You find yourself amidst the realm of Nemus in the forest known as The Grove. Tensions are high and cheers abound as you get ready to battle in the annual rulership contest. With a little help from terrifying Beasts, valiant Heroes, extraordinary Items, powerful Weapons and mystical Relics, will you claim victory to be crowned the esteemed leader?
Players: 2-4 Players Game Time: 10-15 minutes Ages: 10+
I was introduced to Grove when I dropped by the WoksOn Studios stand at the 2022 UK Games Expo. I loved it so much that I went back for a second play and bought a copy for myself. Whilst it's not that comparable in terms of gameplay, playing it took me back to the joy I first felt for tabletop gaming after a friend introduced me to Munchkin.
WoksOn Studios is an independent games design studio founded in 2016. Their offering is currently mostly based around video games, so it's great that they've brought a card game into their portfolio.
Grove is a tactical party building card game designed by David Georgiou with narrative from Jenny Clark. This compact game is easy to break out and play from a quick read through of the easy-to-follow 'How to play' leaflet.
To set up the game, each player is randomly assigned a Leader card. Each Leader has their own unique bonus, for example Countess Niceness awards +10 for each good card in your party, whilst Peddler Milrdred offers +10 for each Item card in the Market.
The Party cards are then shuffled, and each payer is dealt five game cards to form their starting Party. Your Party should kept secret until the Reveal Phase. The remaining cards, are placed face down in a stack to form the Deck.
There are five different card types: Beast, Hero, Item, Relic and Weapon, and each card has an alignment: Good, Neutral or Evil. Each card has a base score as well as its own unique Effect that will interact with other cards, either positively or negatively.
In the Party Phase, the first player draws a card from the deck, as the Market in the centre of table stats empty. After drawing their card, the player then must discard one card from their Party and place it face up the middle of the table to begin the Market. Going forward, each player on their turn can either draw the top card from the deck or take any card from the Market. Once the Market reaches 10 cards, the Reveal Phase begins. This is where some tactics can come in, as depending on your Party you may or may not want to keep adding to Market to accelerate the end of the Party Phase.
In the Reveal Phase all players reveal their Party simultaneously and then add up their scores by taking into account the Base Score and Effect of each card. They then apply their Leader bonus if applicable. The winner is the player with the highest score, and if there is a tie, each tied player draws and extra card and recalculates.
I feel that you are likely to have a different experience of the game depending on the number of players. I have played Grove both as two player and four player. Two-player works well because you still feel the satisfaction of building your Party, whilst at four player you don't really get much opportunity to build your Party and therefore it feels more luck dependent, you may already be on the backfoot from your starting draw. Also, Polly Pickpocket, who gives you +25 for each Relic card in other parties, can be useless in a two player game but super powerful with four players. Whilst I haven't been able to test this, the Market limit could perhaps be varied per player count. Perhaps something like four market slots per player, but admittedly this might make Peddler Mildred too powerful.
There is a good variety of Leaders but I maybe would have liked more Leader cards for extra replayability, particularly for four player games, such as a Weapons Master or one based neutral cards . I was thrilled to be able to get the UKGE exclusive leader The Dragonguard who awards you +75 points when you have one of each card type in your party.
Card balance can feel a little off at times, as some cards are basically useless without certain situational combinations, whilst others will pretty much always be useful no matter your combos. When I first saw Rotten Eagle and his base score of -50 I thought "Wow, when are you ever going to use that!?". However, after a good few playthroughs with the hubby we realised that in two-player games he is almost always worth taking/keeping to really hurt your opponents powerful combinations as his effect is "At the reveal phase remove 1 card from another party". In a four player game, he is possibly more of a king-maker than a card that will win you the game. Depending on your group dynamic, you may wish to remove him from your deck if you don't like game play that punishes your opponent(s).
End game scoring can feel a little clunky and awkward at first, and you'll probably need at least a notepad to tally up, as the game doesn't come with a scorepad. However, this is not a massive problem as you can download a scorecard from the WoksOn Studios website. At Expo they had printed off four and laminated them, so you could write on them with dry erase markers.
Overall the production quality is good. The box is sturdy, albeit too small if you are the type of person who likes to sleeve your cards, and you may feel the need to do this as the cards are slightly susceptible to minor surface scratches. It's one you can easily place in your bag to break out for a quick game. The artwork, designed by James Thomson, is beautifully simple and characterful, and this alongside colour scheme gives the game a distinct look. I love the addition of comedic flavour text such as "It's actually a bit pointy, isn't it?!" on the Pointless Spear and "How high do you reckon this bounces?" on the Rubber Shield, as it really adds to your game experience.
The cards themselves are easy to read in most lighting. It would maybe have been worth making the rule sheet slightly bigger to be able to have a larger font for players who struggle with small text.
At £18, the price point might feel a bit of a stretch for some, as it is a compact card game but I don't think it's ridiculous.
Overall, I think that Grove is a fantastic little game and I am glad I purchased it. It will see a lot of game play in my household because it only takes 10-15 minutes per playthrough and feels addictive when you do play it. It can be great to warm up a games night or to take with you to play at a pub or café ,as long as there is sufficient table space for the market. At times it can feel overly luck dependent, but for the most part this little game packs enough opportunity to play tactically. It is also family friendly.
On their website WoksOn Studios (www.woksonstudios.com) describe themselves as "Built by a team of game enthusiasts with a real passion for exciting gameplay and concentrating on being creative while staying small and focused" and I feel that this shines through in Grove. It's a fab little game with plenty of tactics, and I will always enjoy playing it. It takes me back to how I felt when I first fell in love with tabletop gaming!
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