Fantasy Ranch

Fantasy Ranch

Fantasy Board Games LLC|  BGG

Designer: Keisha & Anastasia Swanlund
Publisher: Fantasy Board Games LLC
2 – 4 players 15 – 75 minutes ages 5+
MSRP $40

text-the concept

You started when you were young. Riding the trails, corralling horses through the wilderness, guiding them through shows and into camp to add to your herd.

Next, you bought a barn and a small patch of land – just enough for a few horses. Can you make your ranch into the talk of the town? With a lot of hard work and planning (and a little luck), folks will flock from miles away to admire the ranch and the beautiful show horses you’ve raised.

Fantasy Ranch is a collection of six horse-themed games enjoyable by a wonderfully wide range of players, whether you’re a greenhorn or a grizzled ranch hand.

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The production quality of Fantasy Ranch is top-notch. There is a double-sided main board along with dice and tokens. There are also six double-sided ranch boards. Each player receives a player aid/ranch mat with photos from an actual horse ranch.

Two elements will most likely produce oohs and ahhs when revealed: the horse cards and horse figures.

There are 57 small wooden horse figures in five different colors and patterns. They are ridiculously charming.

The 57 horse cards, each feature a lovely photograph and game icons representing the horse’s abilities and talents.

All these elements combine to create a beautiful tableau as the game unfolds. Don’t be surprised if someone stops the game to take a pic or two of their ranch.

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There are two basic game modes: Trail Ride and Fantasy Ranch. Each of these modes has a beginner, intermediate, and advanced set of rules, each one building intuitively on knowledge and experience from the prior.

Trail Ride has a roll-and-move mechanism at its core. You will move along paths to reach a camp space at the end. However, the goal of the game is to collect horses that will increase your score. There are spaces to buy and sell horses along the way. There are terrain features which may make moving more difficult. And there are show spaces along the paths that could allow you to collect resources and additional horses. As you move through the levels of Trail Ride, you unlock new ways of scoring your herd, providing some strategic decisions about which horses to collect.

Fantasy Ranch is played over five rounds. Each round, players will select one action: buy horses, buy new locations on their ranch board, or collect six resources. At the end of a round, a horse show is held. Players will enter a horse in the competition, rolling dice based on the talents of each horse. Collect horses and build ranch locations that provide trophies to score points.

There are many gamerly elements added as you progress from level to level, including twist of fate cards that provide secret ways for you to score, hired hands that provide a temporary ability or bonus, and a deck of horse show cards that make the competitions change from game to game. There’s even an area control element added at the highest level, where control of ranch boards can shift from player to player depending on the size of your herd.

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Passion sets Fantasy Ranch apart. This game is the brainchild of two horse-crazy sisters, Keshia and Antastasia Swanlund. Their passion seeps into every aspect of the game, from the information on the horse cards to the detailed ranch profiles and the actual equestrian sponsors whose products are included on the board and cards. This isn’t crass commercialism; it demonstrates their deep connection to the subject which enhances the enjoyment of the game. You can’t fake this level of love and attention to detail. And you don’t have to be a horse nut like them to be pulled into the experience. If anything, their passion may inspire you to want to learn more about horses!

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I want to close by emphasizing the amazingly flexible game experience Fantasy Ranch provides in a single box. Name another game that can accommodate players from ages 5 through adult, giving each player along this spectrum an opportunity for a fun and challenging experience. You can tailor the game you want to play based on the players you have at the table on any given day or night. This is a rare and noteworthy achievement, and just one among many reasons you will rustle up a herd of Major Fun each time you play.

Written by: Stephen Conway

Special Note:

This review appears in the Fall 2019 issue of Casual Game Insider Magazine.

CGI publishes a wonderful selection of articles and reviews on a quarterly basis.  In 2019, a Major Fun review will be featured in the next several issues.

The Spiel, Major Fun and CGI share a common goal: opening doors to the wider world of play. We hope this cross promotion will invite more people into the game community.

Echidna Shuffle

Echidna Shuffle

Wattsalpoag|  BGG

Designer: Kris Gould
Publisher: Wattsalpoag
2-6 players 15-20 minutes ages 6+
MSRP $30

text-the concept

Echidnas, prickly cousins to the platypus, love to roam the forest floor. They often bump into friends along the way as they walk their well worn paths. What the echidnas don’t know is this. The insects of the forest ride them everywhere… like the bus or the subway! Better yet, echidnas are like spiny unaware Uber or Lyft drivers, picking up and dropping off passengers as they shuffle along.

In Echidna Shuffle, each player has three colorful insects they are trying to get home. Can you catch a ride on an echidna and help it shuffle through the forest to your home stumps? The problem is there are so many echidnas around, they often wander off course, especially when you get close to your bug’s home!

text-the components

Echidna Shuffle can easily make a case for being the cutest game in the universe.

One look at the ridiculously adorable echidna figurines and you’ll be smiling. You will want to hold them. And talk to them. And play with them like a long lost pet. OK… maybe that’s just me. But I don’t think so! They are irresistibly cute.

There are also lovely stumps and insect figurines in bright colors: butterflies and ladybugs, ants and bees, grasshoppers and beetles – a group for each player. plus a bug token and a pickup marker.

The game board is big and bright and two sided, each one displaying a different layout of forest paths. There are big arrows indicating the directions of the paths.

Last but not least is the number board and the custom echidna die. It is a 6-sided die, but it is numbered from 2-7 with tiny echinda feet as its pips.

To begin, each player will select a pickup space. This is where all your bugs will catch a ride from the echidnas. The player to your left will get to decide where to place your three stumps. This means your stumps will most likely be annoyingly far away from where your bugs catch a ride

text-the mechanics

Echidna Shuffle is a dice-driven pick-up-and-deliver game. It’s a race between you and your fellow players to see who can get all their bugs delivered safely to their home stumps on the board.

Directly and indirectly, the echidna die drives each turn. On your first turn, you roll the die and based on that roll, you place a matching token on that number on your number board.

Then you get to move the echidnas a number of spaces equal to the number you rolled.

You can move any echidna on the board. You can even move multiple echidnas. No one owns them. So any of the cute little critters are fair game.

If you land an echidna on your pickup marker, then one of your bugs catches a ride! Place it on the echidna’s back. The two pieces connect together beautifully.

But here’s the catch.

There are a LOT of echidnas and only a few open spaces along the forest path! In order to move an echidna, you must follow the arrows along the path AND the echidna must have an open space on which to land.

Echidnas won’t jump over or land on occupied spaces.

If this cardboard forest has a golden rule it’s this: if there’s an echidna in your way, you must shuffle it along to another space.

Thus begins your struggle to keep the flow of echidna traffic moving! In order to move the one echidna you really want to move, you may need to move several others on the board to clear a path.

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Balance, reluctant kindness and temptation to mischief set Echidna Shuffle apart.

Balance comes in the form of the number board. The echidna die is numbered 2-7. Over the course of two turns you will get to move echidnas a total of 9 spaces, guaranteed. If your first roll is a 7, you mark this with a token on your number board. On your next turn you do not roll the die. Instead, you move the number token down along the arrow to the space with the 2. This means you get to move the echidnas two spaces as though you rolled a 2 this turn. If I roll a 5 on my first turn, I know my next turn I will move 4. A 3 first? Then a 6 next time.

This brings balance to the game since you will never have to worry about always rolling low. A low roll one turn guarantees your next “virtual” roll courtesy of the number board will be high.

Reluctant kindness and temptation to mischief are always present on every turn in Echidna Shuffle. Reluctant kindness comes in the form of moving an echidna with someone else’s bug. It could even mean delivering another player’s bug to one of their home stumps! The board is so tight with traffic that sometimes the only way to help yourself is to help someone else, too!

Temptation to mischief is rooted in the same dilemma. When the echidnas are blocking your best path and you don’t have enough moves to get them out of the way, the temptation is always there to move echidnas with other player’s bugs along a path that might make it harder for them to get home. Sometimes the only way to help yourself is to mess someone else up!

This decision point  – to be kind and/or mischievous is there every turn. And each time the cute little creatures move, some people will cheer while others will moan. This keeps everyone engaged and part of the game.

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On the great board game Venn diagram in sky (it’s a thing, trust me) Echidna Shuffle sits at the intersection of beauty, balance, interaction and simple strategy. Each of these elements provides its own invitation to play.

Beauty in the wonderfully charming pieces.

Balance in the number board equalizing high and low die rolls

Interaction in the fact you will most likely help or cause mischief for other players each time you take a turn

Simple strategy in the surprising level of planning and forethought available to every player.

You can accept any of these invitations. Or all of them. And they all lead to different kinds of fun.

All this in a game clearly geared toward very young players. This is a game for children that can operate on many levels at once.

The kids can fall in love with the beauty and the interaction. The balance and planning may be lost on them, while the parents or older friends or siblings can find fun there too.

There are even variants to explore and plenty of ways you could nudge the game to suit the needs of your group.

Echidna Shuffle is delightful and charming. It is most definitely Major Fun and a great example of what a modern game for kids can and should be.

Written by: Stephen Conway

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