The new Finn – a step up from a filler with Foragers!
The designer Steve Finn has carved out a decent reputation for himself in the board game community with games such as Capo dei Capi, a push-your-luck dice roller with some important choices to be made, and especially with Biblios, a game of card and dice manipulation, highly rated among gamers. According to the designer himself, Foragers represents his first foray into non-filler medium-weight Euro games, and as such, marks a step up in complexity from his previous offerings. It is also his first game to attempt to integrate theme and mechanic more fully than previously. Coming off the back of a successful Kickstarter campaign, Foragers steps into a crowded market full of established games, so does it have what it takes to bring home the bacon, or will it be lost to the mists of history?
Players represent different members of the same tribe who are sent out to forage, returning with fruit, fish or aurochs (no, nor me – apparently it is an extinct type of large wild cattle), returning with their spoils to fire pits where they share it with the other members of the tribe, in return for good old victory points. This, however, is not a friendly world, so members of the tribe will fight each other for food when they meet on paths, gaining status as they do so. They will also gain tools as Foragers progresses, which will aid them in their hunting and presumably all contribute to the eventual extinction of the poor old auroch.
A-hunting we will go! How does it play?
Foragers blends an appealing mixture of mechanics familiar from other games, and presents the players with the challenge of balancing various aspects of their particular forager in an attempt to win out at the end of the game.
4 player game ready to go
The initial map, different according to the number of players, is set out before play begins, and may be added to later by the use of the “Discover” action. Foragers therefore contains elements of a tile-layer and, by extension, the promise of a slightly different game every time, something that definitely appeals to this reviewer. Each tile has different areas on it, – most have four while the corner tiles have three – representing food spaces (where the foragers, er, forage), fire pits (where they share food with the tribe) and resting spaces (where they recover lost energy). Players receive ten action cards and a tableau which shows their forager’s energy level, the amount of food they have gathered and its freshness, tools, and a handy little reminder about how to go scavenging those important extra victory points. There is also a central card, which will be used alongside a player’s card when it comes to selecting actions.
Between auroch and a hard place? It’s time for actions!
Each round of Foragers plays through four phases but the bulk of the decisions happen in the second of these, the “Acting” phase. At the beginning of each round players draw the top three cards from their deck of action cards then select one and replace the other two in any order. The chosen action card, along with the common one which remains accessible to everyone throughout, represents their available choices for the Acting phase of this round. Once players have revealed their action card it is time to send those foragers off foraging, and for this players take turns to place an action cube on one of the spaces available either on their action card or the common one and then perform the chosen action. Each player gets to activate four actions in this round and after which the game progresses to the next stage.
The game offers a commendably wide range of choices for the foragers and the action you select will depend upon a variety of factors, the desire for victory points is always offset by the need to seek food and keep up your energy level. It is an intriguing balancing act and your trusty representative will often go hungry, but keep them well fed and not only will they be able to continue exploring but they will also be able to steal victory points from other players! Did I mention the direct interaction yet?
Action card and player board with food
Foragers may walk from one space to another on the board depending on their energy level, but in a fun twist, cannot pass through a space containing another forager if they are the weaker of the two. If the walking forager is stronger and the other player’s forager is outside a resting space or fire pit (out and vulnerable in the open in other words) then you get to steal victory points equal to the difference in strength. This is called brawling, and it tips Foragers from a relatively friendly Carcassonne-a-like into something rather more confrontational, and you will have to think carefully about whether you want to leave your puny little forager out in the open and vulnerable to attacks while the other players take their turns.
When it comes to food, which is really the essence of this game, foraging involves taking tokens from spaces up to the number shown on the action card and placing those tokens on the freshest (leftmost) space on your tableau. Those tokens will gradually go mouldy and become less nutritious, but not quite yet. Food may also be shared with the tribe at fire pits, an action worth victory points at the end of Foragers, and which will possibly earn bonus points as well. Food spaces sometimes also contain tools (arrowheads, fish hooks, boomerangs, sticks), all of which will give your forager the ability to carry our his or her task more thoroughly as a game of Foragers progresses.
I’ve been foraging for ages! I need a rest…
Eating and resting are the two remaining options on player action cards and are critical in terms of keeping your forager in the game as an important force. Eating food will increase your forager’s energy, although the older the food the less nutritious it becomes, while resting is another way to do this but without using up any resources.
The common action card also offer the option to discover a new tile if your forager is at the edge of the board, an action which extends the playing area and earns you a victory point, but this is done at the expense of moving, eating or foraging, so it feels like quite a luxurious action to be able to take. Is is worth the extra victory point? You decide! The only other option (which is always available) is to run, but this is the only action in Foragers to cost energy because it allows the forager to travel further than is normally allowed by their action card.
To the victor the spoils? Not with this food!
Once all players have finished their actions it is time to find out just how badly the food has suffered in the heat, in a mechanism similar to the aging of the food in Dungeon Petz. Whereas in Dungeon Petz the food ages predictably, here your forager is at the mercy of random factors – the spoilage card is revealed and the food pushed rightwards along the player’s tableau by that number of spaces.
The spoiling card ages your food
Fish will go off first, then aurochs, and then fruit, and the older the food is the less energy it will provide to your faithful forager. As a final component of the round, any forager in a resting space now gains 4 energy, and if the last spoilage card has just been flipped over the game ends, otherwise the starting player marker (“hunt leader”, commendably double-sided for male and female) is moved on and a new round begins.
At the end of the game players add up points for their strength, from tokens gained from sharing food with the tribe (which can offer bonuses for visiting different fire pits) and specialising in certain types of food, and for the number of tools in their forager’s possession.
Finn’s ain’t what they use to be! Is this a winner?
Foragers is designed for two to four players, but the version for two is a little cumbersome in its execution when compared with the full version – in fact; those with an allergy to dummy players should look away now for there are not one but two such players in the pared down version of Foragers. It makes for a slightly disjointed experience as the automated foragers need to follow a predetermined set of rules during their turns, although at least the activation of the dummy players only happens in the very first phase of each round. The two-player experience therefore feels a little rougher than the full game, even if it is still entertaining, and I wonder what it might be like simply for two players to take two colours each and to play accordingly, maybe only scoring the lesser of their two foragers.
Set up can be fiddly!
The set up is also very fiddly and the initial placement of food, tools, sharing tokens and foragers on the tiles takes some time and results in the playing area feeling very cramped indeed. There may well be no way around it, but it almost feels as if you are playing Operation when you lay things out, so tight is the space, and delicate fingerwork is a necessity. The board does clear up as Foragers progresses, but it takes some time for that to happen.
Having said that Foragers is an enjoyable play as the map fills out and the resources gradually disappear from the board. It also achieves that rare distinction of making the theme come to life even with small wooden tokens because your forager will actively seek out the safety of the fire pit to stay out of trouble, especially when they are low on energy, all the while trying to share food while ensuring that their own nutritional needs are met. It is involved enough to generate some interesting decisions, but does not appear to cause obstructive amounts of analysis paralysis, and that is a very good balance indeed to strike.
Finn-al thoughts? An impressive step up!
Steve Finn’s reputation as the “king of the filler” is about to take a beating, but in a good way. This is an elegant step up from this designer, a tight and neat game with a satisfying alliance of theme to mechanic and a variety of choices for players to make, all of which impact upon other elements. The brawling is well conceived, but never becomes the focus of the game, and the use of energy is clever and thematic. Even the randomness in Foragers is mitigated, so that the dice rolling of something like Stone Age (to pick a thematically similar game) is eliminated entirely. Players get the choice of one of three action cards, so are always able to plan roughly in advance, and the common action card is always available. Even the aging of the food, which is outside the players’ control, affects all foragers equally, so while your hunter might think it unfair that their fish has gone mouldy at least it was just as unfair for everybody.
I would say that the only true negative about Foragers is that maybe it is not different enough to stand out in a crowded market, and that the cardboard tiles could be of more sturdy stock, but that really is being very picky indeed. I enjoyed Foragers very much – it plays intuitively and is an ideal next step for those looking to explore something different and more complex than everyday fillers. May your foraging for this game be successful!
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I have been playing Hobby games for as long as I can remember, including Waddington's Formula-1 in my teens and family card games before that. I mainly play with two, sometimes more, and I'm happy to give any game a try. I lean towards medium-weight games with simple rules and deep gameplay. Homo ludens and proud of it.