Enter a place of mystery and legend, where unknown encounters await you. Keep your wits about you, for the craftiest players will be victorious when you enter Into the Black Forest.
What Is Into the Black Forest?
Into the Black Forest is a new game coming to Kickstarter on September 12, designed by Jason Slingerland and published by Green Couch Games. It is a light complexity card game for 2-4 players, ages 8+, and plays in approximately 30-45 minutes. The base pledge level is $19 and there will also be a deluxe version that includes a playmat.
Into the Black Forest Components
This is a small box game, containing everything that you need to play in a deck of cards. In addition to the items below, you will need a pen and paper to keep track of scoring.
- 48 Player Cards (separated into 4 player decks of 12 cards each)
- 18 Encounter Cards
Each player deck contains twelve cards, numbered from 1 to 12 and separated into four animal groups: 1-3 is the frog, 4-6 is the squirrel, 7-9 is the lynx, and 10-12 is the owl. Additionally, each card contains one of four suits – wands, swords, spellbooks, or potions. Although each deck contains the same numbered cards with the same animal art, the suits vary from one deck to another. So while one player’s 1 card might be a wand, another player’s is a spellbook,and a third’s is a potion. This subtle difference creates variability from deck to deck, providing each player with unique options and strategies.
The Encounter Cards are all similar with the exception of the right side of each card, which offers a unique win condition for that card. Typically, this is related to having the highest or lowest numbered card of a specific suit or animal. I really like the format of the Encounter Cards, which are done in a way that clearly define the win conditions of each side of the card, using simple graphics and wording, thus negating a need for any player reference. Essentially, the basic rules are on the cards.Although I was sent a prototype to play, the artwork appears to be final. As you can see from the images above, the cards are beautifully rendered in a style reminiscent of classic children stories, with the numbers and suits clearly identifiable in the upper left corner. While there isn’t a lot of variety in the artwork, instead of detracting from the game, it strengthens the relationship between the Player Cards and the symbology on the Encounter Cards, making the game easy to learn and grasp.
How to Play Into the Black Forest
In a 3 or 4-player game each player shuffles their deck and then draws six cards. The Encounter Deck is also shuffled and three Encounter Cards are revealed. The Encounter Cards will be played one at a time during the round, but three of them are revealed up front so that players may plan ahead on how to best utilize the cards available to them.
Starting with the player who has last spent time in the woods, players take turns placing cards to an available location along one of the four sides of the Encounter Card. Two cards can be played to both the top and bottom of the card, only one card to the left side, and lastly, each player can play one card to the right side. Play continues clockwise until the top, bottom, and left side of the Encounter Card is filled. At this point, the encounter ends, even if no one has played cards to the right side yet.
After each encounter, players will score points based on the win condition for each side of the card as follows:
- Bottom: The low card wins, scoring points equal to the value of the higher numbered card. In the case of a tie, no one gets points.
- Left: If the card placed here matches the suit of one of the cards placed along the top, then that player will score points equal to the value of the card played here.
- Top: In opposition to the bottom, high card wins. The winning player scores points equal to the value of the lower card and in case of a tie, no one gets points.
- Right: While the other three sides of all eighteen Encounter Cards included in the game are always the same, the right side of each one presents a unique win condition. For instance, the condition might state that the highest squirrel card wins, or that the lowest potion card wins. Each player may play one card at this location, face-down. The cards are then revealed at the end of the encounter and the one that matches the condition scores 6 points. If there is a tie, then the player in second place (if any) scores 6 points.
In addition to the scoring above, each time a player receives the starting player token, including at the beginning of the game, they score 1 point. Here is an example of scoring.
After scoring, any cards that won are discarded while cards that didn’t score points are returned to their respective player’s hand. Then the starting player token is passed clockwise, and the next encounter begins.
After finishing three encounters, the round ends and a new one begins. Players draw their other six cards, three new Encounter Cards are revealed, and the process repeats. At the end of the second round, the player with the highest score wins. If there is a tie, the player with the most cards still in hand is the victor.
The 2-player game plays similarly except that the players each take two decks and shuffle them together into a deck of twenty-four cards. Then they each draw eight cards to begin the game instead of six. At the end of a round of three Encounter Cards, the next eight cards are added to any remaining cards in their hands, and players must discard down to eight cards total. After the second round of three Encounter Cards, the final eight cards are added to any remaining cards in hand, players discard down to eight cards again, and another three Encounter Cards are played. The game ends after three rounds of three Encounter Cards and high score wins.
Why You Should back Into the Black Forest
I’ll start off by saying that after playing with my eight-year-old daughter (who prefers cooperative games) and my wife (who prefers not to game), both of them were asking to play again! I can’t give the game a higher compliment than that. At first glance, Into the Black Forest appears to be a simple card game, and in many respects, it is. With only a few rules, it is easy to teach and quick to learn, but like it’s namesake, there are hidden mysteries the deeper you explore.
After taking a few minutes to read and explain the rules, we stepped into the forest. Within the first few Encounter Cards, we had a good rhythm going of steadily playing cards down until the Encounter Card was full. Then my daughter would read off the points while I wrote them down. The losing cards were returned to their owners and on we went to the next encounter. But as play continued, small strategies revealed themselves that we didn’t see at first. For example, being the starting player held many interesting choices – do I play my 12 card to the top side of the Encounter Card now, hoping that someone won’t undercut it with a 1 or a 2. Or do I hold onto it, to see if someone will play a 10 or 11 card that I can then beat for a big score? Additionally, the variable win condition on the right side of the Encounter Card, combined with having to lay your card face-down, allowed for opportunities to sneak in an easy 6 points, or to bluff that you had the best card so that others wouldn’t try to score there.
Although filled with many interesting choices, I also found the game to be well balanced due to the card return mechanic. Since players whose cards score points are discarded after each encounter while non-scoring cards are returned to their player’s hands, someone who wins several sides on the first Encounter Card or two, will have less cards to compete with on the second and third Encounter Card. This was reflected in the overall score, as the point leader shifted throughout the game, and there was only a few points difference between first and last come game’s end.
In a 2-player game, I felt that the game played very differently. Obviously, each player will have more opportunities to play cards on each Encounter Card, creating different strategies and gameplay in comparison to a 3 or 4-player game. I found the left side of the Encounter Card to be a powerful opening play since I could play a high card there before either of the top slots were filled, allowing me on my next turn to play a card of matching suit to the top side, guaranteeing that I score the high-value card I previously played. Whereas in a 3 or 4-player game, if you place a card on the left side early, the top would potentially be filled before your next turn, allowing players to play off suit, keeping you from scoring that card. The different dynamic that the 2-player variant provides makes it feel like you are almost getting two games for the price of one.
Overall, I would highly recommend Into the Black Forest as a good filler game that is great for families, yet has enough strategy and depth to entertain more hardcore gamers. So if this sounds like a game for you, check out the Kickstarter page and pledge to enter Into the Black Forest.
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.