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How To Play Living Forest

living forest

Living Forest blends two much-loved mechanisms into one package: deck-building, and push-your-luck. One such title that springs to mind, when we pair those two together, is The Quacks of Quedlinburg. Living Forest stands alone though, without the need to ride on Quacks’ coattails. This is a wonderful title from debut designer Aske Christiansen, and Ludonaute.

Theme-wise, you play as one of the four Spirits of Nature. The forest has pleaded for you to rescue the Sacred Tree from the vengeful flames of Onibi. Who wouldn’t want the egotistical title of ‘Grand Protector of the Forest’ on their CV? Onibi is a spiteful little so-and-so, and the flames keep on coming. Can you extinguish them? Grab your bucket, hose and, erm, a tea towel that you’ve ran under the tap. Let’s learn how to play Living Forest!

How Can I Become Grand Protector Of The Forest

Living Forest doesn’t have a set number of rounds. Instead, when one (or more) player(s) triggers one win condition, that signals the final round of the game. It’s a race, then, in that regard. There are three different win-conditions that you’re all shooting for:

• Be the first player to plant 12 different Protective Trees. Think of these like a defensive army against Onibi’s relentless fire.

• Be the first to collect 12 Sacred Flowers (these must be visible all at once in your Help Line/Forest Board). This awakens Sanki, the great Guardian of the Forest. Onibi’s going to be in a world of trouble now Sanki’s on the case.

• Be the first to extinguish 12 fires. Take that, Onibi! (Onibi doesn’t even feature in the game as a component, which, while could be an opportunity missed, goes to show what true cowardice is. Too scared to show its own face!)

But how do you go about accomplishing these goals? First, let’s set up the game and grasp what the components look like on your tabletop.

Setting Up The Game

First, place the Circle of Spirits Board in the middle of the table. Sit the Guardian Animal Board next to it, with the fire chits (valued 2, 3 and 4) close by. Place one 2-value fire chit into the centre of the Circle of Spirits Board.

The Guardian Animal Cards come in three levels – the cardbacks are identical, but there’s a sun in the bottom-right of each card. Separate them into decks of white/yellow/red suns. Shuffle each deck, place them on their matching spots on the Guardian Animal Board. Draw four cards from each deck, forming a 3x4 12-card ‘market’. Meanwhile, sit the Fire Varan Cards face-up on the separate Fire Varan Board. Put the Fragment Tiles nearby. (They look like crosses; my gaming group nicknamed these ‘Nope’ tiles!)

There’s two Protective Tree dispensers. You’ll need to assemble these when you first punch the game, but once constructed, you won’t have to dismantle it. Both sit snug inside the box (which is a huge relief. This isn’t another time-to-rebuild-the-Everdell-Tree scenario!) There’s six slots per dispenser. Arrange the Protective Tree Tiles in ascending order into these. If in doubt, match the symbols on the tiles to those signalled on the dispenser slots. Depending on player count, return the stated tiles to the box. Each slot has a tile quantity assigned to it whether it’s a 2/3/4 player game.

Give each player a Spirit of Nature Forest Board and a starter deck of 14 Guardian Animals. Your starter deck has your Spirit of Nature on the bottom-right of each card. Each players shuffles their deck, keeping it face-down. Also give each player their matching starting Protective Tree Tile. This sits on the middle square within the 3x5 grid on your Forest Board. Last of all, give each player their three Victory Tiles. These have their Spirit of Nature on them, featuring one of the three win conditions on them. (Fire, trees, and flowers.)

Pick a first player. Give them the Sacred Tree standee first-player token. According to player count, each player places their Spirit of Nature standee onto allocated rocks on the Circle of Spirits Board. Now we’re ready to start playing!

On Your Turn: How Many Cards Dare You Reveal?

Turns in Living Forest get split into a three-phase structure. First is the Guardian Animals’ Phase, which players can do in simultaneous fashion. (You can do this one at a time for the first turn if you like, to get a gist for how it works. It’s very simple, though.) You start by drawing the top card of your deck, revealing a Guardian Animal. You sit it to the right of your Forest Board, face-up. You can draw as many cards as you like on your turn – but at a cost. Overlap these cards to form a Guardian Animal Help Line.

The artwork on these cards is gorgeous, but your main concern are the icons along the left-hand side. On each card, there’s a series of numbers and symbols on wooden plaques. Top-to-bottom these are: suns, water, saplings, wind, and flowers. Each Guardian Animal Card has at least one of these symbols/numbers on it. Some have multiple combinations on them. Some feature minus numbers. (More about these, later.)

More vital, however, is the possible presence of a Solitary (black) or Gregarious (white) symbol. If the card has one, it will be in the top-left corner. This is the push-your-luck aspect to the game (the ‘cherry bombs’, if we’re comparing Living Forest to Quacks). If you reveal three Solitary symbols, you have to stop drawing cards. Talking theme, all Guardian Animals are there to help you in your quest. But the Solitary creatures are a bit too proud for their own good and don’t like hanging out with the other animals. They’re the lone wolf, the antisocial spider, the haughty owl, and so on. (All great pub names, too!)

If you’ve drawn a Gregarious symbol, this cancels one Solitary symbol in your Help Line. They’re trying to keep the social critter gathering going. Their function is to counter-balance the moody, emo-teenager Solitary animals. This means by drawing a Gregarious card, you could go on to draw three Solitary cards, and keep going. But draw a fourth, and boom: you have to stop. Draw two Gregarious cards and you have to stop when you draw your fifth Solitary card, and so on.

So should you keep drawing until you go ‘bust’, then? What are the stakes?

The Action Phase: Time To Cash In Those Elements

Once everyone’s stopped drawing cards, the Action Phase takes place. This isn’t simultaneous; this occurs in clockwise turn order. You take two different actions, if your Guardian Animal Help Line has less than net three Solitary symbols. If you have net three Solitary symbols in your Help Line, you only get one action.

Your choice of actions to take are to do with the elements present on the cards you drew this turn. The sun, water, sapling and wind. (The flower isn’t an action you take – that’s one of the victory conditions, remember? If you draw cards that have a sum of 12 flowers then boom! That’s one of the game-end triggers, and that awakens Sanki, the great Guardian of the Forest.)

You add up the value of the corresponding elements, and the sum is the strength of that action. Alas, some cards come with minus-numbers, so this can weaken certain actions you planned this turn. (But they have positive features elsewhere on the card to compensate.) You can calculate these sums during the Guardian Animals’ Phase. Thus, this ongoing addition is often a determiner to how long you risk drawing more cards. Let’s look at each of the four actions…

Sunny Side Up

If you add up the value of your suns, you can buy more Guardian Animal Cards from the 12-card market. Each Guardian Animal Card in Living Forest has a value within the bottom-right corner, in the sun symbol. This is its cost. If you have, say, 8 suns in your Help Line, you could buy one Guardian Animal that costs 8. Or, you could buy multiple animals whose cost amounts to 8 (such as 3+5, for example).

You’re looking at these Guardian Animals with deck-building in mind. You’ll consider the element values (or minuses) that they provide. You’ll also want to note whether they’re Gregarious or Solitary. Which ever card(s) you purchase with this action, you place them face-down on top of your deck. This means you’re guaranteed to draw them first, in the next turn.

We Didn’t Start The Fire

Or, you could add up the value of your water symbols. You can use this sum to extinguish Fire chits from inside the Circle of Spirits. Fire chits come in values 2/3/4. Let’s say for example there is a three 2s, two 3s, and one 4 Fire chit on the Circle of Spirits, and you have a sum of six water. You could choose to extinguish the 2 and the 4 (=6), the 2 and the 3 (=5), both 3s (=6), or all three 2s (=6). If you have a choice, you’ll take the highest quantity Fire chits (three 2s, rather than 2 and 4). Why? Because one of the victory conditions is to be the first to get 12 Fire chits!

Build An Engine Out Of Trees

If you add up the value of your sapling symbols, you can buy one single Protective Tree Tile from the dispensers. This sum equates to the cost equal to (or less than) that of a Tree tile you can claim. The first tree you place has to sit adjacent to your initial Protective Tree tile, in the middle of your Forest Board. Every tree after that has to sit adjacent to any tree on your board.

Each tree has a symbol and number on it. Once placed, this tree provides a permanent bonus to you. You add up this alongside the symbols in your Help Line. As the game progresses and you have more trees, you can achieve bigger and better actions. It’s like you’re building an engine out of trees. A metaphorical engine, of course. You’re not the one deforesting… That’s the role of naughty, burny Onibi.

You can only ever take one Tree per action. Across the game you can take two identical Trees if you want (if you want to double up on certain Tree’s element bonuses). Note that you need 12 different Protective Trees to trigger a victory condition. (Not 12 Trees total.)

When you fill certain columns, you also get an added +1 bonus to certain actions. The moment you place a Protective Tree Tile, its bonus kicks in. If your first action is to buy the tree, your second action can take said tree’s bonus into consideration that very turn. It’s worth noting: completing the middle row earns you 2x extra Flowers – a boost towards the 12x Flowers goal.

The four corners don’t contribute towards column/row bonuses, but they do gain you one-off benefits. Two of them are Fragment Tiles (the crosses). These are handy because you can use these later on, during the Guardian Animals’ Phase. If ever you draw a card you don’t like (such as a Solitary Card, or even worse, a Fire Varan Card), you can discard it. Do this to a Guardian Animal and it sits in your discard pile. Do this to a Fire Varan Card and you get rid of it all together. Once you spend the Fragment, you can keep on drawing cards, if you like.

Breeze Around The Circle Of Spirits

Or, you can add up the swirling wind icons and move your Spirit of Nature standee around the

Circle of Spirits. This is a rondel, where you can hop up to the number of spaces, clockwise. You then take the action stated on the rock where you end your movement. This will be one of the three other actions. You then take said action with the corresponding symbols in your Help Line and Forest Board.

No two Spirits can share the same space around the Circle. They leapfrog over each other, if necessary. This is vital, because every time you do this, you steal a Victory Tile of your choice off the player you jumped! At the start of the game, each player has three Victory Tiles – one for Fire, one for Trees, and one for Flowers. These all count towards the 12 needed for the win conditions. So if you can jump over, say, two Spirits in one turn, you could steal both of their Fire Victory Tiles. Plus your own Fire Victory Tile, that’s three of the 12 needed for you to win. Meaning you only need nine standard Fire chits to trigger the end of the game! This facet of Living Forest causes high levels of interaction, with Victory Tiles swapping back and forth.

Or… Take A Fragment (Not The Most Exciting Action)

In case you don’t have enough symbols to spend, you can always consider the ‘Take 1x Fragment Tile’ action. This is always available. Not the most exciting… But if the timing is right, it could create a mega Help Line for you!

Woah-oah! Livin’ On A Flare

Once all players have taken their legal quota of actions, it’s the end of the round. First, check to see if there’s any Fire chits left in the Circle of Spirits. Then compare this number to the sum of the water symbols each player has in their Help Line and Forest Board. This represents Onibi trying to attack you! Is the sum of the Fire Chits greater than your sum of water symbols? If yours is higher, then you fend Onibi off… For now. Is the Fire chits sum greater than your water symbols? Then you have to take as many Fire Varan Cards as there are Fire Chits present in the Circle.

These join your discard pile. Fire Varan Cards are awful. They count as Solitary Cards, but they also provide zero elemental symbols. All they do is clog up your deck. Should you save your Fragment Tiles to get rid of Fire Varan Cards when you draw them? Only you can make that decision.

Then, Onibi belches out another burst of flames. Check the 12-card market of Guardian Animals. Did any players buy cards from it this round? For every white sun card bought, add a value 2 Fire chit to the Circle of Spirits. For every yellow sun card taken, add a value 3 Fire chit. For every red sun card taken, add a value 4 Fire chit. There can be a maximum of seven Fire chits in the Circle at any time.

Then replenish the reserve of Guardian Animals so once again there are four of each card type face-up. Each player then places their Help Line of Guardian Animals into their discard pile. Pass the Sacred Tree first player marker round one player, clockwise. Then you start the next round, with players drawing cards again…

Onibi Has Fallen! Who’s The Winner?

Rounds continue in this manner until one player hits one of the three victory conditions. Once this occurs, that signals that this will be the final round of the game. This could cause players to take high risks in this round! Should you draw more cards than is safe? It might help you get that mega-move you’ve been building up towards!

In the case where two players both trigger a victory condition in the same round, a tie-break occurs. Here, players add up the sum of all three victory conditions and compare. They add their Fire Chits, different Protective Tree Tile types, and the sum of how many Flowers they have face-up in that round. (Don’t forget to include any Victory Point Tiles they have.) The higher sum of these combined categories takes the tie-break win. It’s time to meet your new Grand Protector of the Forest!

That concludes our how to play for Living Forest. Did this help? Let us know your thoughts and tag us on social media @zatugames. To buy Living Forest today click here!