Nils Finkenmeyer


No. of Players:
3 - 6

G@mebox Star



Although the theme of Robin Hood and his Merry Men seems rather suitable a background for an adventurous boardgame, I can remember less than half a dozen titles which were based on these famous stories in the last 20 years. One of the most interesting Robin Hood games was The Adventures of Robin Hood, an episode-based strategy game where the players were taking the roles of different factions trying to win missions with their characters and troops. This game had been released in Germany by the LAURIN VERLAG in the 1990's, and it was about the same time when other less remarkable titles like Robin Hood by Max J. Kobbert were released by RAVENSBURGER and other companies. However, as it seems the smaller German publisher EGGERTSPIELE has become fond of games with a medieval background, and after last year's interesting Im Schutze der Burg Peter Eggert now releases once again a game centered on the middle ages.

Whereas the title Sherwood Forest actually might suggest that Robin Hood will spy at the players from a branch of the next tree, he is nowhere to be seen in the game, despite the fact that his presence seems to be ubiquitous. Thus, the players have taken up the roles of outlaw leaders as heirs of Robin Hood, and they vie with each other to become most successful in robbing the different nobles travelling through Sherwood and donating the stolen money to the poor. So, each player starts the game with a minor gang of four outlaws and a meagre two bags of gold, and the gameboard depicting a part of Sherwood and some buildings at a neighbouring village is placed between the players.

The graphics of the gameboard and the included playing cards are rather accommodating, and although they are quite colourful these graphics create a rather good playing atmosphere which will captivate the players right from the beginning. As indicated, the gameboard shows a part of Sherwood, and here two crossing roads running East to West and from North to South are most prominent. At the points where the roads leave the gameboard signposts point to the nearest cities, and during the course of the game the players will uncover traveller cards which show travellers, their place of origin and their destinations. Thus, these cards determine on which routes the travellers will go through the forest, and the players will be able to position their outlaw figures in hideouts along the roads in order to try to ro b a wealthy merchant. Two major spaces are used for piling game components, and these are the Major Oak where each player places four additional, unused outlaws of his colour and the outlaws lair where all unused bags of gold are distributed. To finish preparations, two decks of traveller cards are shuffled (with the deck for the second phase of the game going below the deck for the first phase), and one deck of equipment cards also is shuffled and placed at hand. Finally, a number of cards matching the number of players plus one is taken from the deck of traveller cards and placed in a row alongside the gameboard, with all cards but one remaining face down.


In turn, the players now are allowed to position their outlaw figures either at village locations or hideouts in Sherwood Forest, but in his turn a player only may place figures at one such space. In fact, the village locations only can take one figure per turn, whereas a player can place as many of his remaining outlaws at a hideout as he desires. The village locations offer beneficial actions for a player, so that he may hire a new outlaw at the Market, buy an equipment card at the Store or examine the front-side of a face down traveller card at the Inn. All these actions must be paid for, but instead the money also can be taken to the church, and here it can be exchanged on a one-to-one base for victory points. As a matter of fact, a player even is obliged to make such an exchange if he has more than four bags of gold, since too much wealth would be inappropriate for a generous outlaw leader.

However, whereas the Village is the place where the players gather all the needed ingredients for a successful holdup, it is the Forest where the real action takes place. Once all players have positioned their outlaws either on village or hideout spaces, the current round progresses to the second phase in which the different travellers one by one will take their voyage through the Forest. Starting with the player who was second to finish the placement of his outlaws and progressing clockwise, the players now chose one of the available outlaw cards, reveal it and move a cute carriage figure along the road through the forest. Whenever the carriage passes a hideout with outlaws, the number of outlaws is cross-referenced with the defense strength of the travellers. When the number of outlaws is equal or higher, these outlaws are committed to rob the traveller, allowing the player to gain victory, to take bags of gold and / or an additional outlaw figure as indicated on the traveller card. Then the outlaws will be removed from the hideout so that they cannot conduct an additional holdup in the same round. If the travellers are stronger than the outlaws, the carriage will continue on its path (even leaving the gameboard in the indicated direction if no group of outlaws is strong enough), but a player with outlaws in a hideout also has an option to declare that he will use equipment cards in order to increase the strength of his outlaws so that the travellers can be robbed after all.

As you can see, timing is of great importance in the game, since a player may well have placed his outlaws for a bigger coup, but this might be spoiled if a weaker traveller card is chosen first and forces the outlaw group to come out of their hideout and to conduct the holdup. However, there are ample opportunities to use just this mechanism against other players, so that a good combination of the travelling groups can lead to quite unexpected results.

However, we have not yet talked about the masterpiece of the playing mechanism, and in case of Sherwood Forest a great possibility for interaction and bluffing can be found when the players try to coordinate a combined holdup. So far the explanations have been centered on each player conducting their holdups alone, and in these cases each hideout only may be manned with outlaws coming from just one player. However, especially in the second half of the game the travellers will get stronger (due to the two-part deck of traveller cards), and now the players will stand better chances to rob major groups of travellers if they combine their forces.

Thus, the active player actually may decide against manning a hideout all on his own, and instead he may invite his fellow players to join him for a collective raid. He will assume the role of the outlaw leader for making such an invitation, and he now may initiate a discussion between all players who might be interested to join in. This discussion may become quite interactive, since it may involve different elements like the number of outlaws a player should send or the question whether equipment cards will be used. All players taking part in this agreement then position the indicated number of outlaws at the agreed hideout, and if this group successfully robs a traveller the outlaw leader has to pass out the spoils fairly amongst the participants.

Additional suspense may be added to a discussion about a collective raid if a player possesses information about a face down traveller card by having sent one of his outlaws to the Inn. A player who possesses such information will take a special position as an informer if all participating players can agree on setting up an ambush for the travellers the informer had suggested. Now the informer will have to propose a splitting of the booty while still at the planning phase, and this proposition is part of the agreement and it is made purely on the knowledge of the informer. It will be acted upon if the indicated traveller card really should fall prey to that group of outlaws. Here the bluffing skills of the informer might be put to a test, since despite the fact that the number of victory points for each participating player is fixed it may well be that the informer might be able to get a disproportionate share of the gold and/or outlaws available as booty by withholding information about the real wealth of the traveller card he has suggested.

Tension between the players may be created by the fact that a player is not bound by a promise to use any of his equipment cards, and so the situation might arise that a wealthy but strong traveller card goes past a hideout manned for that occasion because a player refused to use a piece of equipment. The effect of this may well be that the travellers will run into an successful ambush initiated by the same player directly at the next hideout, and once again a good timing and bluffing skills may lead to a quite surprising coup.

Interaction also is strengthened by the use of Sheriff cards which are shuffled into the deck of traveller cards, since these cards actually will attack all outlaws lying in hideouts among their travelling routes. The Sheriff has a nasty strength, and all outlaw groups loosing against the Sheriff will be penalized by the loss of victory points and outlaws and will be sent back to their respective owners without the opportunity to conduct a holdup in the round. As you can see, information about an upcoming Sheriff card may be very valuable, since a player with such knowledge may send the Sheriff as a battering ram on a devastating path where the other players may have set up their outlaws waiting for a wealthy merchant.

Finally, the game offers some more strategy to the players by the use of three special equipment cards. Thus, food may be used to keep a group of outlaws in position to conduct a second holdup, a woodsman cape helps to hide from the Sheriff and Messenger clothes allow the sending of a traveller card to a new direction. All in all ample of opportunities to turn the progression of a round to a more favourable ending.

The game ends exactly after six rounds, and so the number of available traveller cards had to be adjusted accordingly before the game had started. As usual, the player with most victory points will have won the game, but to make up for the fact that no visit to the village is possible after the last round all bags of gold still in possession of the players will directly be turned into victory points. With this rule it becomes also visible that the Church space at the village is meant as a balancing hindrance to a wealthy player, since there is no possibility to loose gold and so there would be no real need to go to the Church because of the automatic conversion at the end of the game.

Talking about the Village locations, there is a bit of a lack of variety, since players are restricted by the compulsory donations so that they will often spend an outlaw to go to the Inn and another one either to purchase an additional outlaw or an equipment card. However, this is more than made up for by the rather interactive way in which the players try to work out cunning plans for a collective raid, and with a witty group of players these discussions can become rather entertaining.

Tension increases when the players leave the planning phase of a round and the traveller cards start to move, and here silent types of players who often are planning and strategy maniacs might be a bit disappointed because the game has some potential for instability. If discussions on combined raids go sluggish and players decide to act more on their own, the result of less available information will be that unexpected traveller cards turn up and may well rob such players of the fruits of their careful planning. The effect increases a bit with an increasing number of players, and it is also deepened by the fact that the order in which the players are allowed to chose traveller cards to activate depends on how fast everybody gets rid of his outlaws in the planning phase. So, strategy specialists might be angered by lacking control, but here it might be worth a try to allow each player only to activate one traveller card and to leave the last card behind for the following round. This way the players have a chance to increase their knowledge about the upcoming travellers for the following turn while at the same time trying their luck and discussion skills at the running turn.

On the other side the rules open up a great potential for players who like verbal interaction and are not afraid to wager on uncertain bargains. To my mind, Sherwood Forest leaves enough planning potential and control not to be put off by an occasional mishap, and a player has a good degree of control over his fate if he takes his chances and tries to outwit the others when planning a combined raid. Even more, it may be rather satisfying to see a major plan work out well, and especially the movement of the travellers and the rules for obligatory holdups in Sherwood Forest open up enough opportunities to pick on the other players. This allowedly takes a deeper understanding of the game mechanics and a bit of knowledge which cards might be expected, but such knowledge of the basic mechanisms can be gained through an introductory variant which is also included and which leaves out a few of the more sophisticated structures.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed Sherwood Forest exactly because it is not a mainstream product. Whereas the placement procedure with the outlaws might seem familiar from other modern games like Pillars of Earth, it becomes quickly visible that the game is rather innovative once the travellers start moving around. So, gather your bunch of Merry Men (and Women) and off you go!

Looking for this game? Visit Funagain Games!

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Copyright © 2009 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany