Full disclosure: A review copy of The Fox in the Forest: Duet was provided by Renegade Game Studios.
Sequel games! Or reboot games? Revamps? I dunno. Sometimes games come out with similar names. Like Sushi Go and Sushi Go Party!. Or 7 Wonders and 7 Wonders: Duel. Or Karuba and Karuba: The Card Game. I don’t name things. This one’s related to The Fox in the Forest, a well-liked game over here in the What’s Eric Playing? sphere. Rather than competitive, though, this one’s a cooperative game! Let’s see what’s going on with that whole thing.
In The Fox in the Forest: Duet, you have a new goal! You need to rescue some bards that got … captured and taken into the forest? Well, use the buddy system to your advantage and go in together, but stay on the path! Who knows what lurks inside. Will you be able to rescue the lost musicians and get rich along the way? Or will these lost woods claim more victims?
Not much to do here. Set out the board:
It’s got two sides:
Set that orange movement token in the center. Set gems on all the spaces that have a square on them that’s hanging. The other gems will form a supply:
The forest tokens can be set near the board:
Shuffle the cards:
Deal each player 11, and set the remainder aside as a face-down deck. Flip the top card face-up. This card will be known as the Decree Card. You should be ready to start!
Alright, so, a game of The Fox in the Forest: Duet is a cooperative trick-taking game that takes place over three rounds. Your goal is to clear out all the gems; fail to do so, and you lose! Let’s dive right in.
To start, keep in mind one rule: don’t talk about your cards. Or your strategy. So two rules.
In order to better understand how the game works, you need to know what a trick-taking game is. So let’s get into that.
On your turn, you play a card from your hand, face-up. It has one of three colors, which we’ll call suits. These suits are Dove, Rose, and Star. Your partner must, if possible, play one card of the same suit. Whichever of you plays the higher card of that suit wins! If your partner cannot play a card of the led suit, they may play any other card. There is, however, the Decree Card. Cards of the same suit as the Decree always win when they’re played. If two cards of the Decree suit are played, the higher card of that suit wins the “trick”. That’s about it.
When a trick is won, you move the movement token a number of spaces towards the winning player. That number is determined by the trick’s Movement Value, or the number of pawprint icons on both cards in the trick. If you land on a space with a gem, discard it to the supply. If you would move off the edge of the board, return to the center and place a Forest Token on the space closest to the edge of the board you just ran off of. It happens. If a gem is on a space now connected to a Forest Token, move the gem(s) to the next space closest to the center.
End of Round
Once all cards have been played, the round ends. Return your movement token to the center. Both players now decide where they should collectively place one Forest Token, limiting the available paths.
After doing that, shuffle and re-deal 11 cards. The player who did not lead the first trick last round leads it this round.
End of Game
The game ends one of three ways:
- You need to place a Forest Token and cannot. [LOSE]
- You finish the third round without collecting all the gems. [LOSE]
- You collect the final gem, clearing the board of gems. [WIN]
Play until you reach one of those conditions!
Player Count Differences
None! It’s exclusively a two-player game.
- The Gazelle gives you a lot of fine-grained control. You can ignore one Movement Value, which is great! I tend to use these middle-to-late game to set direction or to prevent us going wildly off-course.
- The Musician is a great card if you’re worried that your opponent is going to make a mistake. If they can’t beat your Musician, you can move in the opposite direction. Or they can use it to start moving your way, if they do end up taking it. Either way, it offers a nearly-necessary level of flexibility, which is strictly good for everyone.
- Use Gift to tell your opponent what card they should be playing. That’s how I use it, anyways. Slide them the perfect card before they can play a different one! Maybe they’ll give you something useful too? It probably won’t happen, but it could?
- Royal Heir early is a great way to throw off. It allows other players to play whatever card they want, even a low-value Decree card. That can let them make early moves that they want and get a high card out that you might not particularly need. That way, you’re not forced to play it later, when it may be overwhelmingly inconvenient.
- If you don’t want the Decree card or don’t know what to do with it, use the Foxes on your partner instead. Let them choose. I think that’s helpful, since they can also turn it down, but sometimes your partner needs to change the Decree, and they can’t tell you that.
- Try to avoid keeping your high-movement cards until the end of the round. You don’t want to move unpredictably or without control when you might be trying to win. Get those cards out early unless you’re saving them as part of a longer-term plan.
- You can’t win the first round, but you can set yourself up nicely. You start with at least 12 gems. Keep that in mind, and try to clean up the edges and stay away from letting too many spots get overcrowded. If you do that, you should be just fine, probably.
- The special cards with 0 movement are great ways to stay in one place if you’ve got a stack of gems. Playing both means you won’t move at all! Great way to get through a pile of gems.
- The game gets a bit more challenging as you lose real estate, so don’t place too many Forest Tokens. If you’ve taken 3 or something, then a misplayed 10 or 2 might send you off the edge, dangerously. That’s not great, so, try to be careful when you play those.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Phenomenal card art. To be expected from The Fox in the Forest, sure, but always appreciated nonetheless. It seems to just be a thing they’re shooting for and I love it, personally.
- Also, very portable, which is always appreciated. It could potentially fit into my long-prophesied Quiver Bolt of Trick-Taking Games, though I’m feeling a bit less trick-taking about this one.
- It’s nice to see attempts being made to broaden the trick-taking space. This one’s focused much more on movement than I feel like the tricks itself, which reminds me a bit of Oboro Ninja Star Trick, but I think that’s still interesting! It’s definitely not a vanilla trick-taking game.
- I really like some of the cards and their effects. Gazelle, Musician, and Gift are all excellent in different ways. Gazelle allows you to be a bit more precise with your movements, Musician can bail you out, and Gift essentially allows you to tell your opponent what to play when you lead with it. Those are all fun things to do, and I’m glad they added some new cards with new effects for this game. It feels fresh.
- I really don’t like the shape of the gem tokens??? The perfect Meh. They’re not really regular. I just assumed they would be squares, but they’re … not? They’re some weird other quadrilateral? I don’t think they’re rhomboids, but, I don’t really like them.
- It’s mildly annoying that it’s impossible to win in the first round. It’s sort of a “feel bad”, since a lot of players won’t do that math preemptively and will feel like they screwed up, especially when you’re teaching them. It’s not my favorite feeling in the world to see someone else experience.
- The rounds where you’re not losing, but you can’t win before the round ends are pretty frustrating. You just kind of are spending cards to make sure that you don’t go out of bounds because you can’t quite make it to where you need to be, and that’s high-key kind of annoying. It would be better, almost, if you could just pass to finish out a round.
- It feels even less like a trick-taking game than the first one. I think that’s because the trick itself doesn’t matter; it’s the movement that does. It means I’m focusing a lot more on movement than I am on whether or not I want to win the trick. If I’m leading, I just play the number of spaces I want to move and hope for the best, I suppose. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but I’m not terribly invested in the trick-taking aspects of this one. It might be that I’ve played The Crew and The Crew’s trick-taking thoroughly appeals to me more (and can be played with more people)? Really unclear.
- I think I preferred when the luck determined whether or not you personally lost a round, but it feels more frustrating here when bad luck dooms everyone. I think that’s just the nature of some cooperative games? I’m just not a fan of noticing that it’s totally possible for all the cards of one movement value number to be buried in the deck and therefore inaccessible. Or a player is stuck with all the trump cards and will win every trick but there are no Foxes around to help. That wouldn’t normally matter in the competitive one, but since you’re trying to work together it seems like it doesn’t quite work.
- I’m a bit baffled by the scoring, to be honest. I’m usually more congenial about scoring, but I strongly dislike when a game gives you a score and does nothing with it. It feels pointless. If the game’s cooperative, at least assign us some titles! They can be the same titles as the last game, even, if you want! Otherwise we just get a random number from the game and don’t know if it’s good or not.
Overall: 6.75 / 10
Overall, I think The Fox in the Forest: Duet is pretty fun! I wanted to like it more, but, unfortunately, my cooperative trick-taking heart is already full of The Crew. More on that if I can wrangle a review copy. Don’t want to take up a whole review talking about some other game. That said, I don’t think it’s bad; I just don’t think I was as blown away as I was hoping for, and I think I prefer the competitive variant, honestly. I think there was an exciting tension around trying to make sure you get the right number of tricks and forcing your opponent to take more. And it’s not there in this one. It’s just … not present. That’s almost certainly caused by the shift to a cooperative game, though. Since you can’t talk about cards or strategy, you have very little to talk about during the game, other than grimacing when you have to make bad plays. And that’s a bad feeling. The actual nature of the mechanic is interesting, since you’re trying to work with your opponent to draw out the right cards, but a nontrivial part of the time you’re just playing an 8 and hoping they play a 6. Once the other player realizes that, they generally do it. It’s like clockwork, and not always in an exciting way. The exciting part hits when you’re behind the 8 ball and need to recover, and that can be fun, but you have to do badly first to build up to it, and that’s not always fun. If you play perfectly, it’s just sort of a back-and-forth without much else. But, it does have excellent art and a low footprint, which are two things I do like, so, mixed bag. If you’re looking for something like that, you like art and fables, or you’re interested in more spins on trick-taking, though, maybe you’d enjoy The Fox in the Forest: Duet!