- The Artwork 85% 85%
- The Coyote 90% 90%
- Easy to Learn 80% 80%
- Does my Daughter Like It 100% 100%
A 2 Player Set Collection Game
Recently Mattel released a game by Nick Hayes called Spirits of the Wild and I picked it up almost immediately after seeing it. The artwork by Syd Weiler and the whole look of the game is really fantastic. I watched a video review by Marco Arnaudo (link to the left) who mentioned that his 6 year old loved it. That sold me on it and sure enough our 5 year old picked it up really fast and loved it too. We played a couple times before bed and when she woke up the next morning she was still talking about it, one of the true hallmarks of a good game.
The production value is mostly good. Everything looks great, the colored stones are fantastic, the included bowl is great, the plastic insert holds everything snugly, the box is compact with not too much wasted space and the rule book is small but just small enough. Unfortunately you can see the “cost saving” choices in the production, everything is just a little thinner than it should be meaning it leans a little toward feeling cheap. Except the colored stones and the coyote mini. The box, the cards, even the plastic bowl feels just a little thinner than it should have been. The plastic coyote is really top shelf though. My only actual gripe for the whole game is the text on the player board. It is small and dark on a dark background making it hard for (“old” dudes like me) to read. I actually had to turn on a flashlight when we were checking our scores. Young eyes might never have this problem, but for me it was less than ideal. That’s not a very big complaint though.
What is it though?
The game is a very simple 2 player set collection game. Each player has a board with 5 different animals that each have a different way of scoring sets of colored stones and a set of action cards that allow you to add stones to and take stones from a central pool. There is also a set of special ability cards that change as the game goes on allowing players to use several other actions than what is available with their base cards. Then there is a coyote figure that the players move back and forth to each others board to block play on certain animals.
Finally there are clear stones that have their own space on each animals section. These stones when placed will double the points for a certain animals sets but once you place a clear stone you can no longer fill the spaces on that animal. When five clear stones are revealed, in the bowl or on the player boards, the game ends. This bit with the clear stones as the timer for the game allows for a another tiny bit of strategy as you can lengthen or shorten the game by leaving the clear stones out or by trying to get them back in the bag. Things happen randomly with the stones coming out so it is probably best to put some quotes around the word strategy in this sense.
This is a very light and simple game that was very easy to teach to my 5 year old and within a few turns she had a good grasp of the game and only needed to be reminded of what certain cards meant. My first play through with her we nearly tied with me winning by a single point. She then played her mother and won by 10 points. I love a game that, as parents, we don’t have to hold ourselves back. We can just play the game and our 5 year old has no trouble keeping pace and can quite easily win. There is some light strategy but it is all based on a small set of information turn by turn and boils down to what might be optimal.
First impression wise this game is great. Well worth the small price tag if you are looking for something that looks great on the table, is easy to learn and fun to play with young gamers. The next step is to play my wife and see how it holds up. I am not too worried though since I bought it to play with our daughter and I am not expecting it to replace Splendor for us.
One of the things I have loved most about the board game community is that the business side of things has been driven by the same people who love the hobby. So many publishers that have put out spectacular release after spectacular release have just been doing so for the “love of the game” so to speak. Even some of the largest names started their companies from their basement (some are still home based) for the love of it. As the hobby continues to expand, becoming what is commonly referred to as a “viable industry”, larger companies are definitely taking notice. Mattel, who very much makes their decisions for profit and not for that same love of the hobby, has been wading into things and snatching up some good games. Unfortunately sometimes their production values are on the cost saving side of things but they definitely seem to be trying. The upside being that mass market games are going to get better, the downside is that smaller publishers might have a harder and harder time. Time will tell.