Bosk. What a strange name for such a colourful game. I must confess it was the theme and box cover that really appealed to me. So, what is Bosk all about? ‘Bosk’ means a small wood or thicket of trees. It is derived from the Spanish word bosque meaning forest. According to an urban dictionary, one of the other meanings is ‘good, agreeable or great’. So, the question is whether Bosk is a good game about woods and trees. As we wander through these tree-lined paths, let’s explore what the game of Bosk is about.
Prune away all of the colourful components and Bosk is an area-control game. Floodgate Games are known for bright and vivid games such as Sagrada and Bosk is no exception. It is a 2-4 player game that will take about 40 minutes to complete. Although the box states it is suitable for 13-year-olds and older, most children of secondary school age should be able to enjoy this.
The game is set in a National Park, represented by a grid of intersecting paths. These cover a varied terrain. There are two distinct phases of the game, which play out during the four seasons of the year. During spring and summer, you plant specimen trees at key points on pathways and intersections. Autumn and winter will see those trees lose their leaves to cover the terrain around them.
The game is designed to play for up to four, each player taking one tree species: oak, maple, copper beech and sycamore.
Spring & Summer
During spring, players have eight trees to place in the National Park. These each have different values (1 to 4). By placing the trees along a route, players try to have the highest value of trees in any direction along the path. In the summer months, all of the individual tracks in the park are scored. The value of each species of tree along each North to South and East to West pathway are added up. Points are awarded to the player who has the highest value of trees for each row and for each column. An extra bonus is given to the player with who has the sole tree species along any particular route.
The second part of the game is dependent on the trees placed during spring, and on the wind direction. The orientation of the park needs to be determined at the start of this phase. This is important because, when the wind blows, the leaves will fall across different parts of the park. The choices you made in the first phase have an impact here. The player with the fewest points after summer scoring becomes the first player in this phase and can choose the initial direction of the blowing wind. This also fixes the pattern of the wind changes in the subsequent turns.
Autumn & Winter
In each of the next eight turns during autumn, the wind direction swirls and changes. This will cause the falling leaves to blow in a different direction. Only one tree may drop leaves each turn. For rounds one to four in autumn, only the tree corresponding to that number may be selected. For rounds five to eight, any of the remaining trees can be chosen. Play starts in autumn with the person who scored the fewest points during summer. However, the order of play varies depending on the number of leaves placed during each turn. The person who placed the fewest leaves in the previous turn becomes the starting player in the following turn.
The leaves are placed in the middle of the squares formed by the vertical and horizontal paths. The aim is to put leaves in the different regions, covering the terrain in order to have dominant coverage for as many areas as possible. Leaves may only be placed one at a time and in the wind direction, or diagonally in the adjacent space. Leaves may be placed on top of other leaves, but at the cost of one leaf for each leaf covered.
Once a tree has dropped its leaves, you remove it from the board and cannot use it again. During the autumn, instead of dropping leaves, a squirrel token may be placed on the board. This will fix a square in the park in that player’s colour. Squirrels can be placed on any number of leaves in a pile. Leaves cannot be placed outside of the park, so this autumn season involves looking ahead to ensure there is room for your leaves to blow and to see what areas are best covered.
The winter phase involves scoring the number of leaves in each of the separate regions. Only the player with the most leaves – or the one in second place for that terrain – will score points. This means it is better to concentrate your leaves where you are certain to score instead of spreading yourself too thinly.
My Thoughts About Bosk
It was the front cover that first drew me to Bosk. The picture shows the magnificent Sequoia National Park and a family dwarfed at the foot of these majestic trees. The box needs to be large, to accommodate each player’s trees along with the leaves and tokens. The inserts are colour coded and can be removed to provide a place for gamers to store their pieces.
The rule book is colourful and clear. The explanations about how to place trees and score for trees and leaves is concise. It usefully gives examples of how to score certain rows that contain trees. There is a nice clarification on the back of the rule book that contains a single page snapshot of the rules. This is an aide memoire to those who haven’t played Bosk for a while.
The components are all made of thick card. The pieces punch out from their boards cleanly and without tearing. The shape and direction of the grooves in the tree pieces ensure that, once constructed, the trees keep their 3D form and do not seem to come apart easily. The four species of trees are sufficiently different in shape and colour to be distinguishable, even for players with colour difficulties.
At the top of each tree is a small number indicating its value. This is printed on just one side of the card. In playing the trees (during the spring phase) it is important to know the value of the opponent’s trees. This can be difficult to see depending on the tree’s orientation. Similarly, scoring each pathway could be clearer. My suggestion to Floodgate Games would be to print each species of tree in four different heights. This would make it much clearer to see the relative values of the trees placed along the pathways. Similarly, during the second phase in autumn, it would make it easier to understand which of the opponents’ trees will need to be harvested. (My suggestion is to have trees of different sizes that are similar to those in Photosynthesis).
The leaves are all made of wood. They are nicely painted and fit with the colours and types of trees. Usually, oak leaves turn orange in autumn; copper beach often has a blueish or purple hue. Having wooden leaf tokens shows the thought and attention to detail, giving Bosk a premium feel.
Bosk makes a wonderful thinking puzzle. The board is double sided with different sizes for games with two, three and four players. This ensures that the area of control remains tight. During spring, with tree planting, it is often useful to place trees on intersections that add value to rows and columns you already control. Again, it is probably wiser to concentrate on dominating a few paths rather than spreading the trees too widely and not coming first or second during the summer scoring phase.
Playing last has no disadvantages, which is quite refreshing during a strategy game. At the end of spring, the final player can mop up any empty North/ South or East/ West pathways and claim them for themselves, scoring highly. The clever part of Bosk is that there is almost a “game within a game” during the spring season. At a superficial level, you might want to score well for a few paths. However, to do so would prevent the claiming of the terrain during autumn. Placing all of your trees in one area could allow others to place a line of leaves, almost hemming you in. This would mean that expanding out of that corner would come at a greater cost and limit your scoring ability.
A few turns into autumn is when Bosk really comes alive. At this point it is very eye catching. The tall trees give the board depth. The colours of the board’s terrain and scattering trails of leaves mean that anyone walking by mid-game is sure to be drawn in. It is at this point where the game might be won or lost. I love the way that the swirling wind affects leaf placement. You can start to plan how you might get good leaf coverage and work out the order of trees to be shedding their leaves. Bosk almost becomes like a game of chess where you might see your opponent’s strengths and choose to neutralise some of their pieces. This then gives space for you and your trees to expand.
The use of the cute squirrel token is a clever angle to leaf placement. Foresters normally consider squirrels as a pest, but here they can come to your aid. The squirrel can be placed within three squares of a selected tree in a windward direction, covering any number of leaves. It is best to keep the squirrel towards the end of autumn. It only adds one square to your terrain, but this may be sufficient to tip the balance in your favour.
Scoring in winter is much tighter than in summer. There are just eight regions (instead of 18 available routes to be scored during the previous phase of the game). These areas vary in size yet have similar scoring opportunities. Again, the key to playing Bosk well is understanding the “game within a game” during spring planting or early in autumn leaf placement. It is often strategic to consider dominating a smaller area using fewer resources.
Similarly, the variable turn order can be extremely useful. This requires forward planning so that playing just the squirrel (one leaf equivalent) or dropping two leaves in a certain direction might give you the first player token for the next turn. Depending on wind direction, you might then drop several leaves to cover a huge swathe of the park. Once all of the trees have shed their leaves (and have been removed from play) the board almost resembles a game of Risk, with coloured leaves advancing like armies into different regions of the park.
Games seem to be won by the smallest of margins. More points are available during winter, especially if one player achieves complete coverage of a particular area. Here is the key to success- remembering that winter comes after summer.
Bosk: Final Thoughts
Bosk is a strategic game. It requires as much thought as any other area-control game. The theme is unusual but works very well. This gives the board an appeal during play. The clever part of Bosk is the balance of short-term point scoring during summer against the need for terrain coverage in autumn. This tension, coupled with the tight space available, means that your moves are sure to affect others’ play. There is no “take that” or vindictiveness to the game, but if players wanted to play hard there is scope to do so.
The two phases of the game are sufficiently different, but each influences the other. With only eight trees to play in each phase, the game moves quickly. There is little scope or need for over-analysis of any position. The predetermined wind direction forces the leaves to blow in a single direction.
Bosk is quick to setup and fairly quick to play. Like many strategy games, the rules and setup are easy to understand, but to master the subtleties of the tree and leaf placement will take much longer. This means that it can be played at almost any level. With younger teenagers and children, it is a game of colours and leaves. For those who want more, there is depth and complexity available. So Bosk not only is a “game within a game” but it can be varied depending on the mood of other players. For this reason, it has become a popular game for us at home.