In our search for the best family-friendly gift ideas for the holidays, The Adventures of Robin Hood, published by the likes of KOSMOS and 999 Games, stood out to us as a fantastic option for those who enjoy narrative-driven board games that offer a rich experience despite a lack of complex rules. Here’s why we liked it so much.
The Adventures of Robin Hood caught our eye for a number of reasons. Not only are the tales of Sherwood Forest fuel for the imagination due to the many incarnations in which we’ve seen them, this particular game has also been gathering its fair share of awards and nominations since its initial release last year. Designed by Michael Menzel, it’s a cooperative board game where you either win or lose as a group – which of course by itself is a great attribute for a game to play over the holidays.
The game was designed to be played by two to four players, typically lasts about an hour, and the recommended age is 10+, though with a bit of help in the reading department we can see younger kids enjoying being involved with this one as well. It’s narrative-driven and will capture their imaginations, and features a few unique elements that make it stand out from most board games out there – one of them being the novel movement mechanics of the game.
For each character you play as, you’re given five color-coded wooden pieces – Robin is, of course, green. Two figures are standing up, the other three have various lengths – and you lay these figures out on the game map to denote where you want to move next. You can use all pieces or just a few and you can’t move over obstacles on the map, but it’s a great way to give players some freedom in their adventure as they traverse the map.
That map is an eye-catcher itself – with doors that resemble (the now very seasonal) advent calendars. Over the course of different rounds, these doors act to reveal surprises or rewards, or they might change the dynamics by being replaced with a different tile. With a ton of these doors and tiles, there’s a real sense of discovery to playing The Adventures of Robin Hood, and kids especially seem to love turning over these tiles and opening these doors.
Also included is a hardcover book that acts a bit like the books you get with most TTRPGs, telling you story elements and guiding you to the next scenario – only in this case it’s a much more streamlined and accessible form geared towards younger and less experienced players, even those who have never played a TTRPG. With sections that relate to the various numbered pieces on the map, it might seem daunting at first, but the learning curve is very gentle and the core rules are simple. A cloth bag holds color-coded chips that correlate to the characters that are in play, and drawing one tells you which character moves next – either towards a numbered spot or an enemy confrontation. The book guides you through the former, while combat is a matter of drawing cubes – giving you three chances to draw a white one or lose and skip a turn.
Drawing a violet chip makes enemy units move and adds more violet cubes to the bag, making your chances in combat slimmer – though you can even the odds by not using all of your movement pieces during a turn, adding white cubes again. You can’t just take it easy and “refuel” on white cubes though, as drawing a red chip means that time moves forward and people gradually lose hope when that happens, and to make matters worse this is also when your units get captured if they’re near some guards and not hiding in the shadows.
That, in two paragraphs, is essentially how you play The Adventures of Robin Hood. You’ll learn some of the nuances as you play, but it’s never overwhelming even though you’re constantly being given impactful decisions to ponder and exciting scenarios to win – the latter because of the excellent writing in the book that comes with the game. There’s a risk versus reward dynamic in the board game itself (especially in the mechanics for movement), and the way the stories are written makes this come across very well.
Luckily, perks are gained from (of course) robbing the rich and taking out guards. With a bow you can take guards out without having to move close to them, and gold means you get to take an extra turn – allowing you to cross the gap to the next shadow-rich area. The rewards that come from taking up challenges mix up the gameplay, while also giving you an extra incentive to take risks and beat the built-in timer.
How accessible the game is also means that you can lose a round based on the (bad) luck of a draw, but luckily the writing is of such high quality and there are multiple ways of approaching each goal you’re given, making the idea of jumping right back in very tempting indeed. As a narrative-driven game it’s hard to replay the game with the same sense of surprise (from a story) perspective as the first time you play, but the multiple routes definitely add replay value and we reckon it’s fun to bring someone new into the game on a subsequent playthrough and have them go through the twists and turns of the scenarios as well.
As a gorgeously designed game (you can spend minutes just exploring the map before even starting the game) and an extremely well-written narrative, this one’s an easy recommendation if you’re looking for a game to play together with the family over the holidays. A fantastic experience, well worthy of the accolades it’s gotten.
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