Review: Fantasy Forest
Publisher: TSR
Year: 1980
Tagline: A Child’s First Fantasy Adventure

Children walking along a path in a forest with a wizard on the left

how we met

I found Fantasy Forest at a thrift shop where we often get lucky, but they also tend to price a lot of board games crazy high – so it’s a crap shoot. Bill spotted Fantasy Forest with one of the pawns sticking out through a hole in the top of the box, and the price was only $1.99. Sold.

TSR was based out of Lake Geneva, WI, very near where I live. I feel like we see more TSR items around here as a result, but that is purely anecdotal and based on no facts. But we have found a number of old D&D copies, and even though it’s a children’s game I considered Fantasy Forest a great find. Especially when I got it home and it’s complete.

how it plays

In Fantasy Forest, players play cards from their hands to move ahead on the board trying to make their way to Morley’s castle. The first play to the castle wins!

The board shows a mess of a track and children running around and monsters chasing them

The big, colorful board

Each player starts the game with 3 cards in hand. The rest are in the deck to draw. The cards consist of different monsters that all correspond to numbers. On their turn, a player draws one card and chooses one of the cards from their hand to play and move that number of spaces.

A hand showing a monster worth 3, a monster worth 2 and a mummy worth 5

Sadly, this is the only photo I have of our play

Instead of moving this way, a player can choose to DUEL another player. Each player then chooses a card from their hand to play, and if the player that initiated the DUEL wins they move to the space in front of the challenged player. If they lose, no harm done and end of turn.

FUN FACT: When a game allows a player to get into the lead and there is not much anyone can do, it is called the “Runaway Leader” problem. When a game tries to address this, it is often called a “Catch-up” mechanic. The DUEL in Fantasy Forest is an example of a “Catch-up” mechanic. You are never hopelessly behind, no matter where you are on the board.

Monster card examples

This is a sampling of monsters. They are adorbs

If a player lands on, passes or ends on a spot with a shortcut and happens to have the card matching that space, they may pay the card to take the shortcut and continue moving for however many spaces they had left; BUT the card that paid the shortcut just buys the shortcut and does not also allow numbered movement. Shortcuts can be taken if a player begins, passes through or ends at the space on their turn, provided they have the correct card to pay the toll.

Starting space has a pink star with pink spaces leading across a bridge to a new landing space

Example shortcut that you can cross if you can pay the toll

If a player lands on a red space, they are AMBUSHed. This player chooses a card from their hand to play face up, then draws the top card from the deck face up. If they win the AMBUSH by having played an equal or higher number card, they get to move ahead that number of spaces. But if they lost, they move backwards the number of spaces of the card drawn.

When playing an extra card on their turn, like in an AMBUSH or after being challenged to a DUEL, players should also draw a card at the end of turn. Players should always have three cards in hand. Which I love because it is so simple.

Players can share a space. But if you end your turn on the same space as another player then you take that player’s three cards into your own hand, then return any three cards of your choice back to that player.

Play continues until one lucky elf finds themselves at Morley’s castle and is the winner!

Morley the wizard

This is what the end looks like

NOTE: There are versions of Fantasy Forest that also include Hero Cards and accompanying figures. From what I can tell they are special powers that change hands. This is not part of the original version and not part of our copy.

how it went

For a clearly marketed children’s game, I think Fantasy Forest has a lot to offer. Play is simple but cut-throat. Players can make choices to save high cards for DUELs or the occasional AMBUSH, or they can try to move as far as possible each turn. If they get too far behind, they have very practical options to catch up. And although it is not devastating, there are still punishments for another player landing on your space.

This actually plays a bit like Goosebumps: The Board Game. Except when I asked Keri about Fantasy Forest a few weeks after our play she said, “Is that the one where you go up the guy’s robe?” And it’s difficult to argue with that description. I didn’t realize it until writing this review and looking closer at BGG photos, but this part of the board changed in the later version.

Our play went okay, except I am pretty sure Bill was lucky enough to draw all the Dragons. A lot of us had good forward momentum. We did see a few DUELs. We saw an AMBUSH or four. We shared spaces and sent back the lowest cards. Two players even took shortcuts! We did it all.

Pawns at start

Our pawns at the beginning. So young, so happy

Fantasy Forest felt less tense than Goosebumps: The Board Game, which is probably fitting. The highs were not quite as high, but the lows were not nearly as low. It was a nice break from roll and move, and the cards really do introduce more strategy into play. One of the interesting parts of the game is wondering whether the elf children or the monsters are more horrific.

A young girl making a teasing face at a giant

Yeah, tease the big guy

A goblin chasing a smiling girl

So much teasing fun

More chasing and a girl sticking her tongue out at a goblin

If you are having Lord of the Rings flashbacks by now, that’s normal

Child sticking tongue out with dragon overhead

Even at the foot of the dragon it’s hands on knees, sticking tongue out

Keri was transparent the entire game that she had no intention of being the first to Morley. But there was rarely big margins of space between any of us, so it didn’t matter much. Bill was fairly consistently in front, even though we would DUEL him and jump ahead throughout play.

In the end Bill was the first to Morley and won!

play or pass

Pass. This is a “Child’s First Fantasy Adventure.” It’s not for you. But if you say you are buying it for your kids I will believe you. And truly, it introduces decisions and acceptance and luck and catching up. If you are looking to make your young child a gamer, this is not a bad start.