Skulk Hollow is a game by Eduardo Baraf and Keith Matejka, published by Pencil First Games. It is for 2 players. In this game, players take on the role of either guardian or heroes as they square off in a battle of monumental proportions. The guardian will be seeking to eliminate the vermin scuttling about it’s once tranquil domain, while the heroes will be attempting to vanquish the mighty behemoth that threatens their homes and way of life. In the end, there can be only one. The first player that is able to fulfill their win condition will be declared the winner.
To begin, players decide who will be the guardian and who will be the heroes. Once this is decided, the guardian player chooses a guardian. The hero player then chooses a leader. For first time players, it’s suggested to play Grak vs. the King of War. The guardian player is given the guardian player mat and a reference card. The hero player is given the hero player mat and a reference card. Each player places these in front of themself. The specific setup instructions for the chosen guardian are then followed. In the case of Grak, the player places the tribute token on the 0 space of their player mat. Any components for unchosen guardians are returned to the box. The Skulk Hollow map is now placed between the players in the middle of the table, angled so that the Lair space is in front of the guardian player and the Keep space is in front of the hero player. The corresponding guardian board is placed next to the Skulk Hollow map. The hero figures for the Sentinel and the selected leader are placed on the Keep space of the map, while the guardian figure is placed on the Lair space. The power cubes and wound tokens are placed near the map, along with the remaining hero figures to create the supply. The hero player places the unit cards for the Sentinel and their chosen leader next to their play mat. The rest of the hero player’s cards are then shuffled together to form the hero deck, which is then placed face down on the other side of their play mat with room for a discard pile. The hero player will then draw a number of cards equal to their hand size, as indicated on their player mat. This creates the hero player’s starting hand. The guardian player takes all of the cards for their chosen guardian and shuffles them together to form the guardian deck. This deck is then placed face down beside their play mat with space left for a discard pile. The guardian player will then draw a number of cards equal to their hand size, as indicated on their player mat. this creates the guardian player’s starting hand. Play now begins.
The game is played over a series of turns, with players alternating taking turns. Starting with the hero player, both players will follow a series of 2 phases, a Main phase and a Cleanup phase. In the Main phase, the player will take as many actions as their player mat shows. For the hero player, they may take 3 actions. For the guardian player, they are allowed only 2 actions. Players have 2 actions that they may choose from. They may play a card or prepare. They may also spend power to take extra actions. To play a card, the player simply places the card face up in front of themself. Cards come in 2 forms for the hero player, they can be unit cards or order cards. Unit cards, when played, allow the hero player to place a new unit on the board. First the player places the unit card in their play area and then takes the matching hero figure, placing it in either the Keep or one of the two Town spaces on the board. It should be noted, that when placing a hero figure, the player may not place a unit on a space already occupied by the guardian figure. Order cards are used by both hero and guardian players to give orders to their units or guardian figure. Most of these cards provide a choice between 2 actions. When one of these cards are played, the player must choose only 1 of the actions to take. This is can be a movement, attack or a special action, such as gaining power or, in the case of the guardian, using a special ability. Moving either a hero or the guardian, allows the player to move one unit from one space to an adjacent space, following the direction of the arrows on the card. Heroes also have a special movement called Leap, which allows them to move from the guardian’s ground space to the lowest location of the actual guardian. This is noted by a large arrow on the guardian’s board. If the hero is already on the guardian, they may use this Leap ability to move to another location that’s connected by the dotted line to the space their hero unit is already on. They can also use the Leap ability to move off the guardian and onto the guardian’s ground space. It should be noted that the guardian’s board has a limited number of spaces for units to attach themselves to. If the spaces are already filled up, then a new unit can not move onto that space.
Another action for heroes to take is to attack with either a melee attack or missile attack. Melee attacks allows the hero unit that is attached to the guardian to deal a wound to that particular location, placing a wound token on one of the empty spaces for that location. Archers may not use this form of attack. Missile attacks allow the hero unit to deal a wound to any location on the guardian. It should be noted that there are 2 types of Missile attacks; fire and hurl. Heroes with the fire ability must attack from a space surrounding the guardian figure. Heroes with the hurl ability must attack from the guardian’s ground space. Knights, Rogues and leaders may not use this form of attack. Once all the wound spaces on a particular guardian location are full, the special ability associated with that location is now disabled and can not be used by the guardian player. Guardian players have special attack actions that their cards may provide. To use one of these, the player simply follows the rules on the guardian player mat. This usually involves wounding either one of the hero units or the leader. If a hero unit is wounded, the player will place a wound token on an empty wound space of that hero unit card. If all the wound spaces are full, then the hero unit is eliminated. The hero figure is returned to the supply along with any power cubes on the card. The hero unit card is then placed in the player’s discard pile. Leaders are treated the same way, unless they’re banded with another hero unit. What this means is that they can not be wounded or affected by any guardian action. This happens if the leader is in the same ground space as another hero unit, or if they are attached to the same location on the guardian as another hero unit. Finally there is the gain power action. This allows either the hero or guardian player to gain a number of power cubes, placing them on their player mat into their pool. Power cubes are used to take additional actions without spending one of their actions to do so, more on this in just a bit.
The other action that players may choose to take is to prepare. To prepare, the player simply discards a card from their hand and then draws 2 cards from their deck. Even if the player has no cards in their hand, they may still use this ability to draw 2 cards, without discarding a card.
Earlier I mentioned spending power cubes, this is the third action that a player mat choose to take. To spend a power cube, the player removes one cube from their hero unit or the guardian to take an additional action that is available to that hero unit or guardian. The player does not have to play a card to perform this action. The spent cube is placed back in the supply.
Once the player has taken all of their actions and used whatever power cubes that they wanted to or are able to use, the player will then move into the Cleanup phase. In this phase, the player will allocate power and refill their hand. To allocate power, the player simply moves any power cubes in their pool onto an empty power space on one of their hero units or their guardian player mat. If there are no empty spaces to place power cubes, then they are lost and returned to the supply. Once this is done, the player will refill their hand. This is done by drawing cards from their deck until their hand is full, as noted on their player mat. If the player already has a full hand equal to their hand size, then the player will simply draw 1 card instead. Once this is done, play passes to the other player.
The game continues going back and forth with players taking their turns until one of the players fulfills one of their win conditions. The hero player wins once the guardian is eliminated, by filling all the wound spaces on the guardian board with wound tokens. The guardian player wins by eliminating the leader or by fulfilling the unique win condition of their specific guardian, as noted on their guardian player mat. The leader is eliminated once all the wound spaces on the leader’s unit card is filled with wound tokens. Whichever accomplishes their task first is the winner.
This is an absolutely gorgeous looking game. Needless to say, as soon as I opened the box, I was completely blown away. The artwork is just amazing and each piece is lovingly created to accent the gameplay in such a beautiful way. So just what all are we talking about here, well let me explain. First there are the thick cardboard guardian boards and the Skulk Hollow map. Each guardian has their own specific board that is a huge representation of that guardian, complete with all the details including the special ability sections and the ways to traverse along each one. When I say this artwork is beautiful, you’ll believe me when you see these boards. With these, you get a really good feel for the power of each guardian. The map, is the world board where the battle takes place. It’s double sided with one side having lines to divide each of the 9 areas, while the other side is line less. The different areas blend into each other on this lineless side. Of course even without the lines, it’s easy to figure out each of the different spaces. It’s just a little cleaner and more thematic. Next there are the player mats for each of the different guardians and the Foxen heroes. These mats are thinner, more like the thickness of a card. Each of the guardian mats has that same beautiful artwork as that of the guardian boards. The hero mat has pictures of the different heroes and their town. Both of these mats have explanations of the different abilities and actions available to be taken. These are great reference sheets for playing the game. Speaking of references, each guardian and leader has their own reference card, complete with artwork and the same references as are on the player mats. Each guardian and the heroes have their own special unique deck of cards. Each card has specific abilities and actions, as described in the overview, as well as some really great looking artwork too. The artwork is especially nice on the all the different unit cards for the Foxen heroes. Needless to say, there are some very nice looking cards here. Oh and each deck also has their own themed tuck box to keep everything together for each guardian and the heroes. This is a great extra finishing touch. I would like to note that there is a small misprint on one of the Raptra cards, but it’s nothing major. Simply remember that the card that shows gain power 2 in the top left, should also show gain power 2 on the bottom of the card, instead of only gaining 1 power. Finally there are the wooden pieces and the plastic power cubes. Each guardian has their own large guardian meeple that looks quite similar to the artwork on the guardian board. Each one of these comes with some special tokens that are used exclusively for that guardian. For instance, Tanthos comes with 6 root tokens while Grak has a tribute token. Each of these plays off the specific guardian and looks great when placed on the board. Meanwhile, the heroes have their Foxen unit figures. Each one is a different color and has a specific unit icon on it so that you can tell each one apart. There is a picture of this figure on the top left of each unit card in the Foxen deck. These are so cute! I love moving these guys around on the map, almost as much as I love the commanding presence of the guardian figures on the board. The game also comes with ancient relic tokens which are wooden bones that are used to make the game a bit easier for the hero players or can be used with the Ancient Relics mini expansion. There are also red wound tokens for the heroes and green wound tokens for the guardian. These are little broken hearts that are placed on the unit cards or guardian board. The power cubes are little golden plastic pieces that look almost like honey. They are easy to spot on the mats and unit cards, when placed on these. Oh and before I forget, there are 2 other things that I need to mention; the insert and the map. The insert for this game looks so nice and works so well. Each of the deck tuckboxes has it’s own space and each space has an imprint of that guardian or the foxes on it. Everything fits so extremely well inside here and the detail on these little things makes this a game of beauty. The other thing is the map. No, not the map board…the map. Yes, there’s a picture of the realm much like the one on the inside cover of the rulebook. This map is the same thickness as the player mats. On the back side, there’s an excerpt from Wanderer Pai-Luro’s Journal, Day 147. What a neat little thematic piece that was added here to really exceed my expectations of the game. Was it needed, no…but I’m glad it’s there because it’s really cool. Thematically, each piece works well with the others and you really get a feel of the conflict that’s going on between the opposing forces. This is one awesome looking game. It will definitely catch your attention and draw you over from across the room once it’s set up. Overall this is one that I absolutely love the look and feel of.
9 out of 10
The rulebook for this game is really well designed. From the moment that you first open the book, you get a real sense of what you’re about to get yourself into. The inside cover has a nice map of the realm with some flavor text to help set the scene. From there the components are broken down and a full page setup example is illustrated with step by step instructions. The book has tons of great pictures and examples throughout it which looks great. The rules are explained quite well with explanations of the different phases and player turns. The book even includes some ways to handicap the game for experienced players to be able to play with new players. There’s also a list of some key terms that are mentioned throughout the book, for ease of reference. Speaking of references, Each of the different hero units are highlighted on a 2 page spread with pictures of the cards and explanations of the different abilities each unit possesses. The last 4 pages of the book are dedicated to the 4 guardians that are included with the game. Each page details the unique setup, special abilities, unique win conditions and actions for each particular guardian. Like with the hero units, these pages are great references to be able to understand the characters a bit better. Needless to say, the book does an amazing job of conveying the rules and it looks great to boot. It’s really easy to look up anything that might need checking as far as the game goes and with plenty of examples, it’s easy to understand. Overall this is a really good rulebook. It’s easy to understand and fairly quick to read through. I’m very pleased with it.
9 out of 10
This game is a ton of fun. First off as I’ve mentioned earlier, the game looks amazing on the table. It’s really one that gets your attention. The best part is that it doesn’t take up a lot of table space either, which is nice. It only takes a few minutes to get the game setup and you’re ready to play. Players will go back and forth taking turns as they race to be the first to complete their win condition. At times, the hero player can really feel overwhelmed as the guardian can quickly decimate their troops. However, it only takes a couple of really good turns to turn it around and put the guardian on the defensive. With a well thought out and planned strategy, the heroes can defeat the guardian. Of course in my plays, that has only happened a couple of times. I think a lot of it has to do with the strategy and skill of the players. Speaking of strategy, this is a game that definitely is full of it. Yes, there is a small element of luck when it comes to drawing your cars, but knowing what to do with what you get is the key to victory. As I said, it comes down to having a good plan and finding a way to make it work. As the guardian player, finding a way to keep the number of units on the map to a minimum can be the key to a guardian victory. Either way you play, the game is full of fun. While there can be a lot of strategy to this one, it doesn’t affect the difficulty of playing the game. This is one that my daughter could easily get into without much trouble. The box says for ages 8 and up and I think that’s perfect. It’s easy enough that younger players or players new to the game can play it. I really like the push and pull between players with this one. I like how that each of the different guardians and leaders plays just a bit differently than the others. I like that there are ways to make it a bit easier for my daughter while keeping the regular level of difficulty for myself. Honestly, there’s not really anything that I dislike about the game. Sure I’d love to have more guardians, units and leaders to play with but with as many as already come with the game, there’s plenty to keep me busy for awhile. I’ll say that I’d love to see a set of solo rules for this one as well. Hopefully that will be next up from the designers. As it is, this is a game that I highly recommend. I think fans of dueling style games, where players go head to head against each other, will really enjoy this one. Strategy gamers should really enjoy this one as well. Fans of great artwork and cool components will love this one, like I do. Overall, it’s a well designed game that I think everyone should play. I love it.
9 out of 10
Skulk Hollow is a game of head to head combat as guardian and hero faces off against each other in the ultimate game of strategy. This is one that doesn’t take very long to play and even less time to set up. Most game sessions last around 30 to 45 minutes. The components are out of this world cool! Everything from the guardian boards to the meeples is very high quality. The artwork for this one is a lot of fun and looks great. I would like to point out that there was one minor mishap on one of the cards in the Raptra deck but it wasn’t anything major. The rulebook is well thought out and wonderfully designed. Each page is full of artwork and plenty of examples of gameplay. It’s very easy to read through and understand. If it only had some solo rules, it would be even better. The game itself is an awesome head to head battle that players of all ages and skill level can play. It’s one that even my daughter enjoyed. She especially loved the artwork, as I did. With ways to handicap the game so that less experienced or younger players can go up against us veterans, makes this one that should be experienced by everyone. Fans of dueling card games or combat games should really enjoy this one. Strategy gamers should also find something to like about this one as well. This is one that I really have enjoyed playing and I look forward to playing it a lot more. I highly recommend this one! I think you’ll really enjoy it.
9 out of 10
For more information about this and other great games, please check out Pencil First Games at their site.