Backwoods is a survival, bag building, skill acquiring, attribute leveling, co-op board game designed AND illustrated by Ryan Williams, published by Most High Designs. It’s 1830 and you are exploring the Rocky Mountains, things take a turn for the worst and you become lost in the… Backwoods! It’s your job to make it back to the fort, where things are safe and sound. Until you make it back to safety, you will explore, forage, craft, heal, fight, attempt to nourish yourself and deal with things that go bump in the night.
I originally came across this game while playing 7th Continent. I was really enjoying the survival/crafting aspects of it, but grew a distaste for finding and pulling cards 452, 343 and 123 every few minutes. I also didn’t enjoy playing for multiple hours across multiple play sessions just to die and start over. Backwoods was presented to me as a fast paced survival game with a small location deck to draw from. That sounded great to me, so I patiently waited for Backwoods to be delivered to backers.
In Backwoods you first choose a scenario and set up the event deck. Then, you choose an explorer and trait, then decide if you want a companion with a special ability, or a flintlock pistol to scare away an enemy. Depending on player count, you receive a different amount of attribute points to spend on various skills and then you can be on your merry way.
Every game explorers follow a rondel of actions to complete the core gameplay loop, as seen above. Explorers always begin their game by exploring. Explorers can pass a scouting check by rolling a D10 and adding their fitness skill points to the total, if they have 8 or greater they succeed and gain a recon token that can help them survive multiple different ways. After explorers grab their token, a location is revealed and placed next to their current location orthogonally. Even if explorers fail their skill check, they can still go to a new location by going in blind. Explorers can move up to two locations each explore round, but must stop if they reach an uncleared region.
After exploring, explorers forage, this is where the bag building happens. Explores are given opportunity points to spend different ways for a job well done, one way to spend them is in the bag creation, putting whatever type of tokens you want into the bag to draw later. Need water? Put in some water tokens for 1 opportunity point! It costs 2 opportunity to draw from the bag.
Healing and crafting is next in the action sequence, hopefully explorers pulled some good recipe ingredients from their bag in the previous round, if they did players can look through the entire item stack of cards and see what they are able to craft. During this downtime they can also heal by passing a Survival Heal check done the same way as scouting.
Next is the Event phase, draw a card from the event deck and deal with whatever comes your way! Typically you will have to fight something! Combat begins with any keywords on the enemy, poisoning you, or immediately attacking you, unless you are prepared. The enemy attacks first, it automatically hits, but there are ways for explorers to mitigate damage. Next it’s the explorer’s turn to deal damage by passing combat check, performed the same was as other skill checks.
Finally, it’s time to eat and drink. If you do not have food you lose health, if you do not have water, guess what? You lose more health. After you are hopefully content from a hearty meal, it’s time to deal with the night deck full of…surprises, then the round concludes with the twilight phase where explorers possible gain health and opportunity points to spend later. If the explorers are still alive, the cycle continues until they find safe haven back at their fort, finding refuge from the Backwoods.
Art and Graphic Design
I would like to start with the player boards, the standout piece to me (I have the deluxe version) They are double layered and are simple and clean, while providing all the information and reminders you need. My favorite art goes to the location cards and the box itself. The location cards remind me of the stylings of Van Gogh. Some art doesn’t hit as well for me, but I do appreciate that there is just enough of a visual on most cards to help you picture what the item is, while letting you fill in some blanks in your head of the scenes playing out on the cards. The rondel action board doubles as a player aid and I think it’s great. The rulebook theming is brilliant (see above) but I had a few head scratcher moment while reading it. The designer later released a video addressing my specific question, so no complaint there, but I hope other Backwoods gamers are able to find the video to clear up any confusion. Some things aren’t polished, but this is one man’s passion project and it’s the true essence of what a Kickstarter game should be.
Misc and Solo Thoughts
First and foremost I appreciate that NO core rules are changed to play this solo, the only things that change is enemy health and the amount of attribute points received at the beginning of the game (it varies for all player counts.) I did end up playing this game two handed, as I have started doing with all my games (Arkham/LotR LCG) but It’s fun both true solo and two handed.
The faith track is one of my favorite parts of the game and I haven’t even talked about it yet. The faith track really acts as the magic in the game, you can banish enemies, conjure food and even resurrect the dead. You have to spend opportunity to level up on the faith track, so that means your bag may not be chock full of those supplies you need so badly, so that choice is up to you.
The explorer and trait you choose at the start of the game really drives your experience, they each drastically change the way you play. You really need to capitalize on any bonus you get, making the best engine you can with whatever you are given. The difficulty level on this game is high, but lets be real, it’s a survival game. I’m ok with a difficult game, but I think the fact that the event deck is fixed helps this game. Each game you always put in certain event cards in a certain order, depending on the scenario. This helped me prepare for those dang owls, snakes and wolves that would be coming my way, each with their own challenges. It gave me a sense of progression as I die but inevitably get to the new event card.