Full disclosure: A review copy of Bosk was provided by Floodgate Games.
I mean, you’re telling me that Floodgate is pushing out a game about Autumn (my favorite or second-favorite season, depending on my mood) with Kwanchai Moriya on the art, yes, I’m 100,000% here for it. That might be me playing my cards a bit too early in the review, but, just look at the box art. It’s incredible. I’ve been tracking this game for like, over a year! I got to play it at BGG.CON and it blew me away. …I guess I could stop the review right here, but I won’t. Let’s talk Bosk.
In Bosk, you’re a tree. It’s not a bad gig, honestly. You get to grow over an entire year, block other people, and eventually cast your leaves onto the ground to create beautiful foliage for aspiring Instagram models. It’s the circle of life. And there are squirrels involved because squirrels live in trees. Squirrelples? Squeeples? I forgot to confirm that one. Whatever; let’s roll with it. Will you manage to branch out and claim the most land? Or will your arboreal ambitions fall like the leaves?
Alright, first off, you’re going to flip the board to its correct side and place it in the middle of the table:
- 2 players: Use the side with bigger squares and no white border.
- 3 players: Use the side with smaller squares; treat the white border as the outside edge of the board.
- 4 players: Use the side with smaller squares; use the full board, as well.
Give players a tree species in their chosen color:
They come with matching Leaf Tiles:
And a squirrel:
Place the Wind Board and the Wind Direction Marker away from the board, for now; you’ll need them later:
Each player should put a Leaf Token near the Score Track to keep track of their scores:
Beyond that, pick a player to start, give them the Hiker:
You’re ready to go!
So, as mentioned, a game of Bosk takes place over an entire year in a national park. Similar to PARKS, actually, now that I think about it. You’ll play in Spring and Autumn, and score in Summer and Winter. The player with the most points wins the game and the coveted “Best at Trees” award. I think that’s a thing.
Anyways, let’s go season by season.
In the spring, you plant trees at intersections to try and influence later rounds. Beginning with the start player, each player places one of their trees on the intersection of a horizontal and vertical line on the board (such that a tree is adjacent to four squares). As you might guess, you cannot move a tree once you place it, and you can’t place trees on the edges, corners, or outside border of the map (even if it’s the white border for a three-player game). You can place your trees in the water, though; that’s fine. Very aesthetic, as the youths say.
Once you place one tree, the next player goes, and so on until every player has placed all 8 trees. Then move on to Summer.
Now for something a bit tricky. Start the hiker in one corner of the map, and have them “walk” each of the rows and columns. For a given row, add the values of all trees in that row for all players, and then award points:
- If there is one player in first and one player in second place, the first-place player gets 2 points and the second-place player gets 1 point.
- If there is one player in first and multiple players tied for second place, the first-place player gets 2 points and the second-place players get nothing. Rough!
- If there is one player in first and nobody in second place, the first-place player gets 3 points. This is awesome; try to do this as much as possible.
- If there are multiple players tied for first place, the first-place players get 1 point each. Second place is not awarded.
Once you’ve done that for each row, also do that for each column. The Hiker is mostly there to make sure that you’ve considered each row and each column distinctly. Now, the player with the fewest points will start in the Autumn.
In the Autumn, leaves begin to fall. That’s why it’s one of my favorite seasons. Follow the wind and try to cover as much terrain as you can before the winter hits. The Start Player will now choose the direction the wind blows by placing the Wind Board on one side of the main board; that determines the direction for the rest of the season. Place the Wind Direction Marker on the board above the leftmost spot.
Now, players take turns covering terrain with the falling leaves from their trees. Wherever the Wind Direction Marker is on the board indicates two things: which tree is going to lose its leaves and what direction the leaves will blow in.
Each player, on their turn, does the following things:
- Choose a Tree. This is the one that’s losing its leaves. In the first four rounds, the tree you pick must match the value on the Wind Board; in the last four rounds it can be any tree you want.
- Choose a Leaf Tile. I’ll explain what they do in a bit, but note that the smaller value you pick, the more likely you’ll go first next round.
- Take your Leaf Tokens. You’ll just take Leaf Tokens from the supply equal to the value on your chosen Leaf Tile (or you’ll take the Squirrel).
- Place Leaves. So, leaves will fall in a continuous path along the direction blown by the wind. The first leaf must be placed in one of the two squares in the direction of the wind adjacent to the tree, and then every subsequent leaf must be placed in one of the 3 adjacent squares in the direction of the wind (either directly ahead, or diagonally adjacent, like Hokkaido’s mountains). Continue placing leaves until you run out of tokens or you hit the edge of the board. If one or more opponents already have leaves in that space, then you must cover those leaves with yours. Return one of your Active Leaf Tokens to the supply for each leaf already on that tile. If you have any Leaf Tokens left, place one on top of the pile, and then continue as normal.For the squirrel, it just hops down within three spaces of your tree (following the Leaf Token placement rules I outlined above). It always covers leaf piles without any issues, and it cannot be covered.
- Remove Tree. Once you’ve placed all your Leaf Tokens, remove your tree from the board. It did its best, but now it has to … leaf.
Once each player has taken a turn, advance the Wind Direction Marker, and the player who played the lowest Leaf Tile value becomes the new Start Player for the next round. The Squirrel is considered a “1”. If there’s a tie, the closest player to the current Start Player (clockwise) becomes the next one.
After 8 rounds, proceed to the Winter.
Alright, so, now we score again. Unlike the rows and columns of summer, we’re now scoring regions of connected squares. There are 8 regions, and for each of them, check to see who controls the most squares.
- You control a square if you have the topmost Leaf Token or a Squirrel on it.
- The squares do not have to be contiguous. It’s prettier if they are, but, you can control a bunch of not-connected squares and still take a region.
For a given region, check how many squares each player controls, and then award points:
- If there is one player in first and one player in second place, the first-place player gets 5 points and the second-place player gets 3 point.
- If there is one player in first and multiple players tied for second place, the first-place player gets 5 points and the second-place players get 1 point each. Decent consolation prize.
- If there is one player in first and nobody in second place, the first-place player gets 8 points. This is somehow even better.
- If there are multiple players tied for first place, the first-place players get 4 point each. Second place is not awarded.
After this, the game ends.
End of Game
Compare every player’s score. The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
Generally, and this isn’t very common for games I play, but I’m actually most interested in Bosk at higher player counts. At two players, interestingly, it moves very quickly (we played a two-player game in about 20 minutes?), but there’s not much contention for spots, so you need to be careful. At four players, even though the board expands pretty considerably, you’re going to be walking all over each other, which is pretty exciting. This isn’t to say that the two-player version isn’t fun (far from it, in fact), but just that I find higher player count games of Bosk more exciting. Your mileage may vary. If you’re looking for something quick, though, this plays pretty rapidly at two players, and still pretty fast at four.
- Plan ahead. A lot of this game is setting up your trees to make sure that you’re both covering spots for the Summer and that you can place leaves strategically in the Fall. You should avoid putting two of the same number on the same side of the board, as that incentivizes opponents to place the Wind Board aggressively and make it so that at least one of those doesn’t generate as many leaves as you want. Obviously, that’s not terribly helpful, so keeping them farther apart will likely prove beneficial.
- Try to secure at least one row or column to yourself. Scoring is kinda tight, so an unchallenged 3 free points is a welcome boon, if you can make it work for you. In a four-player game this is … unlikely to happen with any real regularity, so don’t count on it.
- Be aware of different contexts, as far as your leaf placements are concerned. I say this to mean that there are basically two approaches you can take: you can lead early with high-value leaf placements to try and exert control over the board (and force your opponents to waste valuable leaves on future turns), or you can wait with your high-value leaf placements until your opponents have staked their claim and then breezily take all the now-available spots (if any exist). I think that the best decision there depends a lot on what’s available and how aggressive your opponents play, so, try to keep an eye on how they’re behaving in the first half of the game. If it seems like they’re reveling in aggression, perhaps play more aggressively and lead with your higher-value leaves, rather than waiting for the later game.
- Avoid conflict, if possible. Conflict is strictly wasteful for you; you’d much rather try to find empty spaces to place your leaves, if you can. Remember, if your opponent has a leaf on top you have to discard one for every leaf in the pile, which can very quickly add up.
- If conflict is unavoidable, end it with the squirrel. Remember that the squirrel cannot be covered and will always hop to the top of a leaf pile. It can help you out of some pretty tight jams.
- Turn order is important. Later lets you respond to your opponents; earlier lets you slide in before other players cover up the space. Again, like I mentioned earlier, be responsive based on what you think your opponents are going to do. Flexibility is key.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Definitely the art. I hesitate to say Kwanchai Moriya outdid himself, because he’s pretty much always at the top of his game, as far as I can tell, but this is definitely going up against PARKS in a tough way. They’re both incredible sets of art and I love the different interpretations of walking through a national park! I’m not outdoorsy, but prints from this game would be an incredible gift. Even the trees and board are uniquely beautiful. It’s just an artistic tour de force all around, but the box is particularly impressive; it was the first thing that really caught my eye (which I guess is the point of boxes) when I heard about Bosk. I’m so glad they got Kwanchai for this one; he really executed in the best way on this, and the game looks incredible for it.
- Simple ruleset. It’s a surprisingly rules-light game for its box size. There are only two play phases; one you place trees at intersections on the board to try and control rows and columns, and the other you play numbered tiles to blow that many leaves in the direction of the wind. That’s … mostly it.
- Surprisingly low analysis-paralysis. Area control games tend towards this pretty heavily, but for a game with a bunch of different decisions, you can pretty easily (and quickly) locally optimize without majorly negatively impacting the gameplay time, which I appreciate.
- The covering aspect of the game isn’t as aggressive as you’d expect. I think that it might just be the theme, but it isn’t really all that take-that-y to cover someone’s leaf pile with your leaves. I think it’s because it’s fairly expensive to do so, perhaps? Either way, it makes the game feel a lot less negative than you’d expect from an area control game.
- Squirrel meeples! I mean, they’re delightful
- I’m usually not the biggest fan of major gameplay shifts, but this one’s not bad! It feels like a very natural progression (and I think the theme of the game helps a lot with that), so it’s not throwing me off to have the leaves shed from the trees.
- I really like the leaves falling, as a mechanic. It’s a very nice blend of theme and gameplay and it both makes the board look particularly excellent and also is just … fun to do? It’s an interesting bit of strategy to decide when you want to go far versus stay close and how you want to interact with your opponents’ leaf piles. I’m really into it.
- Four-player score calculation for the Summer can be a bit annoying. You’re just spending a lot of time walking the hiker around, which is fine. You may want to use the Wind Movement token to score the regions, as well, or clear the leaves off once you’re done. Up to you! It can just take a hot minute. It’s better than having to score Bunny Kingdom, though.
- The red and the orange are a bit close to each other. I’m really only noticing this while I’m doing photos, but most of the orange tokens are kinda coming out red. Maybe I should get better at photo editing, sure, but they are kind of similar. Thankfully, they’re different shapes (significantly so), so it’s not that big of a deal, long term.
- Be very careful punching out the trees. I definitely messed up a couple because they have tiny edges. it makes them look more tree-like, for sure, but it also means the odds of any of them getting ruined is kind of nonzero. Just be very precise when you’re punching them.
- 3P can be slightly kingmakey. That’s just the nature of three-player area control games, I fear. It’s not as bad as I’ve seen in other games, but it does bear mentioning, somewhat.
Overall: 8.75 / 10
Overall, yeah, I’m pretty here for Bosk. Normally, area control games aren’t my jam, too much, but the thing this one’s got going for it is some really nice art, to draw me in; some simple rules, so that I stay engaged; and some fun, thematic gameplay, so that I enjoy the experience from start to finish. I think this one’s an excellent gateway game for area control games, as well as a nice game for fans of the genre that maybe don’t want to get into each others’ business constantly. Major selling point is definitely Kwanchai Moriya’s art, but the game itself underneath is also very solid, boasting excellent component quality and a lot of fun interaction. I keep a shelf (and a list, because it’s a small shelf) of games that I think are excellent gateway games (or games I would bring to a game night where I don’t know all the players’ preferences), and I think Bosk is definitely making its way onto that list. It’s got all the hallmarks down: great art, solid table presence, and straightforward gameplay. Anyways, I’m repeating myself a bit, so I’ll wrap this up, but if you’re looking for an area-control game that you can play in 30 – 40 minutes, you’re trying to get a solid board game for your outdoorsy friends that love hiking, or you’re just a big fan of games with fantastic artwork, I’d definitely recommend checking out Bosk! I’ve really enjoyed playing it.