Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Saturday 19 October 2019

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Skulk Hollow

Game: Skulk Hollow

Publisher: Pencil First Games

Designer:   Eduardo Baraf, Seth Johnson, Keith Matejka

Year: 2019

Skulk Hollow is a two-player, assymetric, head-to-head game from publisher Pencil First Games. For me, Pencil First are best known for their games Herbaceaous and Sunset Over Water which boast gorgeous artwork and calming themes. Skulk Hollow is a very different beast. The cartoony artwork is incredible, but very different from what I've seen before from this publisher and the game is definitely not a serene experience.

The guardians of the ancient woodland of Børe have risen. They're literally rising from the ground, laded with trees, rocks and moss, taking on the Foxen race that have lived peacefully in the area. Reminding me of a scene in the movie Detective Pikachu, the Foxen characters are tossed into a battle with the gigantic guardians. What they lack in size, they make up for in cunning and numbers, mounting the guardians and firing arrows to try and take them down piece by piece. Only one side can continue to exist in Skulk Hollow.


At the start of the game players must decide on who will play as the brave and noble Foxen and who will be the towering Guardians, ancient titans who seek to maintain balance in the land. After choosing sides, each player will also have a choice of which Guardian/Foxen leader to use. The relevant guardian board is then laid out and the associated giant meeple placed on the board, while the Foxen player puts out their leader and the sentry to protect them. The Foxen then takes the first turn, with gameplay alternating until one of the end game triggers has been reached.

On a turn you will play a number of cards (typically 3 for Foxen, 2 for guardians), then draw your hand back up to its limit. Most cards have 2 actions on them, with each side (top and bottom) having a different set of actions available. The Foxen can add new troops to the board, move , ranged attack, leap (which takes the meeple off the main board as they scale the guardian), melee attack (they must be on the guardian) and gain power. Power lets them use extra actions on future turns. Guardians are a little more complex, and while they can also move and (usually) gain power, each individual guardian has a unique move set. Expect a healing ability, a pair of attack options, a way to manipulate Foxen location and a way to get the darn things off your back!

A game of Skulk Hollow typically ends when either the Foxen leader or the guardian has been killed. The Foxen leader has a small amount of health, but cannot (typically) be hit if it has allies around it. The guardian has a huge amount of health, but it becomes less effective as it is damaged, since its abilities are slowly shut down by the attacking Foxen. In addition, each individual guardian has a bonus objective as a way to win the game. For example, Grak, the first guardian you should play with, doesn't have to focus on the Foxen leader as they consider it a win if they simply kill enough Foxen!

Fi’s Final Thoughts

Skulk Hollow really epitomises an asymmetric game for me. I've not played Root or Vast (yet!), but from what I've heard about their asymmetric gameplay and win conditions, Skulk Hollow could almost be a little brother to those games. Both players play by the same rules, but their deck of cards has completely different mechanisms and their win conditions are completely different too. I love how each guardian character has a totally different style that causes both players to think differently. What it does mean though is that what you learn when playing the Foxen against Grak isn't really applicable to a different Guardian. In my first game against Grak, I played too many weak troops and lost when Grak killed them all, even though my leader was safe. In my next game, the number of troops I played was irrelevant, and in fact more troops could be an advantage. I think that particularly for the Foxen player, there's a steep learning curve to every guardian, so repeat plays of Skulk Hollow will be really rewarding. With four guardians in the box, there's so much scope to keep digging into the game and not get bored.

Skulk Hollow has a hugely endearing theme that really comes out in the game - the actions feel intuitive for each type of character you're playing and that means that I'm not agonising over a long term strategy, like you might want to in other two-player combat games. I'm just playing for each turn and that's really refreshing. The thee is, of course, carried by giant meeples, fantastic artwork and a little tuck-box for each character, giving you their backstory if you want to really get into the game. We enjoyed playing this together as a couple a whole lot, but I can see a fantastic parent and child market too because of the stories you can tell in this world. Heck - there are even colouring sheets available!

Of course, the key to any asymmetric game is balance, and although we're yet to see the Foxen player win, I'm convinced it's possible once you get to know the moves of each Guardian. Every game, we've noticed that the guardian initially feels overwhelmed and like it takes two of their turns to overturn one turn from the Foxen player. But then the guardian gets the perfect hand of cards to execute a killer blow. It's great to see such a tense balance and also makes it feel like a well fought game, even when you lose - which is much less miserable than my typical experience in 2-player combat games.

Skulk Hollow is a great introduction to asymmetric games and I'd highly recommend it for families and gamers alike.

Amy’s Final Thoughts

Sie Sind Das Essen Und Wir Sind Die Jäger. Oops, sorry, wrong franchise. But only just! If Skulk Hollow felt any more like Attack on Titan or Shadow of the Colossus then we would be looking at law suits. But instead of a varied band of anime characters with inexplicable powers, cool swords and plot armour we have Foxes. Cute medieval Foxes! But their task remains the same, to fight against an unbelievable huge monster who threatens their very existence, climbing over its back like ants trying to find a way to bring it down. Against them stand the Guardians, hulking monstrosities who want nothing but destruction to prevent the destruction of their natural habitat by this new invasive species that chops down trees and carves up rock for the sake of 'civilisation'. This isn't just a game of heroes slaying monsters, there's nuance!

But don't worry, there's still 50ft tall titans who can often wipe out half a dozen creatures in one fell swipe! But it's not as easy as just playing a card and wiping out your enemies. Movement is incredibly important in Skulk Hollow, and it's also incredible limited. While the guardians might be able to do incredible damage they need to be in the right place. and since the Foxen typically get more actions in a turn a good Foxen player will rarely be in the right place. It all works to feel so thematic. Of course the scurrying swarm of foxes get to act more often than the hulking creature made of animated rock. and Of course when that creature swipes it kills most Foxen in one hit. Its fists aren't just they size of boulders, they are literally actual boulders!

With all this theme balance hasn't been left my the wayside. Playing as the guardian you feel powerful, but as the Foxen slowly cut off your moves they can start to get the upper hand. Which means they can take risks as they now know your laser vision is shut off. However, you are always only a mending card away from turning your laser eyes back on and frying up some foolish Foxen. Then why take the risk? Well, the Guardian's bonus objectives give them a second way to win which forces them to. Either acting as a time limit, or a threat that can't be completely ignored. It all works together to create an elegant 2-player asymmetrical combat game which isn't too complex. Overall Skulk Hollow is epic. Epic in scale, in quality with the mega meeples for the guardians looming over the battlefield, and in scope with the 4 different guardians of varying complexity. Some may find the gameplay relatively simple, but I find that to be a great thing, it lets you worry less about the mechanics, and more about the tactics of the assymetric combat! This is certainly a game worth putting on your radar!

You Might Like...
  • Skulk Hollow is a 1vs1combat game that has a lower level of confrontation than most.
  • The bosses are massively thematic, really adding a lot of flavour to the game.
  • The game rewards repeat plays, as you get to understand the specific moves of each boss deck.
You Might Not Like...
  • Our experience has been that it's harder to win as the Foxen player, at least in earlier games.
  • If you don't like confrontation in games at all, then Skulk Hollow won't be for you.

The Verdict
8/10 Skulk Hollow is a rare two-player conflict game that we love! Each game is fast and full of theme with a real tussle to try and squeeze a win. With the four guardians in the box, there's a huge amount of game and variety in this small box and it's one you could really get deep into and become expert at. The fantastic art and production take it to another level too, making it a really brilliant package!

Skulk Hollow was a review copy kindly provided to us by Pencil First Games.

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