In the test, Living Forest impresses with its focus: forest and fantasy are two themes that are popular with board games. In Living Forest by Ludonaute, which will be released in German by Pegasus in March, players take on the role of one of the four nature spirits and try to protect the forest from Onibi's flames together. However, it is not a cooperative game. In the end, only a ghost can save the forest and win.

“For many years, the magnificent, mystical forest has served as a source of calm and peace. But now the Sacred Tree of the Forest is being threatened by the Onibi's devastating flames and needs the help of four powerful nature spirits: Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter." In the role of one of these four spirits, the players put out fires, plant protective trees or try to awaken Sanki, the ancient guardian of the forest, in order to win the fight against Onibi. 

That's how it's written about the story of the game. Like the "villain" Vesh Direhand (Island of Cats), Onibi does not play a significant role in the game, but is more of a historical element. But Onibi at least has the opportunity to sneak into the player's deck in the form of the fire monitor lizards. 

With his first work, author Aske Christiansen has created an upscale family game/easy connoisseur game whose imaginative artwork by Apolline Etienne (Momiji, Wreck Raiders, Muse) almost steals the show from the good game mechanics. The fact that the game is the winner in the “initié” category (analogous to Kennerspiel des Jahres) of the French As d’Or, which was awarded for the first time in 2022, is by no means luck, but an indication that the game is doing some things right. What does it well and what doesn't quite work will follow after a brief overview of the game and the rules.

Even the box is a work of art in itself Image: Ludonaute

Colorful, more colorful, Living Forest

What is in the forest that we want to protect? If you look behind or under the beautiful artwork of the box, you will find a green cardboard inlay inside that cleanly separates the large parts (holders for the trees, tableaus, stone circle) and the other game materials such as cards, flames and trees. With the stone circle, there is a small playing field on which all players stand with their game pieces and, depending on the number of movement symbols drawn, can run in a circle.

Everyone also has their own forest tableau on which they plant their trees. These can be found on small square tiles that you can place in two nice holders as a supply during the game, on which the number of trees depending on the number of players is also indicated. In addition, there are two tableaus for the “good” (animals of the forest) and the “bad” (fire monitor lizards) cards and of course a corresponding number of cards of the respective type.

The animals of the forest are central to the push-your-luck and deck-building element of the game. If they are in the personal animal row, they bring the elements depicted on them. The animals come in three types: neutral (no icon), solitary (black icon) and sociable animals (white icon) and in three tiers.

Loners, sociable animals, neutral animals and fire monitors meet the players in Living Forest Photo: Jonas Dahmen

Protect the forest

The game runs over several rounds, each with three phases. In the first phase, which everyone carries out at the same time, the players draw from their face-down animal stack, which initially consists of 9 neutral and 5 loner animals, and thus form their animal row. After each card you can decide whether to draw another card or stop. If you uncover a third lone wolf animal, you have to stop drawing immediately and instead of the usual two actions you have only one action available in this round. With magic fragments you can discard the last card drawn without any effect. If you have sociable animals in your row, they each neutralize one of the loner animals, so that there can be more loner animals in the animal row.

When everyone has finished drawing their cards, they perform one or two actions one after the other. There are a total of five different options to choose from, of which two different ones must be selected.

With the sun symbol you can attract any number of animals with the corresponding total value and place them on top of your draw pile. Fires with a corresponding overall size can be extinguished with the water drop symbol. The spiral symbol allows you to advance steps on the stone circle up to the number of symbols drawn. If you overtake another ghost, you can steal one of his bonus tiles. Then you carry out the bonus action of the space on which the turn ends, or you may draw a magic fragment.

The stone circle around which the spirits walk with flames by Onibi Photo: Jonas Dahmen

With the seedling symbol you can choose exactly one tree up to the corresponding value and plant it on your forest board. All trees give a bonus to play. Completing certain rows or columns grants additional bonuses. If you plant in one of the four corners you get either a bonus action or two magic fragments. A new tree must be planted horizontally or perpendicularly to existing trees. The last option in the turn allows you to draw a magic fragment.

In the last section of the round, Onibi's attack must be repelled. To do this, you count the total on the fire tiles in the stone circle and each spirit compares this value with the value of its water drops. If you have fewer, as many fire monitor lizards go on the respective player's discard pile as there are fire tiles in the stone circle. Then Onibi attacks. Place as many 2-, 3- and 4-fire tiles in the stone circle as animals of the corresponding level 1, 2 or 3 were attracted in the previous round. Then the display of forest animals is replenished, the animal row for this round is placed on your personal discard pile and the starting player tree goes to the next player. 

Who saves the forest?

The game continues as described above until one of the players has fulfilled one of the three victory conditions at the end of a round. These are 12 different trees on the forest board, 12 extinguished fires (regardless of the values ​​printed on them) or 12 sacred flower symbols. The bonus tiles and all bonuses that may be unlocked on the forest board or visible on trees count for this. If several games have fulfilled one of the victory conditions at the end of a round, the sum of all three victory conditions is used to decide the winner. 

The forest tableau with some planted trees and a row of animals Image: Jonas Dahmen

Living Forest isn't just a visually appealing game. A high degree of interaction between the players, elements of luck combined with a good portion of tactics that you have to adapt flexibly to the cards drawn and several ways to victory are further plus points that it can claim for itself. On the 16 pages of the rule, which is very clearly designed with many examples, no questions remain unanswered.

The theme is very beautiful and of course lives from the outstanding artwork. Is the theme unique? Certainly not. Fantasy and forest themes are one of the trending themes in board games. Does it make the subject bad? Also definitely not. For this, Living Forest combines enough well-known elements in its own way, which, despite everything, makes the topic appear fresh and appealing.

The "villain" of the story is more of a historical means to an end, to give the motivation to protect the forest, which in my opinion shouldn't be rated as really negative and also occurs in this form in various other titles. The different victory conditions also make sense in the context of the topic. Only the third (12 holy flowers) seems a bit "empty", since the great guardian Sanki is only present via the text in the rules.

The trees in their stable holders Photo: Jonas Dahmen

The trees in their stable holders Photo: Jonas Dahmen

The absolute plus point of the game is the artistic design. The animals are beautifully designed in a mix of natural and imaginative style. The same goes for the ghosts, trees and tableaux. The colors are very present without being intrusive and everything seems to be made of one piece.

The symbols for the various elements are clearly distinguishable from each other and match the corresponding actions. After uncovering you have to get a brief overview of how much of which symbol you now have available. However, this is not a serious problem and cannot be attributed to the material, but rather to the mechanics.

The thick cardboard pieces in the game are all of good thickness and should last a long time. The same can be said about the cards. Stacking the fire tiles next to the animal stacks of the corresponding level, which is usually suggested, is somewhat cumbersome, since the tiles are rather small and have a fire shape. The holders for the trees work very well for this. They help to keep “the table” clear. The number of trees printed there, depending on the number of players, is a good help for the construction.

What is not there, but was not noticed negatively until I read it elsewhere, is a player help or round overview. For regular Kennerspiel players, this is not necessary due to the clarity of the rule. In order to do justice to the claim as a family game, however, this would be a helpful addition to the game material. 

Infobox

Number of players: (1) 2-4 (official solo mode on BoardGameGeek)
Age: from 10 years
Playing time: 30 to 60 minutes
Difficulty: medium
Long-term motivation: good
Genre: family game
Core mechanics: push-your-luck, deck building, race

Authors: Aske Chistiansen
Illustrations: Apolline Etienne
Publisher: Pegasus Games / Ludonaute
Official Website: Link
Year of publication: 2022
Language: German
Cost: 40 euros 


Summary

The most dominant mechanic of the game is clearly the push-your-luck element. But thanks to the sociable animals and the magic fragments, luck is not defenseless. If you follow the composition of your deck carefully (you can also look at the discard pile while you are forming your tier row), you can also weigh up well and assess based on the cards already drawn whether it might be worth the risk of drawing the third loner animal and only have one action available. Forward-thinking deck-building is the key to drawing even more luck on your side. 
Both mechanics mesh very well. The cost-benefit ratio of the individual forest animals is also well balanced.

The available elements of the forest animals are a bit confusing as mentioned above. Unfavorable moves can certainly result in you not being able to perform the actions that you would like to have carried out. If you collect fire tiles, for example, but your opponent has already deleted all of them, you must inevitably look for another action in this turn. But it's hardly the case that you can't carry out a meaningful action in a round. Sometimes it's just enough for the opponent to snatch the bonus or fire tiles that may be important for him from under or in front of his nose. This element also makes the game very interactive. If you don't pay attention to the victory condition that the opponents are trying to achieve, it can happen that the game is over before you can implement your entire strategy yourself.

The luck factor is definitely present. It is difficult to bring a tactic to its goal from the start without unwanted detours. For someone who wants to optimize every move, this may be an argument against the game. If you accept not always being able to do everything that would be optimal, you will definitely have a lot of fun playing this game.

The fun here is high. There is no novel as a set of rules to remember. The symbolism is clear and the optics know how to please you again and again. Due to the fact that 2/3 of the round is carried out in parallel and the action phase of the players only includes one or two actions, the downtime is also very low here. While the others are making their moves, you can also plan options for your own move. If you are not careful and are the only one to get many fire monitor lizards and loner animals, this will noticeably restrict you from a certain point. This restriction is then quickly stronger than would be well tolerated for a good balance between the players.

There is also a high degree of replayability here. The different victory conditions allow different strategies to be tried out. In addition, the existing interaction always depends on the strategy of the other players. 

Solo mode offers single players the opportunity to engage directly with Onibi. In each of the eleven specified rounds, Onibi adds flames with the value of the round number+1 to the stone circle. In this way, the sense of danger from the fire increases noticeably compared to multiplayer games. This makes Solo mode feel a lot more thematic in that regard. The four-page set of rules is not a hurdle either. The only notable change is that luring the animals does not bring flames into play. The mechanics remain the same for the solo player. The same applies to the victory conditions. The only change here is that the game cannot be won with extinguished flames. 

It would be nice if the solo mode were included directly in the game and instead of a somewhat out of place neutral spirit that runs around the stone circle with the solo player and can offer or steal bonus tiles, a figure for Onibi would be included . It feels weird when a spirit meant to protect the forest seems to side with Onibi in solo mode.

Is it worth buying the game especially for solo mode? That has to be answered with a no. But there is a lack of interaction between the players, which contributes a lot of good things to the gaming experience. In many rounds you have to use one of your actions to put out the flames, so that neither the seventh fire monitor lizard has to be drawn nor the eighth flame has to be added to the stone circle at the beginning of the next round. These are both defeat conditions. The challenge that the solo mode offers is quite high and you can adjust the basic difficulty down one level or up to three levels depending on your taste. It's not a really outstanding solo variant, but it's not bad either.

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Pegasus Games 51234G Living Forest Pegasus Games 51234G Living Forest * 29,99 EUR

Last updated on 26.09.2022/XNUMX/XNUMX / Affiliate Links / Images from the Amazon Product Advertising API. * = Affiliate links. Images from Amazon PA API