Before the dawn of time, Gaia, our Mother Earth, gave birth to the first trees. With their strong trunks and majestic crowns, they quickly converted the fallow land into fertile soil. They cherished the everlasting rituals of Gaia that sent a ferocious force through their veins, bringing life to the highest branches and deepest roots. It did not take long for them to cover the whole continent and create the vast Forests of Pangaia by Thomas Franken from Pangaia Games.
The first thing that strikes you when you open the box of the game is the components. Actually, let's go back a bit further. What struck me the most was that the game arrived in the post without the usual bubble wrap or foam beans. Instead, the game was protected by additional cardboard inside the parcel. The only plastic anywhere to be seen was the shrinkwrap around the game box itself. That's necessary to keep everything dry during storage and transport.
There also isn't any plastic in the game box itself. Instead, there are paper bellybands around the cards and paper envelopes for some of the components. Everything is either made from wood, cardboard, paper or cloth. There are many custom wooden tokens, from the spirit animals to the seed tokens to the tree tops. If you upgrade to the premium edition, the life and resource tokens are also made from wood. Then there are a number of heavy cloth bags to hold every player's pieces. The remaining components are made from really thick and sturdy cardboard. The player boards are even dual-layer with spaces cut out for specific player pieces.
It's so refreshing to see that plastic isn't needed. There is no need for plastic packaging, except the shrink wrap I mentioned. Plastic miniatures are no competition to gorgeous custom wooden components. I mean, just look at the trees, which are stackable. Plastic resources would look really out of place in Forests of Pangaia. The cardboard or wooden bits are much more fitting.
Let's Plant a Forest
Unfortunately, there is no mention of FSC or whether the wood, cardboard and paper were sourced from responsibly managed forests. However, the publisher was working with Tree-Nation to reforest areas that need it. The publisher also promised to fully offset all CO2 emitted in the production and fulfilment of the game. Additionally, Pangaia Games partnered up with Treecelet to plant one tree for every game unit sold. Now, I think that's not only amazing, but also very fitting for the game's theme. After all, Forests of Pangaia is all about planting trees.
I guess that leads nicely over to the gameplay. The game is sort of all about area control, but only in the sense that you want to place your trees on the map in specific configurations to complete objectives that give you points. Other than that, there isn't really much fighting over space going on. The map is big enough for everyone really. Also, you can include other players' trees in objectives, but you might not necessarily score as many points if they had been your trees.
Every time you complete an objective, your trees will shrink or even die completely, while at the same time sending out seeds for new trees to grow. That creates a lovely rhythm that's almost like nature itself. You're constantly growing existing trees and planting seeds to try and get yourself into a position where you can score points, after which you're set back a little and have to regain your strength.
Certain actions cost resources, which are represented by sun, wind, rain and snow. Depending on where your seeds are on the map, they will produce different resources. So while you might need some of your trees in a sun area to get that resource, one of the objectives could require your trees to be in a snow section. It's your task to solve this conundrum.
Every action is guided by your spirit, a lovely custom wooden pawn in the shape of some sort of fantastical creature. If you place your spirit on a lake space on the map, you can plant new seeds anywhere in the adjacent spaces. That lake space is now blocked, which can potentially force other players to have to change their plans. Mind you, as I mentioned, the map feels big enough that nobody is really fully prevented from doing what they need.
You can also put your spirit on one of the spaces on your player board. That way you either score an objective or collect resources based on the type of your spirit. Every spirit represents one of the available resource types. However, collecting resources that way is probably only a last resort. You get more resources from the seedlings that you previously placed on the map.
Resources can be spent on unlocking treetop pieces that allow you to grow your trees taller, which in turn can unlock additional seeds to place on the map, which eventually give you more resources. I think you can see that it's all about spending resources to produce more resources to eventually score points.
Forests of Pangaia looks absolutely stunning on the table. The artwork on the map tiles, objective cards, player boards, game box, rulebook and everywhere else is stunning. The wooden components have a real presence and tactility. They take me back to my childhood and remind me of playing with wooden toys. That feeling is clearly triggered by the fact that you can stack treetops on top of your trees to make them even taller. The components are really well designed and your tree "tower" won't topple even at great heights. It's really impressive.
Learning to play the game can take a little while. Every turn consists of three phases, one of which is the action phase where you choose from one of three actions. Yet, it's not clear why you would do either of them. There are also three types of objectives, which can take a while to explain. However, like so often, it's best to start playing and see what's happening. It doesn't take long until everything flows quickly and everyone knows how best to get to the resources they need.
So Forests of Pangaia is no walk in the park, but at the same time, it's not such a highly competitive game where it's all about survival of the fittest. It's a race to be the first to complete one of the public objectives, while keeping an eye on what everyone else is doing. For me, the game is pitched at a perfect medium level. There is enough to keep people busy and thinking, while lasting around an hour to play. It's the sort of game that I will keep in my collection. It's an evergreen title on so many levels.