A Quest in an Enchanted Forest

I bought this game soon after it came out in the autumn of 1980 after seeing an article, by its inventor, in "Games and Puzzles" magazine. Two years later I was writing about it in my short lived column in my local newspaper, the Peterborough Standard. The piece appeared in the paper on Friday 11  November 1982. I'll let that article give you a flavour of the game and then I'll try to fill in a few gaps in the article.

The Mystic Wood Game box and components

Adventure down in the forest Peterborough Standard Cutting

A COUPLE of weeks ago I was wandering around the games area of John Lewis when I came across a lad reading the rules of 'The Sorcerer's Cave'. 'It’s a good game', I told him, and went on to explain that it is one of the few games worth playing solo.

Perhaps its only disadvantage is that it takes up rather a lot of floor space. That didn't worry him. He said he played most of his games on the floor.

I didn't tell him the other thing I have against the game: there is very little inter-action between players. Each player storms around a network of passages almost completely independently of the others, collecting treasure and companions and making a few enemies too, in an effort to get out alive and with the most points.

I told him that I preferred 'The Mystic Wood'. Both games were invented by Terence Donnelly and at first glance look very similar.

Both contain dice and four counters and a large and small pack of cards. The large pack in each case forms the 'board' and shows tunnels and chambers or paths and glades for the counters to move on. The small pack contains cards which represent the people. creatures and things that are found within the wood or cave.

'The Mystic Wood' is played like this. First the large pack of cards is sorted into two piles, one half the enchanted half of the wood and the other the earthly half. These are laid face down on the floor — or dining room table, if it's big enough.

There are three exceptions: two gates which are placed face up at opposite ends of the wood, and the tower which is placed in the middle.

Players then choose which knight they wish to be and take the appropriate card from the small card pack. The others are put face down in some convenient place. Each knight must enter the wood by the Earthly Gate, perform some quest and then leave by the Enchanted Gate. The quest is marked on the knight's card and each is different.

A player moves by choosing in which direction he wishes to move and, if it is unexplored, turns the card over and moves onto it. That’s when the adventure starts. Spells, artefact friendly and unfriendly creatures either help or hinder the player in his quest.

The beauty of the game is in the variety of interaction between players. They may joust, fight, trade and cast spells on each other. The way in which a sense of chivalry is conveyed is part of the charm of the game.

It costs about £6.50 and is for players from nine to adult. I recommend it as a light-hearted adult game. The box lid says it's for 2-4 players, but five knights are provided.

I have played it with five players and it works perfectly well. But it does demand more co-operative play, so I would not recommend it for highly competitive players determined to give their opponents no quarter.

Quite unchivalrous. anyway!

One of the things I failed to mention was that the cards that form the "board" are approximately 6"x4" and they are laid out in a 9x5 grid, so the board alone needs 36"x30" and more is required for the small cards that are held by the players. Hence the assumption that the game will be played, by most, on the floor rather than the dining room table.

A point Terence Donnelly makes in the article I read when comparing the Wood and Cave is that the Wood is "more truly a role-playing game than the Cave". This is because, in the new game you play as a single character seeking to increase your strength and prowess in ways that will help you achieve your quest. Whereas in the Cave you act as a god -like being directing how a party behaves. I probably also ought to have added that Terrence very much based the theme on medieval literary characters and it included one female knight.

Another thing I didn't get across in the newspaper review is how it is quite possible for players to get trapped somewhere in the wood and not be able to complete their quest. The competitive may just let rivals languish there and carry on to win, but it is every bit as likely that two players will get trapped and need to help each other out or even that a third player will need to release the trapped players in order to gain access to some vital artefact needed to complete their own quest.

There are things to complain about. The supplied dice are rather small and not of the best quality and the rule book is printed on paper of the quality of newsprint. But overall I love the game mechanics.

You may also notice that my photograph includes the Extension Kit that I acquired a little later. The kit adds a further 18 area cards that expand the wood to an 9x7 grid and include a further four special areas and 16 small cards that add two knights, one of whom is female, a new spell and 13 additional denizens of the wood. The Extension Kit rule book also includes a rule on how to handle a situation that can rarely, occur in the original game.

Whether the kit is worth buying is a moot point. The original game includes a number of blank small cards that you could use to create your own extras. It's probably only useful if you regularly want to play with more than four people or want to add more female characters.