- For ages 8 and up
- For 2 players
- Approximately 40 minutes to complete
- Active Listening & Communication
- Counting & Math
- Logical & Critical Decision Making
- Strategy & Tactics
- Hand/Resource Management
- Child – Easy
- Adult – Easy
Theme & Narrative:
- Save your Kingdom from a monster or rid the land of tiny invaders
- Gamer Geek mixed!
- Parent Geek approved!
- Child Geek approved!
The world was once populated by towering creations that shaped the land. Mountains and valleys, lakes and rivers. These are the visible evidence of their works and their Power. Long have these ancient creatures slept – known as Guardians by some and legendary monsters by most. And in legend and myth, these monolithic nightmares might have remained if it weren’t for the rumblings in the earth and the sitings of unnatural things in the wilderness. Now a Kingdom prepares to battle an ancient Guardian to survive, and a long-dormant creature of nature awakens to find a new enemy. Which side wins is up to you.
Skulk Hollow, designed by Eduardo Baraf, Seth Johnson, Keith Matejka and published by Pencil First Games, is comprised of one map board, 25 Power cubes, 25 Wound tokens, six Ancient Relic tokens, one Foxen Heroes player mat, 29 Foxen cards, four Guardian Reference cards, four Foxen Reference cards, 10 Foxen Hero figures, and four Guardian packs (that include reference material and other game components that are specific to the Guardian, including its unique deck of cards). The component quality is outstanding, with bold colors, expressive illustrations (by artists Dustin Foust, Sebastian Koziner, and Helen Zhu), thick cardboard, sturdy cards, and wooden components.
Preparing the Kingdom
To set up the game, complete the following steps.
First, place the map board in the middle of the playing area. Unlike other boards players are familiar with, this game’s map board is turned at an angle, so the player’s sitting position is at a corner.
Now determine who will play as the Foxen Heroes and who will play as the Guardian. The Foxen Heroes are a group of brave warriors (who are also foxes). The Guardians are gigantic magical constructs made from natural materials (like rocks and trees). Both sides will use similar rules and gameplay, but the resolution of actions and objectives are radically different.
The player who will take on the responsibility of the Guardian selects first. There are four to choose from, and each has a different ability.
- Grak, a giant bear
- Apoda, a giant insect
- Tanthos, a giant octopus (think Octorok from the Legend of Zelda franchise)
- Raptra, a giant bipedal bird with arms
Once the player selects their Guardian, they take all the associated components and sit down on their starting side of the game board, completing any additional unique setup requirements for their selected Guardian.
Meanwhile, the other player will take the Foxen Hero game components and select a Foxen Leader. The Foxen Hero player will have default access to melee and ranged combat Foxen units. In addition, the Leaders provide the player with special abilities unique to the Leader card.
- King of War is the strong Leader with the most Health
- Queen of Blessing removes damage from Foxen units
- Prince of Guile allows the player to retrieve cards from the discard pile
- Princess of Tactics enables the player to take additional actions with banded Foxen units
Once the player selects their Foxen Leader, they take all the associated components and sit down on their starting side of the game board, completing any additional unique setup requirements for their selected Leader and the Foxen Hero figures.
Second, place the Power cubes and Wound tokens off to one side of the game-playing area and within easy reach of all the players.
Third, each player shuffles their cards and draws the number of starting cards indicated by their Reference cards.
This completes the game setup. Time to save a kingdom or destroy one!
The Battle Begins
Skulk Hollow is played in rounds and turns with no set number of rounds per game. On a player’s turn, they complete two phases, the same for both players. The phases are summarized here.
Main Phase: Take Actions
Each player has a limited number of actions they can take. The available actions are as follows:
- Play a Card: Each player will have their own deck of cards, specifically built to support their selected faction (Foxens or Guardians). From the cards in the player’s hand, they can choose one to play for one action. A card will have two possible actions to take. These are most commonly focused on movement, attacks, or gaining Power which is used to pay for additional special abilities and actions. When the player selects the card they want to play, they place it in front of them, define what the card does, and then resolve the chosen card action. The card is then placed in the player’s discard pile.
- Prepare: Not all the cards in the player’s hand might be helpful or what the player is looking for. The Prepare action allows the player to discard one card from their hand without resolving it. Then the player draws two cards from their draw deck, adding them to their hand. These cards can be played this turn. If the player’s draw deck is depleted, they shuffle their discard pile to create a new draw deck.
- Spend Power: Power cubes fuel special abilities and additional actions. The player spends the noted Power requirements by taking it from a selected Foxen unit card or the Guardian card. That unit/Guardian then resolves the action noted.
Cleanup Phase: Reset and Regroup
After the player takes all the actions they want to take or are limited to (players are never forced to take actions), they indicate their turn is over to their opponent and do a little maintenance on their available units or Guardian.
- Allocate Power: Any Power cubes collected during the player’s turn can now be distributed to any available open Power spaces on the Foxen unit or Guardian. Any Power cubes that are not allocated are sent back to the pool off to the side of the game board.
- Refill Hand: Each player has a max/minimum size hand limit by default. The player draws from their deck until their hand size has hit the maximum number allowed. If the player’s hand size limit has already been reached, they only draw one card. Regardless, each player will draw – at a minimum – one new card at the end of their turn.
After both players have had a turn, the round is over. Each player determines if the victory objective has been completed. If it has, game over. If not, play on! Start a new round with the Foxen player taking the first turn.
Attacking and Wounds
Foxen units can attack a Guardian either on the ground or will need to climb on the Guardian to attack critical points on the Guardian’s massive body.
The Guardian player has a significant advantage over the Foxen units as long as they don’t climb aboard. A powerful attack that sweeps the ground and knocks units backward or in different directions allows the Guardian player to control a great deal on the map board.
Once the Foxen units climb on the Guardian, they are relatively safe. However, there is only so much space on the Guardian, limiting the number of Foxen units on the Guardian’s body and specific areas. While able to avoid most of the Guardian’s basic combat moves, the Foxen units can be shaken off or worse if the Guardian player has the cards.
Damage is dealt when an attack is resolved as a player’s action. Most Foxen units can only take one damage. Some Foxen Leaders and the Foxen “Sentinel” are made of more potent stuff and can take more damage. Once a Foxen unit receives its maximum number of Wounds – as indicated by their reference cards – they are removed from the map board. The Foxen player will need to get that unit’s card and put it in play again if they need those forces on the field.
The Guardian also takes Wounds in specific areas of their body. Once they collect enough Wounds, that particular area is considered “damaged” and restricts the Guardian player’s ability to access particular actions and combat maneuvers. In this way, the Foxen hero can climb and cripple specific attacks and maneuvers available to the Guardian.
Healing Wounds is as simple as removing them from units and the Guardian board. Removing wounds is possible through cards and spending Power cubes.
The Final Outcome
The game continues until one of the two players achieves their victory condition.
- The Foxen player wins if they can destroy the Guardian
- The Guardian player wins if they beat the Foxen player’s Leader or meet the requirements of their unique victory condition specific to the Guardian they selected.
This game is immediately unbalanced if a new player is playing against an opponent already familiar with the rules. Familiarity with the cards and how combat works is a must to play effectively. Luckily, the game is easy to learn – and after one play session – any player will know the basics of how to play as either the Foxen or the Guardian. Use the provided Relic tokens to help new players not only learn the game but also give them a chance to win. These are given to the new player and can be used to supply one additional action during the game. Once spent, they are lost, but the player can spend them at any time without limits on how they may be used per turn.
The Child Geeks very much enjoyed the game but also found it frustrating. The cards drawn determine what is available to the player at any time. The Child Geeks recognized this early but overcame any challenges of not having the right cards by taking action to draw new ones. While this most certainly worked, it also left the Child Geeks with turns where they felt they were not as “heroic” or “monsterish” as they would have liked (per their selected faction). According to one Child Geek, “I liked the game. I liked the foxes the best, and I liked how you jumped on the monsters. You need the right cards, and those are easy to get sometimes.” Another Child Geek said, “I don’t like the Guardians. They are big and fun, but I like running around as a bunch of fox knights and archers better. I think the game is fun!” When the Guardian fell and the Kingdom was saved, the Child Geeks voted to approve Skulk Hollow.
The Parent Geeks found the game to be an entertaining and highly thematic two-player game that worked well with their Child Geeks and their peers. Like the Child Geeks, the Parent Geeks identified early on that cards ruled the day. This, however, was not found to be a deficiency in the game or the gameplay—instead, an excellent way to ensure that neither side was overly powerful. Still, luck was involved but never to a degree where the Parent Geeks found themselves unable to control their turns. According to one Parent Geek, “I enjoyed the game. It reminded me a lot of the old video game Shadow of the Colossus, with me always preferring to run as the Foxen heroes. Great artwork, exciting turns, and fast gameplay made this a winner.” Another Parent Geek said, “Good stuff and an interesting two-player game. I don’t play many of these games where only two players are involved, but I think I would like to explore more based on this game’s goodness. Yep, I’d play this again, but only as the Guardians. They are badass.” When the battlefield was cleared, the Parent Geeks all found Skulk Hollow to be the victor.
The Gamer Geeks were much more bullish on the game. They found the cards to be an excellent means of determining actions but disliked how luck and lack of card availability sometimes limited a player’s ability to maneuver and attack. They also found that the Guardians were the absolute joy of the game, but the Foxen heroes ruined it to a degree. As one Gamer Geek described, “The Foxen units always play the same. If you know how they work, I can see you always winning the game unless the cards are unavailable. The Guardians are fun but have limitations that you cannot work through. Overall, I enjoyed the game, found it fun, but wouldn’t necessarily seek it out again.” Another Gamer Geek said, “A great game for two players who are just getting into deeper two-player games. I prefer more actions and smarter card control, but the game played well enough. I do feel there are balance issues, but the game is so fast and so random at times, I don’t think it matters.” When the Foxen Kingdom fell to the Guardians, the Gamer Geeks had mixed minds regarding the game. While they didn’t find it terrible, they also found reasons why they didn’t think it was great.
As for me, I found the game to be “pretty good.” Like the Gamer Geeks, “not great.” The game isn’t broken by any means, and the balance issues identified by the Gamer Geeks are more about card availability rather than overpowering another player. If you know how to play the Foxen units well, I don’t see you ever losing the game. This is especially true if your opponent is new to the game or unfamiliar with the Guardian they selected. Since the Foxen units always play the same, you will improve every game you play. Of course, this also means the Foxen faction can get old. On the other hand, the Guardians are always exciting and fresh but also gimmicky and diverse enough to introduce a learning curve.
My favorite aspect of the game is the movement. I am a fan of how the game plays on the map board and the Guardian. This kept both players fixed on two objectives and two combat theaters. It made the gameplay feel, at times, as epic as the narrative and theme of the game itself. I’m telling you, folks, there is nothing like that feeling of jumping on a Guardian, scurrying up its back, and taking out its eyes! That said, the awesomeness you feel when you take out Foxen units on the ground with mighty swings always brought a smile to my face, too.
The game, while complete, also feels incomplete. Or, better put, not fully realized. The rule book has a beautiful introduction to the game’s world and mentions races like mice, rabbits, and bears. Even a world map in the game teases of a great kingdom and land full of adventure and monsters. However, given all the effort put into expanding the theme and narrative of the game, what is provided in the box feels like a start of a perfect story but ends up leaving the player wondering if more is to come. A mini-expansion is provided, but it only adds cards to play with. It does nothing to expand the world and those who populate it.
A pity, as this is my most substantial criticism about the game: I don’t think it’s fully realized.
An expansion allowing for a player to take on the role of a leader for other races other than foxes would be most welcomed by the players who enjoyed Skulk Hollow and myself. More Guardians, too, as there are many fun things a game designer can introduce with unique Guardian powers. Heck, let’s throw in some structures, too! How about catapults and ballista, for starters? How about different map boards with territories that help or hinder the players? A lot can be added to the game easily without making it heavier. And more choices mean more chances to play differently. A perfect thing that would be excitedly adopted.
Overall I’m pleased with the game. Its unique gameplay and replayability lend themselves well to those who want a quick skirmish game full of life. Give this game a try when you can to see if it dominates your family gaming table.
This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.