Rarely does one encounter the joy of opening a product as magical as Shadi Torbey’s Sylvion. The small box contains only 188 cards, a single token and a rulebook, yet it creates a solitaire gaming experience which is unparalleled in the gaming world. The game balances charm and intensity as the player lays out fountains and enlists the help of forest creatures to stop the ravaging onslaught of fire elementals.
Sylvion is played using two decks of cards. The sylvan cards are the trees, fountains and creatures of the forest of Sylvion, which the player needs to save. The ravage cards are the fire elementals and support the evil forces that are trying to consume the forest. There are twelve edge cards that create a four by four border for the forest, while sixteen blaze cards are used to increase the fire’s intensity during the game.
In the basic game, the player plays fountains to stop fires and grows trees to return the forest’s vitality. The player may also enlist the help of forest creatures that have special effects on the game. The ravage cards are flipped from four decks of cards and will move on a path towards the forest in an attempt to burn it down. The support cards in the ravage deck can be very devastating for the player if he or she is not careful in planning the forest’s defenses.
The advanced game adds a whole setup phase to the game called mobilization where the player builds the defense deck by choosing from columns of cards. This mini-deckbuilding side game ensures that every game will be a different experience. There are also increased support cards for the ravage deck. The game also comes with two expansions, one of which is the cutest little fire token called the ravager.
Thoughts on the game:
When I started playing modern board games ten years ago, if you told me I would be reviewing a solo game in the future I would have said “What’s a solo game?” If you told me it would be one of my favorite games and would likely make my top ten list of board games I would have told you you were crazy. But here I am sitting next to Shadi Torbey’s masterpiece and I am convinced this little french game has further heightened game design to an art form.
And while we are on the subject of art, I personally love the graphic design and whimsical art on all the cards. The forest animals and trees are weird and dreamlike. The ravage cards are cute yet full of energy. Props to the artist Elisse Plessis.
From a design standpoint, Sylvion is a very tight game. The game is full of difficult decisions and tense moments. I have played other solo and co-op games where the players fight against a deck of cards and many simply feel like puzzling out a specific shuffle of cards. The design of Sylvion having four decks of cards revealing one card at a time builds great tension during the game. Certain ravage support cards are especially devastating, so I often found myself praying under my breath as I flip the last card.
There are games where the player gets lucky and wins too easily, as well as times where the ravage decks are simply impossible to defend against and the forest goes up in flames. But more often than not games are extremely tight, coming down to one or two cards or a single decision made by the player. The expansions and extra cards are very balanced for adding difficulty once a player has figured out the basic strategies.
Another note on difficulty, I lost my first four games of Sylvion but always wanted to play again. The game has enough variety to invite replayability. The deckbuilding aspect of the mobilization phase is great for players who love deckbuilding. It also creates a sense of ownership while playing the rest of the game. During the advanced game, the ravage cards will remove cards from the players deck (called demobilization). This is a great effect where a player chooses either to choose two face-up cards from his discard pile to remove from the game or to shuffle the discard and lose a random card. This can result in tense moments where you lose your last hedgehog and you shake you fist up in anger at the fire gods!
So does Cut Above Games recommend Sylvion? That is a resounding yes! This game is a must for anybody who wants a challenging puzzle, enjoys saving forests or simply loves cute little boxes (spoiler alert, there are cute little trees drawn along the edge of the inside box, you just have to appreciate that kind of attention to cuteness).
Oh and there’s more… Sylvion is just one of many games in a whole series of solo adventures designed by Shadi Torbey. It is all called the Oniverse and they all feature dreamlike art. Count me in, I can’t wait to buy my next adventure!