One of my major bugbears for any game that comes from the Kickstarter platform, is that of one that is simply too over-produced. Bling for bling sake, additional pointless tokens and miniatures that serve no purpose than as an impolite marker as to how much money a campaign made. The creator didn’t have the good grace to pull back the reins, and say WHOA, THAT’S ENOUGH.
Skulk Hollow from Pencil First Games crosses that tightrope confidently, with the grace of someone who knew where to slow down and keep things balanced. It isn’t immediately clear from when you open the box, as there is a compartmentalised tray for the components, and all of the factions both Guardian and Foxen appear in their own little cardboard boxes, while looming over them in covering layers are the various huge representations of the Guardians that the Foxen will be taking on in order to save their land. Small plastic bags contain heart meeples or little relics, which you can only wonder what the uses are going to be. It is screaming that there is too much here, and even the amber cubes raised suspicion in my cold dark heart. It doesn’t take long to dispel that line of thought once you start to learn the game, as this is more about making a game the best of breed, as opposed to giving it an embarrassing jacket that you are going to make it wear when you go out for a stroll in the park.
There’s no denying the presentation of Skulk Hollow, you’d be surprised to find out it’s not based around some kind of existing intellectual property, as the Foxen and Guardian characters look like they’ve lived somewhere else before, and this is just another part of entertainment that the franchise has decided to visit. The artwork is exceptional. I’m a sucker for strong and striking art and this is something I want to pour into a bowl and devour it with a spoon, like your first meal of the day. Dustin Foust has done a job and a half on the presentation of Skulk Hollow.
The premise is simple, you either play as the Foxen stopping a Guardian from reaching its individual goals or you try to crush the usurpers of your land as a behemoth, crushing, throwing and moving your opponents about the diagonally placed board. Either side is controlled using a series of cards that they play in order to carry out certain moves. On the Foxen side this might include adding an additional unit to increase your numbers, or a leap on to the Guardian to carry out an attack. The Guardian might crush all those standing in the surrounding squares, or throw the Foxen that have managed to scale up itself. It really does depend on the Guardian that is being played. The cards all have two actions that give a choice to the player and help limit random acts of frustration. It helps to limit the possibility of having no viable actions, most of the time.
The field of conflict is extremely small, so the action is concentrated into a three by three grid. This means that from the start of the game, the face off between the two foes heats up extremely quickly, and so interaction is almost something you have to avoid in the early stages if you are considering some kind of defensive strategy to play out. The other interesting thing is that you both start from a corner of the board and not an edge, so you play the board as a rhombus type in front of you, with both of you respective bases being a corner. It gives an interesting twist on movement, as you are normally moving diagonally instead of straightforward. It’s led to some confusion when learning the game if I’m being honest, but nothing after a few plays won’t sort out, (and some quiet correction when playing with younger players who are learning.)
One of the coolest aspects of the game is that as the Foxen, you get to scale the Guardian you are facing off against, as this is represented by you taking your piece and physically putting it on a sizeable cut out of the Guardian. Then just like a rather famous Playstation Colossus title, you then attack various parts of the Guardian to knock out the different attacks they have at their disposal. Once all of the areas on the Guardian have been vanquished, then the Guardian is effectively destroyed and the Foxen return home triumphant. It’s such a neat idea, and it manages to work extremely well. It’s an excellent visual representation of the progress that is being made over time as you fight your epic battle.
And it will be epic, and at times, it’s also a slog, as the balance of who is winning can shift back and forward within round very quickly. It’s better to look at Skulk Hollow as a sibling to Root or a least like a second cousin, as there are a lot of tactical decisions to make depending on the Guardian you are facing off. Normally just charging in and hoping for the best is going to result in multiple casualties on the Foxen side, as the Guardian will have access to attacks that can effect everyone in the same space. At the same time, the Guardian needs to be mindful of it’s win condition and how to best make that work. Simply smashing the opposition might be futile, as someone like the Tantos Guardian needs to have six tentacle roots present in six spaces in the board. While the Apoda is wanting to collect rune tokens that have been left on the board to take back to it’s lair. So the destruction is fun but at the same time, it’s not going to win you the game. Skulk Hollow requires some strategy on both sides if either are going to triumph.
This does mean that on occasion, it can stumble, but not completely fall over. It can be gloriously unforgiving at times if the wrong cards come up for you and the right cards come up for the Guardian, and you knock the Foxen back to their starting space after a lucky and punishing round. You can use any power cubes you have gathered to take a free action as a choice, but sometimes the situation can lead to feeling you are a fly trying to bring down a jumbo jet. Pencil First suggest you start with Grak as the Guardian when you play the game for the first time. Surprisingly, it’s not for your benefit as it’s a fairly straightforward character to learn, it’s more for the Foxen player to get to grips with what they need to do to band together and win. Once you bring in some of the other Guardians, then it becomes a tough fight. Where some would claim the odds are stacked in favour of the natural behemoths due to how hard they hit and in some cases how far, it’s actually a bit refreshing to have a game where it’s not about upgrading to essentially power your opponent off the board. When it clicks, it clicks really well, but it’s a hell of a lot harder and tougher than the box art would suggest. It also plays relatively quickly, and you can get through a battle in an hour once you get the hang of how things play.
Packed in the box are alternatives for the Foxen as well as the different Guardians, which I would advise to try at least once to find someone who fits in with your own particular style of play. Skulk Hollow is a game that demands multiple plays in order to unwrap the goodness that its presentation suggests. If you stick with the same characters and hate it, then you’ve partly got yourself to blame.
Think of it more of a miniature war game than a cutesy tabletop ‘My First Skirmish’ and you’ll get something out of it. Set it up on the table for a week and give it a bash as often as you can, sample everything from this war like buffet, you’ll find a faction or a hero that will work for you.
Skulk Hollow is no easy ride, and for some, the challenge might be far too much, as it can be a game that requires aggressive play, quick strategy and the ability to adapt in sudden changes in tactical circumstances. For those who are looking for that, coupled in with the exceptional polished finish, will find Skulk Hollow will certainly scratch a few competitive play itches..
We were provided this review copy from Pencil First Games
You can visit their website by visiting http://www.pencilfirstgames.com/
We were not paid for this Review
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