We've previously featured on Board's Eye View the Fantasy Realms variant Star Trek: Missions (WizKids) and Red Rising (Stonemaier), which uses a similar Fantasy Realms-style mechanic. WoksOn Studios' Grove treads similar ground: it's an easy-to-play small-box game where you're trying to build a hand of five cards that will optimally score in relation to each other.
With simple cartoon art from James Thompson, David Georgiou's design pares the hand management/set collection Fantasy Realms mechanic down to basics to create a tongue-in-cheek card game for 2-4 players that is super-easy to learn and which plays quickly: most of our plays at Board's Eye View ran to 10-15 minutes.
The game uses a deck of 66 cards, including several that poke fun at fantasy game memes. The cards each have a base score, which could be negative. In addition to their individual title, cards have an alignment (Good, Evil, Neutral), a type (Hero, Item, Weapon, Beast, Relic) and an effect. The effect will typically score positive or negative points for other cards in your hand, depending on their title, type or alignment, tho' some score positively or, more often, negatively for cards in other players' hands. Players are each dealt five cards and each turn you'll draw a card, either from the face-down deck or from the face-up market that's made up of previous discards. The game ends when the number of cards in the market reaches 10.
At the start of each game, players are each dealt a 'Leader' card at random from the six supplied. These will incentivise players over the choice of cards to collect because they each specify a significant bonus for a specified type or alignment of card; for example, the Beastmaster Rog Leader card gives the player +10 for every Beast card, and Bloodlord Mordeth gives +10 for each Evil card you collect. Part of the dynamics of the game involves trying to work out what other players are seeking to collect. The many cards that score negatively for what's in other players' hands are what distinguish Grove from most similar games. They increase the push-your-luck choices, pushing players to get rid of cards that might otherwise seem highly desirable...
Our gripe with Grove is that the effect text on each card is vitally important but it is actually quite difficult to read when you're holding the card in a hand with other cards. Despite the small hand size, you can't read the text when cards are fanned. That means that the game is at its best when you use card racks. For us, a big selling point of Grove is its small box size - making it a potentially great candidate to pack for your holidays - but if you also need to take card racks with you, then the game doesn't end up quite so portable.