- Designer: Richard Garfield
- Publisher: Renegade Game Studios
- Players: 2-6
- Age: 10+
- Time: 60 minutes
- Played with review copy provided by Renegade Game Studios
When I first read about the Hunger, I was immediately interested – it was pitched to me as a new non-collectable deckbuilding game that would also involve board play. I’ll admit to being fairly partial to Garfield’s earlier design in Magic: The Gathering – a collectible card game, the genre from which deckbuilders arose. Having played the role of developer of Dominion, I’m also pretty partial to deckbuilders in general. And, I like Clank – a similar sounding game (also from Renegade) that uses both deckbuilding and board play. So far, sounds like a winner!.
The story here is that each player is a Vampire – each having a single night to go out, eat their fill of Humans, and then hopefully return to the Castle before daybreak – because as we all know, Vampires can’t survive sunlight and will burn up.
As with most deckbuilders, players start with their own deck of starter cards, identical to everyone else. During the course of the game, you’ll add more cards to your deck, crafting it to your particular strategies. Unlike many deckbuilders, the game has a finite number of turns – fifteen only – in which you play.
The board is set up on the table (there is a Rookie side and a regular side) and a smaller Hunt Track board which is placed next to the main board; one card is placed in each row in the “3” column. The board is seeded with bonus tokens, Rose cards and Castle tokens. 2 Public Missions are placed in the upper left of the board, and then each player is dealt 2 random missions, keeping one and discarding the other out of the game. Extra Missions are dealt to the crypt spaces on the board.
Each player takes their starting deck of 6 cards, shuffles them, and draws their starting hand of 3 cards. The Speed of each card is found in the upper left, and players sum the speed of their cards; and play in the first round goes in slowest to fastest order. In each following round, play goes (in general) from the player furthest away from the castle to the nearest. There are some other tiebreakers that you’ll end up referring to the rules until you remember them.
In each of the rounds, players play their entire turn before the next player goes. There are 3 phases in each turn
1] Activate your draw/discard effects. In any order you link, use all of the discard or draw effects seen on your cards (This is the stuff printed at the bottom of each card). Note that you cannot discard a card which has already been activated.
2] Calculate your speed and use it to move or hunt – Add up the speed on all your remaining cards as well as from any Permanent cards in your play area. If your speed is positive, you can use some or all of it to move your Vampire in one direction, and when you stop moving, you trigger the effect of the space you stop on (see below). If you land on a space with another vampire, you push them to an adjacent space. There are a few different paths in each area; you can change paths at an intersection if you like.
There are some special rules based on the ending space of your move – some examples:
- Chest – if there is a bonus token here, take it, score 2pts, and get the bonus effect on it
- Labyrinth – Hunt a Rose for no cost (but this acts as the Hunt for the turn for you)
- Tavern – hunt all the facedown cards on the Tavern for 2 speed.
- Well – You have an extra hunt this turn, but it can only be from the 1 Column (you must still have enough speed to pay for it)
- Market/Church/Mansion/Barracks – You can digest a Human card of matching type from your play area or discard pile; place this card under your player mat (it is therefore no longer in your deck)
- Crypt – Gain a Mission – take all the Missions here, add them to your hand and replace N-1 missions back on that space.
Then, if you have any Speed left, you can use it to Hunt. You choose one pile of cards from any space on the Hunt Track; the cost (in speed) is seen at the top (1-3 Speed points). You take all of the cards from your chosen pile and add them to your discard pile. All unused Speed is lost. All points gained from cards Hunted this turn are scored immediately.
There are a few basic types of cards available to add to your deck:
- Humans – They score VP immediately, and some have extra actions at the bottom of their cards. If you gain Human cards, you may score a bonus for them if you are in the Plains area of the board (+1/human) or the Forest area (+2/human).
- Familiars – These are permanent cards that give you ongoing benefits each turn
- Powers – These cycles thru your deck but give different effects when they come out
- Roses – can be had at the Labyrinth – they give both VPs as well as powerful permanent actions
3] End your turn. Discard all non permanent cards from your playing area, activate any End of Turn effects you have, then draw 3 cards to form your next hand.
Then the next player in turn order goes. After all players have taken a turn, move the round marker one space forward, and then move all remaining cards on the Hunt Track 1 column to the right. Draw one hunt card for each space in Column 3 of the Hunt Track and then Add 1 card to the Tavern face down (if there are less than 3 cards there).
At the end of the 15th round, the game is (almost) over. Any Vampire who has a Parasol card is allowed to take a final turn without hunting. Then, you check to see if you have survived the night. All vampires in the Castle are safely indoors and are OK. Vampires in the cemetery can duck into someone’s Crypt, but at a 5VP penalty. All other Vampires burst into flames and are summarily eliminated from the game.
All surviving vampires add end game bonus points from cards in their deck, and each player also scores points from their private Missions as well as the 2 public missions on the board. The player with the most points wins. Ties are broken in favor of the player who returned to the Castle first and lacking that, the player closest to the Castle.
My comments on the game
The Hunger is a different sort of deckbuilder, and because of that, it has made for an interesting few plays so far. I like the way that the number of rounds is fairly fixed; this is a change from most deckbuilders, and there is a tempo that comes from knowing this. In the end, it’s impossible to win without ending back in the castle (or at least the cemetery) – so you generally sally forth to explore, but then you have to figure out when is it time to start retreating back home in order to make it in time. You don’t want to misjudge it – if you come back late, you die, and that’s bad. If you come back too early, you also have cost yourself a lot of opportunity to get points. On the downside, there is a bit less tension in the game because of the known ending point – there isn’t the pressure of the uncertain game end trigger which is a positive feature of many other deckbuilders.
The bulk of the speed that your deck will have comes from the starting cards. Most of the other cards you add offer little or no speed (though plenty have actions which can increase your speed whether through drawing cards, allowing you to discard negative speed cards or other methods). As you add cards to your deck, you will have to carefully consider this. Sure, you have the chance to digest cards from your deck, but you have to get pretty far out to do this, and remember you only have 15 total turns in the game AND you have to return to the castle – so it’s not like you’re going to do this that many times…
There seem to be a number of viable ways to garner points. Racing to the end of the path can get you a Rose, and it likely lets you go first each turn – meaning you have best pick from the Hunt board. Don’t forget the bonus you get per Human card that you hunt when you are far away from the castle – those points can quickly add up! You could stay close, just try to Hunt and eat humans and then not be stranded away from the Castle. The Mission cards can be pretty powerful as well, and trying to collect as many of those as you can offers the potential for a huge end game bonus point score; assuming you can meet the criteria on those Mission cards. There is at least one deck in each section of the board, so you’ll have better choices as you venture further from the Castle.
The cards themselves are pretty straightforward, and there is only a single column of explanations on the back cover of the rules. We didn’t really have too many issues figuring out how the cards worked or the interactions between cards; and since all the new cards are added to the Hunt Board at the same time, in our first few games, we just all looked at the new cards, asked any questions ahead of time, and then went on with the game.
Buying cards is more capricious – sometimes it just helps to be in the right place in turn order. Some cards are better than others, and their cost is not based on their (perceived) strength but rather simply on their location on the Hunt Board. This is different than a lot of deckbuilders, and as a result, you need to always keep a close eye on the cards available so that you can pick up any bargains that might be available to you.
Unlike many deckbuilders, you get a decent idea of how people are doing in game as much of the scoring is done upon the acquisition of cards. Yes, the endgame bonuses and the Missions can be quite a substantial portion of your final score, but you do get some sense of how people are doing – especially those that are taking a human heavy approach.
First game can be difficult because no one will know how far they can explore and make it back… and the game does offer a Rookie ruleset (essentially lets you be further away from the Castle without dying). They also spike the initial card deck to give you a high proportion of cards deemed more useful at the start. We never played it; and just toughed it out. I suppose we could have all played poorly and had no one win – we could have all burned up – but that didn’t happen, so no harm, no foul.
The components are OK. The cards are pretty easy to read and the artwork is nice. The board… well, I’m less thrilled with that. First, the colors are pretty drab, and from a distance it’s hard to tell the difference between the brown land area, the grey area and the olive green area. And then to top it off, the finish is a super glossy one, which means that our light constantly reflected off the board making it hard to see. There are two sides of the board (one used for the Rookie version), but it might have been more interesting to have a second map on the back, and then simply applying rookie rules for the one time you’d play with them. Also, the bonus tiles are beige and beige-er. We hard a hard time figuring out which was which.
There is also a Ticket-to-Ride-ish scoretrack error. It’s not a big problem, but it’s hard to score 78 in the game.
Some of the icons are irritatingly similar – both the “discard” effect and the “draw” effect have a card or deck with an “X” on it. These two are easily confused, and surely a more contrasting set of icons could have been found. The board could have also used better reminders for the scoring bonuses for gaining human cards (there is a super small reminder on the score track, but really only the person sitting nearest to this would be able to see it). Also, a reference for the turn order tiebreaker would have been nice to see on the board itself.
The rules are a tough read. There were a few formatting issues, especially when Phase 3 and end of Round can’t be distinguished due to poor column notation. Our first time playing the game was aborted and restarted when we incorrectly added cards to the display. Sure, the error was probably on our end, but the rules make this an easy possibility. Once you play the game through, it pretty much clicks, but this was not the sort of game that I felt confident in how it would play from reading the rules alone. That being said, the gamers who I later taught the game to (after experiencing a tough first game) felt that they got it all with the experienced teach – but again, that only came after playing it through once.
All that aside, The Hunger gives you an interesting take on the genre, and once you learn how to play it, the game flows well. I would say that our games are still a bit on the long side, usually lasting more than an hour, but we have also had at least one new player in every game – and it takes awhile to read the cards when you’re not familiar with them.
I have tried to refrain from comparing this to Clank – as I don’t like reviews that base themselves on other games, but since the inevitable question will come up – at the current moment, I think I’d play this one over Clank. They do feel quite similar to me, but as I don’t own Clank anymore, there is room for this one in my collection for the winter.
Time will tell if this one sticks around, but I can certainly say it won’t supplant Magic: The Gathering nor King of Tokyo as the best Richard Garfield game in my collection.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y, Steph H, Eric M.
- Neutral. John P
- Not for me…