In A Grove
Teaching Time: 2 mins
Playing Time: 20 mins
Setup Time: 1 min
Value For Money: Mid
Website: In A Grove - Oink Games
I picked up In A Grove as part of a bundle deal on Kickstarter alongside Moon Adventure. Its loosely based on a short story by author Ryunosuke Akutagawa which was in turn the basis for the movie Rashomon by Akira Kurosawa, very very loosely based. The story and movie are about how the same event seen, or at least reported, by a range of different people can be presented in very different ways. The short story is an early modernist classic and the movie a fascinating example of a master story teller in a bravura production. The game, well, not so much.
Gameplay involves placing out a set of three suspects with numbers on them and each player taking a witness. Players look at some of the witnesses (how many depends on player count) and then some of the suspects. After looking at suspects each player accuses one of the suspects, the following player is not allowed to look at the suspect looked at by the player immediately before them. Once everyone has made their accusations the actual culprit is revealed by flipping all the culprits, highest number is the killer unless one of the culprits is 5 in which case the lowest is the killer. Accusation tokens on the killer get removed from the game, those on innocent suspects go to the last player to have put a token on that suspect. The game goes on until one player has zero or five tokens and the player with the most tokens loses.
Its slightly weird that the game focuses on scoring who loses rather than who wins. There’s a mention that the remaining players are decided by who has the fewest tokens doing best. That’s a pretty minor problem, the big problem is that the game is far too random with far too few choices. For all but the lead player everything is automated, which witnesses you see, which suspects, the only choice is where to place your accusation marker. In theory this accusation marker placement is at the centre of a fascinating bluff and counter bluff exchange that is at the centre of where the fun in the game should be. In practice there’s very little point in bluffing since the information given is both so random and so definitive. For example, a player looks and sees two very low numbers, they can either opt for the unseen suspect assuming it will be higher, or pick the lowest number in the hope that the other player looks at the unseen marker and see a lowish number or the 5 and either follow them in wrongly or go for the low but not lowest number and lose. However, the odds are much higher that they’ll just see a high number and pick that, in fact most of the possible bluffing scenarios are just ruled out by the effect of seeing numbers and the mechanics of the game. The upshot is that attempts to bluff are essentially players trying to make the game work and be fun when it frankly, isn’t.
Once again with Oink games, this is a game where style has run roughshod over substance. It looks really good, the components are high quality, the graphic design is cool. The suspect tokens, particularly in the recent edition, are great, large and satisfyingly solid stylized plastic silhouettes, sort of like new wave meeples. Everything from that neat little Oink brand box through to the accusation tokens signified with a range of moustache styles look and feel great. Once again, I want it to be a good game, but sadly it just isn’t. The bluffing doesn’t really work and the lack of choices don’t result in an early Eurogame style clarity, they just result in a feeling of impotence and randomness. The bluffing is buried under a few basic mechanics that don’t give anything back in return and it ultimately doesn’t work.
A game of In A Grove or Rashomon would be something that I’d love to see and be fascinated by, this absolutely isn’t it. Even just a good bluffing or deduction game I’d like to see, but sadly this also isn’t either of those. If you want something to do that’s a process much like a game, where it doesn’t really matter if you don’t pay much attention, that involves shuffling about nice feeling plastic tokens, possibly while drinking with friends there are better options, if you’re bored of all of those, this might not be terrible. That’s the closest I can come to a recommendation and I only give that because, I want to like In A Grove, I just don’t.