Review – Forest Shuffle
|Publisher||Lookout Games (Asmodee North America)|
|Category||Card Game, Strategy Game|
|Release Date||October 2023|
Forest Shuffle is the first game in Lookout Games’ “green line”, with no plastic components (even packaging). This is a great change! The game is entirely card-based, with lots of potential for multi-use cards, agonizing over a shared discard pile, and card combos. Does it deliver? Let’s take a look!
On the surface, Forest Shuffle looks like exactly my kind of game. Card combos, unique cardplay, great artwork, minimal components. It reminds me a lot of Innovation or Race for the Galaxy in concept, including some specific mechanisms, like paying for cards with other cards. There’s also the great idea that paid cards become a shared pile of cards to fight over, rather than a face-down discard pile. Unfortunately, Forest Shuffle doesn’t live up to its inspirations in practice.
Forest Shuffle’s main hook is multi-use cards. Many of the cards are split either horizontally or vertically between two different animals, which can attach to different parts of trees in your play area. I like the idea of this, and actually I think the mechanism is a great concept, but it’s the actual text on the cards that I find uninteresting. While some of the fungi (“bottom”) cards allow for combos, like drawing a card every time you play a card of type X, most abilities in this game are “points for doing this or that”. Sure, the game needs to have a way to win, right? And victory points allow you to evaluate cards differently. But I have seen players on BGA get close to 400 points in a two-player game, at which point this is just nonsense. That’s with the bookkeeping of boardgamearena. In real life, counting points can be a real pain, but more importantly, playing a card and getting 20 points doesn’t give you that dopamine hit, because you don’t see the score automatically go up. Instead you think more along the lines of “okay, phew, I got that task done,” which feels good, but not as good as a big combo.
The other main hook is that you must discard cards to play other cards, which has two unique consequences. First, for many cards, if you discard cards with a matching symbol, you get some kind of bonus (play another card, take another turn), and the cards are discarded to a central area that other players can draw from. If that area ever hits 10 cards, it’s emptied. I like these ideas, although I don’t think they’re enough to bring the game up to its competition. The color bonuses give you reasons to want cards that your opponents might want to actually play, but you just want to discard them for bonuses, creating some tension in that “discard market”. But the number of cards in play, as well as in hand (which has a limit of 10), as well as the central area (“the clearing”) can be overwhelming, for two reasons. One, the card text is just too small and while the theme is fine, the artwork makes everything look too similar. (I have squinted at too many color icons and too many butterflies.) I cannot believe the box for this game says 2-5 players; I would never play with more than 2, as that’s already too much to look at (and takes up too much table space). The other problem is that too many cards have very specific requirements to score; they’re looking for a certain card type or even a certain card, and it can be a lot to keep track of when a lot of your played cards are “unfinished” in terms of scoring.
And really, I think that’s my biggest problem with Forest Shuffle: not the game system but the effects on the cards. When I think about amazing games like Race for the Galaxy or Innovation, there are occasional cards that reference other specific cards, but mostly they provide some sort of benefit that can “combo out” with other cards in a lot of different ways, allowing for some creativity in the way that your engine plays out. This feels more like Everdell, in a bad way – the hunt for exactly the card that you have to have to make your other card work. This is more annoying than fun, and the main thing that drags Forest Shuffle down.
I’ve complained a lot in this review, but it’s mostly just out of disappointment. I was expecting the next Innovation or Race for the Galaxy, and this game does not climb to those heights for me, neither in depth of play nor that fun combo-tastic feeling. Several players I played with felt quite differently, so maybe it’s just me. It’s well-produced and pretty, and I appreciate the lack of plastic components (down to the box covering). That said, I would play it if someone asked, and there are much worse games out there. But for a small box card game, in addition to the aforementioned Innovation and Race, I’d still recommend something like Splendor Duel, 7 Wonders: Duel, or Ancient Knowledge over this. It’s a crowded field, and unfortunately Forest Shuffle does not stand out.
The Bottom Line
Forest Shuffle isn't bad, but it's not good enough to compete with other card combo classics.