England in the year of our Lord 1193. A carriage comes to a halt within the densely wooded landscape. The nobleman inside hears the guards shifting, their armor, and weaponry accompanied by a familiar clank of adjustment. Then a wisp of a sound, almost a whistle, before a labored grunt, the whiff of a sword cutting through the air, and finally a loud thump that precedes a surreal stillness.
After many seconds of deep listening, the nobleman’s shaking hand pulls the carriage curtain aside to find the armed escorts sprawled upon dirt and moss. A shadow shifts within the depths of the staggered trees. Another whisp then a pronounced thunk. An arrow has embedded itself in the carriage door inches from the nobleman’s head. An attached note reads “Welcome to Sherwood Forest. Thank you for funding the cause. – RH + MM”
The nobleman reaches back into the carriage. No. It’s gone. His contribution to the Nottingham game night was stolen right out from under him. He must alert publisher KOSMOS, designer and artist Michael Menzel, and most importantly, the purveyor of the night’s event—the self-proclaimed Sherriff.
The Adventures of Robin Hood is a cooperative narrative adventure game that features point-to-point movement, a branching campaign, and light bag-building. Each chapter plays in approximately one hour and can be played with the whole family. The immediate draw upon beginning the game is two-fold—a massive game board with many “windows” that feature tiles that can be flipped, as well as a high-quality hardcover storybook that contains player aids, rules, and narrative choices.
But first, a single sheet of rules will get you started. This sheet is comprised of instructions on how to layout the different sections of the gameboard. The board is pieced together like a puzzle and features three main areas: Sherwood Forest, the village of Nottingham, and the castle. It’s also littered with numbered tiles that are referred to during the campaign. These may be flipped or removed to enhance locations or hide important information.
For movement, each player is given two standing character figures, as well as three movement pieces (two medium and one long). When players move on the board, they place a movement piece touching their current location and determine the direction and distance of their movement based on each piece used. The second standing figure is placed at the end of the movement to become the new location for that player. If players forego the use of the long movement piece, they’ve saved their strength and can manipulate the draw bag by adding a white cube.
Once movement is established, you’re immediately reading the book. The first chapter unfolds as a tutorial into this world. Rules reveal themselves over time, even late into the campaign. Each chapter provides instructions to set up the board state by flipping over certain tiles, perhaps revealing some guards or carriages to enhance the story. Each chapter also has a timer marked by hourglass tokens, as well as a hope meter that needs to be constantly maintained.
Players add a certain number of violet and white cubes to the draw bag, as well as large discs that match their player color. These are drawn from the bag to determine turn order. Beyond discs of the players’ colors, other discs may be added as well. A red disc represents dark events, a white disc allows all players to take a turn, while a gray disc allows any single player to take a turn.
The bag is passed between players and a disc is drawn. Players choose to move or interact with tiles on the game board, then pass the bag to the next player. The board is comprised of shadowed and light areas. Players are often safe in the shadows and exposed in the light. Tiles with question marks have numbers that match pages in the storybook which are read if examined. Players can also stumble upon equipment throughout the story that enhances or changes rules.
If a red disc is drawn, this typically brings guards into the fold and removes hourglasses thus bringing the story closer to its end. If a guard is activated and your character is in the well-lit clearing with them, they are captured and must battle the guard to continue moving. Combat happens by simply drawing cubes from the bag. Players initially get to draw three cubes and must select a white cube to be successful. Cubes are not returned to the bag, so drawing three violet cubes makes the odds better next turn if you’re unsuccessful this time.
Turns continue in this way as players explore the map, examine tiles, and outsmart the guards. Once all discs are drawn, they are returned to the bag and play continues. The end of the chapter must be reached before all hourglass tokens are removed, but an unsuccessful attempt only means retrying with the knowledge that’s already gained, making each trek back into the forest easier.
We were pleased with the dynamic board state on display in The Adventures of Robin Hood. Utilizing an approach similar to an advent calendar is clever, and throughout the seven chapters of the main campaign, we were continually discovering new things. And the board is massive, providing a lot of ground to cover and making the land feel explorable. The use of light and shadows also provides more depth to movement decisions and adds an element of push-your-luck.
The storybook construction is also wonderful. Each chapter provides setup instructions. There are two bookmarks to keep track of important information. Equipment and object information is easy to review. A player aid for actions is available on the back page. Additionally, the back of the book features an easy reference for all guard and nobleman locations, which are frequently utilized in each chapter. Beyond this, navigating branching paths and story asides are simple thanks to how everything is numbered.
Other aspects we found captivating were the movement and draw bag systems. As mentioned above, the movement system provides both a push-your-luck and efficiency consideration for each turn. Do you head into the light to examine that tile by using your long movement piece, thus negating an additional white cube into the bag, and exposing yourself to potential capture? Or do you wait for the next turn? The draw bag is also unique in that it houses multiple token types that are easily distinguishable by touch (cubes, discs, and seals), which makes the bag a single source of propulsion each turn.
The systems here are certainly intriguing. But what isn’t intriguing is the narrative campaign. Unfortunately, the story that unfolds lacks immersion and doesn’t fully embrace the folklore. While it does tackle the Merry Men, the Sherriff, and a little of the rich vs. poor motivations, it sticks too closely to a single throughline and doesn’t rise above simple objectives. There are branching pathways, but they all ultimately lead to the same destination.
This is coupled with the fact that the entire campaign can be completed very quickly (it took us two days). The game does provide a way to play without the narrative campaign, but this robs from the richness of the immersion and asks players to flit about an uninspired landscape. It’s unfortunate that, during the campaign, asymmetrical player powers emerge too late, and you can see that these become the carrot on the stick to bring players back into the fold after the story is over. Ultimately, they are not interesting enough to provide another layer of depth to this world after the fact. As such, expansions will be necessary to increase its longevity.
One final note on the game’s production: the board’s individual tiles are held in place quite firmly and can become frayed quite easily over time as they are handled. It’s inevitable that it will happen and a downside to the inventiveness, but something to keep in mind as you struggle to unseat a tile only to watch its edges start to come apart in the attempt.
We returned to our secret campsite with the nobleman’s board game treasure and invited all to gather around while we took turns exploring Sherwood and Nottingham in miniature. Robin hid in the shadows while Little John charged the guards in the light. Will Scarlet rushed to the boat under the nose of Sir Guy of Gisbourne while Maid Marian distracted the castle guards.
The innovation was appealing at first, and many exciting discoveries were unearthed. Robin laughed heartily when he pulled a green disc. His smirk washed away when the next pull was red. We cheered as the night wore on. Eventually, the campfire sputtered and withered as the moon rose, the story reached its inevitable conclusion, and the next morning the most exciting prospect was to look elsewhere for our next night’s entertainment. The clattering sounds of a new carriage carried to camp midday. We looked anxiously at each other and wondered which game we’d procure from the noblemen next.
Final score: 3 stars – A narrative adventure with a clever board mechanism that doesn’t provide enough riches to make the Merry Men interested in its route.
• Innovative and dynamic board state
• Movement and draw bag systems
• Adventure book production
• Narrative lacks immersion
• Fast completion lowers value
• Lack of replay value
• Damage to tiles over time