In this third fan preview of the upcoming Mice & Mystics expansion, Downwood Tales, I like to expand on some information about a unique location, previously introduced by Jerry in multiple podcast interviews.
Not all is wild in the Downwood
Within the overgrown maze that is the Downwood, travellers might come across relics of a bygone age, now hidden by thick vegetation and fallen leaves. One of these, the fallen head of a withered stone statue, conceals a truly mystical place. Even if spotting the head, no unsuspecting human would expect what he would find only a foot belowground: a settlement of forest animals, bustling with activity, constant chatter of local rumours, busy traders and even a government of sorts. The fitting name assigned by the locals: Headfall Hollow.
Are you as curious as Nez to find out where that flip space leads to?
To me, Headfall Hollow represents an important step in the heroes’ perception of their surroundings; a transition from going about their life in a castle to discovering a world within their own world; a mystical realm, previously concealed from their eyes, inhabited by talking animals. When Collin and his friends started on their grand adventure, a new, mouse-sized perspective was forced upon them. However, their knowledge of their environment remained unchanged. With the exception of Vanestra’s transformed lackeys, animals within the castle walls followed their instincts and behaved in an expected manner. Then, the heroes met Lily and the Barksburg mice. If Barksburg has been the introduction to a previously inconceivable world, Headfall Hollow fully immerses the heroes in a world of wonder and mystic.
How does it work within the game?
If you fear that Headfall Hollow introduces heavy role-playing elements between chapters, you can relax. The settlement and its mechanics blend into the existing Mice & Mystics rules with ease. The hidden town works essentially like any other tile in the game. It can be explored normally and depicts familiar board game features, such as minion entry spaces. Continuing from previous adventures, Downwood Tales immerses players in a highly thematic gaming experience. As such, special rules will ensure that you won’t have to clear the Headfall Hollow tile of minions every time you enter it. In fact, Headfall Hollow commonly functions as starting tile for your trusted band of rodents. Herein lies the fun and unique value in planning an expedition into the forest and connection between adventures. As opposed to previous adventures, mice usually keep their accumulated cheese after finishing a chapter, and Headfall Hollow contains four distinct buildings, which offer plenty of opportunity to spend any excess cheese in a meaningful and entertaining way. Whenever a mouse ends her turn on a building space, she can use an action to interact with that location. Keep in mind, though, that the cheese wheel is unforgiving and will advance as it would on any other tile. After all, your mice are on an adventure and not on a shopping trip.
Hawk’s Beak Inn
The inn is Headfall Hollow’s location to mingle with the locals and exchange tales and rumours from afar. A patron frequently seen at the inn is Jakobe, the gecko. If no players have chosen Jakobe as a hero, they can hire him, at the cost of three cheese tokens, in the Hawk’s Beak Inn as an ally. In this case, the gecko functions as the party’s fifth member. It’s a neat feature, which not only adds to the theme but also – by having an additional helper to deal with minions –allows adjusting a chapter’s difficulty without requiring complicated changes to the adventure design.
Jakobe can commonly be seen having a drink of "Thirsty Trickle" - the purest water of the region.
I’m certain that any mouse would learn plenty of useful things if she would spend plenty of time in the company of other adventurers. While our mice are, unfortunately, short for time, the inn’s proprietor, Brie, hears much. Better yet, Brie is willing to share her advice – for a tip. In game mechanics, you can spend one cheese token to freely pick any one trick card from the search deck. Yes, you read that right. No matter if a player has a favourite trick card he wants to use all the time, or if players aim to optimize their teamwork by choosing trick cards that work best with a specific combination of mice, Brie has you covered. In addition to trick cards, mice can acquire a variety of potions, jams and elixirs from the inn's proprietor. Since Headfall Hollow remains an active settlement even in our heroes’ absence, these items can change between adventures. Downwood Tales introduces an abundance of novel tricks and items alike, of which you can see one below.
This image speaks louder than words!
The final activity to participate in is the dice game. It follows the same rules as in Grapes of Rats (Sorrow & Remembrance) and offers a chance to get some extra cheese for new abilities or important items to buy whilst in Headfall Hollow. Potions, tricks, games and allies – a visit to the Hawk’s Beak Inn is always worthwhile!
This locale is inhabited by McReedy, a large squirrel entrusted with keeping law and order in Headfall Hollow. The warren obviously does not offer as many options to interact as the inn, and it mainly features as part of the narrative – which I will not spoil.
The one location you might not want to visit...
In this establishment you can find Danderfur, an elderly collector of any kind of wondrous items. Your mice can sell unwanted search cards for one cheese token each. In addition, Danderfur always has some interesting magical things on sale. Similarly to Brie, his inventory usually changes between chapters. Amongst the things on sale, Mice might find useful consumable items, runes of ancient wizardry and dusty old scrolls holding spells of great power. One scroll new to the Downwood Tales is the Cloak of the Willow.
One of many exciting scrolls Danderfur keeps on his shelves
The required lore value to utilise any scroll card is commonly indicative for its power. The Cloak of the Willow is no exception! It provides the most potent defensive option for our mouse heroes and I found this card a game-changer when a hero was close to being captured. I also could have used this scroll on many instances in which the match-up was unfavourable (for instance, think mouse versus venomous snake…). Maginos and Nere will rejoice at yet another opportunity to prove their worth, but don’t forget that lore value- boosting items may allow other characters to cast this spell, too.
Horton Hammerfast, the hamster proprietor of this general goods store is a true local. As such, he cares about the city (whether out of his kind heart or regard for his pockets is anyone’s guess) and might offer some advice. Based on my play testing experience, I recommend paying attention to him and to visit him frequently. Items usually sell for two or three cheese tokens and commonly cater to many character classes. Whether your mice are looking for daggers, shields, party items or you have a pine needle dart– loving gecko in your party, Horton is generally worth a visit. One item you might find in his shop is the Pea Shooter.
I'm sure Horton and Nez would get along nicely
First of all: how loud does this item scream "Mice & Mystics"? Combining the looks of a contemporary weapon with the cute innocence of this game is simply brilliant. When I first drew this card, I couldn't help imagining a mouse drawing it from under her coat, directing a snarky remark at some nasty rats and firing to the sound of 'pew, pew, pew' (or should it be 'pea pea pea'?). Looking at the item's effect with regards to combat encounters, I found it had three fantastic benefits: Firstly, slow-moving Nez gains access to another ranged weapon to improve his versatility. Secondly, archers gain a defensive attacking item. What first sounds like an oxymoron actually works incredibly well against melee minions. With every hit (not inflicted wound!), your poorly armoured mouse can push the attacker farther away and potentially prevent attacks on you or your friends. Finally, the pea shooter allows you to push minions off branches or into lava; a benefit that does not require further elaboration.
Headfall Hollow adds flavour, light and optional role-playing elements, a variety of uses for cheese tokens, interesting decisions and a place and community your mice will truly care about. Clearly, the settlement is more than just a single tile. The campaign rules and carrying-over of cheese will ensure your mice will find a great use for the tasty currency at all times! I find the decision-making and adventure planning tremendously entertaining. Players will consider whether it’s worth to spend some precious time shopping and might quickly decide to split up in order to cover as many establishments as possible. I found that it even encouraged some light role-playing, such as when a player, in his mouse’s voice yells from across the table: “Does anybody need a clockwork grenade?” Just be advised that sending Filch into the Hawk’s Beak Inn might result in some serious adventure delay. The little scamp seemingly cannot refuse a game of dice…
I hope that even this brief introduction to Headfall Hollow shows what a marvelous addition it is to Mice & Mystics. In the next preview, I'd like to share my thoughts on another new character whom to explore Headfall Hollow with - as well as the rest of the Downwood. Whether it will be Ansel, the mouse warden; or Ditty, the shrew; is entirely up to you. Just let me know whom you like to read about.