This is Picklemoose's Blog. A small section of Pixelated Cardboard dedicated to topics outside of digital board game ports. Posts here will be less formal & cover a range of topics.
Outfoxed! is a cooperative, whodunit, mystery-solving, children’s game from Gamewright. The game has one to four players taking the role of detective chickens trying to solve the mystery of what fox stole their pie. I'll take a look at the game from playing it with my daughter.
My daughter is five and I’ve been curious about introducing her to board games but had never made the leap. She has been playing tic-tac-toe for a couple of years, going from blatant cheating to subtle cheating to finally playing by the rules, and had shown little interest in games like Candyland and Chutes and Ladders (can’t blame her there!) We purchased Hungry Hungry Hippos a few months ago to give her and her brother (now almost 3) a shared activity, they both enough bashing on the hippos as much as I remember when I was young.
I knew with the boom of board games over the past decade or two that strides must have been made in children’s games, but I hadn’t make a point to seek out any information. I know My First Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride: First Journey existed, but didn’t know the details. I also knew the trend of early programming was big with games like Robot Turtles. I had no idea what age to start, let alone which game to start with.
I recently decided it was time to give it a go and my research led me to Outfoxed! It’s very difficult to imagine a five year old pulling off complex games so Outfoxed! looked like a good fit. Each turn would only have two decisions, followed by a Yahtzee-like series of dice rolls which resulted in a success or failure. The overarching goal of the game was fun and easy to grasp, the first thing I told my daughter when we were opening the game was that we had to catch a sneaky fox who stole our pie, I feel she was hooked immediately.
A break for a rundown of the actual game. The game contains 16 foxes, each with different physical accessories (some wear a top hat, some a necklace, some glasses, gloves, etc…). You place these cards face down around the outside of the nicely sized, and well made, game board. You then place a fun detective hat for each player in the middle of the board and put the fox figurine in the starting position. There are bunch of clue tokens which get placed face down on the table. Finally, one card from a second deck of 16 cards is blindly drawn and placed in the cluemorgrifier (I might have made that term up). This is a neat plastic case that holds the card which identifies the thief for the game. The clue tokens fit into the cluemorgrifier and you slide a plastic window away. If the clue is a top hat and the revealed spot on the card is green, that means the thief is wearing a top hat, a white space reveals that the thief was not sporting that particular accessory.
On each turn the player must decide whether they want to reveal suspects or gather clues. Once decided, you roll three dice where half of the sides are eyes (suspect reveal) and half are paws (clues). You get two re-rolls and must get all three dice to contain either eyes or paws, and it must match whichever of the two you chose before your turn started. So no last second switching if you wanted to reveal a suspect but rolled three paws. Should you successfully reveal suspects, you pick two of the face down suspect cards around the table and turn them over. Should you successfully hunt for clues you get to move your detective hat the number of spaces equal to the number of paws you rolled (each die has one side with two paws, so this number isn’t always three). Should you not complete your three of a kind roll, the fox moves three spaces.
That’s the gameplay. You try to uncover clues and suspect cards, the clues will help eliminate suspects (think Guess Who) while the fox moves closer to escaping. At any point you can guess the thief, if you are right you win, if you are wrong you lose. If the fox makes it to the end of the track, you lose.
The way the game plays out, barring especially poor luck, you will have time to uncover every fox and enough clues to narrow down the suspect list to one, resulting in a win. The rules suggest moving the fox more than three spaces to increase the difficulty, this is necessary if you want to introduce the threat of losing. My daughter decides at the start that the fox will move three, four, five, or six spaces. This depends entirely on the mood of a five year old in the given moment and that sets our difficulty. Even at six spaces, the game is very much winnable, but every now and then the dice won’t fall your way and you will lose. Anybody playing this game with young children likely understand that teaching graceful losing will be a big positive from this game.
Outfoxed! is a fun game that introduces children to adult-like gaming mechanics. There are a handful of aspects in play, like forcing the choice of what you want to roll before you roll anything. This makes the player think about what the most useful action would be. My daughter would initially just pick whichever she felt like, and she still does early in the game, but after a few plays she began to survey the game situation before making a more informed decision. The way the games typically play out, there will very rarely be a wrong answer between revealing suspects and revealing clues, but seeing a small mind work on making the best choice is a clear stepping stone towards more complicated gaming decisions.
The game also emphasizes some more basic developmental processes, like memorizing which clues were green and which were white and applying that information to each new fox that is revealed. One of the more fun aspects for me, the parent, comes with the dice rolls. When she finishes her second roll and she still needs to re-roll two of the dice, she gets a super exaggerated look of doom on her face. She certainly doesn’t realize it, but she’s learning some basic probabilities. Most of this is likely just me reading too much into things, but I do feel as Outfoxed! was really well designed to get children’s brains working in different ways, and I think it does very well on that front.
What doesn’t Outfoxed! do so well? I think this depends entirely on the target audience. My daughter and I played over a dozen games the first day we opened it, and have played at least once a weekend the month or two since. However, as she is able to process more complex games, it’s clear that Outfoxed will fall out of the rotation fairly quickly. The game does a great job of teaching some board game basics, but it does less good of a job at making the decisions very important. It’s essentially an exercise in rolling your way to reveal all of the foxes and enough clues to narrow the field to one. It’s more important for young players to feel a sense of importance in their decision making, and the game does well there, but it would have been nice to have that carry over more in making the decisions actually be meaningful.
I would very quickly recommend Outfoxed! to parents of children in the 4-6 age range who haven’t started playing board games beyond the old school “classics” like Hungry Hungry Hippos, Candy Land, etc… In fact, I already have made that recommendation to a few friends. Outfoxed! does a great job introducing more advanced gaming, and problem solving, concepts to young children. I wasn’t entirely sure my five year old would be able to fully grasp all of the rules, but that fear was quickly overcome within a couple of games when she was driving things on her own without any more hand holding.