Hi, my name is Tora and I am a mummy, wife, board gamer, blogger, lawyer and geek. I am fairly new to the board gaming community but I have fallen head first down the tabletop rabbit hole and I have no desire to resurface! Polyominoes, tile laying, and abstract puzzles are my go-to favourites but I am happy playing anything and everything.
In a world that seems to find ways to trigger my anxiety more and more every day, board gaming has become my haven; a comforting place where I can spend time with my husband and my son without distractions, a safe place where I can make decisions and experience winning and losing without judgment and everlasting consequences. And, perhaps for me, most surprising of all, an incredibly welcoming and friendly place where I can play and enjoy all aspects of board gaming with members of our wonderful community of like-minded people where nothing matters apart from joy and enthusiasm for tabletop gaming.
For these reasons, I am super grateful to Jim and the team at WBG for giving me an opportunity to share my thoughts on all things gaming and I hope that, by doing so, I can give back and help fellow gamers enjoy our shared hobby (which in my humble opinion, really is rather wonderful!).
If you go down to the woods today...
Have you ever wanted to skip merrily down an enchanted forest path, looking for your next elven house only for your dream woodland des res to be RIPPED MERCILESSLY AWAY FROM YOU BY AN EVIL GNOME? If so, Uwe Rosenburg’s latest outwardly relaxing yet inwardly ruthless offering could be for you; welcome to the pretty cutthroat world of Fairy Trails.
Before I begin, cards on the table time (literally!); Fairy Trails is not a “weighty” game in terms of component bang-for-your-buck. No gloriously tactile wooden mythological meeples tumble across the table, and no life-size cardboard trees (thank you, Everdell!) lay waiting for you under the lid; you get cards and you get gems. No more, no less. Nor is Fairy Trails on the same complexity scale as Uwe’s legendary gaming euro big-hitters Agrciola, Caverna, and Le Havre. But, the magical crunchiness this little box can cause two people in around 15/20 minutes, most definitely belies its diminutive size.
So, how does it work?
Take me home, country roads!
At its core, Fairy Trails is a straightforward tile laying game albeit using small, square cards which can placed anywhere so long as they are orthogonally adjacent to other cards and continue or complete the paths printed on the those next to which they are placed.
Each card contains both yellow and pink paths and a potential combination of houses, path continuations, and route-ends. During a game, each player (one donning their metaphorical pink Elf ears and the other pulling on their Gnomish yellow wellies) takes it in turns to lay a card in an attempt to complete paths and occupy houses represented by their corresponding coloured gems. Like that gaming granddaddy, Carcassonne, if a path is completed by placing a card, whichever player has a finished route can place a gem on each of their houses located along it. Play continues and the cards grow to form a winding and beguiling central tableau until a player lays their final gem and is declared the winner.
Simple……or is it?
Highway to hell!
I will admit that this game surprised me. Whilst it has a simple central mechanic, the decision-making process becomes complex. In your head, the order of events is clear and relaxed; lay a card, complete a route, claim a house…..easy. But then, that other sudden, wide-eyed, skin prickling, cold sensation slams into you like an ice-cream truck; whilst you have been frolicking elfishly amongst the moss and toadstools picking up a bijou house here and there, the gnome has gone for the slow-burn and surreptitiously built up a 16 gem route over a series of seemingly innocent turns. In a single card placement, you have unwittingly completed this path and sealed the Gnome’s victory without you even realising it!
And that is where the deliciously mythological magic (or torture) lies. On each turn you face a trade-off; do you place a card to your own advantage or sacrifice progress to guarantee your opponent’s detriment? The choices between extending an existing path to secure a building bonanza on subsequent turns, closing off a smaller route now, or hate-placing to block or branch off your opponent’s routes is brain burn on a level this little box kept quiet.
A big think in a small package.
Wrecking ball. For your brain!
As a fan of Uwe’s other games and being obsessed with tile layers generally, Fairy Trails had a lot to live up to when I cracked that seal, and overall it did not disappoint. Although analysis paralysis can descend like an early morning mist, the momentum of the game is relatively even throughout and replayability is high through the randomness of the luck of the draw. Furthermore, the artwork is beautiful – the paths becoming almost hypnotic the more you look at them. But, for the same reason, it can also be difficult to distinguish paths as the woodland area expands. And, for me, this game would have been better with real tiles; something more tactile and substantial than the thin, small square cards which we found slipped around the table whilst in play and refused to riffle.
Don’t get me wrong, Uwe isn’t blazing a Fairy Trail here in terms of innovative game play or never-before-seen mechanics but neither does this game simply feel like a pared down version of larger grand dames of the tile laying genre. This game has a sneaky sting in its tail; pay attention to your fairy tale foe because if you merrily romp along in multiplayer solitaire mode, you will lose hard and you will lose fast.
Ultimately, as a quick, strategic, 2 player game, Fairy Trails works well and I finished wanting to play again; searching for that sweet spot between obsessing over my opponent’s woodland estates and revelling in the selfish beauty of my own glorious paths.
WBG Score: 7/10
Player Count: 2
You'll like this if you like: Carcassonne, Akrotiri and Patchwork
Designed by Uwe Rosenberg