Thorn and Rose Game Review


The Basics:

  • For ages 6 and up (publisher suggests 12+)
  • For 2 players
  • Approximately 5 minutes (or less) to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Memorization

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Navigate an ever-shifting maze in search of the reddest of roses!


  • Gamer Geek rejected!
  • Parent Geek mixed!
  • Child Geek mixed!


The old woods around your village were once peaceful, considered by many to be very beautiful. Now it’s a dark and twisted place, reflecting the evil that occupies its center. Sickness runs rampant in your village and you’re determined to save your friends and family. It’s rumored that the Blood Rose, a flower with curative powers, can be found in the woods. With torch in hand and a steadfast heart, you enter into the thorns and briers in search of hope.

Thorn and Rose, designed by Jackson Lin and published by Level 32 Studio via the Game Crafter, is comprised of 18 cards. The cards depict different flora and fauna found in the haunted wood (thorns, beasts, and roses). The artwork is minimal, but very well done. The cards are printed on standard cardstock and are as durable as your average traditional playing card. It’s worth noting that this game was a finalist in the Micro Game Challenge hosted by the Game Crafter and sponsored by All Us Geeks and Father Geek.

Game Set Up

To set up the game, first take the 18 cards and shuffle them.

Second, draw and place 16 cards, face-up, in a 4 x 4 card grid formation. This grid is referred to as the “Cursed Wood”. Two of the 18 cards will not be used and are out for the duration of the game. The grid will look something like the following example when completed.


Third, decide who will be the Hero (or Heroin) and who will be the Witch (or Warlock).

Fourth, the Hero and the Witch should now study the cards and memorize their positions. When the Hero has had enough time to review and memorize the cards, they should either turn their back, leave the room, or simply close their eyes.

Fifth, the Witch will now shift the position of 3 sets of cards. That is, the Witch will take 2 cards and swap their positions in the grid, repeating this action a total of 3 times. The card sets do not need to match or be adjacent with each other. When the Witch has  finished, all the cards are turned face-down before the Hero can open their eyes.

This completes the game set up. Time to explore the Cursed Wood!

Into the Woods

Thorn and Rose is played in turns. Each turn the Hero will reveal one card. Once revealed, 1 of 2 possible actions will be taken. This continues until an endgame condition is met.

When the Hero begins, they must turn over and reveal 1 of the 4 corner cards located on the Cursed Wood grid. What corner card they select is up to them and will most likely be based off memory. The Hero will quickly find that the Cursed Wood has shifted and their memory will now be faulty, but not completely. The revealed card will either show 1 or more broken heart icons (referred to as “Frights”), rose icons, or both. The title of the card has no impact to the game and only serves to further strengthen the game’s narrative. Based on the card icons revealed, the following will take place.

  • If the revealed card contains only broken hearts, the Witch takes no action. The Hero now reveals a new face-down card (see “Deeper Into Darkness”).
  • If the revealed card contains any number of roses (regardless of how many broken hearts are shown), the Witch now swaps the position of 2 face-down adjacent (not diagonal) cards. The Hero now reveals a new face-down card (see “Deeper Into Darkness”).


Deeper Into Darkness

After the Hero reveals the first card, they must go deeper into the Cursed Wood regardless of what was revealed. When selecting the next card, the Hero can only reveal a face-down card that is adjacent to the card they just revealed. In this way, the Hero is making a path through the Cursed Woods. A path, I must add, they cannot double back on. Every time a card is revealed, the Witch will either take an action or not, and the Hero will travel further into the dark woods in hopes of finding the Blood Rose.

Note that the revealed cards remain face-up for the duration of the game and cannot be moved by the Witch.

A Glorious or Grim Ending

The game can end several different ways.

  • If the Hero reveals 5 or more roses and less than 5 broken hearts, the Hero wins!
  • If the Hero reveals 5 or more broken hearts before revealing 5 or more roses, the Witch wins!
  • If the Hero can no longer select a card and has not yet revealed 5 roses, the Witch wins!

In the case of a tie, where the Hero reveals an equal number of roses and broken hearts to satisfy both the Hero and the Witch victory conditions, the Hero must reveal a new card and the winner is determined based on the total number of roses and broken hearts showing. If the Hero is unable to reveal a new card because their path does not have an adjacent face-down card they can select, the Witch wins.

Game Variants

There are 3 game variants provided to allow for a slight deviation from the standard rules of game play. They are summarized here.

Hero Peeking

If this game variant is allowed, the Hero player can peek at the cards that are not yet revealed. However, the Witch is given a sizable advantage as a result. Three different versions of this variant are provided, making it easy to adjust the game’s difficulty based on the age and overall experience of the players.

  • Full Peeking: The Hero and the Witch can peek at any unrevealed card at any time.
  • Limited Peeking: The Witch can only peek at one unrevealed card before moving it.
  • Disallowed: The Hero can peek at any time, but the Witch must play the game from memory.

Swap Visibility

During game set up, turn the cards face-down after both players have memorized them. Then, with the Hero watching, the Witch can swap the position of 3 sets of cards are normal. This game variant was very popular with the Child and the Parent Geeks.

Full Reveal

Keep all cards face-up the entire game. The Hero player will put the cards on the side during the game instead of flipping them. This game variant made no sense to everyone who played it. I’d like to think there was a typo in the game variant description, but you never know.

To learn more about Thorn and Rose and download a free print-and-play version of the game, visit the game’s web page at the Game Crafter.


I fear this game sounds great on paper, but will do poorly on the gaming table. The game’s concept is interesting and immediately got my attention when I first read the rules. I liked the idea of players attempting to outwit each other through subtle shifts in the cards and strength of memory. A shell game, if you will. When I looked at the cards, however, I found that there were many more “bad cards” than there were “good cards”. This troubles me as it would suggest that the Hero is at a significant disadvantage right from the start. With more broken hearts (19 in total) than roses (14 in total), I wouldn’t consider the game balanced.

I predict mixed results from the Child and the Parent Geeks. As for the Gamer Geeks, I doubt they’ll be interested in Thorn and Rose for any longer than a single game and then quickly dismiss it.

Teaching Thorn and Rose is best done by example. Demonstrate how the Hero will select cards to reveal, making sure to explain how the Hero cannot double back when making a path through the Cursed Woods. Other than that, it’s really nothing more than a game of memory and luck. Luck you can’t teach and memory is a skill that can only be strengthened through time and determination. After teaching the game to my 3 little geeks, I asked them their thoughts on Thorn and Rose so far.

“I like the idea, but I don’t much care for memory games.” ~ Liam (age 9)

“Can I be the hero? I don’t want to be the witch!” Witches are girls!” ~ Nyhus (age 6)

“I want to be a knight, Daddy!” ~ Ronan (age 4)

It would appear that my 3 little geeks all understand how the game is played and how it can be won, regardless of the role selected. Let’s play Thorn and Rose and see if we find beauty or get pricked by its thorns.

Final Word

The Child Geeks loved the game when they won and hated it when they lost. The majority of the Child Geeks wanted to be the Witch (or “Warlock” when the boys played the Witch role) because it won the game more times than not. The Child Geeks played just as well with their peers as they did with their parents and older siblings. Child Geeks as young as 4-years-old could play the game, but did not demonstrate any reasoning. They often times forgot about the card reveal rule and I didn’t observe anything to suggest that the 4-year-olds were bothering to memorize the card positions. The next oldest were the 6-year-olds and they did great. Their level of memorization was comparable to their older siblings and their card choices seemed to be meaningful. According to one Child Geek, “This is an OK game, but I don’t want to play it again for a while.” When I pressed for an explanation, she said “It feels like work instead of a game.” Not all the Child Geeks agreed, however. Some of them very much liked the game and wanted to play it multiple times in a row. According to one of these Child Geeks, “What I liked about this game is that you get to change the woods and I feel like I’m playing in a fairy tale!” When the game was put away and the final votes cast, the Child Geeks were mixed with groups both enjoying it and disliking it in equal measure.

My oldest little geek "Warlock" pretends to be chosked when the "Heroin" reveals a thorn bush

My oldest little geek “Warlock” feigns surprise when his “Heroin” nana reveals a thorn wood

The Parent Geeks were also mixed, neither really liking or disliking the game. They enjoyed playing it with their children but not a great deal with their peers. According to one Parent Geek, “This is an interesting new take on a simply memory game, but I don’t like how much luck is involved at times.” Another Parent Geek said, “This game is fast, simple, and challenging. I can play several games in less than 10 minutes. Sounds like a great game for me to put in my purse and take with me to the restaurant with the family!” When the Parent Geeks voted, the results were mixed with some enjoying the game as a light distraction at best and others disliking the game due to its seemingly unbalanced game play that was riddled with luck.

The Gamer Geeks, as predicted, played the game once and then walked away from it. There is simply not enough in Thorn and Rose to keep a Gamer Geek interested. According to one Gamer Geek, “A neat idea, but poorly executed.” Another Gamer Geek said, “I would have liked to have seen more player interaction between the Hero and the Witch. As it plays today, you could play this game without a second player.” This Gamer Geek is correct, but there is nothing in the rules to suggest that solo play is an option. In the end, the Gamer Geeks found Thorn and Rose to be unremarkable and rejected it.

Thorn and Rose has been described as a “micro memory strategy game” by the game’s designer. I think this is an excellent description of everything the game encompasses and hopes to achieve. It is, however, one-sided when it comes to game play with the Hero leading the action and the Witch following. I also believe the game is unbalanced. There are more broken hearts than there are roses, which would suggest that the Witch will win more times than the Hero. We certainly found this to be the case, but it was unclear if the unfavorable win conditions for the Hero were based on poor memory, bad luck, or an overabundance of bad cards. Either way, the player who took on the role of the Witch almost always found the game to be much more satisfying than the player who took on the role of the Hero. This is further supported by the feedback we received and the final level of endorsements from our groups.

In the end, I found Thorn and Rose to be an interesting and creative attempt at trying something new that didn’t work as well as it should have. A great experience, but one I will not be looking to repeat.

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.

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About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner. Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....

One Response to Thorn and Rose Game Review

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