Game Review: Living Forest
Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Recomended age: 8+
Playtime: 40 minutes
Players: 2-4
Living Forest is a semi-competitive game in which each player takes on the role of one of the seasons (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter). The forest is under threat from a fire salamander called Onibi and the four (or however many) of you must band together to put out its flames and protect the sacred tree.

You can win the game by accomplishing any one of three individual goals, but it's also possible to block other players from reaching their goals, forcing them to change their strategy. Of course, they can also block you. So while each player is working toward their own individual goal they can be as competitive as they like. Since I prefer cooperative games, we played this without blocking each other. That makes the game more like a race rather than a head-to-head competition. There's also the collective issue of Onibi's flames, which affect all characters if they get out of control. So while you're all trying to be the first to reach your goal, you also need to work together for the greater good of the forest in which you all live.

The goals are: 1-Collect and plant one of every type of tree on you player board (12 in total). 2-Have 12 blossoms showing on any one turn. 3-Collect 12 extinguished fire tokens. I found that most people end up doing a combination of these as they play no matter what actual goal they're going for. You need to put out fires to keep negative consequences down. You need to plant trees to make your character stronger and get more out of your turns. And the flowers are included on some of the cards you inevitably buy to strengthen your turns. That said, the earlier you choose a focus, the more likely you are to succeed. Wait too long and the game will end before you even realize it.
There's no "board" in this board game, it's more of a collection of elements set up between the players. Each player has an individual player board on which they collect saplings and build their personal deck of animal helper cards. Then there's the forest board that represents the forest you are trying to protect. This is where fire tokens are added during Onibi's turn, and where players looking to win by extinguishing fires get their tokens. This board also contains a stone path upon which little figurines of the seasons can travel. Because we didn't play very competitively, we almost never moved anyone around the communal board. As far as I can tell, the main point of that game device is to steal goal markers from other players so they can't win with that goal (unless they steal it back). There are two constructed containers that hold all the different seedling tokens a player can buy, ranged from least to most expensive. There's a card for Onibi that holds the deck of his cards and a bunch of little "X" tokens. The largest area is taken up with the recruitment cards. These are three rows (organized by cost) of animal helpers you can buy into your personal deck that give stat boosts, which determines which actions you can take on any given turn.

One of the most interesting game dynamics was that players can draw as many, or few, cards as they want for their turn... unless they call up three solitary animals, which forces a penalty by reducing their available actions. The animal cards in the deck are identified as solitary, gregarious, or neutral. Solitary cards tend to have stronger boosts, but they don't play well with others. On the other hand, gregarious cards can let you draw more helpers, but often come with unpleasant side effects. Deciding how you want to balance your deck is one of the most engaging parts of this game.

The artwork for this game (done by Apolline Etienne) is lovely. It's a lot of fun to look through all the animal helper cards, and the season spirit characters are so cute! The gameplay is easy to pick up. As I said before, the game is designed to be played competitively. The first playthrough ended too abruptly when one person reached their goal, leaving all the other players feeling unfulfilled since the game only felt half over. Since I'm me, we tweaked the rules just a little to make it a cooperative game. It actually didn't take much at all. We just divided the goals between the players and said we had to accomplish all of them to win. That way we were all playing against Onibi instead of each other. ;) I think it's nice that (with a few adjustments) the game can be played as cooperatively or competitively as suits you.

If you're interested in purchasing a copy, you can find it on Amazon HERE.