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Rescue Skiers, Take Part in a Creature Caravan, and Lead Your Village to Enlightenment

by W. Eric Martin

Adorable critters are a mainstay on the game market these days, sometimes taking on the mantle of humans to do human-type activities and sometimes maintaining their animal nature. Here’s a sampling of upcoming games that include components you want to cuddle:

• “Life in the mountains is hard. When the ground freezes, you can’t dig. When the crops freeze, you can’t eat. And when you have nothing to offer at the shrine, your whole family may face unspeakable misfortune. But still we plant, we build, we pray. We live in the mountains because the snow peaks are our home…”

That’s the setting for Snowcrest, a 1-4 player game from designer Philip duBarry that publisher Grail Games plans to crowdfund in 2024 for release in 2025. Here’s more:

Deep in the remote mountains of a snowy land, holy ones seek to rediscover powerful knowledge that has been lost for centuries. Not only are the ancient scrolls hidden, but they are said to be protected by magical beasts. Through offerings, meditation, and cultural development, they believe the knowledge may be revealed, then peace and prosperity will be restored throughout the land.

In Snowcrest, you lead your village and its monastery towards enlightenment. Control a unique faction of priests, farmers, and laborers. Build structures, tend the barley fields, harvest juniper from the forest, present offerings, become lost in meditation, and uncover the secrets of a bygone age. Overcome the monstrous guardians of this knowledge and bring peace and prosperity to the snowfields.

A mosaic of card parts

You can almost picture the ice crystals forming on the whiskers of their fuzzy snouts…

• Another game in which creature care is at the heart of gameplay is Creature Caravan, a Ryan Laukat design for 1-4 players that his company Red Raven Games crowdfunded in October 2023 for release in mid-2024.

Here’s an overview:

A new threat lurks in the land of Arzium. Ember zombies swarm from volcanic lands to the south, their charcoal bodies the walking hives of evil fire fairies. The closest haven is the city of Eastrey, where a powerful artifact protects the inhabitants. You must travel across the desert and the plains, over mountains and through red canyons, helping wandering creatures of every shape and size to the safety of the city.

In Creature Caravan, players build a card tableau of creatures while traveling through a magnificent and dangerous land. Players take turns simultaneously, placing dice on actions on their cards, moving their caravan on the map, and playing new creature cards. Players also compete to trade goods and rare coins in a shared market, search the mysterious white towers, and fight ember zombies as they travel. The game ends when one player reaches Eastrey. The player with the most points wins.

The game includes 134 cards, each with a unique illustration and combination of actions and abilities. Simultaneous gameplay allows one to four players to play together without increasing the game’s length, with the Wanderers expansion allowing for up to six players.

• In Safe and Hound from Benny Sperling‘s Roll and Write Revolution, with fulfillment via The Game Crafter, you flip the above formula to focus on animals — specifically, mountain rescue dogs — who rescue humans:

Safe and Hound consists of eighteen cards, with each card featuring one of five colors of skier, one of six types of trees, and one of three tools, as well as a scoring condition and a timer. Shuffle the deck, then deal fourteen cards into an inverted pyramid that starts five cards wide, with the lower cards slightly covering the higher ones; reveal three cards to set up the scoring conditions for this round, then place the remaining card aside.

Players each select an available — that is, uncovered — card, then whoever selected the card with the lower time value starts the next turn. After seven turns, the dogs have rescued everyone, then players tally their score based on how well the collected skiers match the scoring conditions.

After three rounds, whoever has the highest score wins.

John Jewell‘s Four Forests — which Gold Seal Games is crowdfunding through the end of February 2024 — mixes mythical creatures with the goal of collecting the right plants, thereby merging animals and nature in a single design.

Here’s how to play this 2-4 player game:

In Four Forests, players each take on the role of one of the Guardians of the Enchanted Forests. Prepare your forest for the arrival of various mythical creatures by planting vegetation that has specific appeal to each creature. Ensure that the creatures attracted to your forests are considered the most prestigious by secretly casting votes.

In more detail, the game lasts four rounds, and in each round, each player draws four plant cards, then takes four actions simultaneously:

— Cultivate: Place one plant card from your hand into your habitat.

— Harvest/Burn: Place one plant card from your hand face down next to one of the four creatures in play to upvote or downvote their appeal.

— Pollinate: Pass a plant card to the player on your left, while receiving one from the player on your right.

— Prune: Discard a plant card from your hand.

Your hand size increases by one plant card each round, and at the end of four rounds, you score cards in your hand and habitat. Reveal the cards in front of each creature to determine its prestige; if a vote card was played upside down, it counts as a downvote, lowering the value.

Score points for each plant card in your habitat and hand based on which creatures they appeal to. Whoever has the most points wins.

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