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Subject: Round One Question + Overall Appreciation rss

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Stefan Minor Weaver
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Quick question for the designer (plus a note of appreciation below).

My wife and I have been playing the excellent Smarty Squirrel variant (our daughter is only three, so we’re a few years away from being able to share base Squirrel Rush with her), and one thing we’ve noticed, within the context of ADORING this game, is that the second player has been at a disadvantage more than once on account of being outscored in the very first round, when entering the glade and before the special ability cards kick in. Which is to say: outscored without any ability to avoid being outscored.

Specifically, there have been times when, for example, the first player picks up an initial twelve nuts when entering the glade, but then the second player is limited by the tiles to a maximum of, say, eight. Like, there’s literally no other way onto the board left that would yield more than that. And so the second player, through no fault of his (my!) own, begins the day down four nuts. Which is actually a kind of big deficit to make up in such a fast game and with two equally-matched adults playing the otherwise neck-and-neck Smarty variant. Player Two might spend the whole game futilely trying to chip away at a lead that the first player didn’t really earn. This can happen especially if the opening grid has only one five-nut border tile.

So my question is: Why can’t you use a special ability card right at the beginning, on your first turn? One, I think it would be fun and interesting to be able to skip into the glade with diagonal leaps and backflips right from the get-go. The somewhat predictable and rote first round would become a whole bunch more dynamic and varied in the process. And in general, this could give the second player a chance to avoid falling behind simply because they went second and the first player scooped up the best nuts. Player Two would at least have a chance to find a clever way to tie or outscore Player One because with a full hand of ability cards, it’s unlikely that the first round would ever end as lopsided as 12–8 (and for those who haven’t played, losing a round by four nuts can mean you got your bushy tail kicked).

I love how close games of Squirrel Rush are, and how every single extra nut you manage to nab makes a big difference. So it’s been a wee bit frustrating to begin a game down an initial four or five nuts with no room yet for strategic maneuvering and improvisation via the creative use of an action card. I’m wondering, though, if the designer would specifically recommend not allowing the use of special ability cards as early as round one.

Do want to emphasize, though, that this is a tiny question about an absolutely WONDERFUL little game which, as rahdo noted, is embedded with a surprising amount of tactical depth. Loads of tactile satisfaction, too, in the slapping down of wooden meeple squirrels (squeeples?) on the glade’s thick cardboard tiles. I also love how you really do get a sense of a squirrel’s insane ninja nimbleness when the squeeples begin jubilantly hopping, cartwheeling, and zigzagging across the board. And the best is when the path to fifteen nuts miraculously opens up in front of you and then, a moment later, “clack! clack! clack! clack! clack!” = 5+4+3+2+1 nuts as your squirrel scampers across five tiles. The best.

And, lastly, Malwina Górnisiewicz’s artwork is sweet, whispery, and enchanting. I cherish in particular the stirring “natural light spreading and receding in the woods over the course of a day” round cards, which kind of take the breath away. Also neat for us because they depict, almost down to each specific conifer, the view out our cabin windows (we live in the Beskid Wyspowy range of southern Poland, on a mountaintop encircled by national forest; the game was designed one province over from us). I especially appreciate those cards because they didn’t need to be so special: practically speaking, they mark off the passage of six rounds of play and that’s it. But the designer and artist nonetheless said, “Let’s take these practical cards and make them beautiful, evocative, and memorable.” And they did. And I so admire that. Thank you!
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