- Game Length: 5-10 minutes
- Mechanics: Hand Management, Trick Taking
- Release Year: 2021 (Steam)
- Designer: Joshua Buergel
- Artist: Jennifer L. Meyer
- Publisher: Direwolf Digital
A pre-release review code was provided by Direwolf Digital. I played the Steam version of The Fox and the Forest.
Trick taking games are a tale as old as time and have been ubiquitous throughout my growing up. My mom had a group of three other ladies who would gather and play Hearts until the wee hours of the morning. Later on in life, Euchre, Whist, and Spades were added to the rotation, with slight tweaks to the rules depending on who was joining the table that night and where they came from. As I got older, my family started playing Wizard during our reunions, and now we have reached the point where everyone in my family owns their own copy.
One thing most trick taking games have in common is that they often require three or more players. It is rare that a trick taking game works when only two players are at the table. Enter The Fox in the Forest by Joshua Buergel. The Fox in the Forest is a trick taking game for 2 players. No more, no less. Players are tasked with utilizing the cards in their hand to manipulate the game in order to win most of the tricks.
The Fox in the Forest offers a couple spins on the traditional trick-taking game model. First, there are only 3 suits available. Second, all of the odd cards have some kind of special ability that can spin the game in different ways, and third, you can earn a lot of points by losing nearly every trick.
How to Play
For anyone who hasn’t played a trick taking game before, some of these terms may be a bit foreign to you. Real quick talk about the core of almost all trick taking games – a trick is all the cards played in a round and ‘trump’ is the suit of cards that overpowers the other suits. In general, when the first player in a round ‘leads’ by playing a card, all subsequent players have to ‘follow’ by playing a card of the same suit if they have one. If someone doesn’t have a card of the lead suit, they’re free to play any card from their hand. Once all players have played a card, whoever played the highest card of the lead suit takes the trick, unless a trump card was played, in which case the player who played the highest trump card wins the trick.
With that out of the way, you now have the basic rules to dozens of games. What makes The Fox and the Forest special is how it takes that basic concept and offers clever wrinkles and ways to manipulate the game state. Let’s talk about what The Fox and the Forest does differently.
First, Each player is dealt 13 of the 33 card deck, with the remaining 7 cards being set aside as the draw deck. The top card of the draw deck is flipped faceup. The faceup card is called the Decree, and dictates which suit has ‘trump’.
The non-dealer player leads on the first trick of a round. After that, unless specified otherwise, the winner of the last trick leads the following trick. The leader can play any card from their hand without restrictions. The follower must play a card of the same suit as the leader if they have one.
In The Fox and the Forest every odd card has a special ability. Those abilities are resolved as soon as the card is played, before any other cards are played or tricks are resolved. Some will have you drawing and discarding cards, others will have allow you to change the decree cards, and others will let you lead the next trick if you lose this one.
Play continues until all the cards in your hand have been played. At the end of the round each player totals how many tricks they won, and earn points based off the chart below. In general, you want to win more tricks than your opponent, but don’t get greedy or you’ll be punished with a big fat 0 points.
Shuffle all the cards back together and deal out another round. Play continues until someone meets or exceeds 21 points.
My experience with the physical game has been a story of hardship and trials. I played The Fox in the Forest half a dozen times against the same opponent over the course of the last two years, and in every game I get pushed around. I start off the hand doing well, snagging up the first four tricks with no resistance, only to be denied every trick thereafter through my opponent’s clever card play. Or somehow even worse, to be deliberately giving away tricks, trying to achieve the Humble status, only to have tricks forced into my hand, causing me naught but pain.
The Fox in the Forest is a lovely game for a pair of players. Only being a 33 card deck instantly makes this a contender for travel or playing while out of the homestead. The art on the cards is lovely, and the theme is calm and serene. If you really want to get into the story, Foxtrot has published the fairy tale that inspired this design over on their website. Even more portable than a 33 card deck is your phone with the newly published app.
Direwolf Digital is no stranger to making digital adaptions to board games. Root and Sagrada both have excellent apps that live up to the excellent quality of game as it’s cardboard counterparts, but also exudes charm with subtle animations and good UX choices.
I enjoyed playing The Fox in the Forest on my computer. The sepia toned forest background made me feel at ease, in the same way that a lovely autumn walk does. The flourishes of colour and light when ‘cards’ are placed imbues a semi-magical feeling. My only qualm with the interface is that you had to drag the card to play it, not simply click it. I can only imagine that during playtesting someone was the victim of errant mis-clicks and the decision was made to set dragging your card as the best way to play.
The in-game tutorial does a very good job of walking you through the first half of a game, explaining what’s necessary to get you started before leaving you to discover the nuance of the special abilities on your own. Beyond the tutorial you have options to play locally against the AI (no pass and play options at time of this writing). I tried two games against each of the 3 levels of AI and honestly didn’t notice much of a difference in difficulty. I managed to thoroughly trounce each one of them, earning myself 7 or 8 points per round. I’d say maybe I just got lucky, but my experience with the card game and getting utterly trounced over and over tells me there’s more needed to win than luck.
The Fox in the Forest also includes challenges. The challenges offer different scenarios that introduce new aspects to the core gameplay of The Fox in the Forest. The challenge “Might Makes Right” throws out the Humble victory condition and tasks you with getting as many tricks as possible. The “Meek Shall Inherit” challenge flips the script with the player earning between 4 and 6 of the tricks earning the bulk of the points. One scenario randomizes your cards after every trick, and another adds an entire other suit! Each of these challenges come in two difficulty levels and offers a fun twist to test your mettle and mastery of the trick taking system.
Over all, I enjoyed the digital implementation of The Fox in the Forest. It’s fast to play, pretty to look at, and doesn’t waste your time with overly egregious animations. The Fox in the Forest is kind of game best played in a cool morning with a hot cup of tea while you slowly rouse yourself from your slumber. Direwolf Digital has created a faithful implementation of the original game, and has even offered interesting challenges to shake up the experience so the app isn’t just a plain recreation of the physical version. I’m hopeful there will be some updates, possibly with more challenges or with the implementation of a local pass and play feature. I’m excited to explore the online mode when The Fox in the Forest launches on Steam, iOS and Android on October 18th.