The Fox in the Forest – Review
At first glance, The Fox in the Forest is very unassuming. It comes in a tiny package with little more than a simple deck of cards. In fact, while some cards feature special artwork and abilities, the look of the deck is nearly identical to regular playing cards. The essence of the game – winning or losing tricks by playing cards – is also nothing new. However, a solely 2-player trick-taking experience is definitely more unique, making this a great addition to the genre, as it offers enough in its mechanics to set it apart from the crowd. You’ll quickly understand it, but you won’t quickly master it. The level of strategy and finesse required to succeed at The Fox in the Forest makes it a pleasure to come back to many times over.
ARTWORK AND COMPONENTS
The Fox in the Forest has, almost unnecessarily, had the theme and artwork injected into it. The concepts and mechanics don’t exactly need a theme to be fun, and really, could even be accomplished with a simple deck of cards and some text. Here’s the thing, though: the art is magical, beautiful, and half of what makes The Fox in the Forest so great. Had this been a game with no theme and just the card numbers, suits and abilities, I still would have enjoyed it, but I would likely be less inclined and excited to play it. The artwork and characters on all the odd-numbered cards, along with the light theme behind it all, makes this game a treat to unpack and start playing, and even to look at as you flip through the cards in your hand.
The characters on the odd-numbered cards have been gorgeously drawn, and although you might start by calling out cards by their numbers, I quickly found myself referring to them by their characters just because of how much I appreciated and enjoyed the art. There’s something extra satisfying about saying “I’ll play a swan” instead of “I’ll play a 1”.
The art is magical, beautiful, and half of what makes The Fox in the Forest so great.
I also appreciate the time and effort put in to creating a theme to house the gameplay. Again, this game could function without one, but I would guess that under a more mundane, simpler name and without the theme and art, it wouldn’t be quite as cherished.
I’m a sucker for games that take simple mechanics and trick me into thinking there isn’t a lot to them, and then reveal their deeper strategy over multiple plays. The Fox in the Forest embodies this philosophy perfectly. Once you understand the trump suit and the lead suit and how they each take precedence in different situations when deciding the winner of tricks, and especially once you start to utilize character abilities more often and more efficiently, you really start to grasp how you can command the strategy. Rather than simply playing cards to try and win a trick, you’ll begin thinking of ways to manipulate the trump suit to your advantage or empty your hand in a certain way to allow yourself to be able to play any card you wish, because your opponent mostly has cards of the suit you don’t.
The Fox card serves as a great example, being one of the most important cards to fully understand when to play it. When I first started playing, I saw this mostly as a way to get rid of a card I didn’t want, gain one I did want, or give myself a slight edge by changing the trump suit. However, the timeliness of playing this card can’t be overstated. You have to take into account if your opponent also has a Fox card and can switch the suit back and, if so, do you wait until they are forced to play theirs? You have to consider which suit to change the decree card to and when, as you will want to utilize it as best you can, but you’ll eventually run out of cards of that suit and might be looking to change the suit again. All of this strategy originates from a single ability card, which shows just how much The Fox in the Forest makes you think and consider, for a game that almost fits in your pocket.
I’m a sucker for games that take simple mechanics and trick me into thinking there isn’t a lot to them, and then reveal their deeper strategy over multiple plays. The Fox in the Forest embodies this philosophy perfectly.
All the ability cards tend to have this quality, where at face value, you will understand what they do and think you know when to play them. Then, after a couple games, you’ll start to truly understand when to play them and how to utilize them one step further. You constantly peel back these onion-like layers of simple mechanics, but instead of tears of sorrow, you’ll be crying tears of joy for just how delightful and deep an experience the game design provides.
Another important and unique aspect to mention is the scoring system. The aim of The Fox in the Forest is not always to win the most tricks. In fact, if you win too many or all of them, you actually score 0 points and your opponent will score several more than you. This creates a balancing act where you want to win some, and lose others, to try and end up in the middle of the road when the round ends. I enjoyed the variation and critical thinking this introduced to the game.
I will point out, however, that I found it very difficult to develop a strategy that revolved around winning very few tricks. The scoring system provides an opportunity to allow your opponent to win the majority of the tricks to end up defeating them in the round, but it never really felt achievable. My opponent would always notice when they were winning too many tricks and would have ways to lose the minimum needed in order to enter a safe zone for scoring. Any time I started with a hand that seemed like a good opportunity to try and only win 0-3 tricks and I went with that strategy, it would usually amount to my opponent being able to adjust, and push me to 4 tricks won, which meant a minimum amount of points for me and a maximum amount for them. It felt like the only way to truly utilize this aspect of the scoring system was to have your opponent play poorly and too aggressively early on and then punish them for it, but this rarely occurred.
It’s probably obvious by now that I had a great time with The Fox in the Forest most of the time. Some rounds were a bit disappointing in terms of the strategy my opponent and I were able to implement or not implement, but luckily, this game isn’t played over a single round. You continue to play until a player scores 21 points, which generally takes 3-4 rounds. So, a single disappointing round is usually offset by a better experience in the next one.
It’s so satisfying how competitive and strategic an experience this can be for such a low barrier to entry and with so little space needed to play. I can have this set up and ready to play in 2 minutes and be deep into the third or fourth turn of the game within another 2. There aren’t many better options in terms of small games for 2 players that provide some real thinking and meaningful decisions.
However, you need to have a bit of a competitive bug for playing this type of game. If you gravitate more to co-operative experiences with 2 players, or takes losses to heart, this game could be frustrating. Due to the unique scoring system, rounds often end with both players being noticeably far apart in scores, despite both winning tricks and playing well-thought-out games. Before developing a concrete grasp of the mechanics, it’s easy to feel like you’re doing everything right and winning tricks often, only to watch your opponent come out on top and get to 21 points without you ever hitting 10 points. This won’t be an issue for everyone, but those that enjoy it less might prefer The Fox in the Forest Duet over the original.
I also noticed after several games that the first 3-5 tricks were very random, making it tough to form a long-term plan. This would vary depending on the hand I was dealt, but it was often too difficult to develop any sort of concrete approach until midway through the round once I had a clearer picture of what my opponent might or might not have in their hand. The later tricks usually made for some interesting and thoughtful final turns, but some games felt like I never really developed a satisfying game plan.
The Fox in the Forest is a very inexpensive game that can get you a lot of mileage. Really, it just comes down to how often you look for quick, deep 2-player games and how often you look to play longer, more involved experiences. Undeniably, you’re getting a lot of game for a small price tag, but for some people, a game like this might get played for a while and then sit on a shelf and only come out every so often when you’re looking for something quick. That being said, for the cost, it’s probably still worth it, even if you only play it every month or two.
The later tricks usually made for some interesting and thoughtful final turns, but some games felt like I never really developed a satisfying game plan.
Beyond the price tag, this is a game that you discover and learn more about the more you play, so there’s a lot of incentive to come back for multiple plays. Of course, if you play with new people, rather than the same opponent all the time, you’ll also have the added bonus of trying out new strategies based on how your new opponent chooses to play.
Since The Fox in the Forest can only be played with 2 players, it means that if you often host groups, have friends over or play with multiple people, logistically, you just won’t play much. However, if that isn’t an issue or you’re looking to have 2-player options in your collection, this will be an affordable and fun choice to fill that need.
The Fox in the Forest packs a lot of punch for such a small package and it will really end up being whatever you make of it. If you want to delve deep into the intricacies and strategy, you can and you’ll be rewarded with surprising depth and plenty of options for what essentially just amounts to playing cards with art. It isn’t necessary to fully dive deep into all the complexities of The Fox in the Forest, but you’ll likely have a more interesting and varied experience if you do. Despite some stumbles in the opening tricks and some failed attempts to utilize some riskier maneuvers, I had a great time with The Fox in the Forest and I’ll come back to it many times when looking for a quick, rewarding 2-player experience.
- Beautiful artwork.
- Easy to teach and quick to play.
- Simple mechanics with deceptively deep strategy if you want it.
- Early turns tend to be less interesting.
- Point system is unique, but scores often end in the same brackets.
- Can sometimes feel like you did well, only to result in a loss and large score gap.