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A (very late) review of the Woodland Set
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TOPIC: A (very late) review of the Woodland Set
#52067
A (very late) review of the Woodland Set 1 Year, 5 Months ago  
Well, this is awkward.

I'm a huge fan of DF, I have been since 1999 or so. I remember seeing a Master Maze setup in my FLGS, and it totally blew me away. They had some of the individual pieces for sale, and the furniture and accessory set, but that's it. My then-girlfriend (now wife) bought me a mermaid fountain. I spent the next few months asking every day if they were gonna get more in. Finally I just caved and ordered some sets online. It's been a long road.

So it PAINS me, after all this time, to see a set that doesn't quite knock it out of the park, but sadly, the Woodland Set is one of the weaker offerings. There's a lot to love in this set, and the execution is, as always, phenomenal. But there's also some squandered potential. And it seems like this set did NOT set the world on fire the way the catacombs, Hellscape and DoE sets have. I actually waited this long to get the set, mostly because I haven't had any money or time to devote to gaming, but also because it just wasn't grabbing me. Now that I've finally picked one up, I'm very happy to have it, but I can see that my initial instincts were probably correct.

So -- on to the review.

First, the good, so this isn't too negative a post. The set is beautiful to look at. The colors are really striking, the general impression of a sylvan atmosphere is very well done. The detail in this is probably the most impressive thing DF has ever done -- every single piece is just covered in little details, like leaves and bumps in the tree trunks and little bits of fungus and flowers and vines. There's grass in the cracks in the ground, there are gaps in the trees. It's breathtaking. This is easily the set's best feature, just the sheer amount of cool stuff there is to LOOK at in all these pieces. And, as always, there are cute touches in the cut-away view in the floor. Where the DoE pieces have little "souls" screaming under the floor, the Woodland set has rocks and roots visible in the cross-section. Very nice.

Also good - the basic set gives you a ton to work with, lots of basic pieces that allow for a wide variety of setups. That's helpful.

Many of the walls and corners are identical, but there are a few standouts, like the wall that has just leaves hanging down or the one with the little portal in it. There's enough variety here to keep things from getting monotonous.

The doors are awesome, I love their design and the fact that they open. They're beautiful.

And, finally, the set also comes with a neat little firepit floor piece and a fantastically detailed little fountain. The fountain base is two elven boys holding up a basin, which itself is filled with clear resin "water." The fountain is a real standout. It's gorgeous. In fact, it's so awesome, I'm gonna have to come back to it in some of my negative comments in a moment....

The biggest drawback for most people -- and this isn't a small nit to pick -- is that for the first time the execution of a DF set fell short in a fundamental way. The pieces don't line up properly. The walls are just the tiniest bit too long, so there will always be gaps in the floors when you build. You can't make a seamless grid the way you normally can. DF has had the rare problem with warped pieces in the past, and it's always possible to have a bad batch here or there. But consensus from when this set was released seems to be that it's a basic defect of the Woodland set that the pieces don't actually form a tight grid, and specifically the floors are a bit smaller than the walls, so when you make a line of walls and then place single floor pieces next to them, over time you're gonna have a big gap. That is a real shame.

But while that technical flaw may be the dealbreaker for many people, I'd be willing to overlook it if it weren't for another problem I have with the set.

The problem is, I'm just not sure what this is supposed to BE.

It's not quite the "outdoor" set people had been asking for, because the clear straight grid this set forms, with parallel lines and rectangular "rooms," is obviously nothing you'd ever find in nature. It's clear this is a setting that's been "designed" in some way, like an elven home. Which is okay, I guess. But it doesn't feel like a good fit. There's something about making rooms and corridors out of trees that just feels off to me. And it doesn't seem like a setting I can get much use out of.

It's all-too-easy to play the game of "How I'd have done it," and it doesn't count as legitimate criticism, but I have to say, it's darn tempting here. I think a set like this would have been more successful if done more like the caverns as opposed to like the dungeon sets. A larger footprint, and less of a clear grid to the walls, with more curves and odd shapes. Corners that are somewhat rounded and circuitous, with lines of trees that follow a less straight and narrow path. That way as you assembled an area, like with the caverns, you'd get a more organic, natural-feeling setting, with open areas and closed off areas and clusters of trees that create a kind of labyrinth without feeling like neatly ordered rooms. Seriously, just picture the walls of the cavern sets done as trees like this and you will be able to see what I have in mind. That would have felt more like an open woodland area and less like a strange hybrid between a building and a forest, which is what this ends up feeling like.

It's all very subjective, of course, but I just feel like had it been executed that way, this would have been a much more versatile set for woodland encounters. With that kind of set you could still have made the occasional little "elven refuge" type hybrid place, because some of those walls are straight and could be arranged to make 90 degree corners and so forth. But it's a little more "wild" and would have been able to do a lot more by way of feeling natural for other kinds of encounters, while this set as it stands is never really going to look right for those. The trees are always going to be in perfectly straight, narrow lines, meeting at perpendicular 90 degree angles, it just won't ever feel organic.

In a similar vein, it feels like the Woodland Accessory Set does the same thing. Instead of giving us natural, feywild accessories -- and this is where that fountain comes in, because that's PERFECT and just what I have in mind -- like free-standing clusters of trees that could break up a room, or rock formations, or maybe an old burned out stump, or a new kind of special portal, it gave us essentially the tavern/inn set but more forest-y. We got tables and chairs and railings and ladders and candles and beds -- all very civilized and all very specific. We can make a kind of forest bed and breakfast. But we can't make a visually stunning woodland encounter -- a cool fountain, an obviously magical pool, a strange tree, a little cave entrance, a fallen idol. Etc. We can't do the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark or the "who ate YOUR apples" from Wizard of Oz or any other kind of neat trek through the magical forest. And that's a shame. The woodland accessories are very detailed and well-executed, and they will make for a cool elf inn, but they aren't nearly versatile enough. Sadly, elf inns just aren't as common a fantasy trope as regular old fashioned inns. And accessories that are more in-keeping with a wild environment could have opened this up and made it even cooler and suggested new kinds of fantasy encounters, instead of narrowing it down and confirming "yes, this is basically a regular dungeon set, but it looks like trees."

I'm being way too harsh, and I'm sorry for that. I don't mean to dump on it. But I know what DF can do when things are really firing on all cylinders, and I normally love this stuff so much it's one of those "I can't pick my favorite" situations. The medieval buildings sets, the cavernous lake and rivers, the regular caverns, the dungeons, the den of evil, the realm of the ancients -- each of these sets is so fantastic. And a big part of what makes them so great is that you can just come up with a thousand scenarios for each of them, they're so versatile and so evocative. The Woodland Set just doesn't have that. It makes a really detailed, gorgeous little fey glade for some elves to get drunk on nectar, and that's about it.

All of this, of course, is 100% subjective and your mileage may vary. Some people may love the Woodland set more than any other set, and may find that it perfectly captures exactly what they'd want. And I hope there are a lot of those people! I'm perfectly happy with DF releasing a set that doesn't thrill me once every 12 years or so, and so is my bank account.

Rather than end on a negative note, I will say that I think this can be spun into a very worthwhile addition to an existing DF collection. What I mean is that while I may never find myself all that tempted to do a lot with this set just on its own, I can see how incorporating the floors into a regular dungeon or cavern set could be really interesting. Or placing the prison bar pieces from the Wicked Additions 3 set and plopping them into a Woodland set layout would be really striking. Or using some of the Woodland pieces to make a kind of glade inside a regular dungeon (or the upcoming Kickstarter "Castle" sets!) could also be great -- use the railings from the accessory set to set it off and have one room that's just this curious little forest clearing. I think, in other words, that the Woodland set makes a STUNNING accent to existing DF sets, even if I'm not 100% crazy about it as a setting entirely on its own.

And, really, thinking of this as an accessory set really makes it shine for me. My opinion of it jumps a thousandfold when I think about it that way.

I'd say this set is a rare B (instead of an A+) when taken as its own setting, but as an accessory set for other DF settings it's back to A+ territory. ;)
Law
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#52085
Re:A (very late) review of the Woodland Set 1 Year, 5 Months ago  
Well thought out review.
thebigteacher
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#52095
Re:A (very late) review of the Woodland Set 1 Year, 5 Months ago  
Well thought out Law...sorry...in hindsight it probably should have been just a bunch of outdoor elements and maybe even trees...I'll consider that next time we revisit the elves....i think the problem was our initial idea was to make a sort of Rivendell type environment, high elves and such, and then it later became more wood elf....we kinda got caught in the middle...poor Sandra Garrity wasn't too familiar with the whole DF concept I am afraid...she does amazing outstanding miniatures and accessories but i am afraid we were not too diligent on emphasizing the importance of the fitting...because it's a limited edition set and no more will be made it's too late to fine tune anything...so yes, it's flawed in a way...an imperfect flower I am afraid....well, I still Love it, and yes, it works great when used in the other DF environments especially the Cavern Set...it makes a great island in the lake Set! So, a bit of creativity does make it a special and unique set if you give it a chance:)
Anyway, thanks for your extensive and well thought out review as always Lawrence:)
Stefan
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Stefan Pokorny

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#52111
Re:A (very late) review of the Woodland Set 1 Year, 5 Months ago  
Great review, Law! I always liked the look of the Woodland Set but didn't add it to my collection for all the negative reasons you described. But you are right, seeing the set more as an accessory set makes it way more attractive. Sometimes the difference really is the perception of what can be done with it. Your review definitely helped me to see it in a more positive light and I may add a few sets to my collection for that reason. Thank you for that! :)
Kronos
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#52146
Re:A (very late) review of the Woodland Set 1 Year, 5 Months ago  
An island in the lake! That's an awesome idea!

The thing is, like I said at the end of the review, these pieces really would make AWESOME add-ons to existing sets. I am fairly sure that if I went to a con and set up a castle with an interior courtyard made up out of Woodland set pieces, or put an island in the lake like you said, or maybe made a garden for a Medieval Building Set inn -- I am positive that if I did that, the part of the display that would get the most attention and most people would ask about would be the Woodland set part. It really is a very cool looking set and would make a great "room" in an existing layout. Its weaknesses all come from trying to make a full environment all by itself.

I really do like the idea of making a Woodland Set island. You could make an entirely enclosed island with the walls of trees bounding it on all sides, or you could use just the floor pieces around the edges to create a kind of "shoreline" and then have trees on the interior.... hmmm.....
Law
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#52164
Re:A (very late) review of the Woodland Set 1 Year, 5 Months ago  
Law wrote:
An island in the lake! That's an awesome idea!

The thing is, like I said at the end of the review, these pieces really would make AWESOME add-ons to existing sets. I am fairly sure that if I went to a con and set up a castle with an interior courtyard made up out of Woodland set pieces, or put an island in the lake like you said, or maybe made a garden for a Medieval Building Set inn -- I am positive that if I did that, the part of the display that would get the most attention and most people would ask about would be the Woodland set part. It really is a very cool looking set and would make a great "room" in an existing layout. Its weaknesses all come from trying to make a full environment all by itself.

I really do like the idea of making a Woodland Set island. You could make an entirely enclosed island with the walls of trees bounding it on all sides, or you could use just the floor pieces around the edges to create a kind of "shoreline" and then have trees on the interior.... hmmm.....

sounds like the wheels are turning....if so...fully expect some pictures:)
Stefan
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Stefan Pokorny

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#52178
Re:A (very late) review of the Woodland Set 1 Year, 5 Months ago  
Stefan wrote:
sounds like the wheels are turning....if so...fully expect some pictures:)

You are correct, sir!

:)

Pics as soon as I can get something together!
Law
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"In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play."

-- F. Nietzsche
 
#52199
Re:A (very late) review of the Woodland Set 1 Year, 5 Months ago  
I bought the woodland sets for my husband as he always plays a half-elf, and he loves green and nature-y things.

However, being a huge Narnia fan, I couldn't help but combine the classic dungeon with Woodlands to make Cair Paravel for an encounter - complete with tiny apple trees. Now if only I could get a cavernous rivers, I could blend those around to make it's island-y shape! :-)
nararabbit
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#56160
Re:A (very late) review of the Woodland Set 1 Year ago  
Good review Law.
KacyCrawford
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#56174
Re:A (very late) review of the Woodland Set 1 Year ago  
Great analysis, Law.

If I recall correctly, I believe someone recently made an "island in the stream" set up.
It was quite astounding and illustrated your accessories point quite well, law.
LordTentacle
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