The Fox In The Forest Duet is the brand new cooperative trick taking card game from Foxtrot Games. Designed by the team at Foxtrot, the game sees exactly 2 players working together to wander a forest and collect gems. Taking around 20 minutes players must try not to get lost, with the help of musicians, royal heirs and more along the way. However, is this as unique as the original or will players want to get lost in the woods instead of playing? Let’s find out!
Setting up, the board is placed between players so that each has one end of the trail towards them. The board is two sided, allowing for different difficulties, with the easier A side used by default. Each indicated space gets a gem token at the start of the game, with some starting with two. The team tracker token is placed at the center of the track, perfectly between the two players. Each round the deck of cards is shuffled, with 11 cards dealt to each player. The top card of the remainder of the deck is flipped to indicate the trump suit and the round is ready to play.
For each trick the starting player sets the lead suit by playing a card from their hand. This is the suit that the other player must play if possible. If the non-starting player does not have a card of the lead suit they must still play a card, though it can be either of the other suits. If neither card played into the trick were of the trump suit then whomever played the highest valued card of the lead suit wins the trick. Else, whomever played the highest valued trump card wins the trick.
The cards come with paw values, indicated by cute little paw prints on the cards. The amount ranges from 0 to 3 paws. Whoever wins the trick moves the team tracker token towards them. The number of spaces moved is indicated by the combined paws on both cards of the trick. The odd valued cards of each suit have abilities. These enable the players to impact things outside of simply playing cards. These range from the ability to play cards out of suit to swapping a card from your hand with the top of the deck – potentially changing the trump suit. One of the perceived strongest abilities is to be able to ignore one card when it comes to summing the number of paws. This gives flexibility to the players to get to potentially three different spaces, via the movement on one card, the other card or both combined.
Whenever the team tracker token ends on a space connected to at least one gem token one is taken. This is true regardless of the movement value, including movement of zero. To win the team needs to collect all of the gems from the board. If the team tracker token moves off the edge of the board a forest token is added to that end of the trail, shortening it for the rest of the game. There are four of these tokens and if all are used and another needs to be added the game is lost.
If the gems haven’t been collected before the end of the round, with all 11 tricks played, players move onto the next round. Each new round sees the trail shortened via a forest token and new gems spawn at indicated spaces. All cards are then reshuffled with players getting 11 new cards and a new trump suit being revealed. With a maximum of three rounds, the gems must all be collected else the game is lost.
Across the 3 short rounds new players can easily pick up the twists and changes to normal trick taking. Alas, similar to The Crew, this is not the best entry point to the genre for new gamers. It makes much more sense to learn trick taking in a competitive experience, trying to win tricks – before adding in why you’d want to lose them. This is compounded by the game requiring minimal communication between players, for the sake of difficulty balancing. Trying to teach someone therefore is much harder when you shouldn’t say anything helpful to them. Thankfully, for anyone whom has played a trick taking game before it is incredibly easy to pick up.
The spirit of the original is captured, with players often not wanting to win tricks. It was a great twist for the competitive The Fox In The Forest and aligns perfectly with a cooperative experience. The punishing nature of being greedy and scoring nothing translates to joint failure, almost making it worse. It does make the two games feel somewhat similar though the objectives are different in terms of wanting to work together.
What players can do on a turn is simple, yet the experience of cracking the puzzle is still there. Allowing the game to get to the table quicker, it is more about what should I do rather than what can I do. This doesn’t mean players don’t have choices. Without the powers the gameplay would fall a bit flat as they add more weight, of when to use them, to decisions. Plus, having differing amounts of paw prints, including 0, also makes for interesting decisions – you don’t want to be left with only large movements that could take you off the end of the trail.
Production wise The Fox In The Forest Duet is solid, though for the most part it isn’t above average. Being a card game it is nice to see that the quality of the cards, including the finish, is there. Players shouldn’t have to worry about shuffling in the slightest. The suits are all different colours and visibly different shapes, allowing them to be easily distinguished. Each card with an ability has artwork. With some cards having lovely artwork it does make those cards without any look a little minimalistic and plain. The board, team tracker token and gem tokens are on the small side, though this allows for a small game box – making it perfect for two gamers travelling together.
The Fox In The Forest Duet takes the unique twists on the trick taking genre its predecessor had made and perfectly transitions them into a cooperative experience. While each turn has a choice none are dauntingly large. Individual turns may be simple but the game isn’t easy to beat, plus there are opportunities to increase the difficulty. Importantly, the cooperative nature allows the feeling of lining each other up for a cool move rather than setting them up for failure. While The Crew fell flat at 2 players, The Fox In The Forest Duet succeeds at delivering a puzzle that works in a portable compact box.
(Editor’s Note: The Fox In The Forest Duet was provided to us by Asmodee for the review. The game is currently available from local board game stores, find your local store here.)