Today I’m reviewing a pre-publication print and play version of Foragers by Steve Finn. It’s a game for 2-4 players that can be played in about an hour. (I can’t believe I forgot to time it.) I’m not including pictures, but there are some here on BGG, and surely more to be seen as the Kickstarter launches shortly. Specifically, I’ll be reviewing the 2-player variant as that’s what I’ve had a chance to play.
In Foragers you take on the role of a hunter-gatherer, relying on the land to provide for your needs. You’ll be collecting food of one of three types from various locations (one type per location) on the board. You also may be able to collect tools that will help you on your way. You can move faster if you run, but that takes a lot of energy. To regain your energy you can rest or eat some of the food you’ve gathered. But what you eat you cannot share. Sharing food with neighboring peoples at their fire pits can earn you points—if they want what you have to share. The more neighbors you visit and share with, the more points you’ll earn as well.
The board is made up of a collection of tiles—making the size adjustable depending on player count. For the two-player variant one central tile is used and the 4 tiles with fire pits surround the central one in a plus shape. These tiles are seeded with food tokens of the various types as well as tools in some locations. Sharing tokens, indicating what neighboring tribes would like to receive, are placed at random on the 4 tiles with fire pits. Throughout the game additional tiles may be placed, adding more food locations and tools, so the board may become as large as a full 3x3 grid. Food taken is not replenished, so the addition of new tiles becomes necessary and welcome. (Besides, it scores the discoverer a point.) At larger player counts there are more central tiles and the final board can be as large as a 4x4 grid.
A two-player game lasts 8 rounds. In each the players get 4 actions: walking, gathering food, collecting a tool, eating, resting, sharing, or discovering. Your possible actions are determined by your choice of one of the top 3 cards in your personal deck. Some allow you to walk farther than others, some allow you two gathering actions, some let you pick up a tool and rest, but not eat. In any case you won’t be able to use all 5 actions on your card. There are also some actions available on a common card—it’s the only way to discover—and you can get a little more food eaten or a little more rest, but only if that action isn’t still available (or never was) on your own card, and only if another player hasn’t used it first.
There are two dummy players in a 2-player game. They start on fire pits at opposite sides of the board and move at the conclusion of each round. Movement for each is always clockwise along the shortest path to the next fire pit, the number of spaces moved being dictated by the card drawn from that dummy player’s personal deck. If stopping at a fire pit, the dummy may cause the removal of a sharing token from the game. If ending on another spot it will be a place others cannot collect from during the following round. It could potentially cause other players to have difficulty in moving. I found the dummy players easy to manage, and valuable to increase the interest of play. Their movement is somewhat predictable, but can certainly be inconvenient. And it’s one more thing to plan for and consider over the course of the game.
Players move independently around the board, but there may be some need or even desire for direct interaction. Resting spaces and fire pits can be occupied by multiple players simultaneously; however, in all the spaces where food or tools can be gathered only one player can remain at the end of a turn. In this way, if you put yourself in position to gather something on your next move, it can’t be “taken from you” while you wait. You can move through a space with another player’s (or a dummy’s) pawn, but only if you have the same of greater strength than the other player. Dummy players have a constant strength value of 4 so they can prevent easy movement at times. Furthermore, if you have more strength than your opponent, you may choose to move through their location so that you can (because of your superior strength) win a brawl and come away with one of their victory points.
Turns pass quickly as actions are short and straightforward. Some thought goes into choice, though. Do I need to rest now, or should I get in position to gather something before my opponent does? If I do am I making myself vulnerable? What’s a good backup plan if things don’t work out?
After players have completed their four actions, food ages. Yes, it doesn’t last forever. It’s better to eat when fresh (more energy can be gained from it), it gets hard to hold onto the longer you’ve had it (you “drop” any in excess of 3 after the 4th step in aging), and it may just go bad all together. Cards are used to determine the rate of aging (values range from 1 to 3) and the player board keeps track of the rest.
So what do I think?
In most games I prefer little negative interaction. The cost to move is high enough you’re not likely to go out of your way to take a point from your opponent. But maybe it’s on your way—and maybe your opponent just blocked you from picking up that tool you wanted. This works for me.
There are various ways to earn points, so it isn’t just a race to pick up sharing tokens. You’re rewarded for strength at the end of the game. You can go after collecting the same kind of sharing token multiple times (set collection) or visiting many different fire pits. Maybe amassing tools is your thing. All players have to deal with the same pool of limited resources, but I like that they can do different things with them.
Set up time depends on the number of tiles (and therefore on the number of players.) It can take a while since that’s when the board is filled with food, sharing, and tool tokens. If other players help it will go much faster. The rules are relatively simple and they make sense thematically so the game can be taught quickly.
To me Foragers is a thematic game. The rules and mechanisms of the game fit with foraging. Does it feel like I’m a forager? Not too much, but possibly I feel less like a forager because I’m sitting at my dining room table after a pleasant and easily acquired meal. It does feel like I can’t possibly accomplish all I’d like to. In a game, this is a good thing.
The game is fun. It goes quickly and there’s always something to do. You pay attention to your opponent’s actions, because what they do and what they might do will dictate what you do or should do. There can be, but doesn’t need to be, direct conflict between players. Decisions aren’t too hard, but you do need to plan a bit. This is a game I’ll be coming back to.