Updated: Mar 1, 2022
WBG Score: 8/10
Player Count: 2–4
Published by Floodgate Games
Resplendent trees follow a formulaic yet fantastic journey across all four seasons. New shoots emerge in spring, basking proud in the summer warmth. Leaves tumble and cascade in autumn, carpeting the woodland floor come winter. It’s a story of two halves: of growth, followed by their preparation for winter dormancy.
What if we switched out the roots, trunks and foliage, and replaced it with 3D cardboard? Swapped brittle, browning leaves for bright, laser-cut wooden tokens? And what if we chucked a cheeky squirrel in for good measure? What you’re now imagining, my gaming friends, is Bosk, by Floodgate Games. This design comes with a tagline: “a game of majestic trees and falling leaves.”
The definition of the word ‘Bosk’, in case you’re wondering, means a wood comprising of small trees. (If you win a future pub quiz thanks to this answer, feel free to transfer me 10% of the prize.) Bosk is an abstract-strategy/area-majority game by Daryl Andrews and Erica Bouyouris. Andrews co-designed the colourful Sagrada, also by Floodgate Games. That’s where the similarities end, though. Let’s take a closer look…
Bosk In A Nutshell
There’s four rounds to Bosk, each being a separate season. In spring, everyone ‘plants’ (places) their trees on the board – a national park. In summer, everyone scores their trees, according to their locations. In autumn, everyone’s trees start to drop their leaves. These scatter and tumble due to the ever-changing wind. Last of all in winter, everyone scores their leaves, according to where they fell.
Four phases then, but two of them comprise of scoring, alone. The meat of the game occurs in ‘spring’ and ‘autumn’. This is where all your planning and calculating come into their own. Summer and winter take less than five minutes to add up the respective scores.
A Spring In Your Step
Each player has eight 3D trees in their own colour. Each has a number (1 – 4, twice). The board is a grid of squares that overlay the national park’s terrains. The first player places any one of their eight trees on a vacant intersection on the board. (As in, the point where two grid lines meet to form a +, so it can’t be on the board’s outer edge).
Players take turns, clockwise, placing one tree at time onto the board. You can place them in any numerical order. In a three-player game, for example, 24 trees end up on the board. But why place a tree in one spot over another? And why do your trees have numbers 1 – 4 on them?
Scores Out For Summer
Once the last player’s placed their final tree, summer scoring begins. You look at each row and each column of the board one at a time. The player with the highest value(s) of trees present ‘wins’ the row/column. For example, if red has two trees (of value 1 and 2) in the same row, their total is 3. Purple has one value 4 tree in the same row. Orange has two value 3 trees in this row (so a total of 6). Orange wins this row, with purple being the runner-up. Red gets nothing for coming third.
A scoring table explains tie-breaks for joint-first, or joint-second. If you’re the solitary tree type in this row/column, you earn extra points. But if this were a football match, it’s half time. Don’t fret if you’re in last place. The second half is a whole different ball game…
No Fooling Around In Fall
The last player gets to place the all-important Wind Board. This sits along one of the four edges of the main board. Deciding where to place it can be game-changing. It dictates the direction the wind begins to blow. Eight arrows run along on the Wind Board, left-to-right. Each arrow rotates a further 90° clockwise from its predecessor. The first four arrows are numbered 1 – 4, while the latter four are mere asterisks.
There’s eight rounds in autumn, like there were eight in spring. (You’ve guessed it – one for each tree.) The active player triggers one of their trees that matches the number stated on the Wind Board. You have two trees of each number, remember? In round one, leaves fall from one of your ‘1’ trees, then, in the direction stated by the Wind Board.
Each player has eight big Leaf Tiles numbered 2-8, plus one with a squirrel on it. A bit of hand-management enters the fray. You’ll select one of these, and take that many wooden leaf tokens from your supply. You place one of these leaves in a square beneath your tree. Then, you place the rest of the leaves leading away from this first leaf, in the wind’s direction. The next leaf sits in one of the three squares – either parallel, or diagonal – away from the previous. Will you drop them in a straight line, a total diagonal, zig-zag, or a blend of all three?
If you reach the edge of the grid and you have leaf tokens remaining, return them to your supply. But that’s a waste! The aim of autumn is to cover the board full of your colour leaves, if viewing the park from above. The board’s separated into eight different-coloured terrains. Each of them score in an area-majority manner in winter.
Once you’ve placed all your quota of leaves for the turn, you remove the origin tree off the board. Then it’s the next player’s turn, clockwise. They pick a Leaf Tile of their choice, and drop that number of leaves leading away from one of their ‘1’ trees. Then they remove their tree. Then it’s the next player’s turn, and so on.
Don’t Trust The Squeeple!
Over the eight rounds you have to use all eight of your big Leaf Tiles. Each player has, in total, 35 wooden leaf tokens. Deciding when and where to use the larger (and smaller) quantities of leaves is a marvellous decision. The squirrel is a little different. This lets you use your squirrel meeple, instead of any leaves this turn. The little animeeple still obeys the wind direction (according to the round in which you use it). You can place it up to three spaces away from the tree.
Squirrels can sit on top of any stack of leaves. And we’ve all seen David Attenborough documentaries: nothing sits on top of a squirrel! Opting when to use it is a major question of timing. Smart placement could be the difference between winning or losing an terrain.
This Park Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us
Now, like any good western, you’ll soon realise that this national park ain’t big enough for the both of us. In a three player game, for example, between you all you have 105 leaves (108, including squirrels). The grid for a three-player game consists of 100 squares. There comes a time in autumn where Bosk starts to become a tad cutthroat. Because if you like, you can opt to overlay your leaves on top of others.
If a rival’s leaf sits in your path, no problem; you can cover it with one of your own. At the end of the game, remember: it’s only the leaves that are visible from above that score. The leaves on top of a pile are all that matter. But hold on there, buster. Yes, it’s in your best interests to cover up your opponents’ leaves. But it comes at a price…
Smother The Park With Your Leafy Blanket
To overlay, you need to ‘throw away’ a leaf in hand for every leaf in the grid square you want to cover. Let’s say you’re red, but you want to place a leaf into a spot where yellow has a leaf. You have to return one leaf to the supply. Then place another of your leaves on top of yellow’s. On a later turn, the purple player might want to place one of their own leaves here. In that case, they’d have to throw away two of their leaves in hand, to position one of their own on top.
This can prove expensive, but it’s a vital consideration, strategy-wise. The more often you overlay, yes, you’re undoing the previous work of your opponents. But it means you’re placing fewer of your 35 leaves onto the board. You’re not spreading out as much. And the aim of autumn is to dominate as many terrains as possible, because you’ll score them in winter. And winning a terrain scores you a lot more points in winter, compared to winning a row/column in summer.
On occasions, your own previous-placed leaves might block your path. You don’t have to throw excess leaves away to overlay on your own. You place one on top as if the square were empty. Of course, this feels like a waste, because you’re not investing it on the board, elsewhere. But one silver lining is that it acts as a further deterrent for opponents overlaying there later. They’d have to throw away more of their own leaves to overlay there.
Ultimately, you can’t feel bitter about leaf overlaying. You know that each player (including yourself) has 35 leaves to spend. It’s all about how many of those 35 end up on the actual board, and how many of them are sacrificial.
Go After The Big Dog? Or Settle For Second?
Bosk presents layers of intrigue. Like any area majority game, it can become a bit of a constant state of one-upmanship if you’re not careful. You need to pick and choose your battles. Some terrains are smaller than others. Are these easier to dominate, then? Fewer leaves needed? Or are they appealing to everyone, so it becomes one big fight for them?
One of the sneaky things to remember is that dominating a terrain is all fine and dandy. But you get points if you finish a clear-second in a terrain, too. Sometime it takes less effort to tiptoe in and pip a rival for second place, compared to challenging the big dog for first…
One thing you cannot afford to happen is to allow one player to have their leaves present alone in a terrain. That’s worth a whopping eight points. This makes the final few rounds so important; trust me, the tide can – and will – turn. If you can ensure you have a single leaf in their monopolised terrain by winter, then that one leaf scores you three points. (For coming second.) Plus, it drops their eight points down to five. (If they win the terrain, but a second leaf type sits present there, too.) That’s a major swing. I tended to keep my squirrel until late in the game as insurance for this exact move. Does that make me a bad person?!
Errr… How Many Points For Joint-First, Again?
The scoring tables are not easy to memorise, I’ll admit. You need to keep the back page of the rulebook to hand to check this. There’s four different scenarios for scoring. (First and second; joint-first and second; first and joint-second; and first, alone.) It’s accessible enough via the table, at least. Talking of scoring, summer and winter feel like two polarised battles. There’s a lot more scope to nick points, it feels, in summer. There’s more rows and columns up for grabs, you see. Meanwhile, there’s only eight terrains in winter. This evens itself out by winter’s points being worth more.
With smart placement in spring, you can reap the rewards come autumn. This is the kind of thing you’ll learn after your first game. To begin with, in spring, you’re presented with a blank canvas, of sorts. You can place your trees anywhere! But the board soon becomes cramped, if you want to steal those scoring opportunities in summer. Or, you’ll see the board cramped in a different light, if you’re thinking ahead to autumn leaf-placement in mind.
It’s a dangerous game to put all your eggs in one basket in spring. Yes, you want to try and out-muscle your rivals for the rows and columns. And elbowing in with your ‘3’ and ‘4’ trees can prove overwhelming in this respect. But you need to remember: you have two of each tree number. And in autumn, you’re going to have to activate one of each of them for the first four rounds on the Wind Board. Remember the asterisks? For the fifth-through-eighth rounds of autumn, you still have to obey the wind direction. But you can pick any number tree to drop leaves.
The peril is if you place, say, both of your ‘3’ trees in the same row. This goes double if it’s a row near or on the outer edge. Because then you limit the flexibility of that tree, with regards to its leaf-drop. It isn’t going to be able to drift its leaves far in one direction, if it’s too close to the board’s edge.
Spring Strategy Blown Out The Window
Trying to split my trees apart in spring gave me a decent opportunity to adapt my tactics in autumn. It meant I could go with the flow according to north, south, east or west winds. Which leads me to a potential negative in some peoples’ eyes – Bosk is a game about reacting. You can plan and strategise to an extent, because you know the order of all eight wind directions. But you can’t plan too far ahead, because the state of the board changes between turns. You need to keep your fingers in lots of pies.
Like any kind of game that has an abstract nature to it, this can bring out analysis paralysis. You might get some players who agonise over tree placement. They’re trying to play both spring and autumn both at once. This is tough to achieve, though.
One thing you can do is manipulate turn order in your favour. This can change each time the wind moves direction. Whomever used the lowest Leaf Tile number in the previous round becomes the new first player. This adds yet another layer of strategy into the mix. Do you want to go first, so you have more of an empty board to place more of your leaves? Or do you want to go later? Yes, you might have to overlay, but you can cancel out an earlier player’s hard work. Hindsight’s on your side.
Table Presence Hits All The High Notes
Bosk commands table presence aplenty. It boasts wonderful art from Kwanchai Moriya (Dinosaur Island, In The Hall of the Mountain King, Prêt-à-Porter, among others). I’m so impressed by Floodgate Games’ products for their component quality. Sagrada packs a real punch. Cosmic Colonies is a hidden gem with awesome plastic resources. Bosk hits the same high notes and it doesn’t miss a beat.
The main board itself is abstract in its purest form. There’s eight different terrains, individual by stark colour contracts. Mind you, the black terrain is a little too similar to the water terrain, if playing under ‘mood lighting’. There’s subtle details on the board, but not the sort you’d necessarily look at, or go out of your way to look for. They’re the kind of details that you’d soon notice if they were vacant, though. Sporadic trees, single rock formations, grass billowing in the breeze. You don’t want a board like this to look too busy. You want the terrains to stand out, and (for the most part), they accomplish this.
The trees are the pièce de résistance. Two punched pieces slot together to form a 3D standee. They do require some assembling; it’s not a job you can rush. I had to use a small knife to prise out some of the more delicate pieces. But so long as you’re patient, the finished article looks stunning. The big Leaf Tiles are of chunky card stock. The wooden leaf tokens are dainty yet divine in their silhouettes. They have no problem at all standing out against the backdrop of the board during autumn and winter.
There is one potential issue with the trees, though. There’s no denying their photogenic quality at the start of autumn. 32 trees standing proud on the board, in all their glory. But for the first few turns, you’ll see players trying to place their leaves down in a haphazard manner. If you have big hands, it’s tricky (see also: nigh-impossible) to fit your hand between trees to place leaves. You might (see also: you will) knock some trees over, by accident. This is awkward, because you’ll have to remember where said tree(s) stood on the board!
Bosk comes with four insert boxes, one in each player colour. They’ve got a delightful origami vibe. These are the perfect size to fit each of the players’ components. It means set-up takes ten seconds – a simple case of passing out four boxes to the players! A big nod of approval for me, here.
Final Thoughts On… Bosk
I’ve fallen head over heels for Bosk. The way the wind changes each round in autumn is a thing of genius. It’s such a delight to see the theme mirror mechanisms in such a seamless fashion. It’s the kind of feature that gives me genuine jealousy, because it’s that clever. It’s the kind of feature that makes me think: “You know what, I wish I’d thought of that…”
I approached Bosk like any kind of area control game. That means sometimes taking on ever-changing tactics, rather than a singular strategy. Your opponents’ leaf placement can cause havoc with your plans. This goes double if you limit yourself with poor options. (Both with the hand management of your Leaf Tiles, and the placement of your trees). But I love the fact that the final four rounds have those asterisks. You can trigger any tree you like of your final four remaining. You can evolve your tactics as everyone’s master plans unfold. Can you second-guess how your opponents will evolve theirs? You can, after all, see their remaining trees, and their remaining big Leaf Tiles…
There’s a tendency to want to want to compare Bosk to Photosynthesis (by Blue Orange Games). They both have alluring, 3D trees. But that’s where their parallels end. They’re separate games; you can justify owning both. I prefer Bosk, due to the four-season format – the ‘game of two halves’ angle. In Photosynthesis a bad start can hamper you. In Bosk, it felt like you could always adapt your tactics and recover.
Bosk is a 45-minute game, and one I love sinking my teeth into. It’s not complex, nor complicated to grasp, but it has marvellous layers. Like I mentioned above, the mechanisms match the theme in a true, logical way. Players nod when you explain the rules to them because they just… make… sense. Yes, it helps that the pieces are wonderful and tactile. And boy howdy, does it take a pretty picture. But mark my words; there’s more to Bosk than beauty. It’s got brains to boot, too.