The board game "The Wolves", which was the hit of last year's ESSEN (2022) and was published by Pandasaurus Games, found a publisher in Poland very quickly. Portal Games is responsible for the Polish version of Wolves. At the time of writing this review (or creating "content"), it is a few days before the official premiere of the Polish version, which is scheduled for June 7, 2023.
There was an error on the box of the Polish version and we have an indication of the number of players 1-5, which was fixed with a sticker on the foil informing that, unfortunately, the game does not provide for a single player mode. I think that sooner or later a solo mode will appear, if not official, it's definitely a fan one. The first step to the solo mode has been made, as the two-player mode is also added on special terms.
The game shows its greatest value from 3 players upwards, although it is surprisingly playable also in the 2-player variant - where we have Wolves of the pack "Automs" that act as place blockers -> hence my optimism about the imminent appearance of the solo version.
The box contains a modular board of 11 pieces, each piece called the region board or starting board consists of 16 hexes. Depending on the number of people, the board is assembled from the appropriate number of region boards. In a 5-player game, we will use all 11 elements, and in a 2-player game, 5 region boards are enough - exceptionally, in the 2-player mode, we do not add an element called the starting board to the board - which has a cleft in the middle, which is important for the starting arrangement of our wolf mepples :)
The insert holds everything you need
Five players means we have 5 colors for the players: Blue, Purple, Yellow, Brown and Green.. I think these are the colors but as a guy, I can be wrong in the names of colors.
Each player has wooden meeples in their color:
Mepple are cute and cool (that's the opinion of teenagers... mine too).
We have 5 double-sided player boards. Each board represents a different species of Wolf. The wolf as a type of mammal from the canid family has many species and subspecies. In the game we will find:
Of course, the colors refer to the mepples and partly to the players' boards. Each board consists of two elements, one image with an illustration of a wolf and its name, and a part for marking the parameters of the herd.
These player boards during the preparation for the game brought to mind the boards from Terra Mystica, which I like very much. The modular board, in turn, reminded me of the one from Gaia Project. It is possible that these associations came to my mind quickly in connection with playing these games recently.
Moon phase board, double-sided - depending on the number of players, the moon behaves differently ;)
5 reference cards - already a standard element of games with a summary of the rules.
Two-sided terrain tiles. Each herd has 6 tiles, so there are 30 of them in total. There will be more about tiles later, because they are behind a very interesting mechanism related to performing actions in a turn.
And to complete the whole thing - a comfortable insert that fits everything. I left the color-sorted meeples in bags, the loose tokens have their own chamber, which is covered with player boards and a moon phase board, thanks to which the tokens do not fall out, and the game stands vertically on my shelf.
The game looks great on the table. I bought the game right after unpacking the box, and in fact even before I got it in my hands - because I've already seen its photos, either from the ESSEN fair or photos of other language versions, which appeared on the internet a bit.
Beautiful in terms of colors - shuts the mouths of doubters :) and I'm not surprised that it was an Essen hit - because a hit needs an appearance that does not raise any doubts and Wolves have it.
In addition to the colors of individual herds/species, we also have separate colors of the areas. Each species has its favorite, which symbolizes their natural habitat - which is also related to the terrain tiles, because the first double-sided tile has the color of the habitat on both sides, so the herd will have some advantage in a given area.
Wooden mepple, as I have already mentioned, are charming and look nice on the board - a field to show off for taking pictures. An alpha wolf standing on a (wooden) den with its front paws and howling at the moon is already a classic of photos for this game... maybe I should do one too?
I do not write more about the appearance because it is best to form an opinion about the appearance by looking at the photos, a few of which I attach here. And watching videos too :)
The appearance of the board and the ability to configure it is a strong point of Wolves
We start with a board with lone wolf tokens, prey and region scoring tokens - with images of the moon in different phases. It is the Moon, or rather its phases, that determine the most important events during the game.
On the player's board we have the parameters of our herd. These parameters can be changed during the game, the next stages of development of individual features are made by moving dens to our map board. By moving the den mepple, we discover further higher values of such features as:
The following fields on the herd board are:
Player board = heard board
What Actions can we perform? However, before we talk about the actions themselves, we should mention an innovative (at least I don't know of any other similar implementation) and a very interesting mechanism of paying for performing actions with terrain tiles. Each action has a cost of 1, 2 or 3 - what? - terrain tiles with the terrain matching the hex affected by the action, i.e. the target movement tile, or the tile with the opponent's meepel dominated by our wolf or the lone wolf hearing our howling wolf.
Let's say we want to build a den in a forest/green area. The cost of building a den is 2, the terrain is a forest, so we need to have two open forest tiles, we pay for them, we flip the tiles - in this way, the area available on the tiles changes to another, which it will change to after flipping, you can see in the corner of each tile, so you can plan your moves to plan later actions. We always have 6 tiles, we don't throw them out of the game area, we just turn them over.
When we lack tiles, sometimes a bonus terrain tile can help us, which can replace any terrain, but this tile is a one-time use.
The asymmetry is obvious here because each herd has one tile that has the same color on both sides, the terrain color of the favorable herd (I could have written habitats but I didn't want to repeat myself) so it is always available and every herd has this terrain other.
What does the Moon and its phases have to do with it? Well, every now and then in the game there is a "Region Scoring" phase. There are 3 phases in the game:
When these phases are to take place - we read it from the Moon Phases board. This board is a month calendar with 30 fields (so the game is definitely not played in July or August ;)) and on some of the days there are icons of the individual phases of the moon. Elements removed from the board: a loner wolf (when we replace it with ours), a den (when we upgrade it to a lair), enemy meeples, when we dominate them, are placed on the next fields of the Moon phases board and when we reach the field with the icon of e.g. a crescent moon this triggers the Scoring Phase of regions that are marked with tiles with such icons. These tiles are placed randomly in the regions at the beginning of the game.
So you know in advance which regions will be scored in turn - so you can plan for which scoring you are getting ready for, whether one for all, or let go of some to arm yourself for the next ones.
In a two-player game, we have two regions that will be scored twice - this forces the strategy not to skip them, although of course it depends on the opponent's moves.
The game ends when we finish the turn in which we reached the Full Moon Phase in the calendar. According to the lunar phase calendar, a 2-player game ends on the 18th and a 5-player game ends on the 30th.
Moon phase calendar at the end of a 5 player game
The game from the world of wolves will often host on our table, cute wolf meppelki had their share in it. Simple rules will allow you to quickly introduce new players - so I will definitely take Wilki for the next holidays to play with my family. For this type of games, the game is perfect, because the problem is usually too many players than the fact that you can't play solo.
I think that Wolves can settle in the segment of family and nice games - despite howling, dominating and hunting, such as Everdell or Expedition to Eldorado.
The game is also a good introduction to area control games, after all we have region control here and experience with wolves can be useful later in Blood Rage games where this field control is much more complex.
In the category of family games, I give Wolves a very high rating of 9.5. As a game for geeks, I'd give a point less. But I try to judge games in the sectors they are made for.
I received the game from the Polish publisher Portal Games for reviewing/creative purposes, for which I would like to thank you very much, but this fact did not affect my thoughts and what I wrote.