The life cycle of a tree is a beautiful journey across four seasons. Planting in spring, shining bright in summer. Leaves tumble and cascade in autumn, carpeting the woodland floor come winter. But what if this process got the board game treatment, fleshed out in 3D cardboard form? Well, wonder no more, my gaming friends! That’s the course of action in Bosk by Floodgate Games.
The word ‘Bosk’ means a wood comprising of small trees. (There’s your daily nugget of pub-quiz knowledge for the day.) Bosk is an abstract-strategy/area-control game by Daryl Andrews and Erica Bouyouris. Andrews also co-designed Sagrada, a popular, beautiful, dice-drafting game, also by Floodgate Games. Bosk is beautiful, thanks to its gorgeous array of 3D trees and colourful, wooden leaf tokens. It boasts wonderful art from Kwanchai Moriya (Dinosaur Island, In The Hall of the Mountain King, Prêt-à-Porter, among others). But there’s more to Bosk than beauty; it’s got brains to boot, too.
Lets’s kick up some leaves ’neath the trees. It’s time to learn how to play Bosk…
First Things First: How Do I Win?
The main concept in Bosk is area control. The game’s split into four seasons. In spring, everyone ‘plants’ their trees. In summer, everyone scores their trees, according to their locations. In autumn, everyone’s trees shed leaves, which get blown by the wind. In winter, everyone scores their leaves, according to where they fell.
Four phases then, but two of them comprise of scoring alone. The meat of the game occurs in ‘spring’ and ‘autumn’. On paper, it might feel like a game of two halves. Smart placement in spring, though, can prove a double-benefit come winter scoring. I’ll talk you through each season in detail, but first, let’s set up the game.
Setting Up’s As Easy As Bish, Bash, Bosk
Place the main board in the centre of the table. It represents an abstract national park of sorts, but you can rotate it any way you like. It’s double-sided, according to player scale. The side with the larger squares (8x8 grid) is for a two-player game. The side with the smaller grid squares (12x12) is for a four-player game. Play inside the white border (so 10x10) for a three-player game.
Have players pick their colour (purple, orange, red, yellow). Give each player eight 3D trees of their colour. Each has a number; there’s two 1s, two 2s, two 3s and two 4s. Also give each player eight large Leaf Tiles of their colour. They’re numbered 2-8, and one has a squirrel icon on it. Give each player a squirrel meeple (squeeple?) of their colour. Last of all, give each player 36 small wooden leaf tokens of their colour.
Bosk comes with four foldable cardboard boxes/containers, one in each colour. The eight trees, eight big Leaf Tiles and 36 small wooden leaf tokens fit in each. Set-up can be as simple as passing out the four different boxes!
Put the Wind Board and white Wind Direction Marker to one side for now. They’re not needed until autumn. Place the Score Board in a visible position. Each player puts one of their small wooden leaves to one side; they’ll act as ongoing score markers. Now you’re ready to play Bosk!
The Root Of All Tree-vil – Spring Placement
Pick a start player. This player places any one of their eight trees onto the board. At this point, I should explain: the board represents a national park. It’s split into eight separate sections, all colour-coordinated. This means there’s a clear divide where one ends and another begins. If you’re learning how to play Bosk, don’t worry too much about the terrains right now. It’s important for autumn placement and winter scoring, but one thing at a time! Let’s focus on spring first…
I’ve already mentioned the board has a grid overlay on it. The first player picks any one of their trees and places it on any vacant intersection on the board. (As in, the point where two grid lines meet to form a +). This cannot be on a point on the edge of the board. Your tree needs to sit ‘above’ four squares that surround that +. In a three-player game, this cannot be on the white borderline. Using the three-player board size as an example, there are nine grid rows within the white border. There are also nine columns. This means, in a three-player game, there are 81 possible intersections!
Players take turns, clockwise, placing one tree at a time onto the board in this manner. In a three-player game, using our example, 24 trees end up on the board. So why would you opt to place a tree in one spot over another? And why do your trees have numbers 1-4 on them? That’s all to do with summer scoring. So, let’s move on to summer…
Trees A Crowd – Summer Scoring
All your trees now sit on the board. Go through each row of the board. You’re looking for the sum of the values on each of the trees of a particular colour, rather than the quantity of trees themselves. Let's look at an example. Let’s say a row has two yellow trees in it (both of value ‘1’), one red tree (of value ‘3’) and one orange tree (of value ‘2’). In this example, red wins the row, because their sum (3) beats yellow (1+1) and orange (2).
There’s a table on the back of the rulebook that explains how to score this. You’ll award points to first place and second place for the row. Here's how the summer scoring works:
- If there’s a clear-cut leader and runner-up for the row, they score 2 points and 1 point respectively.
- If there’s a clear-cut leader and a tie for second place, they score 2 points and 0 points respectively. (This would be the case for the example I wrote above, with the red tree winning the row.)
- If there’s a clear-cut leader and no trees in this row to take second place, the leader alone gets 3 points. You cannot claim second place if you don’t have trees in the row!
- If there’s a tie for first place, the tied leaders score 1 point each. Any runners-up in this case score zero.
You do this for every row and every column in the grid. So, sticking with our three-player example, that would be nine rows and nine columns. That’s a lot! One person could check the sums, while another concentrates on the leaves on the score track.
Wind In The Willows – Autumn Leaves
Check the score track after summer. The player with the fewest points becomes the new start player. Give them the Wind Board. This player has a decision to make. They place this Wind Board on one of the four edges of the main board. (The flat edge sits flush against the board.) This decision is important because it dictates the direction the wind begins to blow.
There are eight arrows in a row on the Wind Board, left-to-right. Place the Wind Direction Marker – the white arrow – onto the left-most arrow. (This arrow has a number ‘1’ next to it.) The arrow indicates which direction the wind’s blowing in the current round.
The active player triggers one of their trees that matches the number stated on the Wind Board. You have two trees of each number, and you placed both of them on the board during spring. To begin with, then, you pick one of your ‘1’ trees. Leaves fall from this tree of choice, in the direction stated by the wind. You have eight Leaf Tiles numbered 2-8, and one has a squirrel on it. If you pick one numbered 2-8, you take that many wooden leaf tokens from your supply, matching your colour.
Remember, you placed each tree on a + intersection? Imagine its canopy of branches ‘covering’ the four grid squares beneath it. Place one leaf token in one of the two squares beneath that tree, in the direction the wind’s blowing. You place the rest of the leaves leading away from this first leaf, in the wind’s direction. The next leaf sits in one of the three squares – either parallel or diagonal – away from the previous. This means you could drop them in a straight line, a total diagonal, zig-zag, or a blend of all three.
If you reach the edge of the board and you have leaf tokens remaining, return them to your supply. Try not to end up in this scenario! You’re not making the best use of your leaves. Once you’ve placed all your leaves according to your chosen Leaf Tile, remove the tree from the board. Then it’s the next player’s turn, clockwise. They pick a Leaf Tile of their choice and drop that quota of leaves leading away from one of their ‘1’ trees. Then they remove their tree. Then it’s the next player’s turn, and so on.
The Changing Breeze And Disappearing Trees
Once everyone has placed leaves for one of their 1 trees, the Wind Direction Marker moves along a space on the Wind Board. You’ll notice each wind arrow rotates 90° clockwise from the previous. Check the Leaf Tiles that everyone used last round. The lowest number played becomes the new first player for this round. In a tie, turn order moves to the closest player clockwise from the current first player. Then everyone discards the Leaf Tile they used. (You have eight Leaf Tiles, and there are eight turns in autumn, so you have to use each one once.)
In the new turn order, players take turns picking one of their remaining Leaf Tiles. They drop that many leaves from a tree. In round two, they have to pick one of their ‘2’ trees. In round three, one of the ‘3’ trees. Guess what happens in round four? You got it. One of their ‘4’ trees. In rounds five, six, seven and eight, the Wind Board doesn’t have numbers. The wind still rotates 90°, but the tree number’s replaced with an asterisk. This means players have the freedom to pick any one of their remaining trees to trigger this turn.
Leaf It Out, Mate: Overlaying
What if a rival’s leaf sits in your path? No problem; you can overlay one of your leaves on top of theirs. At the end of the game, the only leaves that score are the ones visible at the top of piles. So it’s in your best interests to cover your opponents’ leaves in optimal spots!
To do this, you need to ‘throw-away’ a leaf in hand for every leaf in the grid square you want to move into. Let’s say you’re red, but you want to place a leaf into a spot where yellow has a leaf. You have to return one leaf to the supply. Then place another of your leaves on top of yellow’s. On a later turn, the purple player might want to place here. In that case, they’d have to throw away two of their leaves in hand, and place the third leaf on top.
What if your own previous-placed leaves block your path? You don’t have to throw leaves away to overlay – you place one on top as if the square were empty, as normal. If an opponent wants to overlay there later, they still have to discard leaves equal to the number of leaves there.
In A World Of Leaves, The Squirrel Is King
What’s that squirrel Leaf Tile about, then? This lets you use your squirrel meeple. The squirrel is the only thing you’ll place this turn. You still have to obey the wind direction according to the round. But you can place it up to three spaces away from the tree, considering the same rules as leaf placement. A squirrel can sit on top of any stack of leaves, regardless. Nothing can sit on top of a squirrel. Choosing when to use it is a major question of timing! Your squirrel counts as a ‘1’ when comparing Leaf Tiles to work out turn order for the next round.
Winter Is Coming – End-Game Scoring
After eight rounds, you’ll have used all eight of your Leaf Tiles. You’ve removed your trees, one by one. The national park, by this point, will have a blanket of leaves covering it! Now it’s time to work out the winter scoring.
There are eight different terrains on the board. The player with the most leaves in each terrain ‘wins’ that terrain. The player with the second-most leaves claims second place. (Remember, a squirrel counts as one leaf.) You score this for each terrain, continuing your scores from summer. Again, like summer, there’s a scoring table on the back of the rulebook to help you settle tie-breaks.
- If there’s a clear-cut leader and runner-up for a terrain, they score 5 points and 3 points respectively.
- If there’s a clear-cut leader and a tie for second place, 5 points and 1 point respectively.
- If there’s a clear-cut leader and no leaves in this terrain to take second place, the leader alone gets 8 points. You cannot claim second place if you don’t have leaves in the terrain!
- If there’s a tie for first place, the tied leaders score 4 points each. Any runners-up in this case score zero.
The player with the most points wins Bosk! If there’s a tie for scores, then the player earlier in turn order for round eight wins the game.