Thursday, December 22, 2005

Review: Geisterwäldchen (Ghost Grove)

Geisterwäldchen (Ghost Grove) is the sequel to the delightful award-winning children's game Geistertreppe (Spooky Stairs). It supports 2-6 players ages 5 and up. A game typically lasts less than 15 minutes.

In Spooky Stairs, players moved magnetic pawns up a haunted staircase. During the course of the game, their pawns turned into ghosts which all looked alike. Ghost Grove also involves magnets and ghosts but this time there is also a "giant dwarf" who helps the children through a haunted forest. Yes, I know that a giant dwarf is an oxymoron. Don't blame me, I don't make this stuff up. I just report it.

Ghost Grove shares a lot in common with its predecessor: the pieces and board look similar (it's illustrated by the same illustrator), the pieces have magnets in their bases, and there is a large die marked with ghosts on two faces and one, two or three pips on the others (two faces have three pips). This time though, the game is a little bit more strategic.

You begin your turn by rolling the die. If it shows a number of pips then you choose any child (pawn) and move it forward the number of spaces indicated. If the child reaches the space with the giant dwarf, then a magnet in the dwarf's base attracts a magnet in the child's base and they travel together as one unit. If any other children are already stuck to the dwarf then they move with it as well. This is a very clever mechanism which tends to clump leaders together and also ensures that the dwarf is always with the leader. It also means that it's possible for players to reach the finish in a tie (which can be a good thing in a kid's game).

There are a couple of ways that children can become detached from the dwarf. If the dwarf crosses the log bridge (about one third of the way along the path) any children attached to it fall into the stream and are washed back to the start. Also, if a player rolls a ghost then they must take one of the two ghosts in the game and cover a child, rendering it immobile. As in Spooky Stairs, children under ghosts look identical but, unlike Spooky Stairs, they can't move until the ghost is removed (usually by putting it on another child).

There is also a sunlit spot on the path about one third of the way to the finish. When the dwarf reaches that spot, all of the ghosts are temporarily scared away, freeing up all the children.

And finally, there's an optional, advanced rule where players get to move a ghost once for free. Deciding when to exercise this option can be quite important.

As I mentioned, this game is a little more strategic than Spooky Stairs. It may not always be best to be the leader. Sometimes it's better to move another piece instead of your own. And sometimes it actually makes sense to cover your own piece with a ghost. None of the strategy is too deep for a five year old, but the fact that it's there at all raises this game a step above your average child's game.

I quite like this game. It's got all the makings of a fine children's game: it's pretty, it's fun to play with the whimsical pieces, it's short enough that children won't give up on it half way through, and it's simple enough to teach to a five-year-old yet deep enough to hold an adult's interest. My kids loved it too. We played it several times today and they were shouting, giggling and groaning all the way through and then asking to play it again as soon as we finished. If you liked Spooky Stairs, you'll love Ghost Grove!


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