When I first laid eyes upon the game box of Wolf & Hound, I was overcome by its adorableness.
I mean, look at that box.
JUST LOOK AT IT!
Closely tailing this adulation was a second wave of awed respect for how polished and well printed this game looked – especially considering it was independently developed. Then I opened the box and the adorableness took over once more. Just look at those adorable tiny fences and sheep minis!
I made the (somewhat) foolish decision to attempt my first game of Wolf & Hound at a board game day. Seemed like a no-brainer – board game day + new board game = success… right?
On the contrary, bringing a game whose rules you are yet to learn to a game day and trying to figure them out while sitting at a table occupied by impatient friends, eager to fill their rare day of freedom from adult responsibility with the fun of a new game… Well, let’s just say that some don’t take kindly to being read walls of rules text at such a moment.
Lucky for me, Wolf & Hound had my back. In just a few minutes, and with only a vague prior understanding of the game’s mechanics, we were all able to jump in and start enjoying it.
Wolf & Hound is a 2-4 player partnership game, meaning that you play co-operatively with the person sitting opposite you, while competing against the other pair at the table. The players take on the role of shepherds living in the French Alps, protecting their flock from hungry wolves who live in the nearby forest. The wolves will attempt to steal your sheep and players must use their reliable hound to find their lost sheep.
Gameplay is straightforward. Each player begins which a set number of (ADORABLE) sheep tokens. The first step of a player’s turn is to check for animal cards. If you begin your turn with the wolf card in front of you, one sheep is lost in the forest. If you begin your turn with the Hound, one sheep returns home.
After this condition is checked, the player chooses a card from their hand of four to play. Cards are either black (move the wolf) or white (move the sheep), and are numbered 1-4, indicating how many spaces on the circular board the card will move when played. The four spaces which the cards may occupy each sit in front of a player. The player who used the card then draws to refill their hand and the next player’s turn begins. If a player has no sheep in their pasture, their team loses the game. Or, if players exhaust the number-card deck, whichever team has the most sheep left wins.
But that’s just the beginning. Once you have a handle on these base rules, you can start to make use of the 24-card animal deck. Instead of using the base wolf and hound cards, which simply feature an image of their respective animals and move around the board normally, you may substitute in new combinations of wold and hound cards which move and react differently when number cards are played. This is where Wolf & Hound’s real strategy begins to shine. These, more interesting wolf and hound cards do things like targeting different players, move at different speeds, or even transform when certain conditions are met.
Each game of Wolf & Hound played with a new combination of animal cards feels new and fresh, making Wolf & Hound one of those rare games with true replayability.
Although primarily designed as a four player co-operative game, Wolf & Hound has been carefully balanced so that play is just as fun with two, three, or four at the table. ‘Dummy’ player rules often feel tedious or complex in tabletop games, but Wolf & Hound retains strategic choice and fun no matter how manner players are present.
There seems to be a tendency is board game design to equate game length to strategic depth. That is, a game that takes only ten minutes to complete will often be assumed to possess less strategy than something which takes upwards of ninety minutes. Wolf & Hound gleefully defies this preconception, delivering an experience which plays in around 15 minutes, but doesn’t skimp on strategy.
While the strategy that is present in Wolf & Hound is highly compelling, luck is also a factor, and bad hand draw can (occasionally) lead to what feels like a doomed round. However, the speed of the game means that things can turn around quickly, ensuring the game doesn’t become frustrating.
Complementing the fantastic game design of Wolf & Hound are its gorgeous visuals. Every surface of the game is linked by an evocative art style, and the production quality of all game elements is very high. Every time I played Wolf & Hound with a new group, the players were quick to comment on how much they liked the art style. The visuals strengthen the game’s theme and make for a more engaging and graceful experience.
Wolf & Hound is a gorgeous 2-4 partnership strategy card game developed and produced by independents to a standard high enough to match the quality I expect when purchasing a Mayfair or Rio Grande title. It makes for great family fun, but also easily makes the cut as something I’d bring to the table during a board game evening with friends.