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Sherwood Forest is beleaguered by rivaling bands. Everybody wants to be the best, the leader who unifies all bands. But only the most glorious will prevail, the one who gathers the most riches to give to the poor.
Plan your raids by gathering information, recruiting new companions and couching in your hide-outs. Form alliances to attack heavily guarded gold transports and avoid the sheriff! Clever bargaining and well-planned raids will make you the heir of Robin Hood and the new leader in Sherwood Forest.
Sherwood Forest is full of surprises. First and foremost, it is a turbulent and exciting negotiation game. Clever agreements and choosing the right partner in changing alliances will lead to victory.
Like many, I've always been enthralled by the story of Robin Hood. While I question his tactics, I found his heart to be in the right place: his desire to help the poor. As a young boy, the stories of his many adventures and the battle between good and evil were exciting and thrilling. While there are well over a dozen games bearing the name of Robin Hood – and many more utilizing the theme – I'm always intrigued by new titles based on the famous tale.
Designed by Nils Finkemeyer, Sherwood Forest is the latest to adapt the tale to the board game format. Robin Hood has retired, and various groups are attempting to assume his mantle and continue to the cause for which he so boldly fought. Players recruit new fighters to their group, secure weapons, and bribe locals for information concerning the wealthy patrons and caravans that will be traveling through the dangerous forest. Sometimes players will attempt to ambush these travelers alone, but usually bands will be forced to unite in order to successfully waylay the more powerful and well-guarded caravans. These temporary unions often require heated negotiations, but the spoils of success can bring wealth and fame. Success will depend upon clever negotiations, keen tactics, and a bit of luck.
The board depicts a section of Sherwood Forest, with two roads bisecting the forest. Along the roads are various secret camps where the bands of brigands can gather to ambush unsuspecting travelers. Also depicted are the church, inn, merchant, market and oak tree, as well as a glory point track and spaces for gold and cards. Players each receive a few raiders and a paltry sum of two gold bags. The remaining raiders are placed by the oak tree, where they await being recruited.
Each turn, a specified number of traveler party cards are placed by the side of the forest, with only one being revealed. These cards list the strength of the travelers, the route they will travel, and the rewards they will yield if successfully ambushed. The idea is for players to visit the inn in order to gather information about these travelers (allowing the player to peek at one of the face- down cards) and plan an ambush of sufficient strength to overpower the traveler’s guards. Often, one player’s strength is insufficient, so he must recruit other players to help in the task. In the basic game, the spoils of a successful attack are divided fairly evenly, while the advanced game provides greater flexibility in the division of the loot.
Each turn is separated into two phases: Planning and Raiding. During the planning phase, players will alternate place raiders in the various locations:
Inn: A raider placed in the Inn allows the player to peek at one of the face-down travel party cards, marking it with one of his cubes. This is the primary method to gain information about the turn’s travelers.
Merchant: This allows the player to pay a gold bag and take an equipment card. Equipment generally adds 1 – 3 to the strength of a player’s raiding party. In the advanced version, there are also special equipment cards that grant players special advantages. I wish there were a greater variety of these special cards, as currently there are only three types. These additional forces are quite handy in beefing-up one’s forces, but it can be frustrating consistently drawing low-valued cards.
Marketplace: Placing a raider in the marketplace allows the player to pay two gold bags and recruit a new raider, who is taken from the oak tree location. The new raider will be available on the next turn. This, of course, increases a player’s options, and allows him to build stronger raiding parties.
Church: Players may donate gold to the church, receiving one victory point for each gold bag donated. Whenever a player has more than five gold bags in his possession, his first action of the following turn MUST be a visit to the church, whereupon he must donate enough gold to reduce his holdings to five or less. On the final turn of the game, all gold can be converted to victory points, so there is no need to rush to the church on that turn.
Hide-Outs: A player may place one or more raiders into one of the hide-out locations. A player may not add additional raiders to a specific hideout later on the turn, so he must place all the raiders he desires to place there with one placement. A player may invite others to join forces in the hideout, revealing whatever information he desires about the strength of expected travelers and their potential rewards. In the basic game, no money can be exchanged, nor can the distribution of the loot be negotiated. In the advanced game, this is allowed, making negotiations more flexible and exciting. Once an agreement is reached, raiders are placed in the space and any equipment cards that were promised must be revealed, as they are now committed to that group.
The first player to place all of his raiders receives a glory point, while the second player to deplete his supply of raiders receives the start player marker. This is highly advantageous, as he will get to select the first traveler to journey through the forest. During the Raiding phase, in turn order players select a traveler and perform any ambushes. As mentioned, each traveler follows a specified path through the forest. If he passes a raiding party in a hideout, that party MUST attack the traveler if they have sufficient strength. If not, the traveler continues on his journey. If no party is of sufficient strength to successfully ambush the traveler, he finishes his journey unscathed, his treasures intact.
If a party has sufficient strength to ambush the traveler, the attack is sprung! The traveler is captured, and his treasure confiscated. Each player earns the glory points listed on the card, and the loot is distributed as evenly as possible between the players involved in the raid. Often, if there is an abundance of loot, some players will receive more loot if they have more raiders present. The card will specify the type of loot to be distributed, which can be gold and/or new raiders. The brigand leader decides which players get gold or new raiders. Again, in the advanced version, the distribution of loot can be negotiated during the planning stage, so the distribution isn’t always even.
After all travelers have traversed the forest, the turn ends. Players retrieve their raiders and new traveler cards are placed. The start player for the ensuing turn is the player with the least gold, which does tend to help the player who did not collect much loot in the preceding turn. Six turns are played in this same fashion. At the conclusion of the final turn, players convert gold to glory points one a one-to-one basis, and each raider recruited from the oak tree earns two glory points. The player with the greatest total of glory points is victorious, and is named Robin Hood’s successor. A typical game takes one to one and one-half hour to play.
I generally enjoy negotiation in games, but such games are often highly dependent upon the players involved. Forceful players can often dominate the proceedings, while players who tend to be more reserved or shy can often be railroaded into deals that are not to their advantage. The type of negotiations involved in Sherwood Forest is not very involved or intricate, so these problems tend not to surface. Generally, negotiations are quick, with just a bit of give-and-take before a deal is cemented. Unfortunately, they are also not terribly exciting, as there really aren’t many items that can be bartered or haggled over. This is even more limited in the basic version, as there truly is little to negotiate. The advanced version helps, but still isn’t terribly intense or exciting.
Another facet that bolsters the advanced version is the addition of the sheriff and equipment cards, the latter of which I’ve previously described. There are numerous sheriff cards mixed in the travel party deck. Like the travelers, sheriff cards have a printed strength, which can be moderate or quite formidable. When the sheriff travels the forest, every raiding party he encounters MUST attack. If a raiding party is unsuccessful, each player involved in the raid loses glory points and raiders as indicated on the sheriff card. All remaining raiders are returned to the players’ supply. The sheriff continues on his journey, battling raiders until he is defeated or exits the forest. A successful raid simply removes the sheriff, with no loot captured. The sheriff is quite powerful, and players must prepare for his appearance. Failure to do so can be quite a setback.
Sherwood Forest works, and has some fun moments. There are opportunities to force a less desirable traveler by an opponent’s hideout, thereby forcing him to ambush the traveler and settle for a less lucrative haul. Luck can play a role, as often players will take chances when placing their raiders, hoping to get lucky by to waylaying an unsuspecting traveler. There are decisions to be made, and the game does require some planning. Unfortunately, negotiations aren’t as exciting or tense as I’d prefer, and neither is the game. While there are some clever aspects, as a whole the game fails to rise above the merely average. There just isn’t anything terribly exciting here – no consistent tension, angst or thrills – to maintain the interest of dedicated gamers. It seems to work better in a family setting, where the basic game seems perfectly suited. I, however, am still searching for the definitive Robin Hood game, as Sherwood Forest fails to evoke the exciting exploits of that dashing fictional hero.