Designed by Ashwin Kamath and Clarence Simpson, gorgeously illustrated by Pauliina Linjama and consistently returning to the table since we got our hands on a copy, The Wolves is an engaging area control game allowing players to roam the wilderness over the course of a month; chasing the moon, recruiting lone wolves to your pack, setting up dens and lairs, hunting prey and asserting dominance across the region!
The Wolves displays many of the hallmarks that one might have come to expect from a Pandasurus game: strong box art, bold graphic styling, nice and plentiful meeples, high quality components and enjoyably quirky gameplay. Like other games in the Pandasurus catalogue, The Wolves is essentially an abstract game with a well-fitting theme - that is to say that the thematic concept does an excellent job of drawing players in and setting the scene but it is the process and mechanics that will dominate a player's headspace throughout. Indeed, the central mechanic of tile-flipping bears no relationship to wolves at all, and yet engagement is smooth and easy as we inherently understand the motives of the packs and their dynamics.
The world of the wolves is depicted by hexagonal terrains of tundra, desert, grassland, forest and mountain, and each type of terrain has a corresponding wolf type depicted by individual player boards. A player takes actions by flipping the six double-sided tiles which correspond to the landscape’s terrain types: five tiles have differing terrain types on the reverse side, just one tile will have the same terrain type on both sides, corresponding to your wolf pack type and making your wolves marginally more effective in that terrain.
Actions are clear and concise: Move, Build, Dominate. Want to move your wolves to some forest land?: flip over one tile with a forest face up. Want to establish a den on the adjacent forest hex?: flip over two forest tiles… But hold on, you can’t! Flipping the tile to move has revealed its reverse face which will be a different type of terrain... Fortunately, that move action revealed a second rocky face, so you can build a den on that terrain instead. Flipping three tiles of matching terrain will allow you to dominate the wolf of another pack - stealing their wolf to yours!
Establishing dens will enable players to transfer pieces from their player boards to the central wilderness, thus revealing bonuses that will strengthen your pack in its ability to move greater numbers and greater distances. Upgrading dens to lairs, hunting animals and growing the size of your pack will increase your end-game points as well as enable bonus moves and terrain powers.
The game scales very well with all player counts. The downtime between turns naturally correlates with higher numbers but such is the nature of the puzzle in optimising your actions that all of your time will be taken up with considering the most effective actions for both yourself and other players. The action possibilities can lead to ‘analysis paralysis’ but there is no hidden information in the game and we found it beneficial to talk openly and walk through potential actions in a turn before committing. The main issue with longer games is that the colour pallet of the game is so vibrant, it can become a little bit of an effort to distinguish pieces on a busy board. There's a two-player variant that includes a dummy wolf pack to encourage competition but no official solo variant.
Initial setup of the game requires a bit more faff than one might expect: landscape arrangement is displayed in the rulebook but is not naturally intuitive and there is more individual piece placement than I would really like, so it's a bit of a chore to arrange before enjoyment of playing can take place. The rule book is an easy read but does not immediately provide answers to niche situations (including whether a wolf can move through another pack’s hex). Answers are easily found online, however, and the designers have stated that these issues will be resolved in future print runs.
All in all, The Wolves is an attractive, very solid and enjoyable game providing a meaty experience that does not overwhelm. This will fare well with players looking to step on from gateway and simpler games, and all those who have taken part in our numerous Board's Eye View plays have all been keen on repeat plays; and we expect to feel the same way indefinitely!
(Review by Michal Harrowing)
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