Living Forest Board Game Review
Updated: Oct 4, 2022
WBG Score: 8
Player Count: 2-4
You’ll like this if you like: Port Royal, Furnace, Mystic Vale.
Published by: Ludonaute
Designed by: Aske Christiansen
Distributed in the Uk by: Coiledspring Games.
Each year in Germany, a group of very knowledgeable and influential people within the board game industry come together to discuss, play, and vote on the best games that were released within Germany that year. The spiritual home of modern board games. They have three awards. Game of the year. Children's game of the year. And then the Kenner spiel. The "Gamers Game" of the year. The game that they think is the best for more serious board game enthusiasts. Previously, this has seen winners such as The Crew, Istanbul, and Paleo.
This year, the winner was Living Forest. A game from 'new kid on the block' Aske Christiansen. The win didn't surprise many people, but there was comment that it was perhaps better suited to the main award aimed at more family gamers. Particularly as that category was won by Cascadia, a game ranked with a weight of 1.87. Living Forest has a weight of 2.2. But in fairness, previous winners of the Kenner spiel had similar rankings. Paleo is 2.67, The Crew is 2.01. And Istanbul is 2.58. So, if you can get over the fact that the "Gamers Game" award is for a mid to low weight game, and not a mid to heavy weight game as many may prefer, we can all just move on with our lives and get to the review. Cool? Great. Let's get it to the table.
Living Forest has a bit of set-up the first time, making the trays for the trees, and a fair bit of popping. But once this is done, it is a relatively simple process. And who doesn't love a good popping session!?
Place out the main Circle of Spirits board, tree dispensers, and smaller Fire Varan board in the centre of the table. Give each player a forest board, three victory tiles, a Spirit of Nature standee and protective tree in their chosen colour. The tree is placed in the central space on the Forest board and the standee goes onto the specific spot on the central board based on your player count. Then give each player their 14 starting animal guardian cards in their colour. These are shuffled and placed face down in front of each player.
Place the Fire Varan cards onto the Fire Varan board along with the Fragment tiles. Then lay out the Guardian animal board and after sorting the cards into the three groups, of level one, two and three, lay out four cards face up on each row and leave the rest face down on this board. Place the fire tiles divided into the three values on this board. Finally, decide the first player and give them the Sacred Tree standee. You are now ready to begin the game.
How to Play
Living Forest works incredibly simply and fast. There are three main phases. The first phase, all players play simultaneously. Players will take their 14 cards and flip them over, one by one, forming a line running left to right from the indent on the right of the Forest board. This is called your "help line." They can stop at any point, but for each card they flip, more symbols are revealed allowing for a stronger set of actions in phase two. However, in each deck, five solitary animals reside with a dark round symbol. If three of these are revealed then that player can only use one action on the second phase. If they stop with two or less, then they can take two actions.
Later in the game, players will be able to add new cards to their deck. Some of these cards are Gregarious cards. These act as a way to neutralise the Solitary animals. One Gregarious and one Solitary animal revealed into your cards in a round would mean you are still on net zero.
Once all players stop or bust, they move into phase two and can take either one or two actions. The actions include taking a fragment tile, which can be used to place a card drawn in phase one into your discard, avoiding a solitary animal. The fragment tiles can also destroy the fire Varane cards if you get these. More on that later.
Other options are to buy a new Animal Guardian card from the 12 face up choices. Based on the cards you draw in phase one, each player will have revealed a number of Sun symbols. Each Animal Guardian card has a Sun value you need to match in order to draft that into your deck. Any new cards you add will increase your ability to get more symbols in the first phase.
On the Circle of Spirits board there will always be at least one fire token with a value of two. Another option for an action in phase two is to extinguish these fires. Using the water symbols you revealed in phase one, you can put out as many fires as you have water symbols. Removing the fire helps in phase three, which we will cover later. But also is one way to win the game. Again, more on that soon!
Using the stone symbols revealed in phase one, you can move around the Circle of Spirits board as an action in phase two. The space you end on will give you an action such as buying a card, putting out a fire, or taking a fragment tile. But if you ever hop over another player, you can take any one of their Victory Tiles from them.
The final action you can do in phase two is to plant a tree. Using the tree symbols in phase one you can now buy one tree. The trees are immediately placed into your Forest board, touching orthogonally one tree you already own. They can cover a bonus which gives you an immediate bonus action such as to buy a card with an extra three sun symbols, or put out a fire with an extra two water symbols. The tree also offers an ongoing bonus, with extra, permanent tree, sun, stone, or flower symbols. We will come onto the flowers soon! Also, when completed, some rows and columns offer additional ongoing bonuses too.
Players takes these actions in turn order, moving clockwise around the table starting with the player with the Sacred Tree. Once all players have taken all actions, play moves to phase three.
First, all fire left in the Circle of Spirits is tallied, and any player who does not have enough water symbols in their cards turned over that turn, or from their trees or forest board will have to take a Fire Varan card into their hand. One for each fire token present.
Then, new fire tokens must be added to the Circle of Spirits for each card that was bought that round. A two value fire token for a card from the top round, a three value for a card from the middle, and a four value for each card from the bottom. If no cards were bought that round and there is no fire in the Circle of Spirits, a single fire token to the value of two is added.
Next, add new cards if any animal cards were bought that round. Move all your cards from your help line into you discard. Then pass the Scared Tree to the next player clockwise round the table. You are now ready for another round unless someone has won!
How to Win
OK, hope that all makes sense? If not, don't worry. When you play, it really is very simple. But how do you win this thing? There has been no mention of victory points, or health meters or damage. No talk of a finish line. Well, herein lies the reason I think this game won the Kenner Spiel. There are three ways to win this game. The first person to achieve either one will trigger the final round, all players will finish their actions and then the person with the highest score after this final round in either of the three areas wins. If there is a tie, is is the person who scored the highest overall in all three areas.
The three areas are fire, flowers, and trees. You need twelve or more of one to trigger the end game. In the case of trees, they must be unique. In the case of flowers, these can be on trees you have bought, lines of trees you have completed in your forest, and from face up cards in your line that turn. In the case of fire, this is from the fires you have put out in the game. A three or four value fire still counts as a single fire token, just like the two fire token. They are all just one token when it comes to final scoring.
Now, don't forget the three Victory tiles you were given at the start of the game. These count as one for each area you have in your possession. And you may have more or less of these at this point, depending on how many times you hoped over other players on the Circle of Spirits board and taken one from another player. Or in turn, how many times you were jumped over yourself. This can be a fun, and significant varying swing in reaching this goal of 12 in the later stages of the game. Say you start your turn with just seven fire tokens, but you draw enough water to put out three fires, and then hop over two opponents and steel both their fire Victory tiles. This would allow you to reach the goal of 12 after starting at seven in one go. Pretty cool huh!