Now the nights are drawing in and it’s dark after dinner, we’ve started playing Waldschattenspiel (Shadow in the Woods) again. There’s something mesmerising about being huddled in the dark around a flickering candle, that makes this perfect for younger kids.
How it plays:
In this classic German game, one person (the adult) is the searcher, pushing a candle along the paths of the forest in search of gnomes hidden in the shadows. When discovered a gnome is frozen and must wait for a fellow gnome to reach them and tag them free again. While the seeker must roll a dice to determine their moves, the gnomes can move anywhere on the board as long as they always remain in the shadows. If the gnomes all manage to huddle together under a single shadow of a tree before they are found they win the game. If the seeker finds them all then he/she is the winner.
The game play is straightforward, but it does require a little thought to ensure you don’t get trapped by the light as the candle moves around. Most importantly, it requires near total darkness to get the full effect of light and shadow. Leave the light on in another room and the ambient light makes it difficult to identify where light and shadows fall on the board. Even in the dark, the handy candle pushing stick is useful as a surface to test where light falls between the trees.
I’d recommend setting up the board so larger trees are towards the edge to make it a little more challenging for the gnomes. Otherwise there’s just too many long shadows that join up making it too easy for the gnomes to move around.
What we love about this game:
The real appeal of this game is atmosphere. The flickering candle light and that element of ‘danger’ that N get from watching a naked flame is what sets this game apart and makes it feel special for winter evenings as a family. A newly released version by ThinkFun (called Shadows in the Forest) updates the gnomes in a style reminiscent of Studio Ghibli, which I adore, but it comes with an led lamp. This makes it very different, because although kids could now play it on their own, the artificial light removes the intensity of playing in candle light. Still fun I’m sure, but different in the same way as a real fire feels different to an electric fire. The glow in the dark dice is a good idea though.
We have the Kraul delux version, with a beautifully painted board and sturdy, composite wood trees. The gnomes come with tiny felt hats to glue yourself which I’ve struggled to figure out, so our gnomes remain hatless!
For most kids, Shadow in the Woods would be suitable with adult supervision from around 5 years, but you will probably have to keep reminding them not to grab their pieces over the top of the flame! It may be more challenging to keep an eye on a more spirited child but there is something hypnotic about candle light which does seem to calm kids and give them focus. This makes it a perfect pre-bedtime winding down game.
Overall, gameplay is pretty simple, but the appeal here is not deep thought. For us Shadow in the Woods is a special game whose yearly arrival on the shelves signals the start of winter and heralds the coming of Christmas. If you’re one for slow, family time, for fireside stories and winter traditions, then this is the game for you. It’s certainly one to play with the kids while they are young and still find light and shadows magical.