Updated: May 11, 2020
Category: Card Game
Designer: Foxtrot Games (Studio Collaboration)
Publisher: Foxtrot Games, Renegade Game Studios (2020 English edition)
Year Published: 2020
Playing Time: 30 mins.
To Play or Not to Play: Play
Have you played Bridge? Or Spades, or Hearts? If you haven’t, you should. All three are fantastic trick-taking games that I spent hours and days playing when I was younger. And I still enjoy them today. But all three of these games have one major flaw: they only work with four players. Sometimes, you and a friend just want to play some cards. But while there are some card games that play well with just two, very few are “trick-taking” games.
What’s a trick-taking game? It’s a game where every player has a hand of cards. One player starts by playing a card face-up on the table. The other players each play a card as well in clockwise order. They must “follow suit,” which means playing a card from the same suit as the lead card. Once all four cards have been played, the highest on-suit number wins the “trick.” Then the player that played the winning card leads a card for the next trick and the game continues like this until everyone’s hand is empty. Generally, winning tricks is good, but most trick-taking games add complications so that you don’t always want to win every trick.
In 2017, Foxtrot Games and Renegade Game Studios published The Fox in the Forest, a trick-taking card game designed for just two players. They shrank the deck from four suits to three, removed a few cards from each suit, and added special powers to certain cards. The result: a game that perfectly captures the ebb and flow of a standard trick-taking game with just two players. But this version of the game was still missing something. Some of the most popular trick-taking games are team games, like Spades and Bridge. In those games, teammates sit across from each other, and usually there is some sort of bidding system where the teams announce how many tricks they think they can win between the two of them. Once bidding is finished, the teammates have to figure out how to efficiently use their cards and pass control back and forth to ensure they make their bid. With two players, The Fox and the Forest doesn’t capture this element of trick-taking games.
The Fox in the Forest: Duet is a two-player cooperative trick-taking game! Both players are working together to accomplish a goal, but to do so they’ll need to figure out what’s in each others’ hand. And, just like in other traditional trick-taking games, the players cannot talk about what’s in their hand, offer strategy suggestions (play a low card, or play this suit, or w/e), or communicate about their hand in any way other than playing cards. And spoiler alert: it works!
Each player begins with a hand of 11 cards. The full deck has 30 cards, so 8 cards are left over as a small draw pile on the table. This ensures that both players have some information about their partners’ hand, but not complete knowledge. The top card of the draw pile is flipped over as the “decree” card. This card determines which suit will be the “trump” suit for the round. Like the name suggests, if you play a card from the trump suit during a trick, it will automatically win the trick unless a higher trump card is played. Remember, you have to play cards “on-suit” if possible, but once your hand is empty of a suit, you can play whatever you want. That includes trump cards, so a common trick-taking strategy is to empty your hand of a suit so you can start winning tricks with trumps.
In addition to your hand of cards, the game comes with a small board. At the start of the game, a marker representing the players sits at the center of the board. The board has two winding paths that extend toward each player. One or two magic gem tokens sit on each space along the path. If the player marker is on a space with a gem token after a trick, the players gain that gem. The goal is to collect all the gems as quickly as possible.
Wait, how do these pieces move if you’re just playing cards and winning tricks? Well, that’s where things get interesting. Every card has between 0 and 3 paw-prints next to the suit symbol. That represents how far the player marker moves win the trick is won. When someone wins a trick, they add up the paw prints and move the marker that many spaces toward their side of the board. If the marker goes too far, it’ll pass the edge of the board and get “lost” in the forest. This means the piece gets reset to the center of the board, and a forest marker gets added to the edge of the board, permanently removing a space from the forest and making it easier to get lost again. If the players get lost four times, they lose.
What’s interesting about this game is that the paw-prints don’t match the number on the card. An 8 has fewer paw prints than a 2. Other cards allow the winning player to choose the direction the marker moves, or to ignore one card’s paw prints, to allow more finely tuned movement. So, you and your partner need to find ways to have your piece bounce back and forth along the path, never straying too far in one direction or the other while still collecting all the available gems.
But Chris, what if you only have trump cards left in your hand and there’s no way for your partner to win any more tricks? Well, the game actually has several tools to help with that. One card in each suit allows you and your partner to trade one card each from your hands when it is played. Another lets the winning player decide which direction to move, instead of always moving towards them on the path. But the most important card are the eponymous Foxes. This card lets a player exchange the decree card for a card in their hand. This is absolutely essential for making sure the correct suit is trump and correcting for any issues in your hand. On the other hand, it’s the most difficult decision you make in this game. I’m never sure if I’ve made the right decision any time I play it.
Once all eleven tricks have been played, the round ends. If the players collected all the gems, they win! Otherwise, the player marker returns to the center of the path, five new gem tokens are added to the board in specific locations, and one forest marker gets added to the edge of the board as if the players had gotten lost. This shrinks the available real estate for the later rounds. Then the players shuffle and deal new hands, and the second round begins. After three rounds, if the players have not collected all the gems, they lose.
I adore this game. The art is gorgeous, the cards feel great, and the game play is mind-bendingly delightful! It’s everything I love about Bridge or Spades condensed into a devious struggle. I haven’t actually won the game yet, but I’m eager to try again. And, as an added bonus, the board is double-sided. Once you’ve mastered the first side, you can flip it over and try hard mode! Good luck!
The Fox in the Forest: Duet is an excellent cooperative game. People who love traditional card games will feel their brains slide right into that familiar space despite missing half of their usual table. Fans of two-player games will enjoy a robust cooperative experience. And the game is very short: each game only last three hands. You can easily play two or three games in a row. Three years ago, The Fox in the Forest became one of my favorite two-player games, and The Fox in the Forest: Duet exceeded my expectations for a follow-up. You absolutely should play this game!
This week's game was chosen by . . . me, because it's brand new and I absolutely had to write about it after getting to try it out last week. But most of the time my reviews are selected by my followers on Twitter @OrNotToPlay! Be sure to follow me there so you can help select next week's review!