Forest of Fate – Preview

You’ve vanquished the dragon, rescued the princess or freed the villagers from the tyranny of the local evil overlord. Unfortunately you can’t relax just yet as you have a long walk home ahead of you, and the forest is dark and full of dangers.

This is the premise of Forest of Fate, the debut game from company Cards of Fate, a storytelling card game with a distinct ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ vibe. The game is currently blasting through funding goals on Kickstarter so it seems like a fairly safe bet if you are after this sort of game. Let’s venture in and see if we can find a safe path home.

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Into the Woods

The preview copy I got was one of the better looking ones I have received. A bunch of square cards give you the path you will follow in the forest, the finishing post that is your goal, some quests that you have just finished off and the characters you may play. Each character also comes with a special ability that can change the course of play: allowing you to scout ahead, bring people back from the dead, rewind time etc.

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Choosing the quest you have just finished off gives you your starting point on the voyage home and also an item that may prove useful on the trip through the trees. You can choose how difficult you want the voyage home to be and this gives you the number of the encounter cards to layout between the starting point and the finishing post.

Setting out on your path you turn over the first encounter card and find out what is going to happen to your party. Maybe you will encounter a trapped and hurt bear, a vicious swordmaster or a sentient tree, the variety of encounters is certainly good. Between the adventurers you decide who will tackle the task and then apply one of their 4 skills to the task. This skill, and it’s level, will give you a passage to read in the associated app, or book if your prefer a hardcopy (both are available through the kickstarter).

The path you set out on is setup in as you see fit, meaning it can weave as much or as little as you want, and also each card can, and probably should, be in a different orientation. This matters when it comes to resolving encounters as the number of the passage you will read out changes depending on which edge of that card is closest to your previous encounter.

If the encounter resolves well you may get an item to help you out, but if it goes wrong you will lose some life points, tracked by a neat little card that also has your adventurer ability on it and a string of numbers along the top: shoving this along underneath the card with your skills on it gives you your current health. A smart little piece of design.

It is likely that one or more of the adventurers will get killed before the end of your journey, but that does not mean they are out of the game. Turning over their skill card they find themselves a shade, with an ability that triggers on guessing what skill the remaining adventurers will use to tackle the next encounter. This does produce a nice little guessing game as the shades can choose a skill that the players are more likely to use, forcing them into a less than optimal choice or maybe bluffing that they will do that.

If you go down to the woods today…

I’ve played the game three times, twice 2 player and once with 5 players and we did not make it to the end in any of our games. The 5 player game was a more enjoyable experience as we got to see more of the Shade side of the game, but no one came away wanting to play it again. The writing is ok but there is very little in the way of meaningful choices in the game: an encounter is read, you choose how to deal with it and it seemed to us that more often than not we got hit for those choices. Even when we got a positive outcome, I think we only once got an item to help us in the adventure to come.

The intense randomness of the outcomes didn’t really leave us feeling we wanted to try again to do better, I mean how could we. If we get the same encounter again maybe we can try a different path, but that is memory not skill. We found the game frustrating to play, it didn’t really feel like any choice we made, even if it seemed to have logic to it, ever resulted in a good outcome and that left us just choosing randomly as it didn’t seem to matter.

After the third play through I did a little checking of the variety of outcomes for a given skill on some of the encounters. On one encounter, with three possible different outcomes for a given skill, and assuming that I had that skill at Great, two of the outcomes involved us taking significant amounts of damage. Checking out a couple of other examples I found this to be pretty much the pattern, that despite you choosing a skill that made sense, and having it at a good level, you still get smacked in the face.

I was thinking about the game in comparison to the choose your own adventure books I enjoyed in my youth and to the more recent Escape the Dark Castle, which also has a flavour of these books. Where these succeed over Forest of Fate is in making you feel like you are part of the story, that you have control over your fate, even if at times that control is an illusion. In Forest of Fate I never really felt like we were part of the tale unfolding before us, merely spectators, disconnected from the story happening to our characters, with little choice in the fate that befell us.

Seeing the Woods for the Trees

I don’t know where Forest of Fate fits in the boardgaming landscape and cannot recommend it. There isn’t really enough there to hold the attention for those who might want to replay it as a co-op challenge, and the only time we really felt the game started to come together was the introduction of the Shade, but that requires someone to die before it happens.

The game is funded, and funded well, so this review does feel a little like shouting into the wind. It was a game neither I nor the people I played with enjoyed and I am instead looking forward to Escape the Dark Castle, a much better, if more gothic, choose your own adventure style game.