What're you looking at!
My wife and I have played this game about 15 times and plan to play it much more now that we have the hang of it. I bought it because the mechanic was quite different and it was known as a brain-burner. Our first few plays pretty much confirmed this impression: the game was very different and was a brain burner in the sense that we felt a little bewildered.
However, after the first half dozen plays or so, we got used to the mechanic and started to discover tactics and strategy. This is a very cool game that grows on you the more you play it. Although it still has the feel of being a different kind of game, I now find the tactical decision making is where the brain burns rather than in being bewildered.
The games comes in the usual 2-player Kosmos box and includes: 60 spirit cards (2 identical decks of 30), ten large tiles, 40 markers (20 for each player), six druid markers (wooden cones, 2 each of purple, black and orange), and one wooden fairy ring.
The components are all of good quality, and I like the art work. The spirit cards depict fairies with numerical values ranging from 1-5. These are not the usual dainty looking fairies, but more like nude woodland creatures, with strategically placed leaves and musical instruments. The number 5 fairy is far from dainty and plays a tuba!
The tiles are nice and large, which is good because you have to place markers and druid markers on them. My favourite bit though is the fairy ring: a wooden ring used to indicate which druid has cast the spell.
My edition of the game came with an English translation of the rules, but the translation reads a little shakily, and seems much briefer than the German rules.
Set up is quite involved, and even after 15 plays I still check the rule illustrations just to be sure. The object of the game is for your druid cult (either Sun or Moon) to subvert two of your opponent's four trees.
Each player receives five tiles, representing four trees (numbered 1-4) and a sun or moon tile for discards. The sun druid lines up his tiles, from left to right, as trees 1-4, followed by the sun tile for discards. The moon lines up his trees in mirror image, but his moon tile is on his right. That is, corresponding tree numbers are directly opposite each other, and discards are on the right. Space is left in between the tree tiles, and the discard tiles are place at the end and in between the rows of trees.
Each player recieves thirty spirit cards. A number 1 fairy is immediately placed as a discard on the sun/moon tile to start a discard pile. The remaining cards are shuffled and put is four stacks of five, one under each tree. The top card of each pile is turned face up.
The remaining 9 cards are used as a draw pile, starting with three cards in your hand. You must use all of your cards before drawing a new hand of three.
You get three druids, and place them on three of your trees, leaving the fourth tree empty.
You each receive twenty sun/moon markers, and the fairy ring is placed in the space between the tree tiles.
At the beginning of the game there will be four spirit cards face up, one under each of your trees. These cards are the current battle strength of the tree, with the higher number being more powerful. Only druids of like colour do battle, so if your card under the tree with the purple druid is higher than your opponent's card under his purple druid, you would win, and place one of your markers on that tree. The winning card is discarded.
In order to do battle, you must lay a card from your hand on to one of the piles, and when this is done, a number of things happen:
First your turn the card that was face up, face down, and place the card from your hand on top of it. Any card of this numerical value will have to move the number of spaces equivalent to value of the tree under which the card was placed. The card will determine whether the cards move clockwise or counterclockwise. This is known as a spirit dance.
For example, if I played a number two fairy, under my number 4 tree, then all number two fairies would have to move four spaces clockwise/counterclockwise. In my count I include tree tiles as well as discard tiles, and move the card. This means that fairies may end up in a different position of your side, or on your opponent's side, your opponent's fairies may come to your side, or they may end up on the discard pile. If no fairies of that numerical are face up when the spirit dance begins, then no cards move.
The original card that determined the movement does not move, and the fairy ring is placed on the druid or the tree tile above the card.
When all cards have been moved then battles are determined. Only like coloured druids battle, but no battle takes place on the tile from which the dance was initiated ( the one with the fairy ring). So if the card was placed under a tile with a druid, there will be two battles; if it was placed on the tree tile with no druid on it, there will be three battles.
If the corresponding fairies are of equal numerical value, the cards are left where they are. If they are not equal, then the higher card wins, a marker is placed on the losing tree, and the winning card is placed in the discard. If a tree has no cards under it, it is considered to have a value of 0.
Play continues with spirit dances and trees accumulate markers by losing battles. If a tree accumulates six markers, it is subverted and is flipped over, its cards put in the discard, and it is no longer included in the count for the spirit dances.
Also a tree can be subverted if it begins and ends a turn with no card under it.
There are two alternatives to playing a card to invoke a spirit dance. First you may simply discard a card. This is a good choice sometimes when the cards in your hand will, if played, benefit your opponent. Second, you can move a druid to a different tree. This is especially useful when a tree has accumulated four or five markers.
A player who has two trees subverted loses.
This whole process sounds far more complicated than it is. Think of it as moving your cards around a clockface, or as another reviewer mentioned, it is similar to clock solitaire. The main difficulty is what to do with the mechanic, and how to develop strategy and tactics.
There are a few things to get used to in this game. First is that the movement is with cards, and that it is circular. Also the movement is based on the numbers assigned to your trees; not the battle strength of the fairies as listed on their cards.
Also, the winning card is discarded, so sometimes winning means that you are more vulnerable. Finally, the "board" is always changing because of spirit dances, so you have to prepare for that as much as possible.
When you get a little more used to the movement of cards, you begin to find opportunities to capitalize on. (Essentially, damaging your opponent's trees while protecting your own). For example, if you have a lot of low cards (1s and 2s) face up, then you can play a 1 or 2 fairy on your number 4 tree, then hopefully you can move all of your 1 or 2 fairies to your opponent's side of the board. Of course, if he has 1s or 2s, you may get some of his. Similarly, if there are two 5s showing on your opponent's side, and you play a five on your 3 or 4 tree, you may end up with one or both of his fives.
One difficulty is not moving the cards that you don't want moved. For example, if I have a 4 fairy showing, I don't want to play another 4 fairy such that my original 4 fairy would move to my opponent's side. I could play my four on the 1 or 2 tree if that meant that my existing 4 fairy would stay on my side. Also I could play my 4 fairy on top of my already face up one. This way, my fairy does not have to move, and I now have two 4 fairies under one tree. Stacking piles like this is essential. After all, the winning card gets discarded so by getting a stack of high cards under one tree, you can do a lot of damage.
The tree where the spirit dance is invoked is protected by the fairy ring, so it is often a good move to place the fairy ring on a tree with a low card: it can't be damaged in that round and you can place a high card on it in preparation for the next round.
Placing the fairy ring on the empty tile is also very useful for a big hit, sometimes allowing you to place three markers on your opponent.
As nothing happens when there is a tie, you can try to maintain or get ties between like coloured druids so that you can concentrate on damaging a specific tree.
As the winning druid has to discard, you can sometimes purposely lose a battle, if you know, or want to chance that, there are a lot of low cards coming up in that pile.
In the initial placement of druids, I always leave the 2 or 3 tree empty. I find that I usually have the fairy ring where there is a druid, and that the number 1 and number 4 tree are especially useful as they represent the minimum and maximum movement.
Finally, draining your opponent's pile can be brutal for him. When a tree has no cards under it, it will lose even if you only have a 1 fairy on your corresponding tree. Sometimes you can get a big run on your opponent's tree by keeping his tree empty by defeating or moving whatever cards she puts there. Needless to say, this is not a position you want to get yourself into.
This is a very cool game, and one which you have have to play a few times to get the feel of. It also plays fairly quickly after a few sessions. It's the kind of game you pull of the shelf when you want to play something different. There is even something a little mystical feeling about the way it all works.
I give this game a very solid 8. It's a brainburner, but a very pleasing one. My wife and I just finished a best of seven yesterday and will be playing it again today.