The Wolves is the second wolf-based game that I’ve reviewed here at Nerds on Earth – the other being The Alpha – and I must say that it’s quite an enjoyable theme. The Wolves by Pandasaurus Games is a tight area-control game utilizing a fun tile-flipping mechanic that dictates your personal action economy.
Designed by Ashwin Kamath and Clarence Simpson, The Wolves puts players in the paws of a wolfpack striving to be the most dominant in the region. You’ll be crossing all types of terrain to build dens, recruit lone wolves, and sway other packs of your resplendence. But be wary – the other packs are all doing the same!
So glance up at the full moon and sharpen those claws as we prowl into The Wolves board game!
The Wolves Gameplay
In The Wolves, you’ll be taking control of a wolfpack that flourishes in one of the five terrain types. You’ll take two actions each turn, flipping over your personal, double-sided terrain tiles that dictate where that action takes place. For example, if you wanted to Howl at a Forest hex, you’d need to flip over two of your tiles that have the Forest side facing up.
Here are the various actions you can perform:
- Move – Flip over one terrain tile to move wolves to a hex matching that terrain within range
- Build Den – Flip over two terrain tiles to build a den within range of an Alpha Wolf
- Upgrade a Den – Flip over two terrain tiles to upgrade a den into a lair, which has to neighbor a water source
- Howl – Flip over two terrain tiles to convert a lone wolf to your side, within range of an Alpha
- Dominate – Flip over three terrain tiles to convert a den or wolf to join your pack
Whenever you build a den, you make all of your subsequent actions better. It could give you more movement range for your wolves, allow you to move more wolves in your pack at once, or even extend the range of your howling. In that sense, you can feel your pack getting stronger as you spread throughout the land.
Points are scored at three different moon phases throughout the game, at which point area control comes into play. Whichever pack has the most sway in a region gets the most points, so it’s advantageous to think ahead at which regions will come into play. Some regions score multiple times! But once a region is scored completely, it’s probably time to migrate your pack to another area of the board.
Throughout the game, wolves and dens are being removed from play, and they end up serving as the tracker for the different scoring thresholds as well as the end of the game. Once you score the full moons, the game is over and points are tallied. You pick up points for your round scoring, as well as personal points for the highest uncovered spots in each section of your player board.
Whoever has the most points has the most dominant pack!
Staking Our C.L.A.I.M. on The Wolves!
Let’s start off by putting a resounding capital W in the components column for The Wolves board game; you get so many intricate custom wooden meeples that I can hardly wrap my mind around it. Between the howling Alpha Wolf meeple and the cute little Pack Wolves, they’re all exceptional.
I’m also pleased with the player boards and tiles, which are thick, durable cardboard. Pandasaurus also continues their recent use of piecemeal player boards like they did with Skate Summer, where the board is actually made up of multiple pieces. There’s also a functional cutout for the terrain tiles, which actually keeps those tiles more in-place that I thought it would.
My only knock is on the box insert, as there’s really just one big well for the cardboard tokens. You probably have some extra baggies lying around, and I’d recommend a couple for the various point tokens lest they all go haywire if you store the game vertically.
The Wolves will burn your brain more as the game goes on and your available actions have more flexibility. There are so many factors to consider: area control, what your opponents might be planning, how many wolves you have in range to move, howl range, and wolf speed. And, after you’ve thought about all of that, you also need to see which terrain you can even impact. It honestly leads to some analysis-paralysis as the game gets closer to the end.
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That being said, having all those options is a blessing because you can really set yourself up to winning with a variety of strategies. For example, you might forgo the early scoring areas to get a foothold in the second and third areas. In fact, the areas that score more than once are probably the best ones to go after, since it maximizes your den investment.
Another interesting point is that each player color specializes in a certain terrain type, and that’s the only hex that they’ll be able to dominate by default. It’s somewhat easy to play around that domination until the game gets closer to the end and people earn the wild territory tokens. Suddenly they can dominate on any other terrain!
The art in The Wolves is incredible and evocative, with plenty of color pops to keep your eyeballs satiated. I love the contrasting hues in the player boards. At the end of the day, everything is cohesive and feels like wolf packs vying for control over the region. A lot of that, too, is attributed to the aforementioned wolf meeples, which steal the show.
Perhaps the drawback I’ll mention is that the mountain terrain and the forest terrain look fairly similar and could be difficult to differentiate, especially in low-light. Other than that, the vibrancy of everything is wonderful design and a pleasure to look at!
Anybody who enjoys wolves in particular could find something to like in The Wolves. But don’t be fooled – this is a deeper strategic game that has you weighing a ton of options each turn. You need to carefully consider what you want to do in the current turn, but also in future turns because the terrain you use on this turn impacts what you’ll have access to in the future.
When we played, we didn’t find that we were pushing wolves around with our Alpha Wolves as much as I thought we might. That’s probably an aspect of the game that we’ll get more comfortable with; your Alpha Wolves can move into the same area as regular Pack Wolves and force them into adjacent hexes. This is really good for controlling the perimeter of a scoring area, and it’s not necessarily intuitive if you’ve played other area control games.
The Wolves is for thinkers, strategizers, and nature-lovers. Fans of games like Small World and Scythe could definitely get into this game. Especially if you like uncovering benefits that improve your actions as the game progresses.
Controlling area in The Wolves is tense! There’s simply not enough real estate to go around, and you always feel like you’re under the threat of the other players. In fact, in the late-game it seems like your wolves can cover so much ground depending on how you upgraded your actions with your dens. Nowhere is safe!
Thematically, I also really like how the howling is a primary emphasis of the game. I do a lot of tent camping and there’s something hauntingly chilling about laying in a sleeping bag while a chorus of wolf howls erupt around you. That’s what really helps connect this theme to the mechanics, along with converting those dens and wolves to your side.
But there’s only so many hexes to go around, so it takes careful planning and sometimes aggressive play to make sure your pack isn’t left behind.
The Wolves: A Howling Good Time!
With its exceptional components and production quality, along with it’s ability to convey the theme of a growing wolfpack, The Wolves is a strategic game that takes area control to a whole new level. You always feel like the entire board is within reach, and that your lead could disappear at any moment. I’d especially find myself treading carefully in other players’ terrain, lest I be dominated.
If you like wolves, amazing animeeples, or high-level strategic thinking, then The Wolves is a game you might want to try out! The Wolves releases by Pandasaurus Games on November 18th.
It’s a howling good time!
[Disclaimer: Nerds on Earth was provided a copy of The Wolves by Pandasaurus Games in exchange for an honest review.]