Walking the Black Forest With Jack Reda

The premise of Black Forest plays out a bit like a movie:

Germany, 1772. Dusk. A group of farmers return from their fields as the sun sets into the forest behind them. They talk about crops, harvests, upgrades to their tiny town center. Stars flicker in the twilight. A wolf howls. The farmers pay it no heed.

They should.

Black Forest is a game about worker placement, werewolves, and more, brewing together several disparate mechanics and setting them to a classic horror theme. Designer Jack Reda was able to answer a few questions about his ambitious project. I’ll let him take it from here.



Seeing The Forest For The Trees

Cardboard Republic: Can you give me a brief overview of Black Forest for players who haven’t seen your Kickstarter yet?

Black Forest is a board game that involves worker placement, card drafting, and a hidden traitor. Players are ostensibly working together to improve their 18th century village in the hills of Black Forest Germany and prepare for the harvest every spring and autumn. However, one player is secretly controlling werewolves, working against the other players. The game is designed for 3-5 players and plays in about one hour.


CR: Let’s talk about the werewolf first. There are a bunch of ways that the werewolf can achieve his goal of thwarting – and eating – the villagers. Can you describe how the werewolf protects his identity? How does giving the werewolf so many strategies help him to stay hidden?

black forest werewolfThere werewolf player must appear to be making moves in the Day phase that seem to be helping the village or “protecting” his or her Villager tokens from werewolf attack, while at the same time doing as much damage in the Night phase as possible.

Not only does the werewolf player get to attack the others and eliminate their Villager tokens, but he or she can disrupt the village’s economy. This combination of moves is key to allowing the werewolf to win. Like the other players, the werewolf should be actively hunting for the identity of the werewolf (by visiting the Seer, for example). The werewolf’s investigation slows down the other players’ progress.

(Author’s Note: For more details on the werewolf strategy process, check out the Black Forest Werewolf Designer Diary.)


CR: Right. So the villagers, in addition to just surviving, must also figure out who the werewolf is. In a lot of hidden role / traitor games, this is a matter of deduction and discussion. Black Forest gives players a way of getting hints, though. Can you describe the Seer?

Some clues can be pieced together in the card drafting part of the Night phase, but visiting the Seer is a possible shortcut to answers about the werewolf’s identity. Each Day phase, one player may put a Villager token at the Seer’s space to have a “Vision” on another player. The Visions are based on a pair of icons each player has on his or her Role card. There are three different icons (a Hand, for humanity; a Wolf for lycanthropy; and Moons for paganism). Each icon appears on at least two different Roles. For instance, the werewolf has the Wolf and the Moons, but the Pagan role has the Moons and the Hand.

black forest seerWhen a player has a Seer Vision, he or she will get to know one of the icons corresponding to a player’s Role. There are four Seer Vision cards- one for each icon, but two copies of the Hand (since the Villager’s Role card only has two Hand icons on it).

The Seer Visions can let a player narrow down the possibilities of Roles, or outright eliminate a player from suspicion. It is for this reason that the werewolf will want to be the player having the Seer Visions on the others – so they can’t have them on him or her.

(Author’s Note: For more details on the villager strategy process, check out the Black Forest Villager Designer Diary.)


CR: We’ve talked about werewolves, but there are other roles that players take on. Can you describe them?

The base game for Black Forest has four different Role types: Villager, Pagan, Lycan, and Werewolf. The game will come with an extra Villager Role in a 5 player game, and an extra Werewolf for an advanced 5 player game. The Lycan is a villager with werewolf ancestry but does not attack the others, and wins with the other players if the werewolf is defeated. This role has the Hand and Wolf icons for Seer Visions, so if you see his Wolf icon when having a Vision, it doesn’t mean you’ve found the werewolf, but you know he is either the Werewolf or Lycan.

Just hanging around...

Just hanging around…

The idea for the Pagan Role is that the pagans in the village have had an uneasy existence with the others, but they still want to defeat the werewolf. However, if the players ever eliminate one of the pagan player’s villagers at the Court House (mistakenly believing her to be the werewolf), then the pagan switches sides and wins with the werewolf. Goading the players into voting for the pagan to have tokens eliminated at the Court House is another thing the werewolf player should hope to accomplish.

The Villager role has only Hand icons for the Seer Visions, so when you have a Vision on a villager, you at least know he or she is definitely not the werewolf.


On The Hunt

CR: The game’s been in development for over two years now, so I’m sure you played around with different numbers of each role. Why did you ultimately settle on one werewolf?

Since the objective all along was for Black Forest to be playable by a small number of players, having only one werewolf in the basic game is more than enough. The balance of the Roles (especially with the combinations of Seer Vision icons) is just right for 3-5 players. With several games of Black Forest under their belts, a group of five players can add in a possible second werewolf. There are other roles that were developed and will be ready for an expansion (or for stretch goals on the Kickstarter). The additional roles change up some of the ways the game is played, and can make things even more challenging.


CR: In many hidden role games, traitors (i.e. werewolves) have to balance how bold they are in their movement. Too cautious, and they end up losing. Too audacious, and they end up spotted. Is there any benefit to the werewolf in Black Forest to reveal his role?

black forest seer 2I think it’s very important for the werewolf to stay in the shadows for as long as possible. He or she needs time to pile up the Villager tokens eliminated by werewolf attack and limit the village’s accomplishments at the Harvest. The werewolf also wants to shift suspicion toward the pagan, if at all possible.

Revealing his or her role as the werewolf gives him or her another Werewolf Attack card for the Night phase (meaning up to three separate possible attacks), but it also means the Court House is instantly upgraded if it wasn’t already (thus one vote against the werewolf eliminates him or her completely). Such a move should be done only when it’s clear the others have figured things out, or if a big attack in the next Night phase can mean victory.


CR: Black Forest blends a lot of different game elements into one and features multiple ways to play both offensively and defensively. What kinds of players are you hoping to attract as your audience?

I think there’s no doubt that Black Forest is a game for gamers. While I think it will appeal to casual gamers as well, there are mechanics and a level of sophistication that the more hardcore gamer will enjoy. Black Forest has a bit of a Euro game feel to it, and also a good marriage of theme to mechanics. Even if Black Forest were fully cooperative, there is some challenge to achieving a successful Harvest time after time, but the hidden traitor makes it even more tense.


Planning For The Harvest

CR: On a practical level, there’s a lot of card dealing, drawing, and moving involved here. Do you have plans to help stave off wear-and-tear? For instance, what type of cardstock do you have in mind? If players sleeve their cards, will the cards still fit in the box insert?

My plan is to use very sturdy, thick cardstock for all of the cards in the game. The cards will need to hold up for all of the drafting in the Night phase. Sleeving the cards should not be an issue for those players who prefer to do so, since the plan is to have more than enough room for the cards in the box. The expansion will add more cards, and I intend to let players fit everything in the base box.


CR: Do you have plans to release the game in game stores / online? Is there a place that gamers can go get updates on the game if they miss out on the Kickstarter?

My hope is to see Black Forest available as widely as possible if the Kickstarter is a success. News and availability will always be tracked on our website and on BoardGameGeek


black forest cover

Black Forest is shoring up to be an interesting undertaking. By mixing a number of different mechanics into designing a game it is forcing its players to worry about multiple fronts. Will you have enough resources to make the annual harvest? Are the Seer’s predictions going to lead you to the right person? How long will it take to unmask the werewolf, and will it be too late?

Hey, no one ever said being a lowly villager was easy.

If you think that the idea of an asynchronous worker placement game appeals to you, then look no further. You can check out more about Black Forest over on their Kickstarter.


Photo Credits: Black Forest artwork by Jack Reda.