Words by David C. Obenour
Trends in gaming unfold in many seasons, each unveiling and celebrating a different reason we gather around the table. An encouraging and growing segment in modern gaming is the beautiful and serene. While some of the oldest games we play find their roots in strategic warfare or other more veiled conflict, new game designers are exploring the patterns and thoughts behind nature and reflection.
Named after a thicket of bushes or a small wood, Bosk was designed by Daryl Andrews and Erica Bouyouris, and leads players through the changing seasons of a year in a national park. Trees grow up in the spring, visitors marvel at them in the summer, leaves fall in the autumn, and the covered forest ground reveals new beauty for the winter.
The beautiful idea behind Bosk is not only embodied in theme, but with vibrantly colored art, brought more to life through sturdy cardboard standing trees and precision cut leaf and squirrel wooden tokens. Games become a work of art that unfold as you play for a board that your slow to want to clean up after the game is done.
Off Shelf: Can you talk about choosing the name Bosk? It’s not an immediately obvious name for the game as a word many may be unfamiliar with.
Erica Bouyouris: The original name of the game, and a little on the nose, was “Falling Leaves,” after a Billy Talent song. Part of this was a silly thing that we were doing when we would send in rulebooks or print and plays we would copy song lyrics into the emails. For example, with our game “Roar” we sent in all the lyrics to the Katy Perry song when we emailed. It was the publisher, Ben Harkins, that changed the name. We didn’t even know what a Bosk was – small wooded area or forest – but it sounded good, it was a similar word in many languages, and hey, we learned something new!
OS: How did Bosk initially take seed? Did you have a strong feeling or idea on the theme or was it more of a central game mechanic that drove the project?
EB: Bosk was a concept that originated from Daryl [Andrews, codesigner] watching leaves blow across the ground and wondering if there was a game there. We started planning how these leaves would be able to move and what their purpose was. That was how we started with the strategy of where to plant trees, and then adding the wind condition to the players know where the leaves will be moving.
OS: There seems to be an emerging trend of these very beautiful, serene and pleasing games that are being released. What about these sort of themes and settings appeal to you as a gamer?
EB: There is definitely a push towards “friendly” or “nature” themed games. These games are non-threatening to non-gamers or intro gamers which make them great for introducing to gaming groups, especially when trying to include new people. The other thing about beautiful games is that they create these gorgeous tableauxs at the end that players love to take pictures of. Pictures of games are a huge thing for Twitter, BoardGameGeek, and Instagram and very much helps people find a game that they feel they would like to try. People are much more likely to be “attracted” to this kind of game. The non-threatening nature of the themes also help the decision to purchase to be a little easier. Usually these kinds of games aren’t hard to learn but usually have enough depth to keep wanting to play and explore the game system. A little bit for every kind of gaming!
OS: Do you see a juxtaposition with this very peaceful setting and in how a game of Bosk can turn into a back-and-forth game of tree-placing and then leaf-piling?
EB: The tree planting is the players chances to try to not only score some early points in the game but allows them to place their trees so that they are giving themselves lots of possibilities for where their leaves can go during the second phase. The tree placement is important as it will dictate the max distance that a leaf line can move from a free. Because the leaves can meander a bit on the board during their “blowing” this creates situations where other people’s trees might be surrounded or an area of the board that is being fought over might be suddenly controlled by one player. When this happens players have to make the hard choice of spending extra leaves in order to cover up the leaves of their opponents so they can take over those spaces instead. The game can allow people to be as friendly or aggressive as they would like, and I think this allows a wider range of people the potential to enjoy the game play as they have some control over how competitive the game becomes.
OS: Can you talk about the squirrel? How did you arrive on the game needing or benefiting from that twist?
EB: The squirrel was something that came out of developing the game and really can be credited to Ben Harkins. It turned into a bit a of a “trump” piece. Once the squirrel is played no one can place anything on top of it. It gives each player one chance to own a spot of the board without any concern of losing it. Also, it created a fun component with table presence.
OS: Beyond just the squirrel, it’s easy to over look what a well-crafted puzzley game lies underneath all of the nice illustrations and components. Was it hard to balance such a deceptively straightforward game?
EB: This was why the game almost seems like two distinct phases/games. Some people love how the games come together, some don’t and that is okay. The puzzle and strategy of the game really lies on the two phases – where your trees are planted in phase one and how you choose to spend and spread your leaves to maximize area control in phase two. The more you play the game the more possible strategies that can come out. Even playing with different players can drastically change even how competitive the game can become.
OS: How did you connect with illustrator, Kwanchai Moriya? What did you like about what he did with your game?
EB: We are both lucky to have a few different games featuring Kwanchai art [Kodama 3D published by Indie Boards & Cards, 7 Summits published by Deep Water, Gangsters Dilemma published by Eagle-Gryphon]. He makes absolutely beautiful art and uses such dynamic colors in his illustrations. He’s also an incredibly nice guy. If you look carefully on the box cover for Bosk you will see two hikers, we’re pretty sure that they are pictures of us!
OS: In addition to the illustrations, the components for Bosk are both incredible but not prohibitively expensive to produce and in turn for a gamer to buy. Can you talk about the process of getting to the final game?
EB: We always knew that the game was going to be 3D, it was how it has been since prototyping it. We were so happy with Floodgate for all of the amazing quality of the wooden pieces that they put in and the gorgeous board with it’s vibrant colors to help distinguish the territories. The game would not have the same impact or table presence without the quality components that were put into it. Quality also helps the game last so much longer, we want people to be enjoying Bosk for years to come and not worry about what might happen to their component pieces.
OS: Do you hike yourself? What do you enjoy about it?
EB: Both of us have a great appreciation for nature. I grew up hiking and camping a lot and have done some treks through Asia. I found I really enjoy backpacking around the world. Daryl has traveled all over the world as well. One of the most beautiful places Daryl has visited was the redwoods of California. Kwanchi Moriya was inspired by those very same Redwood forests for the box cover, because of living in the area.
OS: Do you have a favorite season?
EB: Summer for me. A hot sunny day is the best. I asked Daryl too and he said Fall, when he’s notorious wearing shorts, even in Canadian winters.