FORK [Preview]

Base price: $18 for the pocket version; $38 for the deluxe.
2 Р6 players.
Play time: 15 – 20 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Check it out on Kickstarter!
Logged plays: 3 

Full disclosure: A review copy of FORK was provided by Sunrise Tornado Game Studio.

It’s been a really bad time to write. Coming off the holidays, travel, and a work summit that got suddenly and intensely interrupted by massive, industry-wide layoffs, my head has been mostly out of the game. Which is unfortunate for several reasons, but particularly because I’ve actually been very fortunate to play a ton of very good games in the last two months. I got many of these reviews written before the holiday break (running through about February), but given the Kickstarter / crowdfunding cycle, there are always a few that I need to come back in and shepherd later on. One such game is FORK, from my friend Ta-Te Wu at Sunrise Tornado Game Studio. Ta-Te is furiously prolific, dropping tons of games with fun themes, interesting mechanics, and great art. Let’s see how FORK holds up to those!

In FORK, players manage food chains in various ecosystems through playing a trick-taking game. After all, what is FORK but Fox, Owl, Rabbit, and Kale? This casual trick-taking game has players trying to outwit each other so that they can provide food to their animals and ultimately score their points to try and win the game. Quick play and an easy way to learn about ecology are two things this game’s got going for it! Choose your habitats and your cards wisely if you want to win. Will you be able to make your way to the top of the food chain?

Contents

Setup

Setup is pretty easy, but it depends a bit on your player count. Look to the end of this section for two-player setup.

First, give each player some Fox cards:

  • 3 players: Each player gets two Foxes.
  • 4+ players: Each player gets one Fox.

The remaining Foxes, if any, are returned to the box.

Then, prepare and deal out the remaining cards:

  • 3 players: Remove the Meadow Suit and deal each player 11 cards.
  • 4 players: Deal each player 12 cards.
  • 5 players: Deal each player 9 cards.
  • 6 players: Deal each player 8 cards.

Again, return any unused cards to the box. Place the Terrain Card in the center and place a coin or other token nearby:

You should be ready to start!

Two-Player Setup

For two players, both players get three Foxes. The Meadow suit is still out of the game, as are the 2 / 4 / 6 of the other suits. Every player gets dealt thirteen cards, for a total of sixteen (plus their Foxes). Each player shuffles their sixteen cards to form a deck, drawing eight into their hand, and you’re good to go!

Gameplay

So, a game of Fork takes place over several rounds until players run out of cards or any player has scored five cards (two-player rules, again, at the end). We’ll talk about what all that means, but the core gameplay loop is this. Each turn, you play a card that matches the chosen Terrain type (the first player to play a card chooses the Terrain type). If you can’t match the Terrain type, you can play any card. You may always choose to play one of your Foxes, if you have one, but you never have to play a Fox. All cards are played face-down, but Kale must be played face-up, no matter what Terrain type it is.

Once everyone has played a card, resolve your food chain! All players reveal their played cards and they’re resolved from highest value to lowest. Most cards depend on the Terrain type chosen by the lead player for the trick.

  • Foxes (#9): If more than one Fox is played during the trick, they all cancel each other out and are discarded. Otherwise, the Fox that was played may score any Owl or Rabbit of the chosen Terrain type for the round, adding that card to the player’s Score Pile. The Foxes are discarded after this, no matter what.
  • Owls (#8): If an Owl is played of the chosen Terrain type, it may score any Rabbit of the chosen Terrain type, adding that card to their player’s Score Pile. The Owl is then discarded.
  • Rabbits (#2 – #7): Rabbits are resolved from highest value to lowest. A Rabbit eats Kale of the chosen Terrain type, adding that Kale card to their player’s Score Pile and then discarding the Rabbit. The #2 and #3 Rabbits allow their player to score Kale of any Terrain type, rather than just depending on the chosen Terrain type.
  • Kale (#1): Any remaining unscored Kale of the chosen Terrain type is added to its player’s score pile.

After this, the player to the left of the Start Player becomes the new Start Player and plays a new card (choosing a new Terrain type for this trick). Once any player has scored five cards (or players run out of cards), the game ends! Total the value of the cards in your score piles, and the player with the most points wins!

Two-Player Gameplay

Only a few changes here:

  • Both players play two cards per trick, rather than one.
  • You cannot score your own cards (your Owl cannot score your Rabbit, for instance).
  • A Rabbit can score one or two Kale cards.

Play continues until any player has seven cards in the score pile, rather than five. Any more than five Kale cards don’t score additional points, either.

Player Count Differences

The game changes pretty drastically as player counts change, just because more chaos can lead to all kinds of strange outcomes. For instance, more players means more Foxes can technically be in play, so you might have a round where everyone gets cancelled out. Naturally, that can happen with any number of players, but there’s a bit more variance to it. Similarly, with more players, more Rabbits and Owls and Kale will show up at any point during the round, which means it’s likely a bit more difficult to predict what “safe” moves are going to be. High-chaos; that sort of thing. Honestly, given how simple the game is, the high chaos is a fun experience, so I’d recommend at least trying it once. I tend to prefer this kind of thing at lower player counts, but with the right group, I’m happy to play with five or six.

Strategy

  • Try to read when your opponents are going to play a Fox. Obviously, you don’t want to play a Fox when they do (unless you’re trying to block another player scoring for some reason). You might want to play Kale if you suspect a Fox has been played (in the hopes that you can sneakily score one while the Fox eats an Owl or a Rabbit). Naturally, a lot of trick-taking strategy more generally is “try to know what your opponent has played when”, but here, you want to specifically keep an eye out for Foxes.
  • Keep in mind what cards you have a lot of, so you know what you can score when it’s your turn to choose the Terrain type. Playing cards that don’t match the Terrain type is not particularly ideal, since they can’t score. The best you can hope for is a Rabbit eating your Kale, but even then, that just helps someone else even more. Knowing which cards you have a lot of can often help you by either leading a Terrain type that other players can’t match (so that only you score) or knowing what cards you should hold on to for tricks that other players lead.
  • Count Owls! You don’t want to play Rabbits until the Owls are gone. Owls are few in number but will definitely just swoop and knock out your Rabbits with extreme prejudice. Since Rabbits outnumber them, you also can end up in a spot where the Owl player gets to choose who gets points. You don’t really want to be in that situation, so maybe hold off on Rabbits until you’ve seen the Owls already take a few other Rabbits out.
  • By the same token, playing an Owl is almost always a good idea. The only exception is when a Fox is played, for much the same reason.
  • If everyone else is fighting, you might want to play Kale. If a Fox is going to eat a Rabbit and the Owl will eat the other one, well, that leaves a lot of room for you to play a Kale and score it. Naturally, there’s still a bit of choice that might happen there. The Fox may eat the Owl so that the Rabbit instead scores your Kale, but it really depends on how mad you’ve made other players during the game (and how close you are to winning, I suppose). Either way, Kale can be pretty lucrative if you can get a bunch of them.
  • Low-value Rabbits are pretty good, but other Rabbits get higher priority for Kale of the matching Terrain. Throwing a low Rabbit is fantastic if someone plays a non-matching Kale, but otherwise, you’re better off with high-values if you can; they get to choose to score Kale before the lower values, so you may end up with nothing to eat.
  • Playing Kale early in the turn order means you’ll likely attract a lot of Rabbits, but it also might cause other players to play an Owl or a Fox to match. This is an interesting move since it’s very obvious that you’re playing Kale, and you’re just forcing other players to respond to it. If you can successfully bait every other player into attacking each other, that’s astounding, but not terribly likely (depending on where you are in the round and the types of players you’re playing with). It’s impressive if it works, though.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • As always, Ta-Te makes some really nice, compact games. I really enjoy these from a reviewer standpoint as all of the review copies are in these tiny tuckboxes, making it super easy to take them with me on trips and get them played. It’s just nice from a “reviewer ease” standpoint, which is how I tend to frame a lot of things. Plus, Ta-Te has some very interesting game design ideas, so the games usually come out nifty or quirky in ways that are often fun, too.
  • I appreciate the simplicity of this game; it’s not an overwrought trick-taking game, but it’s got a fun schtick to it. The only real “trick-taking” aspect of it is that you’re only eligible to score a card if you matched the led Terrain card. Beyond that, you’re mostly trying to build out food chains based on what other players played (or what you can force them to play).
  • I also like that you can use this to introduce basic concepts of a food chain to players. It’s vaguely educational, which is still nice. I got away with a lot of gaming in my youth by claiming (and explaining) educational uses, so I’m glad to see we’re keeping Vaguely Educational games alive with FORK. Maybe you’re studying biology instead of trick-taking? At the very least, there’s a psychology and probability aspect to it all, but that might be harder to sell to parents.
  • The scoring system is pretty straightforward. You really just score the values on the cards, which I appreciate. not a ton to think about and no variable scoring for cards based on otherwise-arbitrary criteria. There’s occasionally a bit of trickiness figuring out how cards score, but usually scoring highest- to lowest-value cards solves most of those problems.
  • Plays pretty quickly. I think it says 20 minutes, and that’s about right! It helps that it’s pretty easy to set up and teach, as well, so there’s not a lot of overhead between you pulling out the box and getting the game started.
  • I appreciate the extra wrinkle of some Hares being able to eat Kale from other Terrains. It’s a nice and subtle touch that gives players something to do even if they don’t have the highest cards; they might be able to out-guess other players and score cards that those players were hoping would just be discarded.

Mehs

  • Given that the Foxes aren’t scored under any circumstances, having a 0 star icon on them can invite some confusion, as players might think that the “fed” animal scores, rather than taking the feeder animal as a scored card. Since the Foxes have a star on them, I initially thought that they were the cards scored, rather than scoring the card the foxes eat. Naturally, that’s not correct, but I think having a “no” symbol or something on the Fox card would make that more clear for players.

Cons

  • I do like the art style, but I’m hoping that the text on the cards ends up a bit less plain than it currently looks. The text on the cards (just the title) is rather plain, which is a bit disconcerting. I’m kind of chalking that up to preview copy, though, so I’m hoping that it will be improved by the time we’re looking at fulfillment.

Overall: 7.5 / 10

Overall, I think FORK is a pleasant little trick-taking game! The main advantage of FORK is that it’s a cute game and the complexity matches the aesthetic, to some degree. It’s quick to pick up, not too complex to grasp, but presents some fun challenges for players as they engage each other (and occasionally eat each others’ kale). I’m not the biggest fan of kale (just a personal struggle), so, naturally, eating it en masse even to win a game is a difficult mindset for me to get into, but I persevered and had a lot of fun playing it. Originally, I was a bit skeptical of there always being Foxes / Owls / Rabbits in each Terrain type, but frankly, having played a few times now, having that nice simple through-line of how the tricks finish up and how scoring works makes the game simpler, and that’s a good thing. Trick-taking can be a notoriously opaque genre for new players, so making an approachable and portable trick-taking game is always a nice thing to see. It would be nice if the text were more thematically-appropriate, in some way, but I’m not a graphic designer, so I’m not sure what to say beyond that. The core of FORK is pretty simple and pleasant, and supporting a wide player count helps make the genre more approachable, which I definitely appreciate. If you’re looking for a quick and simple trick-taking game, you enjoy a game that implements a food chain, or you just really love putting all of your points in kale, I’d recommend checking FORK out! I’ve had fun with it.


If you enjoyed this review and would like to support What’s Eric Playing? in the future, please check out my Patreon. Thanks for reading!

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