Dale Yu: Preview of Forest Shuffle (Lookout Games)

Forest Shuffle

  • Designer: Kosch
  • Publisher: Lookout Games
  • Players: 2-5
  • Age: 10+
  • Time: 60 minutes
  • Constructed a PnP Deck with files provided by publisher

“Life is bustling in the local forest: Animals scurry around the clearings looking for edible plants and insects. Some prefer the dense treetops, others the lush undergrowth and only feel comfortable in the shelter of the trees.  In this game, you create an ecologically balanced habitat for flora and fauna.  You play tree cards from your hand, to which you can add different animals, plants and mushrooms.  To score a lot of points, you need to honor their preferences: some creatures require the presence of their fellow species; others prefer certain habitats or food sources.”

So, I was offered the chance to take a look at the new release from Lookout Games, Forest Shuffle.  It was from a designer who I thought I had never heard of before, Kosch – but then when I did my research, I discovered that I actually own his first design, FYFE.  I thought there were a lot of clever ideas in FYFE, and I was pretty excited to try out the new game.

Little did I know that this would entail me printing out 180 cards… Well, good thing I’m still in the habit of prototyping card games, so over the duration of one extremely boring Bayern Munich match on TV, I printed and cut the cards for the game.  There are tree cards, and then two types of animal cards – one set is split horizontally while the other is split vertically.  (I have included a few pictures – but please note that they are all from a PnP prototype, and may not represent the final art, quality, layout, etc)

To setup, place the board and the FOURTEEN reference cards on the table.  Yes, I shouted it at you, 14.  Deal with it.  Each player takes a cave card in front of them.  The deck is prepared so that two winter cards are shuffled in the bottom third of the deck (and the 3rd winter card on the top of that bottom third).  Each player draws a hand of 6 cards to start.

On a turn, the active player takes one of two action choices: Draw 2 cards (from the deck or the clearing) or Play a card and check the Clearing.

When you draw cards, you draw them 1 at a time, either taking the top facedown card from the deck or any faceup card in the clearing.  Your hand limit is 10 cards, and you many not draw above that.  If you draw a Winter card, set it aside and re-draw – unless you draw the third Winter card, at which point the game ends immediately.

When you play a card, you must pay its cost (if it is a split card, you must say which part you are playing and then pay the cost matching that part).  The cost equals the number of cards from your hand which must be placed in the clearing.  There are no restrictions on what cards you can discard to the clearing, but you might be a reward for using certain types of cards to pay the cost of some cards.  If you play a tree, you also take the top card from the deck and play it to the Clearing.  Trees are played to the area in front of you, forming your forest.  Each of the four sides of a tree can have a card played to it (by sliding the unplayed half underneath the tree).  Only the visible portion of a card is considered part of your forest.

Many of the cards have special effects and/or bonuses on them – both of which are optional.  However, you must decide whether or not to do the special effect first before choosing to take the bonus or not.  Most effects are one-time instant effects though the Mushroom cards proving ongoing benefits once played.  There are a LOT of different types of cards, and this is what those fourteen reference cards are used for – a short description of the effects and bonuses for all the card types can be found in alphabetical order on those cards.  There is also a digital appendix that can be accessed if you’re the sort of gamer who plays games with one hand holding their smartphone.

As a final option, you can play any card facedown (for free) as a tree sapling.  This sapling still has all 4 spaces available for cards to be played upon, but it does not count as a tree nor as any specific tree species.

At the end of your turn, check to see how many cards are in the clearing; if there are 10+ cards, collect all the cards in the Clearing and place them in the box; they are out of the game.

The game continues until the third Winter card is revealed, at which point the game immediately ends.  At this time, players score their forest by adding up the acorns on all of their visible cards and adding one acorn per card in their cave (some of the card effects allow you to place cards into your cave).  The player with the most points wins. There is no tiebreaker.

My thoughts on the game

Well, after uncramping my hand from all the cutting, we got Forest Shuffle to the table, and I must say it is a pretty neat game.  The nature theme and the beautiful art create a very nice game playing experience, and the game itself is challenging with all of the different effects, bonuses and scoring situations that you must consider.

Sure, many of the turns are spent drawing cards to put into your hand.  As you must pay for cards with other cards from your hand, I find that I like to keep my hand size fairly large.  That being said, sometimes the cards cycle a lot between the Clearing and then picked back up into your hand.  As long as the Clearing stays under the limit of 10 cards, you can drop stuff off as payment and then pick it back up on the next turn to use again.  This ability also makes the decision of what to discard a little less painful sometimes as there is a high likelihood that you can get back whatever card you were forced to use as a cost.

The speed of the game can be quite dependent on how much cycling goes on in the game.  In a 3p game, you use at most 138 non-Winter cards in the deck, so removing 10 cards from a full clearing represents 7% of the game!  If this happens three or four times, you can imagine how quick that game might turn out…  As the endgame is a Wertung-like situation, it is not uncommon for the deck to still have 15 to 20 cards in it when the end abruptly arrives.  Usually, once I see the first Winter card (signifying that we’re entering the final third of the deck), I try to wind up my unpaired scoring cards, etc.  I find that if I don’t start then, the game always ends before I get my plans together…

 As I mentioned earlier, there are a LOT of different card types, and your first few games will be a bit longer as you try to figure out what all your possibilities are.  To the credit of the graphic designer, the icons are pretty easy to understand, and there aren’t many cards that you can’t figure out fairly easily.  But… when you have six trees in your forest already, with maybe fifteen cards already played around those trees, and a hand of seven or eight cards, many of which have two different sides to consider – there are a lot of things to try to cross reference when you try to pick your best move.

For me, I’m happy to just find a play that seems beneficial enough for me and just play it.  If I were the Analysis Paralysis type, well, maybe I’d not be playing this game as there is a lot of different things that you could try to examine.  Given that every card has a way to score points, and many of them rely upon other cards (some in your own forest, but maybe some in everyone else’s forests) – I don’t sweat the details too much and play by feel for now.  

I wonder if that is the intent – to give too many possibilities to make it not worth trying to figure out the scoring for everything… To some degree, this is also what happens in FYFE as I also don’t try to min/max all the different scoring surfboards – just focus on a few and hope the rest works out!  (Maybe that is the hallmark of a Kosch game, and I just don’t have a large enough sample to know it!).  There is surely some AP potential here if someone wants to try to figure every possible combination out – but thus far in our group, it has been only a potential and not a reality.

The artwork is beautiful (assuming I have the finished art), and the whole thing looks pretty neat on the table.  Right now, I’m playing with unsleeved slips of paper – which works well enough for a print and play preview; but I think with regular cards this will be gorgeous (and you won’t worry too much about rogue gusts of wind when someone sits down next to you a bit too forcefully).  The print is borderline small, but the icons are good, and as we have played, we have become familiar with the animal pictures and the actions associated with those animals – and most times, just being able to see the art is enough.

In my plays so far, the only issue/quibble I have with the game is that it can be a bit cumbersome to score.  In the example in the rules, there are 19 different types of cards to be scored for a total of 85 points.  It all makes sense when written down, but if you’re trying to do a running count as you move from card to card… well, there is a lot of room for error.  In my most recent game, I broke out a set of mini poker chips, and we laid out chips on the cards as we scored – this also helped make sure that no cards were missed.  I think once I am more familiar with the game, scoring will be easier, but for now, I’m a fan of the poker chip situation or at least using a scratch pad somewhere and writing down points in some sort of system that allows me to go back and check my work if needed.  Given the extremely high number of card types, it really wouldn’t be feasible to have a fixed scoring sheet – you’d need too many lines!

After playing with this print-and–play version, I’m very interested in seeing the real thing.  I like games that offer this sort of planning and choice, so this looks to be high on my list of games I want to pick up this summer.  Rumor has it that this may be ready by GenCon, so I have one more reason to look forward to my annual trip to Indianapolis!  Keep your eyes peeled for a full review, hopefully late August, with the real cards!  If not, by November for sure after SPIEL in Essen…

Until your next appointment,

The Gaming Doctor


About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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1 Response to Dale Yu: Preview of Forest Shuffle (Lookout Games)

  1. Wayne Thomas says:

    Hey there! Stumbled upon your post on the WordPress feed and couldn’t resist saying hello. I’m already hooked and eagerly anticipating more captivating posts. Can’t seem to find the follow button, haha! Guess I’ll have to bookmark your blog instead. But rest assured, I’ll be keeping an eye out for your updates!

    Thanks – TheDogGod

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