09 October 2018
If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big… box
The Grimm Forest is a simple worker-placement game set in the world of fairytales, specifically the world of The Three Little Pigs. The original pigs have grown old and idle, so when the king institutes an aggressive building programme it is their younger relatives who answer the call – that’s you. Having learned nothing from your uncles and aunts, you must gather straw, wood and bricks to build houses all over the kingdom’s pastoral idyll; the first to three wins.
I have to declare an interest: I designed a fairly well-known game about fairytales. That doesn’t make me biased, but it does mean I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this subject. Fairytales and folklore are an amazingly flexible and robust setting for a game; the characters and situations are recognisable and you can mix and match them. But you can shovel in too many, and without some sense of purpose the whole thing can fall flat.
The box for The Grimm Forest is anything but flat. This is one of the best-presented games I’ve ever seen. The minis are large and expressive, from pigs to giants and big bad wolves. The artwork is gorgeous, there are components for everything and I’ve never felt the need to praise box inserts before. It’s a lovely package; I wish I could say the same about the gameplay.
On each turn you simultaneously reveal the location from which you’re going to gather straw, wood or bricks, as well as an optional fable card that can introduce new conditions, bonuses and penalties, depending on where everyone is gathering. Then there’s a buying phase, where you get fable cards and purchase building parts (floors, walls and roofs, in that order), followed by a building phase. If you build a wall you get a friend card: someone from the realms of fairytales to grant you extra powers.
The fables and friends bring the complexity and fun to the game. Fables tend to be single-use, friends are more powerful and stick around but you can only have one in play at a time – and new ones automatically bump old ones, so you can’t hang on to a strong companion for too long. The art is beautiful, the mood is well judged and they bring a bit of magic to the game board.
First player with three finished houses wins, and that’s the game. It’s not sophisticated or long, it’s hard to not do well and luck plays a large part. The core of the game is choosing where to gather resources and predicting where others will choose – it’s a mechanic that’s familiar and not terribly interesting.
The Grimm Forest doesn’t do anything with its storytelling elements. You’re building empty houses for a greedy king, and the one who builds the most wins. That’s not very fable-ish. The game uses the tropes of folklore, beautifully illustrated, to tell a story of commercial exploitation. It feels like you’re a Shrek villain.
The trouble with The Grimm Forest is that it’s a £25 game in a £50 package. The lovely components don’t add much; you don’t need a huge troll mini if it’s only going to be on the board for a few seconds. This is a beautiful masterclass in presentation. It’s a shame that there isn’t more gameplay to it.
Lovely art and minis can’t disguise thin, repetitive gameplay. The box says it’s for ages 14-plus, but this may be one just for the kids.
Designer: Tim Eisner
Artist: Mr. Cuddington
Time: 40-60 minutes
This review originally appeared in the August 2018 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.
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