Dale Yu: Review of Happy Pigs

 

Happy Pigs

  • Designer: Kuraki Mura
  • Publisher: IELLO
  • Players: 2-6
  • Ages: 10+
  • Time: ~40 minutes
  • Times played: 3, with review copy provided by IELLO

Happy Pigs

Happy Pigs first came out in 2013 in Asia, and had some limited availability in the West due to Swan Panasia. I had heard of the game then, but I was not able to get a copy at that time. Fast forward to 2016, and a newly done English version is available from IELLO. In this game, players are competing farmers trying to raise the best pigs to sell at the market. There are four different rounds in the game, and the player with the most money at the end of the game is the winner.

Each player gets a field board and the action cards in his color. Then, prior to starting the game, each player is allowed to buy any five things from the supply: pigs, vaccines, supplements, extra field boards, etc. The pigs come in four different sizes, and you can choose whichever size you want.

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The game will be played over 16 rounds – 4 in spring, 4 in summer, 4 in fall and finally 4 in winter. There are special season cards which will be shuffled and a deck of cards will be constructed. At the start of each round, the top card from the season deck is revealed. This card will have a special effect on the bottom which applies to all players at the end of the round. The top of the card shows the different actions and the total number of times that action can occur in this round. Once players see the card for the round, they then secretly and simultaneously choose which of the four possible actions they will try to perform this round.

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FEED: You can increase the size of any one pig that you own to the next larger size. A pig can only be fed once in a round. You must be able to fit the new pig onto your field board(s).

MATE: If you have a mature enough pig (either of the two largest sizes), you can produce a piglet. Each mature pig can only make one piglet per round. You must have space on your field board(s) to accommodate the piglet.

BUY: Spend your money on anything from the supply – this could be more pigs, extra fields or any of the other items. You could buy a vaccine which protects a pig for the length of the game, a dietary supplement that will allow a pig to grow at an unnatural rate when fed, or an Amulet of Life which causes your mating pigs to produce abnormally mature pigs.

SELL: Sell one of your pigs back to the market at the prices printed on the market board.

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Once all players have selected their action tile, they are revealed. Now, each player figures out how many actions they get. As I mentioned earlier, the season card tells you the total number of actions. Let’s say that it says Feed x 7. That means that the entire table will feed 7 times. If only one player chose the Feed action, he could do it up to seven times!  If multiple people chose the Feed action, those 7 actions are allocated clockwise around the table – this means that some players (closer to the start player) may get to Feed more than others later in turn order.

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Once all players know how many actions they get of their chosen type, the actions are done in player order starting with the Start Player. If a player chooses not to take (or can not take) any of his actions, he gains $1 for each action not taken. Play moves around the board, and players take their allocated actions. When all actions are complete, then the global effect from the season card is applied.

At this point, the start player passes clockwise and a new round begins. However, if there is a transition of season (every 4th round), there is a special extra phase. At this point, any pigs that are unvaccinated die for some reason, most likely swine flu, and must be returned to the supply board.

The game continues through all four seasons – and yes, there is a change of season culling of the pig herds at the end of the game. Any surviving pigs left at the end are then sold to the market and the player with the most money wins the game.

My thoughts on the game

Happy Pigs is an interesting engine building game. Though I didn’t see it at first, the game is all about making incremental improvements in your pig generating engine through the 16 discrete actions. The catch here is that you want to zig when everyone else zags in order to get the most out of each turn. The special actions on the round card help to make the decision more interesting… sure, it’s great to get the extra benefit given on the card, but only if you get enough of that action to make it worthwhile!  Otherwise, maybe you should pick an alternative action where you’ll be left to yourself.

The game moves along at a good clip – once folks are familiar with the actions, the rounds can go by quite rapidly. In our group, it’s not uncommon for everyone to be able to figure out how many actions they get, and we can all do our tasks simultaneously. Now, of course, this method may not be for everyone – because if you go in turn around the table, you’ll be able to see and process what everyone else has done. For us, the actions are simple enough, and you can usually catch up to the current game state with a quick glance at each other player’s board.

In the early game, it’s all about growing the size of your herd so that you are able to make babies – and honestly, you’ll need to be able to sell a few larger pigs in order to get enough capital to buy more stuff. You don’t really start with enough money to go the entire time without selling along the way – and again, the big thing here is trying to get the most out of your opportunities. As the game progresses, I think that you can choose to either try to grow your farm as large as possible and shoot for a big sale at the end of the game, or you can stay small (avoiding investment costs in extra fields, vaccines, etc) and try to rotate your stock to take advantage of the high selling prices when you can.

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Again, the game is improved with the variable special action cards – this gives each round a certain twist, and offers players opportunities to try to read their opponent’s minds on what they are going to do. The changing rules also give the players a chance to take some different strategies that may pay off handsomely if the right action card comes up.

On the whole, this is a nicely done game. It’s a bit more complicated than a filler or closer, but it still will be played quickly – I’d say around 30-40 minutes for people comfortable with the game. It will likely hit the table a fair amount in the super filler / light game niche in our group.

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers

Dan Blum (1 play): I thought it was decent, but a bit long for what it is; the engine-building is fairly simple and gets a bit repetitive. Taking actions simultaneously most of the time helps with the length, but you can’t do it every time since in some cases you need to know what other people do so you can set up for next turn. We did do a lot of stuff at the same time in our game, but it still felt too long to me – I think playing 3 turns per season instead of 4 would probably be better.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y, Eric Martin
  • Neutral. Dan Blum
  • Not for me…

 

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About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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