floor, and six resources to finish a house off with a roof.

Alternately, instead of building, you may simply draw a single resource, or you may take a Fable Card. 

Permutations

Notice I mentioned Fable Cards above. These are cards that grant you special abilities. Players may play a single Fable Card along with their location card in the Gather Phase. If you do, that card has an effect. These effects can range from fairly simple (all players who have gone to the same location as you must choose a different location instead) to fairly complex (like the monster cards; when you play a monster card, you place the appropriate monster mini on one of the location cards, and that monster affects the location in some way. For example, the dragon causes all players at the same location as the dragon to discard all their resource tokens).

There are also Friend Cards; you normally gain a Friend Card when you build walls on one of your houses, but you can get them in other ways as well. Friend Cards grant you special abilities, like the Fairy Godmother card, which allows you to draw two Fable Cards as a special action during the Build Phase, and can be discarded to trade two Fable Cards for any two resource tokens.

Ending a Game of The Grimm Forest

Once a player has three complete houses, the game is over and that player is declared the winner. However, if two or more players finish three houses in the same round, the player with the sturdiest house wins (brick beats wood, and wood beats straw).

Final Thoughts on The Grimm Forest

I enjoyed this game far more than I thought I would. The game play was enjoyable, with some depth, and just the right amount of screwage to make it fun without being maddening. And so help me, the miniatures were just absolutely beautiful. Some of the monsters in particular were amazing:

Three of the monster minis. One is the dragon, standing on top of one of the pigs' houses with his wings spread wide. Another is the big bad wolf, standing with a cane propping him up. The third is the bridge troll, hunkered underneath a segment of a bridge.

Of course, some people have already painted their minis. You can see a lot of really great work on the Board Game Geek images page. But even without painting, they're astoundingly lovely.

And let's not forget the six characteristics of a good game:
  • It's fun to lose.
  • It has no player elimination.
  • It ends decisively.
  • It relies on player agency.
  • It's not overly complicated.
  • It allows for upsets.
Another game with all six! Nicely done!

So the only thing we really need to ask is this: is the added expense of the stunning (but perhaps not entirely necessary) minis in this a point in favour of buying it? Or just a pretty thing to look at whilst playing the game that is a lot of fun even without the minis?

One other thing I will say about this game is that it is almost as good as Wasteland Express Delivery Service at packing a whole lot of components so very well into its box with very little wasted space.

So there's my review. I hope you have found it to be entertaining, or at least informative! So I will see you back here again some time in the future. Until then, remember to

Game on!

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