Welcome! For a lot of gamer out there, we might not have a large group of people that we can play with on a regular basis. For many of us, our main gaming partners are our significant others or our children or our roommates or a co-worker or… well, you get the drift. Whatever the case may be, often times we find ourselves sitting across the table with just one other person with nothing to do. In this series of articles, we will be turning our focus on some great 2-player only games that can fill that void!
The Big the Bad and the Ugly
Skulk Hollow is a two player game designed by Pencil First Games and is going live on Kickstarter today! They are the minds that brought you other hits like Sunset Over Water, Herbaceous, and Herbaceous Sprouts. PFG are well known for being able to take varied art styles and the most abstract of themes to produce a gem that you will keep in your collection for a lifetime. Skulk Hollow is shaping up to be no exception to this rule. This game falls into the much appreciated niche of the exclusively two players game. As such it is optimized for tight, close matches where each decision matters. While the art for Skulk Hollow may be light and colorful, the gameplay and setting are anything but.
Theme is King
Skulk Hollow is set in a kingdom on the brink of annihilation. Slumbering guardians, forged at the dawn of creation, have begun to awaken. You play as either the Foxen Kingdom attempting to defend their home, or one of several Guardians seeking to defeat the Foxen leader (or accomplish their own unique objective). The theme drives the game and intensifies the tension between the two factions.
How Does One Skulk in the Hollow?
Skulk Hollow plays over a series of alternating rounds between the Foxen and the Guardian players. In every game, the Foxen have one win condition while the Guardian has two; the attention of each faction nicely. While the Foxen only have to track one unit, they have to watch for the Guardian player on two separate objectives. Meanwhile, the Guardian has to deal with a swarming army but there is no doubt what objective they are working towards. Each player in Skulk Hollow uses a hand of cards to perform actions unique to their faction. Most cards have two actions each that you can choose from. You may perform as many actions as you have allowed actions for your turn and cards in hand.
You Gotta Know When to Hold‘em
In Skulk Hollow your cards allow you to do everything from move your units to heal or attack. Properly managing your cards and knowing when to use what card is the key to success. The number of actions allowed varies for the Guardians but, the Foxen can perform 3 actions each turn (a maximum of 3 cards from their hand). While the Foxen can only play 3 cards they do have another trick up their sleeve. The Foxen, and certain Guardians, are able to play cards to gain power cubes which can be stored and used in later rounds. This means you can spend an action now to have even more actions on a later turn. This is particularly useful for the Foxen heroes as they can gain a bunch of power to have explosive turns with an unprecedented amount of actions.
I love the way Skulk Hollow manages hand size, there is none. At the end of your turn you will always draw at least one card (and possibly more if you are under five cards). This gives you some interesting choices. Should you spend a turn simply preparing by drawing cards so that you will be ready no matter what in later rounds, or should you keep moving forward? This action economy choice is very important as it forces you to choose when to rest and when to rush ahead.
An Asymmetric Paradise
One of the things I love about Skulk Hollow is the replayability. For me, this is one of the factors that can turn an okay game into a great game across the board (pun intended). A game that offers variety and variability becomes more appealing to me due to the new match ups it can offer; and Skulk Hollow does a great job of this. In the demo copy there were several Foxen leaders, all with their own health and unique skills to offer, but the Guardians are where Pencil First really hit a homerun. Each of the several Guardians all had very different win conditions as well as a unique deck of cards that gave them a very distinct feel and flavor. These compounding layers of asymmetry give Skulk Hollow a great deal of value and make it very special.
Skulk Hollow plays with the intensity of a skirmish game on a beautiful map that carries an artistic tone similar to Root or Everdell. Everything about the game, from the double board feature to the variety of units you can play, feels innovative and well thought out. I always felt like I was playing an homage to one of my all time favorite video games, Shadow of the Colossus, which is a very good thing. I love the dichotomy between the two factions and how distinct each one plays. Being optimized for a 2 player count means the games play tight and close to the wire almost every time.
I will say there is a bit of a learning curve and a player who “knows the ropes” could rough up a new challenger pretty handily. The game has a system in place for that but, still, the skill gap can be felt in this one from time to time. The other notable thing is this game is not “nice.” You must be merciless in your attacks or you will fail. While that doesn’t bother me, I can understand that some may find it a bit too cutthroat since it’s all head to head. All in all, I really enjoyed my time with Skulk Hollow and I am glad I had the opportunity to play such a unique and fun game.
Category: 2 player, Head to Head
Pros: Unique, Asymmetrical, Table Presence, Short Game Time
Cons: Skill Gap, very “take that”