The Maiden is trapped in the forest in a circle of enchanted trees. Using four magic objects she must enchant the trees and at night make them all dormant. If she can turn all the trees dormant she can escape her confines.
Todd Sanders, teamed up with illustrator Fabrice Weiss, has made an enchantingly beautiful small deck of cards for a thinky solo puzzle. The game has three kinds of cards: The 12 trees arranged like the hours on a clock face. The twelve cards are 3 cards of 4 different colors. Each card has an associated magic item symbol. It will become evident soon that each set lacks one magic item. There are 4 magical items cards that also allow these trees to be swapped around. Adding the the Maiden and rules cards - we have a deck of 18 cards - compact indeed.
The setup is a clock made of the trees - with the trunk facing in. The perspective is a bit like the Unicorn Tapestries in that we are the maiden looking up from the inside. The Maiden card starts at 12 o'clock. The other rules card holds the instructions for the night phase to come. We shuffle the 4 magical items each turn discarding one magical item.
Each turn is composed of a day and a night, then the maiden is moved to the next hour. We have twelve hours to solve the puzzle and free the maiden. The day phase involves swapping cards. The magical item cards give us allowable methods to swap cards. One allows swapping neighboring cards; One allows swapping ANY two cards; One allows swapping ANY cards across from each other; One allows swapping any two colors that match in color OR match item icon. Remember one card is absent each turn. We may use each card once - or not at all.
After we swap cards in the day - the magic happens in the night. The remaining rule card shows how cards become enchanted at night. When enchanted they first turn their trunks outside the circle...and on following nights those with trunks out get turned over and become dormant. The rules for the enchantment are: 1. Cards of the same color OR item across from each other get enchanted; 2. Cards that are triads apart (three with equal cards between them) of the same color OR item get enchanted; 3. Cards that occupy 4 quadrants of the same color OR item get enchanted. Condition 2 & 3 have a clockwise matching requirement - they need not all be the same - but the first must match the second - the second must match the third, and in the case of the the third condition - the third must match the fourth.
It should be noted that a dormant card CANNOT match by color OR item in both day and night actions, but if no match is required in the day - the dormant cards can be swapped. All night actions require a match of some sort. This dormant card swapping rule is not explicitly stated in the rules.
All in all this is a very difficult puzzle to solve. A player must keep in mind which colors and items remain and what enchanting actions are allowed - and the odd/even setup of the ring. Once played a few times - the difficulty becomes obvious.
Jess Sanders teams up with great illustrators in his card games. I judge we all love a pretty deck of cards and Mr Sanders delivers in Maiden in the Forest once again thanks to Fabrice Weiss and his sweet and misty drawings. The theme of this little gem of a deck is quaint and lovely. We all feel the need to free a trapped maiden in the dark forest.
I do have a bit on a complaint on the ease of play with this game. The cards are a standard poker deck size and a ring of twelve takes up a good amount of space. Clear off your kitchen table - you will not be playing this on a small coffee table or couch side folding tray. I found myself wanting smaller cards so that I could make my tree circle smaller and more compact. I then realized that the item icons would be impossible to identify. In fact, the item icons are a bit small as is.
I started to think how this game could be made more easily visualized to the player. My complaint is that it takes quite a bit of concentration to see color and item at a quick glance. I thought regular playing cards could be used - but they have no up or down to identify the first enchantment. I'm not sure why the item icons are so small, but they I realized that that choice was in subordination to theme - trees are the foundation of the story.
I notice this a lot with games: Artwork and game pieces compel us to play with the pieces and want to play the game. Ultimately we seek interesting and thinky mechanics to differentiate one game from another. It is the marrying of these two that make for an excellent game. While Maiden in the Forest is a fun puzzle to solve, I did find that part of the difficulty is in identifying the icons and makes it a bit less fun.