Rescuing Robin Hood Review
The story of Robin Hood is arguably the most famous English folklore tale. You’ll find it hard to find someone who doesn’t know about the famous outlaw, and his antics in Sherwood forest. Rescuing Robin Hood is a new game with a fresh take on the legend, where you’re playing as one of his merry band. “Why not Robin?”, you might ask. As the name implies, Robin Hood has been captured by the Sheriff of Nottingham (boo, hiss), and it’s up to you to round up the villagers, defeat his guards, and rescue our hero in Lincoln green.
Rescuing Robin Hood is a card game. Over five rounds you try to rescue more powerful villagers to add to your crew (deck), and to do this you need to beat the guards that stand in your way. Battle in this game is done by the numbers – that is to say, you’re going to be flexing your big maths brain working things out. There are three traits that every character in the game has: wit, brawn, and stealth. In order to beat a guard, you choose one of the three traits from your current merry band, and then try to remove guards from in front of a villager. That’s where the fun, and the agony of choice, begins.
Feared by the bad
Standing between you and the villagers are a number of the sheriff’s men, but you only get to see the stats of the first guard in each line. The hand you’ve draw for the round determine the strength of each of your traits, and then you decide which you want to use. It’s not as simple as just choosing the strongest, however, as each of them has a different method to take them on.
Choosing brawn means flipping all of the guards in a row face-up, and hoping your brawn level is at least as high as their total, or you fail. Wits lets you push your luck, choosing whether to stop after each card, or risk flipping a further card, risking undoing all of your hard work. It’s a classic Blackjack-style bit of push-your-luck, which I really like. Finally, stealth lets you choose any number of cards – face-up or -down – and hope your total is high enough.
This all sounds very simple, I know, but in practise it’s agonisingly difficult to choose sometimes. Not in a bad way, but in a good way. Thanks to the rulebook, you know the average strength of each of the blue and red guard cards, so you can make a semi-informed decision, but unless every card you attack is face-up, there’s a certain amount of trusting in lady luck. It’s definitely a game to make sure you’re wearing your lucky pants for!
Loved by the good
Rescuing Robin Hood needs collective brainpower and decision making, and it makes for a fantastic co-op game. Before the first player makes a move, you get to chat things over and decide on the best approach. It’s a bit like planning a big heist, but less sexy. Between you, you’ll decide who should do what, where you can afford to take chances, and even use some bonus tokens to do things like reveal more guards, or move them around.
What follows next is great fun. One-by-one everyone takes their turn, and the tension and excitement is great. The three or four seconds of whispered mental arithmetic when totting-up brawn scores, or the tension of whether the wit check will succeed as you slowly turn that last… guard… card…
There’s lots of reactive planning when your plans inevitably tumble all around you, like acorns from Sherwood’s Mighty Oak, and in all honesty, that scramble is great fun. As a Euro gamer, I love it when my plans work just as I’d planned, but the co-operative damage limitation at play in Rescuing Robin Hood is great fun. There’s a real feeling of being all in it together, winning or losing as a team.
Robin Hood, Robin Hood, Robin Hood
Rescuing Robin Hood is more a game of deck-construction, rather than deck-building. Rescued villagers are available for players to draft into their decks at the end of each round, gradually increasing the potency of them. You never really cycle through the deck, and at the end of the second and fourth rounds you’re forced to whittle your deck down to eight, and then finally four cards. Card choice is really important. It’s also a tough game. Not difficult to play, the round structure is simple, but succeeding is hard!
In the fifth, and final, round, your team have to storm Nottingham Castle before you can even think about rescuing our favourite outlaw. If you make it as far as rescuing Robin, he joins your team for one last hurrah, trying to take down the Sheriff. Technically, you win as long as you rescue Robin, which is just as well, because accomplishing all three in one round is pretty flipping difficult.
If you’re looking for variety, there’s an advanced game to play, where you additionally draw challenge cards to complete as you play. And if you find yourself short of time, there’s an accelerated version too, to speed things up. My biggest complaint with the game are the boards and cubes used for tracking the values of your traits. They share something with Terraforming Mars, in that they’re wooden cubes on a card with a gloss finish. The slightest bump of the table, or brush with a sleeve, and they make a bid for freedom.
When you open Rescuing Robin Hood and check out the gorgeous artwork, great rulebook, and custom insert, you’d be forgiven for thinking this comes from an established studio. For a debut game Castillo Games has done an incredible job, both in terms of production, and the game itself. Given how maths-dependent the game’s systems are, it’s clear that a lot of playtesting has happened to get the balance just right.
Fans of perfect information games probably won’t enjoy it too much, as there’s a lot of risk-taking and gambling involved. Rescuing Robin Hood is a proper social experience, and I can see it going down really well at games nights and conventions. The need to talk every step through, and the shared joy and misery when you win and lose, do a great job of binding the players together. If you lose, it’s no single person’s fault, and there’s a lot to be said for that.
The artwork and illustrations are fabulous throughout, and I love the punny names for some of the characters, like Anne Dittover and Hugh Jeego. If you’re planning on buying a game to play with two players mostly, just bear in mind that in my experience, two-player is a much more difficult exercise than with three or four people. Rescuing Robin Hood is a charming, easy-to-learn, co-operative card game, and I’m very impressed. I look forward to seeing what Bryce & Co have in store for us in the future.
Review copy kindly provided by Castillo Games. Thoughts and opinions are my own.
Rescuing Robin Hood (2021)
Designer: Bryce Brown
Publisher: Castillo Games
Art: Paul Vermeesch
Playing time: 30-60 mins