I very rarely play solo games. Even board games with solo modes rarely get me to the table. But For Northwood! is a fantastic exception. This solitaire game illustrated with adorable forest animals wearing top hats and monocles is an extremely challenging trick-taking game with a ton of variability. It even has a campaign mode right out of the box. Instead of the typical combat and aggression, For Northwood! is a game themed around conversation and negotiation; it’s about bringing animal fiefs together. Tranquil on the surface, it becomes incredibly puzzling and tense as play continues.
To start, separate the deck of cards into three portions: the Ruler cards, the Fief cards, and the Playing cards. Take the Fief cards and arrange them in a row going from 0 to 7 (you’ll use the 9th card as a pointer to denote which Ruler you’re currently engaging, but more on that in a minute). Shuffle the Ruler cards and begin distributing them; the first Ruler of each suit is placed in a row between you and the Fiefs, making up your set of Allies. Subsequent cards of a suit already placed in your Allies row are placed on the leftmost available Fief, and the rest of the rulers are removed from the game. Shuffle the Playing cards, deal yourself 8 of them, and you’re ready to begin.
After looking at your cards, you need to determine which Ruler you will engage in conversation. Each Fief has a number denoting the exact number of tricks you’ll need to win in a given hand in order to win over that ruler to your cause. Once you’ve made your decision, you can begin the conversation.
The first decision to make in a round of conversation is if you’ll tap one of your Allies in order to use their special ability. These powers manipulate your hand, the discard pile, or the score pile to help ensure you collect the exact number of tricks you need to win. Once you’ve decided to use (or not use) an ability, it’s time to start working on tricks. Play is simple: flip a card face up from the Playing cards deck and play it into the discard pile to the left of the deck.
When a card is flipped, you must play a card from your hand that matches the suit (Eyes, Flowers, Paws, or Leaves) of the flipped card, if possible. If you don’t have a card of the same suit, you may play any card you wish. If you play a card of the same suit you flipped over and your card is of greater value, you win the trick and can place the card you played in the score pile to the right of the deck, leaving the other in the discard pile. You’ll notice that each Ruler has a favored topic of conversation: their suit. If you are forced to play out of suit to the flipped card, and instead play a card of the Ruler’s suit, you win the trick regardless of the value of either card.
When you run out of cards, you must check to see if you have won the exact number of tricks required by the chosen fief. If you did, then you have won the favor of that Fief’s ruler. Slide the Ruler card down to cover the trick target number revealing the number of Stars that Fief is worth (Fiefs on the extreme trick target values are worth more Stars than Fiefs with middling target values). If you failed to take the correct number of tricks, flip that Ruler over on their Fief; it is now out of play for the rest of the game and you cannot earn Stars for it.
Now, shuffle the Playing cards and repeat play as described for each Fief, with one exception: if you have earned the favor of a Ruler, you may, for a single hand, use that ruler’s ability instead of the ability of one of your Allies. Once a Ruler has been used in this way, it cannot be used again in this game. Otherwise, play repeats until the Rulers of all Fiefs have either been won over or lost. Total all of the Stars you’ve earned to see how well you performed. The more Stars, the better!
As for the components, it would have been very easy to produce this game with standard quality cards and basic artwork. The game itself is good enough to neglect aesthetics. But For Northwood! has really cute artwork, and the best cards I’ve ever played with. Instead of cardstock, these cards are made with PVC. They shuffle beautifully, are durable, waterproof, and easily cleaned if the table you’re playing on isn’t the cleanest or someone spills something. The box it comes in is extremely thick cardboard, so it travels incredibly well. I have a number of card games with similar components at a similar (or greater) price point that are nowhere near as high quality (I’m looking at you, Scout). For Northwood! can very easily be taken to a café or to work so you can get a quick game in during a break.
If you’ve never thought to add solo games to your collection, give For Northwood! a shot and it just might win you over, too.
Designed by: Wilhelm Su
Player Count: 1
Playtime: 20 minutes
Time to Learn: 5 minutes
Written by Brendan Quinn, President of Tri-City Area Gaming. We’re out in the world again! Come play games with us at any of our regular monthly events.
All the links for Tri-City Area Gaming: tcag.carrd.co