Full disclosure: A review copy of Fairy Trails was provided by Luma Imports.
Another Luma Imports title! They’re pulling a lot of games together for US distribution, so expect to see a bunch of reviews coming across my desk from them in the future. The interesting thing about reviewing from a distributor is that they largely don’t have the same like, consistency that you would see from a smaller publisher. This doesn’t necessarily mean consistency of game quality, but it does mean consistency of like, theme, player count, or weight. So sometimes I get things that are very up my alley (I believe they distribute ICECOOL in the US, now), or I get things that are fairly not (I think I was so-so on Incubation). Those are from two completely different publishers, so, that’s how it goes, sometimes. I haven’t seen this publisher before, so let’s dive in and see what Fairy Trails is about!
In Fairy Trails, you just wanna get back to your house. The problem with living in an enchanted forest is that every pathway is constantly shifting and changing due to magic and hexes and all sorts of fun things. It makes it very hard to get your mail, you’ve just straight lost a few census workers, and DoorDash has put you on a Do Not Deliver list. It’s a bummer, but, that’s life, sometimes. You’ve gotta make sure outsiders don’t get into your houses, after all, so it’s a delicate tradeoff. Will you be able to make your way home before your opponent? Or will you just end up lost in the woods?
Very little, effectively. Shuffle the path cards:
Place the starting card (different back) in the center. Give each player a set of House Tokens:
That’s pretty much it! Each player draws two path cards, and you’re ready to start!
So Fairy Trails is a simple race. If you place all your house tokens, you win! Your opponent wants to beat you to it. But how does it work?
On your turn, you’ll play a card such that it connects to the edge of at least one other card on the table. That will create or continue a path of either purple or yellow. Sometimes, it will also end a path! If a path is ended, players check to see how many yellow and purple houses were along the completed path(s). Each complete house earns a house token, and it is placed on the house. If it’s your turn, you place house tokens on your completed path. If it’s not your turn, wait until your turn starts, and then place the tokens.
It’s totally possible to miss some houses, and if that happens, just place the house tokens on them when you do notice them.
The first player to run out of house tokens wins!
Player Count Differences
Not really any; this is primarily a two-player game.
There’s a solo game, but essentially your goal is to play the game cooperatively, rather than competitively. If you play three cards in a row without placing a house token, you lose.
- Early on, blocking your opponent may not pay off, since there’s still a lot of game ahead of you and giving them branching pathways means that they may be able to complete an even larger path. It’s sort of the same problem as a game like Sprawlopolis: Interstate. Blocking people is good, but unless you can really mess them up, you’re just giving them more room to work with. Now, they have another card with even more potential path options, and unless you dedicate your entire game to messing them up (and you get the right cards to make that happen), they will likely eventually be able to close off that path. It really only works if you can win the game before that happens. You can never really completely shut down a potential scoring pathway; you can only delay it.
- You’ll have to complete some large paths in order to win. A bunch of small paths likely won’t cut it. You can potentially win with a bunch of small paths if your opponent is doing the same thing, just more poorly, but being able to connect a bunch of disparate paths together (especially off of cards your opponent placed) is going to work a lot better (and a lot more quickly).
- Make sure to look carefully at your cards before you play them. The cards aren’t always super clear, so it behooves you to double-check before you place a path and realize it benefits your opponent more than you (or just doesn’t really benefit you). This is generally good advice for most games, yes, but I find the cards a bit busy sometimes so I’m just adding this as extra advice.
- Every few turns, do a full sweep of the play area to make sure there aren’t any completed paths (or houses along those paths) that you missed. This is pretty key! It’s very easy to miss a completed house because a path got completed much later in the game that included a house that you had mostly forgotten about. Every couple of turns you should check all the cards to make sure you’ve scored everything that you can; it may make a difference!
- Ideally, try not to help your opponent get houses on complete paths, but if you can’t help it, just make sure you get more than they do. Sometimes it’s worth closing off a path to score a ton even though it might help your opponent. In a similar vein, try to make it difficult for your opponent to close off their paths without giving you points, if you can. They may still snake you farther or split your path up, so don’t rely on it, but if you can force them to make tough calls or donate some points your way, that will take you far.
- If you see your opponent getting close to winning, try to stall them for enough turns that you can eke out a win before they can. The way I do this is I try to keep hold of a 4-way intersection of their color as often as I can, and then I place it on the path that they’re trying to close for the win. If they haven’t been keeping a variety of options open, this may force them to have to close 3 paths before they can win the game. That means I have two turns to either win the game or get a new card to mess them up. If we can keep this going for a while, I’ll win, but that’s usually only viable if they’re 4 or 5 houses away from winning; once they get 1 house away from winning, it’s just a matter of time.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- This plays a lot like a less frustrating version of Amoeba, a game I played a while ago. Amoeba had a similar thing, which was that it wanted to essentially create scorable areas by placing tiles, but it had some other weird flaws that made it a little half-baked. Fairy Trails seems to lack those issues while still having a nice mix of placement and blocking. So that’s good.
- I particularly appreciate how inevitable the game becomes. I think that for a lot of these types of games, it’s nice when as players get closer to the end, it becomes hard to stop any player from ending the game. For this particular one, you can attempt to block players throughout the game by branching their path for them, which is fine and fun, but as play progresses, there become more valid possible paths that can be ended for quick points. And while you may have the capacity to block your opponent on one path that will win the game for them, if they keep splitting their focus and expanding all around the play area, you will rapidly find yourself unable to block them on every possible victory path. And I think that’s good! It keeps the game short and you can just play it again.
- It’s quick to set up and play, which is good. The one benefit about this being cards instead of tiles is that they’re very easy to shuffle and just get going. One player shuffles, the other player separates out the tokens. It’s pretty much an ideal division of labor to get a quick game started.
- In two-player games like this, the tension of when to block versus when to try and advance your own agenda becomes pretty interesting, and this game is no exception. I like that a lot in this game. The one thing I will say is that blocking is only mildly satisfying early on, since you’re really helping your opponent build lengthy paths. Towards the end of the game, though, being able to stall your opponent for the two turns that you need to win is huge! That’s a good feeling, that tension, and I think the game does a good job cultivating it.
- The color scheme of the game is fairly pleasant and calming. I like the color contrast of the teal / green, the purple, and the yellow, though I wish it were a bit more distinct in some places. The game ends up looking nice on the table, as a result, and I’m very into that.
- The house tokens are fairly underwhelming, but I assume that this has the benefit of keeping the game’s price point pretty low. They’re pretty below-standard, even; they look and feel cheap. That makes the game feel a bit worse as a result, and I kind of wish they had just gone with cheap wood cubes rather than these plastic tokens. I think having cheap-feeling components is fine, but if you’re handling them a lot, it makes the rest of the game feel cheap, too.
- This is definitely a game that would have been better served by being a tile game rather than a card game. With any card game where you’re playing a bunch of cards to make paths, you now have to rely on the table staying the way it is and there being very little airflow. Otherwise, the cards might go everywhere. It also feels worse trying to get the cards to line up since the edge of the card isn’t as thick as a tile would be. I generally just prefer tiles for these kinds of games, since they feel weightier, as well. They’re a bit of a pain to shuffle, but not that much of a pain. And you only have to hold two tiles in your hand.
- It can occasionally be tough to see how the paths flow on a tile. I think it’s due to the whimsy of the game, but the paths wind and curve around or near each other. As they intersect or go into overpasses or underpasses, it can sometimes be hard to see where the path ends or changes or how it crosses. That can cause some misplays, which definitely feels bad if you’re the player who does it. Be a bit tolerant of people playing for the first time if they want to rotate or swap their tiles around; it can happen.
Overall: 7.25 / 10
Overall, I think Fairy Trails is fun! It kinda hits that spot for games where I mean, I like it well enough and enjoy playing it, but it is missing out on things that I think would take it from a “good” game to a “great” game. For instance, when I’m thinking about this kind of focused path-building, I think of Carcassonne almost immediately. I like that there’s more to Carcassonne than just the pathing, and I think that’s where Fairy Trails ends up feeling a little weak. It’s, of course, perfectly fun, I think I just want more from it. That might be unfair given the size and scope of the game, but it’s definitely how things work, sometimes. Tsuro, for instance, has similar energy to this game, but it also supports up to 8 people pretty well, so you end up feeling like this is still somewhat limited. I think there are ways to support it, though. First off, having nicer / more thematic house tokens would go a long way towards making me feel a bit more invested in the game from play to play, and I do kind of wish this had been a tile game so that I wasn’t as worried about messing up cards when I played a new one. There are some things I really do like about it, though. Since it’s a racing game, it does a nice job of making the end of the game fairly inevitable as the play area increases in size and scope. You can block one spot on your turn, but there’s no way you’re going to be able to block them all. Plus, since it’s exclusively a two-player game (barring the solo mode), you can incorporate a nice tension around when to block versus when to try and score your own points. It’s very good! I think there’s room for these kinds of games to exist (and I enjoyed playing this one), but I would like to see additional investment in pushing them beyond just “good”. This seems like a much harsher review than I intended it to be (especially for a game that I actually think is quite fun), but, oh well, that’s how it goes, sometimes. If you are looking for a fun two-player pathing game or you just want something that’s quick to play and quick to set up, you may enjoy Fairy Trails! I had a nice time with it.