19 November 2019
A game for all seasons
Buy your copy of Bosk here
Spring brings fresh-sprouted trees growing up through the dirt. Summer’s warmth invites people to wander among the trunks, taking in the beauty of it all. Autumn sends golden leaves drifting down to the ground in mosaic patterns, before winter resets everything fresh for another year. In Bosk, the changing of the seasons isn’t just an abstract concept dressing up another otherwise generic strategy game; they’re real, tangible phases, distinct from each other as frost and sunshine but woven together into a single kaleidoscopic picture – albeit with a couple of loose ends.
Within its four-season structure, Bosk is two different area-control games in one. The first, the game’s spring and summer rounds, is the more straightforward. Players place eight trees of differing values on the intersections between the gridded board's rows and columns (‘trails’ in the game’s charmingly pastoral lingo), before totting up who has the highest and second most total along each vertical and horizontal line. Letting someone claim a plane undefended nets them more points, rewarding deliciously dickish blocking at the cost of claiming your own private stretch of the countryside.
Bosk’s second, stronger act pulls the game’s impressively cohesive vision together. You see, those trees aren’t done with once they’ve been scored in the summer. In autumn, the players spend their limited supply of numbered tokens to force each tree to shed a specific number of leaves to the ground, placing them in a line as directed by the shifting wind. The leaves stake a claim to the squares between the trails depending on who controls the most and second most squares in each of the different territories – but freshly-dropped leaves can cover those already on the floor, making it a literal pile-on as the tokens mount up. The ultimate affront is the squirrel, which each player can deploy to permanently seize control of a square – forget the bucolic theme, don’t be surprised if you see blood on the leaves.
Each of Bosk’s area-control puzzles is interesting enough alone, but it’s in the way that the more passively competitive first half of the year seeds the direct territorial struggle of the second that the game reaches above the canopy. Weighing up the separate-but-linked scoring possibilities of both rounds at once while you position your trees in the spring can be a little overwhelming – especially when teaching newcomers but there’s enough control over where your leaves fall during the autumn round to avoid the second half feeling futile after a so-so opener. Not to mention that the payoff of seeing your leaves scatter across the board and cover those of your opponents comes with its own sense of technicolour satisfaction.
The seasonal flow of Bosk makes its two-in-one dose of abstract strategy easier to digest – it’s honestly hard to think of a more fitting theme or presentation, outside of peeling edges on the card trees – but it also introduces a jolting start-stop momentum to the game. Having two of the four seasons be scoring rounds with similar but not identical rules makes the already overfussy scoring conditions (with different point values in spring and summer depending on who’s first and second, if they’re tied, if there’s only one player present, etc. for each and every trail/ territory) suck up more of the otherwise reasonable playing time than you’d ideally like, especially with more players. (The gameplay itself adjusts comfortably across the two- to four-player range thanks to scaling play areas.)
When you’re in the thick of its thickety creation, though, Bosk is wonderful. Slightly baggy scoring aside, its movement through the seasons is a remarkable thematic accomplishment, while its surprisingly sharp competitive edge gives its mirrored structure plenty to offer those after a meaningful strategy game – or two. Bish, bash, bosk.
PLAY IT? YES
Buy your copy of Bosk here
Designer: Andrews, Bouyouris
Artist: Moriya, Paquette
This review originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.