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Shadows in the Forest is a sublime board game every parent should have on hand

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A cult classic, reimagined for a modern audience

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Children sit around a table in a dark room moving game pieces on the table. The pawn is shaped like a camping lantern, and cardboard trees cast shadows all around. Brandon Hill/Thinkfun Games

When you get enough board game nerds together in the same room, they eventually begin trying to one-up each other. Like foodies comparing notes on the best meals they’ve ever had, the conversation quickly spirals into a list of the best and/or weirdest board games ever made.

One that invariably gets mentioned is called Waldschattenspiel, a German board game played in the dark with a tea candle. Despite the obvious concerns about cardboard and fire safety, it’s a rare and highly regarded game. Thanks to a new addition by Thinkfun Games called Shadows in the Forest, it’s back ... and it’s a lot less flammable.

Created and originally self-published by Walter Kraul in 1986, Waldschattenspiel pits a small team of nocturnal dwarves against an individual searching for them in the woods. The goal is to use a small candle to shine a light on the dwarves, freezing them in place. If all the dwarves can manage to gather together in one place without being frozen, they win.

In Thinkfun’s version, the candle is replaced by a tiny LED lantern. The dwarves are replaced with creatures called Shadowlings, which are adorable given their vaguely Totoro-shaped bodies. When the lantern light falls on them, the player moving the lantern — called the Seeker — takes the Shadowling’s removable white mask as their reward. Capture all the masks, and the Seeker wins.

But, if the Shadowlings can get close enough they can unfreeze each other, winning back their masks. Get all the Shadowlings hidden, together, behind the same tree and they win instead.

Cover art for Shadows in the Forest shows the title of the game itself casting shadows in an artfully rendered forest. Photo: Thinkfun Games

We played it last night as a family, including my eight-year-old and four-year-old daughters. I can’t remember the last time we had so much fun over a new board game. That being said, the game plays best when the adults in the room do a little fudging with the rules.

The Seeker needs to close their eyes between turns so that the Shadowlings can move freely. No matter how dark you make the room, their little white masks can be seen sometimes even though the arc of the lantern light isn’t actually touching them. So, while playing the Seeker, I sometimes had to pretend that I knew a little less than I actually did. Also, it’s handy to have at least one adult on the side of the Shadowlings to point out obvious mistakes and prevent the kids from cheating.

The game can sometimes go on for a little longer than it needs to. The thin manual recommends choosing the right number of trees and Shadowlings that are right for your family, and by tinkering with the numbers you can make play go a lot faster.

Bottom line, my girls are already asking if we can play again soon, and I expect we’ll crack the game open for a few more rounds tonight. For anyone prone to power outages, anyone who likes to go camping, or those eager to stock the vacation home in case of a rainy day, this new version of Waldschattenspiel comes highly recommended.

You can pick up Shadows in the Forest on Amazon for $24.99.