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As a matter of fact, I had seen at least half a dozen games all focused on the theme of Werwolves at the SPIEL 09 convention, and so the new game Full Moon by GEN X GAMES at first slipped my attention. However, during one of my trips to the news show I discovered the game standing on a table near the end of the hall, and upon examining the playing materials a bit closer the actual setting of the game awakened my curiosity. Thus, the "Survival Guide" named rulebook of Full Moon introduces the players to the story of a group of youths who has acquired a map of an ancient forest. Looking for adventure and some days in the unknown wilds, the youths have decided to go on a hiking trip, but the whole adventure has turned into a nightmare. Thus, one day the youths wake up, and they find two of their group members have been kidnapped in the night. Their tent has been wrecked, and as if one mishap wasn't enough the kidnappers also had taken the map with them.
The scene is set, and all but one player find themselves in control of one or more hikers who have just awoken to this nightmare in the middle of the forest. The only thing they can see from their current position at the central camp hex are six elevated landmark hexes at a distance of two hexes around their campsite, whereas the rest of the forest and even the true nature of all elevations only will be revealed in the course of the game. Each character sheet lists four attributes of a character - Life, Strength, Dexterity and Calm. As might be guessed, a character is killed if he looses all lifepoints, and Strength will be used in combat. Calm is reduced when a character enters frightening places, and if a player looses all calm he gets scared and is apt to fall into panic, resulting in the character fleeing to a randomly detrmined adjacent space and reducing his maximum limit for determination points to three. One determination point is received by each character at the beginning of each turn, and under normal circumstances, up to 10 determination points may be stored by a character so that the points can be used for all kinds of beneficial actions like the restoring of lifepoints, the drawing of additional action cards or the cancelling of a negative combat or werewolf pack card.
Opposite the players in control of the hikers stand the werewolf player, and it will be his task to turn one of the humans into a werewolf and to prevent all other humans from leaving the forest. The turning into a werewolf can by accomplished through an infection by biting a hiker after a successful combat. Thus, at the beginning of the game a number of infection markers corresponding to the number of hikers is shuffled, and whereas one of the markers actually shows the infection with lycanthrope all other markers show that the infection was not successful. All markers are mixed and remain facedown, and two of the markers were assigned to the two kidnapped hikers at the beginning of the game to symbolize that they have been bitten during the kidnapping. All other infection markers are placed at hand, and when the werewolf player succeeds in winning the first combat against a character that character is not just wounded but also receives one of the remaining infection markers.
Each full turn of the game represents one hour of playing time, and when nightfall comes all infection markers will be revealed apart those of the hostages. If all free hikers do not have the infection, the werewolf player knows that one of his two hostages is infected (provided he has bitten every character at least once in order to assign him/her an infection token). The werewolf then can close in on the hikers, trying to kill them all before they can leave the forest. However, if one of the free hikers has the infection, he will turn into a werewolf and must be handed over to the werewolf player who now has one more werwolf when he starts to hunt the other characters down.
The hikers have a hard task in front of them, since those two of their friends who actually know the way out of the forest plus the map have vanished. Thus, the human players need to look for the werewolf lair, and all they know at the beginning that the lair tile is ten steps away from the initial camp hex. During game preparations the werewolf player had to mark the position of the lair on a small map, and he also had to draw a winding path through the forest, starting at the camp hex and going through ten spaces before ending at the lair. The humans must find the path, follow it, enter the lair and find at least the map or one of their companions. If they succeed in doing so, two road hexes will be placed at the outskirts of the forest, and if any one hiker succeeds in reaching any of these hexes the hikers will have won.
At the beginning of their turn the hiker players will receive some action cards which they can add to their hands, and every hiker character is assigned a card which depicts his action for the turn. The movement of a character is free and requires no action, but all other kinds of actions like an exploration in which direction the path leaves the hex, a searching of the hex for a useful object, or going alert or into hiding all require the playing of an action card. As indicated, under normal conditions the hikers will try to follow the path for all ten spaces in order to get to the werewolf lair, but on each space they enter they actually have to explore the outer borders in which direction the path continues. A character who explores the path rolls one dice for every point of dexterity he possesses, and for each "5" rolled one of the sides may be explored whether the path continues outwards there. The werewolf player must answer truthfully after consulting his map, and the players then may mark the announced the result on a map of their own to keep track of the hex-sides they have explored. The rolling of a "6" is even better, since for each six a hex side may be chosen, but the werewolf player must not just announce whether the path goes out through that side, but he also would have to announce that the path is nearby if it goes out through one of the adjacent borders. He just doesn't have to say at which side the path is nearby, but sometimes the clever use of exploration actions allows the players to make a deduction in which direction the path will continue.
Each hex space entered by the hikers features different kinds of symbols and sometimes an additional speciality. Thus, some of the tiles show a cabin, a shed or a wrecked card where the hikers may search for a helpful item. On the other hand, the misty forest or the cemetery cost the players Calm-points to enter, and foggy areas will make it more difficult to explore such a hex. Quite interesting are the six elevations which can be found at specific places, since they allow a player to reveal all hexes surrounding such an elevation. However, the werewolf lair may not be found accidentally or by looking from an elevation - the forest is so dense that it can only be found by following the path right up to the end.
Some hexes actually are beneficial for the hikers, so that a resting place beside a peaceful lake or some special fungi found in an ancient part of the forest can restore lifepoints and Calm. However, on the other side most spaces feature one or more Wolf icons, and it is the Wolf icons which the werewolf player needs to "sniff" for the hikers. Thus, after all hikers have moved, the werewolf player checks the hexes occupied by the hiker characters for Wolf icons, and if one or more Wolf icons are present the werewolf player can spend some of his planning points to roll a corresponding number of dice. A "5" or "6" is needed to find all characters in that hex (provided they are not hiding, in which case a second success is needed to find a hidden character). The werewolf player then may chose to attack the hikers by spending some more planning points, and he choses one character to be attacked by each werewolf character. These werewolf characters have human form during daytime, but in the night they will turn into wolves and get much stronger, so that the hiker players will be pressed hard once the night has broken. Combat is resolved through the use of a special combat deck, but first the human character determines his combat Strength by adding his own initial Strength plus Strength bonuses provided by found items. A werewolf character always his initial strength, and then a card from the combat deck is revealed for both the hiker and the werewolf. Most of these combat cards show strength increases, and following a blackjack-like mechanism the combatants alternate either in asking for an additional combat card or to abstain from drawing more cards. The reason why a player might stop to draw more cards is that there are some cards in the combat deck which might cause the player to trip (loosing the combat for him) or to get some Strength points subtracted. However, once a player has decided to pass, the other player may be lucky and get a higher strength due to additional card draws, and in that case the combat will be lost for the player with the lower total.
If the werewolf loses, he will be hurt and the werewolf player must pay two planning points to get him back into action. The hurting of a hiker results in the loss of lifepoints, and additionally a character who has lost a combat will receive an infection marker if he does not already possess one. A hiker who looses all lifepoints is killed and out of the game, but the werewolves on the other hand are very hard to kill. Only the possession of an axe or the use of a silver bullet can enable a player to kill a werewolf he has defeated, but both of these items first need to be found.
As indicated, night falls at a certain point during the game, and apart from the fact that the werewolf characters now turn into their wolf-like form, allowing the werewolf player to place figures for his wolves on the table. Whereas all daytime "sniffing" actions did not result in the permanent activation of the werewolf characters in human form, the transformed werewolves will actually roam the forest for the rest of the night, trying to hunt and kill the hikers. This rule partly seems counterbalance the fact the wolves now are stronger, but due to the fact that a group of wolves can be moved up to three spaces for just one planning point they can each their prey pretty fast. Once arrived, another "sniffing" action is needed, but due to their heightened senses the wolves are better when "sniffing" in the night.
To my great surprise I find the role of the werewolf player to be much more involved in Full Moon than it has been in games like Middle Earth Quest or Heroquest. Despite the fact that Sauron had a somewhat broader choice of actions, it seemed to be more interesting to spend points for "sniffing" and attacking, and furthermore the werewolf player may opt to go for special frenzy attacks or to call upon Father Tree and Mother Moon in order to place a Tree Barrier or to change the nature of some forest hexes. In addition, the game offers some additional rules which greatly enhance the playing atmosphere like a special deck of rewards and traps the players must use upon entering the werewolf lair or the rules for turning a character into a werewolf or for returning the hostage characters to the game.
Talking about atmosphere, it was absolutely astonishing how deep the players are drawn into the game. The somewhat dark and frightening artwork is very fitting, and many graphic details like abandoned ranger towers, wrecked cars or even the digital "wristwatch" times on the time track all add to a general feeling of the hiker players being up to their neck in a really threatening situation. In one way or another the story described in Full Moon can be found in some movies, but I cannot remember that I have seen such a plot turned into a rather thrilling boardgame. Servando Carballar and his team at GEN X GAMES have created the best adventure game I have seen for quite some time, and keeping the rules at hand while typing those lines I discovered the game to be easier to learn than the very complex Mecanisburgo in 2008. Servando had told me at the SPIEL that they had improved much on the way of writing rules, and since I found this assertion to be true the access barrier to the game really is much lower. There's a She-Wolf in the forest...
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Copyright © 2010 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany