The Skulk Hollow board game is a two-player card-powered grid combat game. It takes 30-60 minutes to play and is suitable for gamers aged eight and up. At the time of writing, it is not available to play online.
The game has a solid level of asymmetry, with a clear ‘good versus evil’ element at its core. One player takes on the unlikely role of the foxen heroes, taking on the equally unlikely bad guy – a large forest guardian. But whatever you make think of the politics, it’s refreshing to see a beautifully created set of components and artwork around a freshly designed setting.
In the box you’ll find five game boards, five player mats, 100 cards, 60 wooden pieces and 25 plastic cubes. Everything fits in its place, the graphic design is clear and the component quality is through the roof. I didn’t care for the art style of the foxes – it’s a bit too Disney. But the art quality is first rate. And the wooden figures – especially the 10 foxen heroes and the four large guardian pieces – are so much better than any skanky plastic minis would’ve been. They’re super cute, while the wooden guardians figures are suitably large and foreboding.
Teaching the Skulk Hollow board game
I don’t tend to talk about setup but think it is worth mentioning here. Each guardian, and the foxen heroes, have they’re own tuck box snugly packed into the game box. That box contains all the cards and wooden pieces the player will need – plus two faction specific rules explanation cards. This makes setup a cinch and means each player has a compact, easy to read list of what their opponent is capable of. It’s beautifully done and makes a genuine difference to play.
The game board is a 3×3 grid so you’ll be getting in each others faces pretty quickly. The job of the foxen player is to defeat the guardian. And, depending on which of the four leaders they choose, they’ll have a different special ability available. The four guardians all work very differently and have a different win condition. But any of them will win by defeating the foxen leader. The guardians feel unique, all be it within a pretty tight system of actions. Similarly, this changes the foxen challenge significantly – but the leader abilities feel pretty minor.
Game play is straightforward. Each player draws a small hand of cards and you take it in turns to use those cards to do actions. Most card have two options, allowing you to move (in limited directions), attack, heal, gain power (get extra actions later), or put pieces on the board. Once done playing actions, you simply refill your hand. The foxen deck has 29 cards, the guardians only have 14. But this reflects the fact the foxen player needs to play (and replace) their troops regularly, as they’re pretty squishy.
The four sides
These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.
- The writer: Skulk Hollow is a beautiful game. It sets its stall out as a light, introductory battle game and proceeds to nail those credentials. Great art, simple iconography, well produced rulebook. There’s even a few extra components thrown in to create a rudimentary handicapping system. The little wooden foxes are so gorgeous my girlfriend even wanted to play it. Unheard of, as ‘battle’ and ‘cards’ are usually turn-offs for her when choosing games. But none of this gets away from the fact this is a game for a parent and their child, not for two grown gamer adults.
- The thinker: The Disney-fied art was an early warning that proved correct. While well constructed rules-wise, this is very much an entry level experience. The tiny card decks make for a tight game play experience. But they also show the one-dimensional construction of each force. You’ll soon find what’s really driving the game is the order in which you get your cards. Especially for guardians, certain moves and combos are hyper important. Meaning they are few and far between in your deck. So decision making soon gives way to frustration and too many ‘best of bad bunch’ turns.
- The trasher: I’ve really enjoyed the Skulk Hollow board game. It’s a purely tactical experience, as things move incredibly quickly. But you’re immediately in the action and always moving towards a quick conclusion. The focus is clearly on aggression, so its hard for a player with a cowardly turtling heart to slow things down too much! And the differences between guardians genuinely mean you have four unique challenges in the box. But it is a light game. Yes, it has some mildly complex ideas and you can pull off some very satisfying combos. But the older you are, the less distance you’ll get from it.
- The dabbler: Wow, what a cute looking game! It’s also easy to learn and play. However, you’re still going to have to like this sort of game. I don’t think it will be an, “Oh, I don’t like that sort of game but I liked this” experience for many people. For example, I like abstract 1-vs-1 games. But this is too fiddly and restrictive to appeal in that respect. While I also like action selection games. But this is too tactical, too back and forth, to appeal on that level. it is what it is: a two-player battle game with cute art. I just wish I could keep the foxes to use in another game…
The most common Skulk Hollow observation I’ve already covered pretty comprehensibly. After a play of each guardian, it becomes clear there’s not enough here for experienced gamers to keep exploring. Once you know what you need, until you get it the game kind of plays you. However, if you have gamer kids or are new to the hobby and like the idea of a two player battle game – don’t be put off. You could get a lot out if this game. Being well designed for its target audience should never be used as a criticism.
Another issue is the disparity between the guardians. The fact the four foxen heroes are barely different isn’t a big deal, as you have a lot more going on as the foxen player anyway. But the guardian player has a tight deck which can feel a bit of a one-trick pony. So the four options feel more important for replayability. So its a shame that the first, Grak, is pretty much a one-and-done learning character. I found one of the others one-and-done too (tastes may vary) – leaving just two to flip between. But again, millage will increase across the board with players less used to these kinds of mechanisms in games.
Alternatives and customer service
I also feel I should mention an older game, Drako, and it’s 2019 follow up Drako: Knights and Trolls. You can play the original Drako free online at Yucata – and I’d advise you to check it out if you’re looking for this kind of game experience. It has a similar level of asymmetry and tight play area. And again you’re playing cards to do actions for either a small troop of warriors or a single larger creature. The key difference is Drako is simpler in terms of being more a typical abstract. But this lack of extra bells and whistles creates a much more strategic experience. You feel far more in control, as you’re not so dictated to by the card draw. But the draw does still limit your options in interesting ways.
I’d also like to note my rulebook had half the pages repeated/missing. One quick Facebook query, followed by a requested email, and we were away. The new rulebook – plus a replacement card for one misprinted (I had no idea) – arrived just a few days later. Sure, most people wouldn’t have this issue. But good customer service should always be noted. (At no point did I mention this was for a review copy. The game had been provided by Asmodee; the replacements came from Pencil First direct).
Conclusion: Skulk Hollow board game
Skulk Hollow is an excellent game for the right audience. The production quality is wonderful and you can feel the love that has gone into creating a fantastic product. I think it is an excellent game for a parent to pick up if they have a child who likes gaming, especially if ‘beating mum/dad’ is a thing – and if they dig an animal/fantasy setting. However, as a gamer, there’s simply not enough here to engage after my initial plays. I’ll be sticking to games such as Drako for a more controlled and strategic experience.
- I would like to thank Pencil First (via Asmodee) for providing a copy for review.
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