Designer: たきざわ まさかず（Masakazu Takizawa）
Artist: 井上 磨（Osamu Inoue）
Publisher: こぐま工房（Koguma Koubou）
Playing Time: 10-45 minutes
Times Played: 7 with a friend’s purchased copy.
Availability: The copy I have I bought from booth.pm. At the time of this review, copies are available (or should be soon) from Big Cat Games in the US.
Here’s something: it’s an anatomical structure from a carp. A sort of growth off of a vertebrae that connects the swim bladder to the, uh, inner ear. But here’s what it does. The fish gets to use the swim bladder as an echo chamber. It amplifies what the fish can “hear” through the water. It doesn’t do much good to hear things in your swim bladder, but luckily this “Weberian Apparatus” makes a shortcut to the ear.
That’s not the thing Ernst Heinrich Weber was known to me for. He wasn’t known to me at all until I started reading about the Weber-Fechner Law to prepare for this review. I only knew about what the law relates to, and that’s how we’re getting to Hikotrune shortly: just noticeable difference.
It’s one of those terms that tells you what it means. If I turn up the volume on some music, shrink your ice cream pint, crank down the AC (whichever direction that is), when will you notice? What is the smallest amount of change before you notice? It’s the just noticeable difference.
Hiktorune turns haptic just noticeable difference into a fantasy quest.
It’s opening a garbage bag, a produce bag, or, more to the point here, turning the page in a book. Can the pads of your fingertips detect the movement of 1 card, 2 cards, 4 cards? Can you adjust the force with which your fingers are touching the cards, the angle in this axis, the angle in another axis, to control stealing the pages you want from the spellbook you’ve found?
It occurs to me you might need some visual context for this game. Here’s the centerpiece:
Hiktorune is a cooperative dexterity game in which the player’s are apprentice magicians who are running off to fight a dragon, but are poorly trained on the spells they will need to make it to the dragon and win. They decide to address this deficit by stealing pages from a legendary spell book they’ve stumbled across.
The main mechanic works like you can imagine.
You can’t take all the cards. You can’t take a card on the outside. It needs to be standing when you’re finished. Otherwise, have fun. Try not to make it collapse.
At the beginning of the game, the person teaching you will probably have set up a series of cards in a sort of quest. The cards will show you what your team needs to pass it (e.g. cast 4 red spells, or cast 1 blue spell in which all players participate) and a reward (e.g. saving gems for later, earning an extra life.) If the team successfully completes one element of the quest, the players put a colored gem on the card to mark their progress. Once a card has been achieved, the active player moves the team’s pawn to an adjacent card, and reveals any adjacent cards which are face down.
Somewhere in there is a dragon. Defeat it, and you win. Lose 5 lives (that’s 5 book collapses) before that and you lose.
A Weberian apparatus would help. At first glance, it seemed like a rinse-and-repeat exercise in pulling a few cards out. But after a few plays, my strategy and tactics evolved. I watch the video clips and see mistakes I’ve made.
We’ll come back to all that, only a short detour this time into fore-edge painting.
That’s the technique where paintings are visible when you fan the edges of a book.
That’s it. That’s the whole detour.
So, that’s (sort of) a thing in Hiktorune! There are a few different kinds of pages in the book. Some are special, most are spell ingredients, and a few are the recipe for that spell. So, if you want to cast a red spell, you need one recipe card, and 4 red ingredient cards. You can get the ingredient cards from any mixture of players, though some of the quests will require each player to contribute a card to a spell that is being cast.
But the thing is, fore-edge painting. I rarely discuss art or component quality when talking about a game because, well, frankly, I don’t really care. If it gets in the way, yes, I’ll mention it, but otherwise, I take the designer’s and publisher’s decisions as their choice, and play it where it lies. But the card stock here is outstanding. The printer used every part of the surface of those cards, and the way they form a lean-to reveals the fore-edge painting: you can see where certain colored ingredients are to pull them. The recipe cards have a black banner on them that you can sometimes see on the quasi-fore-edge, sometimes not, and sometimes it’s fairly indeterminate.
Can you pull that section of cards that has the blue recipe and the yellow ingredient? Can your fingers pull only those cards? Should you try for that section that looks risky but might have the recipe? Can you feel the difference of when you’ve let go of ‘too many’ cards? What is the just noticeable difference for your finger pads? How many cards is the minimum to know it’s changed and how well can you control it? Do you wish you had a Weberian Apparatus connecting your, uh, bladder to your fingertips?
I haven’t mentioned it, but there’s a discard pile. See, you pull cards out, you cast spells,… that structure is deteriorating. Fewer and fewer pages giving it any integrity. You only rebuild it when it falls.
But really, pulling cards isn’t the hard part. Grab some cards and go. The sticky point is the balance. Can you remove the cards and keep the other cards in their self-buttressing state? Pulling 1 card can make that easier, as there is little change, but take a half inch of cards and there’s going to be a tectonic collision of the two sides that’s more likely to resolve through a crash than the two sides delicately holding each other up.
That’s part of where the team work comes in. It’s difficult to switch the focus of your eyes to each of the places you need to maintain a vigil on, but you have teammates for that. Rely on them for the bigger picture as you think you are pulling pages straight up, but are inevitably drifting to the left or the right. Did you overcorrect? How small is your just noticeable difference for adjusting the angle you are pulling the pages out? Coach your fellow apprentice to the left and to the right. Don’t let them twist. Watch for shear.
How will you filch those pages? A finger on each side at the top is your first inclination, but is it the best? It’s not required in the rules. Don’t be limited by what you don’t know that you can do.
There’s joy and intensity. Anticipation and camaraderie. Focus and adventure.
Hiktorune is a top-tier 2018 release for me.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Joe Huber (1 play): This is definitely a unique game, and one I was glad to have tried. But like many cooperative games (and many dexterity games, too, really) – it’s not a game I’m inclined to play more.
Dale Y (3 plays): I really like this one, but man, I completely suck at it. I have a Hiktorune dependent tremor, and it really makes me an awful player of this game. If the goal was to only pull out one card at a time, and fail at least 33% of the time trying it, then this would be perfect for me! My suckiness at it aside, it has been fun to play when it was around, but I don’t know if it has the legs to want to actually be in my collection. I’ll just play James Nathan’s when the once-a-year urge hits me.
[JN: As a general rule in dexterity games, to steady myself, I never let the hand/arm that I’m using to hold a piece move itself: I use my other arm. That is, I think the ideal scenario for pulling a card is: (1) two elbows braced on the table (2) non-dominant hand grasps the wrist of the dominant hand (3) dominant hand is used to grab cards, but (4) non-dominant arm pivots to move the dominant arm (5) and should be grabbing it close enough to the wrist that you can squeeze to adjust the dominant hand at the wrist as well. ]
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it! James Nathan
I like it. Dale Y
Neutral. Joe H.
Not for me…