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Winterhaven Woods (And Expansion) Card Game Review

Updated: Feb 28, 2022

Winterhaven Woods

WBG Score: 8 Player Count 1-6 You’ll like this if you like: 7 Wonders Duel, Its a Wonderful World, Everdell Published by: Featherstone Games Designed by: Joel Bodkin

Before I start this review, I need to declare something for full transparency. I absolutely adore Joel Bodkin, the designer of this game. He has a gentle, generous, and kind heart that endears him to me, and as such, I am conscious this review may be somewhat biased! However, I would argue that after playing any of Joel's games, (he also made Open Ocean) then you will fall in love with the guy too! And as such, any bias I have towards his games, you will also have after you play. Anyway, with that out the way, lets look at this stunning game, and I can start gushing even more!

Winterhaven Woods is a drafting game, that incorporates set-collection, some minor take-that (if you desire) and some interesting scoring options. The minimalist art is echoed in the simple rules and set up, but certainly does not transfer to the strategy or enjoyment you will feel as you play this game. The game works best in a two to six player game, but also plays well in solo with some minor rule changes.


Collect all the required cards (clearly marked with an icon on the bottom right based on player count or top left based on type) and shuffle into a main draw deck. Deal out seven cards to each player. Give each player a 'Heart of the Woods' card, which they will place in front of them. You are now ready to play. I told you it was simple!

Basic Rules.

Each game of Winterhaven Woods lasts for three rounds, unless you play the longer two-player variant. In each round, players will carry out four phases. The game starts with a draft phase where you will pick your cards. This is then followed by a plant and populate phase where you will use your chosen cards with the tree symbol in the top left, followed by a steal phase which uses the cards with a star icon. The final part is a hunt phase which uses all cards with the paw symbol. After three rounds, players will tally their points, and the winner is declared.

Points can be scored in a numbers of ways. The numbers of hedgehops in your meadow, a point for each creature in your woods. One point for each animal successfully hunted and any predator still alive (resting) that remains in your play area. And finally, from four bonuses that reward the size of your woods, the variety of things your predators hunted, the amount of deer in your play area, and the birds present in your trees. You will loose points based on the amount of steel cards you used, and in a solo game, rate your score against that of the predators. This will all make sense within a few minutes of playing the game, or reading on!

Draft Phase.

In the draft phase, players will look at their cards and choose one to keep and place face down in front of them. They will then pass all remaining cards on to the player to their left. This continues until all cards are drafted. Each player will begin the game with a 'Heart of the Woods' card which allows you to start populating your forest from the off, but you will want to build larger and extra places to safely house your critters as this will soon fill up. A forest cannot be populated until it has at least three trees, and then you can only place one animal per tree into each forest. You can also only have one type of animal in each forest, apart from the Rabbit, which can cohabitate with any other animal, as long as it is the only Rabbit. I presume to avoid over population and keeping this a family game! (Although you wait for the hunt phase... poor Deer!)

Plant and Populate Phase.

Once all cards are drafted, players can then simultaneously begin to plant more trees, and populate their woods with the cards they have kept. All cards with the tree symbol in the top left can be used at this point. The Deer need to be in pairs in order to be placed into a wood, and of course, only then if there are at least three trees to begin with, and one spare tree per animal you want to place. The Squirrels can populate in larger numbers of up to five. But remember to never place a Grey with a Red or visa-versa. We sadly all know what happens next here if this does occur.

If you have any animals at this point that you cannot legally place into your woods, they must be placed into the area in the middle of the table known as the 'Meadow.' Each player has their own Meadow area, and this is an place where animals congregate when there is no home for them. Animals left here are vulnerable to predators, but this is a key way to score in the game. As cute as Bambi may me, them Bears gotta eat!

The only animal that can avoid being hunted in the 'Meadow' is the Hedgehog. This animal can use its defenses to stay in this area all game, no matter who comes for their lunch, and will score you one point at the end of the game.

Steal Phase.

After all players have finished planting and populating, the Steal round begins. This employs all cards with a star in the top left of the card, and gives players the chance to take critters and trees from their opponents, but at a cost. Didn't our Mom teach you that stealing was bad?

The Owl will swoop in and can take any critter from any woods. The stolen card can then be placed into the woods or meadow owned by the player who played the Owl card. The Fox can take an animal from any meadow and then rehouse into the players woods or own meadow. The Beaver is a useful card that allows players to steal a tree card from any woods and then place that card into their own woods. These cards are played in star number order, shown in the symbol on the top left. Lowest number first.

The steal power is a useful one that can swing the games fortunes in your favour. However, beware! All steal cards played, are kept until final scoring, and will deduct points from your total based on the number played. If players do not want to play a steal card, they can simply discard the card and avoid any penalty. It's always your choice! You can of course choose to play without this round entirely simply by removing all steal cards from the game, but I would not recommend this. There is also a variant in the rules that states that when a player uses a steal card, the steal card they played is then given to the player from whom they stole from, who in turn score positive points for each steal card in their possession at the end of the game.

I like this variant, and how it rewards the person who lost a card rather than punishes the player that played a card. It can feel annoying to loose a card. This variant changes that, whilst also removing the punishment for playing a steal card yourself. It's a simple switch that changes the feel of the game a lot, if that is your preference.

Hunt Phase.