Shadows in the Forest
Teaching Time: 5 mins
Playing Time: 15 mins
Setup Time: 5 mins
Value For Money: Mid
I’ve long found the idea of Shadows in the Forest fascinating as it uses light and shadow as game elements themselves. The game itself is very traditional in its approach, despite its central element being so unusual.
Gameplay wise it consists of two modes, the one that I’d say was most interesting is a co-op game where one player controls the light source and pushes it around the paths of the board according to the score of a dice between a series of 3D wooden trees. The other players take the part of little dwarves who must hide in the shadows cast by those trees. After the candle moves each turn the dwarves can all move as much as they like, but if a dwarf is touched by the light, it is frozen until another dwarf can move to touch it and unfreeze it. If all the dwarves are frozen the player controlling the light wins, if all the dwarves meet under one tree, they win. The alternative play method is a sort of roll and move game that involves players needing to pass along paths of light rather than shadow and being stuck if they encounter a shadow until a mirror is used to reflect beams of light over to them for them to travel along.
Obviously, the game itself is a very simple indeed, the light has relatively little choice on its path and the game requires a small amount of give and take to be fun. If the player controlling the light chooses to simply circle one tree and dwarf forever there’s no way of breaking the stalemate created. But the idea of using shadows to transform the paths available on the board is a delight. It is also a very simple and early introduction to the idea of co-operative play. While not strictly full co-op, being as it is really one against many, coming from 1985 makes the idea of co-op play quite unusual and it’s a lovely way to introduce the concept to children.
The fun of the game relies somewhat on the fact that the player taking the part of the light is unaware of the position of the dwarves, achieved by their shutting their eyes during dwarf movement. I found this put me in mind of another darkness-based game, Nytophobia. The result is something quite similar to a hidden movement game where the light player traverses the forest alternatively threatening and being exasperated by their little targets. For the dwarf player there is a little bit of strategy, picking which tree to move to based on which way the light will move next, choosing when to move to unfreeze friends before paths are burned away. The game can actually provide enough challenge to amuse even adult players for a while, provided they are willing to engage in the give and take that the game requires to work.
I will say that, while a delightful alternative to plastic, the wooden inlay in my version from the publisher Kraul is not the most useful game divider I’ve come across in my life. That aside the set is endearingly old school in its construction from plywood and card, even down to its little pawn meeples with glue on hats that it would take a hard-hearted person not to find enchanting.
Despite only having played as an adult, I enjoyed my time with Shadows Of The Forest, and I wish someone would find a way to use lights in a more grown up and modern game.