Publisher: Foxtrot Games
The Fox in the Forest (Fox) recently received a 2020 recommendation from the Spiel des Jahres jury. It’s a noteworthy recommendation as the endorsement will mean more attention for the game. As we are going through a trick-taking renaissance recently, Fox was on my radar long before the jury made the recommendation. The SDJ announcement just pushed me over the edge to grab a copy.
Fox is billed as a 2 player trick taking game. Each round consists of 13 tricks in which players try to score points. Each game usually consists of roughly 4-6 rounds with the first player to reach 21 points winning the game. There are 3 suits with 11 cards each with values ranging from 1 to 11. All odd numbered cards have a special ability that is triggered when that card is played. For example the “1” card allows you to lead the the next trick if you lose this current trick while “7” card immediately wins you 1 additional point if you win that current trick.
Each trick in Fox consists of only a single card played by each player. The player who played the highest card will win the trick. Like all trick taking games, the lead player plays a card and the opponent must follow suit if they can. The higher card usually wins unless thee card played matches the trump suit. The trump suit is determined by a single-card flipped face up from the draw deck. A card played that matches the trump suit will only beat the lead card if ranked higher. Finally, cards with special abilities can also alter the conditions for winning each trick. After taking into account all these variables and exception, the winner will take the trick and lead the next one. In this way, players fight over the 13 tricks each round and tabulate the total amount of points won.
What makes Fox special is the scoring. Since there are 13 tricks per round, both players will usually end up winning a portion of these tricks. However, it’s not a straightforward majority-wins-all situation. Instead, to score a maximum 6 points for each round, player must either avoid collecting any tricks (0-3 tricks) or a set number of tricks (7-9). If you overshoot and collect most or all the tricks (10-13), then you get 0 points. Clearly, if you win all 13 tricks and score 0 points, then you opponent will score maximum points for collecting zero tricks. There is a graded intermediate scoring if you collect between 4-6 tricks where you score 1-3 points respectively.
The scoring is really what makes the game shine. The tug of war between two players to distribute the 13 tricks is truly innovative. Winning usually consists of having some strong cards, but also keeping some weak cards around to lose some tricks. Unless that is, your cards are all low enough that you can try to score 0-3 tricks. Avoiding winning tricks is actually not easy considering your opponent can see this strategy coming a mile away. The special abilities in combination with playing the trump suit allows for some strategy. One can try to plan and sequester some good cards in the trump suit to take back the lead. Obviously, counting cards helps with timing since you can determine when to play some of the cards in your hand. Some of the abilities are also pretty neat and allows you to swap cards with the draw deck or change the trump suit mid-game. I don’t think I have fully explored all the possibilities this game has to offer and I am sure some of the strategies will be more apparent with additional play.
Initial impression: Good