The publisher gifted me a copy of this game; however, I always strive to provide fair, honest opinions.
Game at a Glance
- Publisher: Pencil First Games
- Players: 2
- Ages: 8+
- Length: 40
- Mechanics: combat, hand management, asymmetric powers
- Availability (at time of publication): retail
The Ancient Guardians are awakening and they are not pleased with the new residents of their ancestral lands. These residents, the Foxen Heroes, must defeat the Guardians in order to protect their people and homes. Who will be victorious in this asymmetrical battle game?
Skulk Hollow is a 1 vs. 1 game in which one player takes on the role of one of four hulking Guardians, while the other takes on the role of the small, numerous Foxen heroes. The Guardian wins the game by eliminating the Foxen leader or by fulfilling a unique win condition. The Foxen Heroes win by eliminating the Guardian.
Actions are taken by playing cards. Each player has an action limit; however, additional actions can be taken by spending power cubes. After the actions are performed, they finish their turn by allocating power cubes and refilling their hands with cards. In general, the Foxen Heroes will target the Guardians with ranged attacks or will “leap” onto the Guardian figure to perform melee attacks on specific body parts. The Guardians all play differently but tend to move around the map and pick off the Foxen units, shake them off their bodies, and heal wounded body parts.
The game ends immediately when one player fulfills one of their win conditions.
- Gameplay: Good. Skulk Hollow is an asymmetric battle game that plays out similar to a David vs. Goliath story – 1 powerful creature vs. many smaller, less intimidating creatures. It makes for interesting match ups. You can try to implement an overarching strategy but players must stay on their toes, carefully managing their hand of cards to ensure they can mend their Guardian, or be ready to leap when the opportunity arises. At around 40 minutes per game it is appropriate to play with older children or for a weeknight 2 player tactical battle. The actions are easy to understand, and turns go quickly. The game heavily favors more experienced strategy game players, but there is an adjustable handicap that can be put in place to accommodate younger and less-experienced players.
- Art & Style: Excellent. The artwork is gorgeous, cohesive, and works nicely with the lore of the game. The Foxen Heroes evoke the animated Robin Hood and The Secret of NIMH movies from my childhood, and the choice to make the Guardians both menacing and composed of natural elements was a nice touch. Raptra’s wing feathers are made of autumn leaves and mighty pine trees sprout from Grak’s back – implying that these ancient beings are not necessarily the bad guys in this story. The artwork manages to blend grit with family-friendly cuteness. Although this is a battle game, the tone is never scary or grotesque – there is in-game violence but it’s never gory.
- Accessibility: Good. There were a few rules that I didn’t feel were well-clarified in the rulebook, but a quick look at the forums over on boardgamegeek.com cleared up my questions. Other than those outliers, this game is very easy to learn and teach. The actions are spelled out on the cards and player mats. The symbology is quite good although I would not recommend it to kids much younger than typical reading age (the box says 8+).
- Components: Good. Although the card weight is a bit lacking, the rest of the components more than make up for this. The wooden meeples are stunning – especially the giant, chunky Guardians but the Foxen meeples have their own charm as well. The tokens in the game are made of wood and plastic instead of cardboard chits. The game box and storage are especially well-done. All the necessary cards and meeples are stored in cardboard boxes that fit snugly into the gorgeous, plastic insert that comes standard with the game.
- Replayability: Good. Asymmetric games tend to be high on replayability and Skulk Hollow is no exception. There are 5 different factions to choose from. Although one person will always need to play as the Foxen Heroes (who pretty much play the same each game, despite being able to change leaders), they can and should adjust their strategy to counter the different Guardians’ playstyles. The map board does not change, but an additional board is added to the game to represent the Guardian’s body, allowing the Foxen to leap onto them and remove ability functions from the Guardian. And each Guardian is slightly different, allowing for different strategies to be deployed.
Tabletop Mom’s Opinion
Skulk Hollow is one of the more unique games in my current collection. We don’t have a lot of 1 vs. 1 games with so much direct conflict so it stands out in that regard, but at the same time this game has a very unique theme and artstyle that really shines.
The presentation is top-notch. The box comes with 5 player mats, 5 game boards, 4 large hulking Guardian meeples, 10 Foxen meeples, 56 tokens and power cubes, 85 action cards, and much more. All of this is all snugly tucked away in a beautiful box with a fantastic insert. The Guardian figures could have been large plastic miniatures but I don’t feel that would have been true to the nature of the Guardians. Their illustrations show them being heavily integrated with nature, so having them represented with oversized wooden figures seems like the right choice.
Gameplay itself is pretty straight-forward. Each player will have a deck of cards, most of which have 2 actions to choose from. These actions are typically some form of directional movement, a type of attack, or an ability to gain power cubes. Players also have the option to use an action to discard 1 card and draw 2 more, which can come in handy when you need to go digging for the perfect card.
Despite the simple ruleset and ease-of-teach, beginner and younger players will be at a disadvantage against experienced players. Fortunately, the game designer took this into account and built in an optional, customizable handicap. Ancient Relic tokens are included and there is an option to give them to the less-experienced player. These can be turned in to grant free additional actions, which are very powerful in this game.
Because of this optional handicap, I can confidently recommend Skulk Hollow as a great choice for families. This one is wonderful for a kid-on-parent battle, as well as a weeknight spar between gaming couples. I have been having fun exploring this with my 9 year old son. I found myself holding back a bit when I play with him, but that is mainly because he is still learning the strategies and I have not chosen to implement the Ancient Relic handicap yet. I do think next time we play I am going to try giving him 3 or 4 ancient relic tokens and refrain from holding back. When I play with my husband, you better believe that neither of us hold back at all. It is a brutal, back-and-forth battle to the death – as it should be.
Gamers who don’t like direct conflict should be aware that this game is not a cutesy, friendly sort of game. You cannot hide in the corner, avoiding fights and still find a path to victory. Sure, there is a warm up period where players may spend time accumulating power cubes and deploying workers, but the map consists of a 3×3 grid so it’s only a matter of time before players are in each other’s space, stomping, roaring, shooting arrows, and stabbing toes. Guardians need to pick off the little foxes without feeling bad, and the Foxen will need to jump onto the Guardian’s legs to try to debilitate powerful actions. Players cannot shy away from this conflict. If that sounds like the type of game that makes you uncomfortable, Skulk Hollow is not going to be a good fit for you. But for gamers that enjoy that level of head-to-head combat, you will be in for a treat!
Battle games are not usually my style, but sometimes I am in the mood to play aggressively and I don’t think there’s anything more aggressive than leaping onto your opponent’s arm and stabbing it into dysfunctionality. And even if this is not the type of game I’m always in the mood for, I always have a good time when I play. My son adores Skulk Hollow and really has fun getting into the theme. He likes to make stomping noises when Grak is on the board, or screech like a wounded eagle whenever his Foxen Heroes take out one of Raptra’s wings. His face lights up when he is able to get some good attacks on me and that makes the game even more enjoyable. I am not always in the mood to play battle games such as Skulk Hollow but I will never turn it down if my son asks to play. And for that reason, this game will remain on our shelf for a long time!
Tabletop Mom Recommends this for those who enjoy a quick 1 vs. 1 battle game. This game is especially good to play with children who can handle medium-lightweight strategy games. Stick to the minimum recommended age of 8+ for this one. Players who do not like direct conflict in games should avoid this one.