Matt Carlson: Honga

Honga the hungry tiger wants your time and attention.  However, you have a job to do to take care of your village.  Do you spend precious actions to placate Hongar or do you ignore the tiger and hope to accomplish your goals before Honga eats you out of house and home.  Honga is one of those games where tactics trump strategy, forcing you to focus on making the best of what you’re given. Use your round action cards (with 4 orientations that can be placed in 4 locations) to accumulate resources and score points.  Honga is a relatively fast playing game for gamers looking for a lightweight, short-ish game focused more on turn to turn tactics rather than long-term strategy. 


Honga
Designers: Günter Burkhardt
Publisher: HABA
Players: 2-5
Ages: 8+
Time: 30-45minutes

Link: https://www.habausa.com/honga/

(review copy provided by publisher)

The mechanics of Honga focus around placing a circular card onto the game board to determine one’s actions for the round.  Each card is divided into four sections and has four (or five) total paw prints in two or three different sections. In addition, action cards are placed in one of four four locations on the board.  Thus, each turn presents a player with a choice of 16 possible actions. Players gain points primarily by two ways: collecting and selling resources, and advancing a marker up the temple track. Gameplay ends when one or more players have reached a set victory point value (depending on players) at the end of a round.

Overview

The game board is broken into nine sections (if Honga’s center spot is included.)  Each section provides a player with an action.

  • Appease Honga
  • Gain resources (Fish, Berries, Mushrooms, or Water)
  • Trade resources (shown on available cards) to the bank for victory points 
  • Pay homage to the gods (to earn victory points)
  • Lure mammoths to join your clan (to gain bonus actions)
  • Search the forest (to draw special ability cards)

It may be best to take a look at the board for clarity.  Here is the top half of the board:

The top half of the board. Note the two circular cards used to determine which actions are taken.

The wooden Honga piece is at the center of the 3×3 board.  At each of the 4 corners of the Honga space is a spot where players can place their circular action card, and orient it however they want.  A player may perform a given action as many times as there are handprints on the card. So, the left action card shows a player (clockwise) searching the forest, gaining two mushrooms, and trading for points (by trading in the resources shown on one of the cards.)  The right action card has a player appeasing Honga, and then collecting four berries.

Player resources (fish, berries, mushrooms, and water) are recorded on a handy card by moving one’s tokens up and down the inset spots.

Player Board

On one’s turn, a player chooses a location and orientation to place their round action card (drawn last turn.)   First, Honga gets his due. If a player has not allocated at least one hand (extra hands do nothing) to Honga, Honga immediately leaves wherever he is and comes to the active player’s village, eating one of their resources (giving priority to fish on down to water – eating a mammoth if one is available as a last resort.  If there’s absolutely no resources to eat, Honga stays but eats nothing.) Once this is done, the rest of a player’s actions are performed in any order they choose.

  • Gaining resources – A player moves their resource token on their card to indicate any resources gained.  Note, when spending resources, two water tokens can be used as a wildcard for any other basic resource.
  • Trading resources – A player turns in resources matching one of the three face-up cards and scores the stated points.  Spending more hands here allows a player to buy more than one card (although cards aren’t replaced until the end of a player’s turn.)
  • Exploring the forest – A player draws a forest card for each hand spent.  Players can only use two forest cards per turn and cannot use forest cards the turn they are gained.  Forest cards grant many different options, including a way to get rid of Honga off one’s village (the only way to get rid of him other than have another player ignore Honga on their turn.)  Other options include bonus resources that can ONLY be used in trading for points, a double-move on the appease the gods track, being able to draw 2 a pick 1 card at the end of one’s turn, and a discount on mammoth purchases.
  • Appease the gods – A player moves their token up the zuggarat one step per hand spent.  When a player’s token reaches the top of the zuggarat (the 5-space) every player scores points for their location (0,1,1,2,2,3,5) and all the tokens are reset at the bottom. The top two spaces are a big jump in points so timing the last jump is crucial.
  • Lure a mammoth into the tribal herd – This action bears a bit of explaining.  For the cost of one of each resource (except water, although two can be used as a wildcard) a player gets to take a mammoth from their off-board herd and place it onto the board.  The mammoths are in a queue and new mammoths are placed at the start of the line, moving all the other mammoths forward. If there are more mammoths than spaces in the game (fewer spaces available when playing with fewer players) any mammoths replaced are pushed off the board and go to the player resource card.  (They can later be “spent” if a special trading card comes up, or possibly later eaten by Honga if no other resources are around.) Placing mammoths on the board does not directly grant a player any points. However, the player with the majority of mammoths on the board (tie-breaker goes to the most recent mammoth added) is given the wooden mammoth-tusk and gets to draw from a special deck of action cards.  These action cards (shown in orange in the board image above) have a total of five hands instead of the typical four hands on the other cards. Thus, having a majority of mammoths on the board grants a player one additional action per turn. A useful advantage, at least until someone else steals it from you.

Play continues around the board until someone reaches the requisite victory points (more points required for fewer players) and the round continues until all players have had the same number of turns.

Game board and pieces in starting layout.

Verdict

Honga is clearly a fairly lightweight game, and clocking in at 30-45 minutes it may be a bit long for its weight.  However, non-AP gamers familiar with the game should clock in with a much shorter game. The recommended age of 8+ is pretty good, although this is the type of title where recommended age also depends on whether the person in question is already a gamer.  An 8 year old who’s never played any of the modern games may start out a bit mystified.

In my first few plays, I had concerns about play balance.  However, after a few plays I began to see how the different actions are actually quite balanced out.  At first it seemed like I should always pay attention to Honga (since it’s so hard to get rid of him), but having Honga in your village is essentially a “tax” of one action, and if he’s already there, you’re not spending an action on placating him at the start of your turn.  In a later game, I even had a run of several turns where I had nothing for him to eat so I was getting off scot free for having him in my village. Even better, sooner or later someone will probably call him over without me having to kick him off. I was also, at first, worried about the forest cards.  They seemed to be more valuable than the single action it takes to draw them. However, while some cards do give more for your buck (more than one resource for trading, for example) not all of them do and some are quite circumstantial.  

I’ve played with two and with several players and I think it does better with more.  A two player game can go along at a fast clip, but having three or more gives it more interesting interactions.  The race for mammoths and the bouncing around of Honga make things more interesting. It plays well with 5 people and still finishes in a good time due to the lower required number of victory points.  However, the game gets tighter and tighter with more players since there are far fewer turns. I can’t decide if I dislike the 5 player game because I never get my point accumulation going fast enough or if I like it since every turn has to count.

All in all, Honga is a solid game that is approachable by younger gamers.  There are a few more things going on than in other games in this category, but since choices are fairly limited (essentially 16 options, many of which are obviously weaker choices) the game doesn’t have to devolve into an analysis paralysis situation.  I think the biggest strength of the game lies in its softball player interaction. I’ve found “take that” aspects of a game do not work well in all families. In Honga, there are player interactions present that can foil other players, but they fall more along a race-style interaction (I got there first, have more mammoths, etc…) rather than cancelling out something a player already has acquired.  In that sense, it could be a good candidate for slowly introducing a bit more directly competitive games to the family mix.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it!
I like it.  Matt Carlson
Neutral.
Not for me…

About Matt J Carlson

Dad, Gamer, Science Teacher, Youth Pastor... oh and I have green hair. To see me "in action" check out Dr. Carlson's Science Theater up on Youtube...
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1 Response to Matt Carlson: Honga

  1. Pingback: Matt Carlson: Honga – Herman Watts

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