Outfoxed!

Shanon Lyon, Marisa Pena and Colt Tipton-Johnson

Publisher: Brain Games / Gamewright

Funny I just noticed the chickens are the detectives (Photo credits: Eric Martin@BGG)

Outfoxed! was recommended by the jury of the Kinderspiel des Jahres in 2017 and any game that gets on that list should be worthy of our attention when hunting for kids games. While I think most adult gamers are split about the SDJ awards, the Kinderspiel selection tends to be more benign because they are after all, kids games. Outfoxed! has been out for 3 years but the game has been on my radar for a while because it is uniquely different from the rest and it is about the right age range from my kid. After half a dozen plays, I think the game is pretty good and has captured my child’s imagination. But will it dethrone Sleeping Queen? Well we shall see.

Outfoxed! is a cooperative game where every one on the table is a winner for identifying the sly fox or a loser if the fox escapes with Mrs. Plumpert’s pie. The game starts with a furtive foxy fugitive placed in one end of the board as he or she tries to move down a predesignated escape route. If the fox reaches the end of the track before the identity is uncovered, all the players lose. Ahh, but wait, the fox is not a generic fox, but in actuality, one of 16 possible suspects that I assume are all ambling along the same path toward the hole. Hence, we have to uncover who the real thief is by sniffing down clues before they skip, hop and jump into the hole toward victory.

Luckily for us, these sartorially resplendent foxes have clumsily scattered clues all about the forest. It is our goal to figure out which of these clues best match the thief by whittling down the suspects based on whether they are or aren’t spotted with a particular type of clothing or accessory. On your turn, players determine first whether they want to hunt for clues or reveal suspects. After that, players roll three dice and try to collect matching symbols. Each die feature either paw prints for “hunt for clues” or a creepy eye for “reveal suspects”. You are allowed to roll three times to get all three dice to show the symbol that matches the desired action you declared prior to rolling. You are allowed to sequester and lock as many dice as you like between each roll, but by the end of three rolls, all dice must have the symbols you want. This is a very common Euro dice rolling mechanism. If you fail, you don’t get to do the desired action and the fox skips three steps closer to the black hole and that delicious pie. Yummy Yummy….

If however you succeed, then you get to carry out the action. A “reveal suspect” action….reveals a face-down suspect. There are 16 suspects in total and each successful action uncovers two more suspects which could be eliminated immediately depending on the clue. Which brings us to action number 2: “hunt for clues”. In this action, you get to move your token which starts in the center of the board toward any clue location on the board. You can move as far as the number of paw prints are showing on your die face. In truth, each die face with a paw print either spots one or two paw prints. So your range of movement is really 3-6 since all your dice must show a paw print to perform this action. Once the movement is determined, you get to head toward the direction of a clue. If you reach that destination, which you may not in a single round, a clue token is selected and inserted into the genius-o-matic-thief-catcher contraption. It is actually pretty cool. There is a plastic card holder which allows you to slot the card of the secretly chosen thief at the beginning of the game. The card has the name of the thief and the type of clothing it was wearing which appears in the form of green dots. When you pick up a clue, each clue has a tiny hole that when you pop it into the contraption, allows you to see if a green dot on the card. If a green dot is there, then you know the thief is wearing that item or carrying that accessory. This then allows you to eliminate those foxes that you previously revealed with the “reveal suspect” action don’t fulfill that criteria. The more clues you collect, the easier it is to eliminate the possibilities. Clues previously found can retroactively employed to eliminate suspect that are freshly uncovered. So, one must visit multiple sites in the forest to uncover as many clues as needed to eliminate all but one suspect. If the fox is close to the hole, you are allowed to take a stab and then verify your prediction by pulling out the thief card in the contraption. If you have one suspect left, you should automatically win. If you took a stab, well, let them chickens come home to roost then.

The contraption is really cute and works really well. I would say, that is the highlight of the game. I love that my kid is excited to see if the clue that was popped in actually a red herring or the read deal. Outfoxed! has been listed as a memory game, but really, there is not much of a memory component. Yes, it helps to remember that “the thief is carrying a walking stick” and “the thief does not wear a monocle”, but in truth, if you just look at the eliminated suspects or those left over and match them with the clues on board, you can quickly ascertain the nature of the clue and eliminate the memory component. Perhaps for a child, this is not as obvious.

The game is no doubt fun for my kid, and it is a co-op game, which is not easy to come by for her age group. Outfoxed! is one of those worthy gems. The question is not so much if this is a good game, but whether the kid is having fun while learning something new. In that regard, it is not as clear. With Sleeping Queen, her math skills have really improved as well as her strategy of when to play cards. In Outfoxed! things are just more scripted. You know what to do during your turn since there are only two options. For the most part, the game just boils down to the dice rolls. Roll well and you can progress faster. Roll poorly and the fox escapes. Plain and simple. While this is billed as a deduction game, I feel there is also not much deduction. As the clues come out, you just match and eliminate. Eventually, one card is left over and you have your thief. So, the game is neither deduction nor memory. There is not much decision tree here, just the excitement of flipping the clues to uncover the the plot. That actually may be enough to purchase the game because I think kids do love flipping tiles to uncover stuff.

Overall, Outfoxed! is a beautifully design game which is different from many other kids games out there. It has the flavor of a deduction game and also memory game without really being either. Perhaps at this age group those elements don’t matter and the fun of the game outweighs everything else… to which I say, “Let’s go catch us some sly foxes”.

Initial impression: Average (family); Good (Kids)

Kids Corner

5 years and 2 months: She loves the game but I don’t think it has as much staying power to dethrone Sleeping Queen. The latter is also faster. I note she loves uncovering tiles or cards and gets excited at that. Sleeping Queen also features the same thing. She is still at awe that the final suspect card always matches the thief card in the holder. So, that part of elimination process is still beyond her. She does know to look at the clues and remove the cards that are either “the thief is wearing it” or “the thief does not wear it”. That can sometimes can adults confused too. Heck, even somethings I get confused and have to pause to parse the logic in my head for 3 secs. Note, the standard game of moving the fox 3 spots for each failure is too easy. We have upped it to 6. Now, that becomes more tense. We lose as much as we win now which is what I want. The game does teach her a few mechanisms which will come in handy as we progress up the difficulty ladder. Good co-ops for kids are rare and we don’t own many (Karottenklau is one, but that is boring). She also learns the die rolling and sequestering mechanism which is common in many Euro designs. I like that too. Finally, she gets to learn spatial navigation and maximizing movement. All good stuff.

5 years and 3 months: I didn’t expect the game to turn out this way. We have probably played, 15-20 games since purchasing the game this month and my kid loves it but she has memorized all the features for each character. How she does that is a freaking mystery?? All we do is just mention a character and she knows exactly which items are on that fox. This also means the game is sort of broken for her as she knows immediately which character to guess half way through the game. This is especially true if two of three clothing items are known. In any case, she still enjoys it and I just marvel at how plastic a child’s brain is. Crazy.

6 years 4 months: The game still has appeal though her memory is quite astounding. The game is broken in the sense that she knows all the character attributes and can make a very educated guess based on what is available. Obviously, the game is lopsided against her, but we make the game harder by allowing the fox to move 3-4 steps per failure. That works really well. This game is good, if not great for a 4-5 year old. After that, kids are ready for something much tougher.

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