2 players, Competitive, Guardian Destroying Card Action Selection
Designer: Eduardo Baraf, Seth Johnson, Keith Matejka
Artwork: Dustin Foust, Sebastian Koziner, Keith Matejka, Helen Zhu
Publisher: Pencil First Games
Skulk Hollow is a game that flew under my radar a bit. When it finally popped into my purview I noticed it was just a 2 player game, which, I love. I mean just a glimpse of my all-time fav top ten games there are two on that list that are just 2-player (well they CAN play more but 2-player is where it’s at). Digging a bit deeper I discovered that it had asymmetric characters AND one person plays as a giant monster whereas the other person plays as a team of humanoid foxes trying to take it down. Ok game, you have my attention. I started some serious research on the gameplay aspects and not only are the foxes trying to take down these monstrosities but they are actually having to leap upon the thing and scurry around on its gigantic body to hit certain spots. So reading this I was instantly taken back to a video game I played years ago called Shadow of the Colossus. LOVED that game so it goes without saying that the idea of this board game had me hooked. Now, let’s see if it lived up to the hype train in my mind.
Overview of Gameplay
The game is pretty straight forward honestly. The player controlling the Foxen Heroes only has one objective, kill the guardian. The player controlling the guardian has a couple, either take down the main Foxen leader or complete their specific guardian objective that differs between the four guardians. Each player will sit on opposite ends of the main game board and take turns performing actions up to their action limit. To perform these actions you either play a card from your hand and perform ONE of the listed two options on it or you can discard a card and draw two more. Also on your turn you can freely spend “power” that you have stored up on your cards (from taking that action on cards played) to take more basic action like attacking and moving and leaping up on the guardian.
Back and forth players will do this refilling up to their card hand limit at the end of each of their turns. The strategy of the game play come from the unique powers that each side commands. For the Foxen Heroes there are a number of different foxes that can do varying things like attack from a space away or get a free leap on the guardian when you move into its space. On the guardian side the powers are completely different for each of the four included in the box. One of them is a huge bird beast that can take flight to avoid some units leaping on it and also the only way to perform one of its super powerful attacks is to be airborne. Another spreads little tentacle tokens all over the board to try and overwhelm the foxen heroes and those can pull units into their space and damage them. But that’s pretty much the skinny of the game, with each game taking about an hour or less depending on the difficulty of the guardian you choose.
These are some of the nicest looking wooden components I’ve ever seen with a board game. So on the Foxen side they are these cute little fox looking tokens each painted a particular color to keep track of the different style of fox heroes you control. And those are nice, but the real excitement comes from the guardian tokens. Each one is also colored differently but more importantly they look INCREDIBLE. Each has a completely different design and they are basically to scale when compared with the fox tokens. So they are huge to say the least, lumbering about the game board looking all imposing with the little tiny fox tokens scurrying around it trying to take it down. It’s rare to see this much theme brought out with wooden tokens for a board game but they did an incredible job here. And even beyond the single monster piece, the other wooden pieces that go with each monster further enhances the theme. The huge bird beast has a neat wooden cloud token that you stand the bird on to show when it is flying. The tentacle beast has like eight little wooden tentacle tokens that can be placed all over the board which not only makes that monster SUPER thematic but how the powers work with the theme is just amazing.
As far as the game boards are concerned there is one main board where all the units will be moving around. This is where the guardian will spend all its time trying to complete the objectives. It’s pretty small broken into nine square areas for movement with the guardian starting in the lair on one end and the foxen heroes starting in the castle on the other end. The movement is pretty simplistic since there are only a few ways you can move and those movements largely depend on if you have the particular movement card in your hand to play.
The other large board you will be playing on is the guardian itself. Now these things are awesome, with each one depicting a huge picture of the guardian that is playing along with spots on the board for the foxen heroes to perch and attack. Each spot connected via a dotted line showing the different routes that the foxen can take to gain access. These boards are very well done and unique, each also having space to hold just so many foxen. Beyond those there are also decently sized player mats for each player that gives a nice rundown of each power at your command and a spot to store the power you generate for placement.
As far as quality goes the player mats are of a thicker paper material that works out just fine for those. Both the bigger game boards including all the guardians are thicker cardboard which also feels fine here. The cards are of the slick variety but also have a good thickness. Oh! And there are also some little translucent orange plastic cubes that look really nice to depict the free power you can acquire. Also these nice little tiny wooden hearts to track damage not only on the guardian but on the foxen as well.
I loveeeeee the box and storage they have created here. First of all kudos for the incredible insert that not only looks great but is very functional. This works because each guardian and the foxen each have their own individual little boxes to hold all their cards and tokens. Each box has its special own spot that fits perfectly in the plastic insert. All the boards and manual sits atop those and the lid closes perfectly with zero space left so nothing falls out of place when stored on its side. And even if something DID fall out, it’s all in boxes so nothing gets mixed up.
Also because of this, setup is super-fast and easy. Just grab the corresponding box you need, open it and place your pieces. Easy peasy I sometimes say. The outside of the box also looks nice with the spot UV coating in certain spots to make the images stand out a bit. Overall super impressed with the box and insert.
Visual Appeal /Theme
This is another win in my book. As I mentioned earlier the theme took me back to that video game that I just adored. The theme that each guardian exudes is done very well also and mingles right into the game play flawlessly. I already touched on this a bit earlier but there is one guardian that is this big tentacle monster and his win objective is to place down ALL of his tentacle tokens on the board. It is super thematic to see this huge tentacle monster just chilling in his lair on one end of the board while these tentacles start sprouting up all over the land and the foxen are running around trying their hardest to destroy them to keep them from overwhelming everyone and everything.
That said, some guardians are more thematic than others. Honestly, the tentacle monster is probably the MOST thematic of them all in the box. There is another, which looks like a giant bear thing that just wanders around smashing the foxen with his club. Granted he is basically the starting guardian and the easiest to play with, with his straight forward win of just killing 8 foxen. So the more complicated the guardian, the more theme that they pour into the gameplay.
As far as the artwork is concerned I think it looks excellent. The guardians all look menacing but not in a scary/realistic way. Everything looks more cartoony but I think it works well here and creates this interesting world of the Foxen. There is even a backstory that tells of how the guardians came into being, which is a nice touch to pull you deeper into the theme.
Now I did have some trouble with the rulebook. Let me start out by saying the rulebook is of a VERY nice quality with nice thick pages and with a super thick, premium cover. The artwork adorned throughout the book is also very nice and colorful and really makes the book easier to digest. The instruction throughout is broken up nicely to make it easier to read with a number of examples.
However, there were quite a few missing or oddly placed instructions. So, there is a nice components list with pictures at the very beginning which I love, but nothing explaining what certain things mean. For example, when opening the game for the very first time a person literally has zero idea what the different colors of foxen tokens mean or what the different icons printed on them means. Nothing in the manual explains this and it was only after I laid out everything and started flipping through all the foxen cards that I made the correlation. Also there is no picture example of the different cards and what the icons mean on them, this would be extremely helpful and honestly would also explain the tokens as well.
Also when explaining the actions, it was a tad confusing as well. Listed under the actions explanation it has listed in order: Perform an action on a card, discard a card to draw 2 and use a power token. So, assuming those are the actions I would expect to use an action to play one of my stored power tokens to take another action? Of course that sounds silly AND indeed down below that on the bottom of the page there is a red section that says that it DOES NOT cost an action to use a power token. In this case it is explained but the instruction is oddly placed. The last thing I had some confusion with were the actions themselves. Well, more so the actions that you can perform with the free power token. It said you can do any action that is available to your character, but it never fully fleshes that out in the instructions. At first I thought it just meant the special power written on the bottom of that particular character card but it turns out it means ALL the basic actions that they character could perform such as melee attack, ranged attack or leaping AND movement in ANY direction. Now this is critical. Because when I first learned of this from scouring the forums I thought it just meant the printed action symbols that are on each card but movement isn’t printed…..AND you can move in any direction! Furthermore you can do as many of these free actions as power you have stored on the cards.
But I digress, overall the book is very nice but for sure needs some reworking to add more details to the actions and what can be done. Also it needs more picture examples explaining the layouts of the cards and tokens.
Player Interaction/Fun Factor
This game is all about player interaction as 2 players are going head to head for supremacy over the entire land. There can be quite a bit of strategy as well since each side has a number of different abilities at their disposal depending on card draws. So speaking to that a bit there is some luck involved on what you can do because of the random card draws. However it all evens out over the course of play since the cards you play won’t get reshuffled back into the draw pile until it runs empty. Personally I quite enjoy the card play here with each card having two options to choose from. The options are movement, gain power, and the regular actions. The cards options are split between those giving you some choice on what you want to do with the Foxen player getting three action choices every round. And if nothing in your hand appeals to you, you can spend one of your actions to discard a card and draw two more.
The general game play is very fun for the foxen where you can also draw up different kinds of foxen units to play to the towns and castle locations. Slowly building up your little army of foxes to send out to vanquish the guardian. Now the fun will vary for the guardian side. Since each guardian plays completely differently with different abilities, players will probably find particular guardians they prefer over the others. Personally speaking I found the big insect looking guardian to be the most fun, having an interesting setup and objective but also having some really neat powers to employ. Its play was challenging trying to get all the rune tokens spread about all over the board and survive at the same time. The huge bear looking beast is super straight forward just killing fox to win and the other two were marked as three star difficulty which means it’s going to take some time to master those. The tentacle guardian in particular is by far the most thematic with its powers but at the same time I found it super hard to play, which I guess is to be expected.
The rounds go by really fast for the guardian player as you usually only get 2 actions and your actions at limited to what powers your particular guardian has. However the Foxen players turns can be a bit longer since they not only get three actions but they have a few more abilities at their command with their different kinds of foxes, although the actions per fox basically boil down to melee, ranged and leap abilities. But each different fox type also has a little special ability listed at the bottom of their cards kind of explaining what they do according to their basic actions as well.
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
Hmmmmm optimal player count, man this is a tough one. I GUESS I would say 2 players, teehee. But yeah this is a good two player only game although I suppose you could set it up for solo just playing as both sides although seeing all the cards you know what is going to happen on both sides. It’s a good way to test different strategies at least.
Replayability is pretty good here as well! The Foxen have four different leaders to play as and each one has a different special ability they can use during play and different health values to shake things up a tad. The Guardian side has much more replayability as the four different guardians have completely different strategies. I mean each one always has the “kill the leader” objective but their asymmetric objectives and powers are what truly gives this game that extra oomf as far as replayability is concerned. And if you ever get bored playing as the foxen just switch it up and play as one of the guardians or vice versa! I found both sides fun to play as and even though the general game play for the foxen stays the same, the strategies on how you utilize the different foxes will differ drastically based on what guardian is being played. Some guardians you want to just swarm over with as many units as you can muster and others you want to be more strategic on how you place your units and even others you may want to stay away and just shoot from afar.
The Fuzzy Llama Silver Seal of Distinction
Positive Final Thoughts
Very high replayability with all the different abilities that each guardian has and strategies the foxen have to use to stop them. The components are by far my favorite wooden components I own and the clever use of them such as the tentacles and the cloud is awesome. Super awesome insert that not only looks nice but is durable and the boxes for each character are great as well. Playing the game is a joy and very interesting trying to figure out the strategies for each guardian. The gameplay is fast and fluid…..
Negative Final Thoughts
Although it might be TOO fast, especially for the guardian player. Usually only having two actions per turn really limits how much you can get done before the foxes run wild and the fact that the guardian can rarely store up those free action tokens. Whereas the foxen can build up an army and start storing free action tokens up all over their units pretty quickly. This seems slightly unbalanced in favor of the foxen, mostly because those free actions allow SO MUCH wiggle room. The rulebook was a bit of a chore to figure out certain smaller things when beginning play for the first time.
The Bottom Line
Skulk Hollow is a fast paced two player game that really brings out some incredible thematic gameplay. I recommend it if you enjoy 2 players max and competitive battle style games. If you usually play with more players than two or need a much deeper, thinky experience then this may not be your cup of tea.