The Hunger Games: District 12 Strategy Game » Reviews » So you like the book(s); what about this game?

Author: Action Phase
Recently, while on a sabbatical to the tourist Gehenna that is Florida, I decided to put down Warren Ellis' Crooked Little Vein--it felt like Kerouac telling extensive dick and fart jokes (and I like this guy!)--and pick up a copy of Hunger Games whilst puttering around Wal-Mart as my future wife refilled her asthma meds. I heard some water cooler ramblings of the book at work, all of which were promising. Me, usually I avoid "popular literature," not really keen on being in on the big inside scoop of things like young adult fiction. But boy was I surprised once I dug into this book.

Okay, so this is starting off more as a book review, which isn't why you are here, right? You read the book; you are going to see the movie. So what's the score with this recent game? Alright already; I'm getting there!

In total, there are three Hunger Games-based board/card games: 2010 release Training Days, Jabberjay a traitor game akin to The Resistance, and then, yeah, this one. Training Days proved to be a big letdown for most, though the idea sounds interesting enough. Weirdly, none of these games capture the excitement/brutality of the arena, but, rather, the peripherals of training, the rebellion, and, in this release, surviving day to day life.

District 12 is a worker placement/resource management game stripped down to the bone. This won't be a deep gaming experience for most veterans, even if you dress like Katniss and call your French Bulldog 'Prim' for kicks. However, this doesn't mean that the game is devoid of value.

I made this purchase for two reasons: 1.) I liked the books and was curious, and 2.) my aforementioned future tense wifey also devoured the first book while on holiday; that, and she enjoys games, but much more on the lighter side of things. With Training Days being a 2-4 player, I thought this might be a good purchase, esp. at $19 on Amazon.

Last night we sat down to play. It took me all of 10 mins to read the rules and grasp the basics; the booklet is under 10 pages. I setup the board and spotted the printed error on the Resource deck location 'The Meadow'--apparently another space, now titled 'Capitol Storage' was originally the 'Mayor's House,' though this slipped past proofing and made it to print; oops!

First impressions: the components aren't the finest quality. We are talking some tiny cards (think the pre-1910 Ticket to Ride base game cards; usual fair in the gaming world, really), a few varying chits, and square board about half the size of conventional boards. The artwork for the packaging and game is simply stills from the movie. Katniss looks weirdly plasticine in a few shots, which makes sense (if you have read the first book), though it hinges upon CGI. The quality of these components is decent. The box is a high gloss, slick-coated.

My two qualms are:

1.) The insert is absurdly cheap and ginormous (meaning the box is unnecessarily sized). I picked up the Jabberjay game, as The Resistance is a hit with my usual play group; it fits under said insert with tons of room to spare. The seating for the cards and chits is reasonable for all but the Resource Cards, which will warrant you keeping the little cigarette wrapping-style baggie for each so they don't slide about.

and

2.) The card backs. Katniss, Katniss everywhere. The game depicts her on nearly everything. I find this odd as each player is depicting a generic District 12 indigene. This, and the trademarks abound--which,I know, I know, are there for legal whatnot, but really drive home the "you have purchased an IP-based game!!!" factor.

Other than the glaring oversight on the board and a few grammatical weirdnesses in the booklet, not the worst game I own; component-wise, what is one to expect for such a pittance?

Now, how does this one play? Not so bad, actually. It took a game or two to really grasp some basic tactics: essentially, you move around from location to location, grabbing up resource cards as best you can. Each player is dealt a "special card" at the beginning of the game, which gives you a minor advantage. The game is 12 rounds, not including the Reaping and then scoring. Each round touts differing effects, though not too much in the way of variation: you seed cards on two locations, potentially deal out a few more special deck cards, and swap initiative/cards with other players, if you so wish. During some of these rounds you must cash in resources, representing tesserae, lest your name be entered in the dreaded Glass Ball.

So, yeah, the Glass Ball; this is the part I think a good many people will despise, though future wife and me both find it is thematic and pretty awesome. At the beginning of the game, you have a stack of cards of your color. You put one in the Glass Ball for each Player. As we were playing with only 2 players, 3 dummy cards of the the 2 colors not used are added to up your odds. Before scoring, you shuffle up the cards in (on) the Glass Ball. If a card of your color is drawn, guess what? You lose, as you have been randomly selected as tribute for the Games. Those not selected as a tribute count up the Resource value of the cards in their hands. Whoever has the most points wins.

In the interest of wrapping this up, I like this game. I can imagine it is even better with more players, as your options diminish in terms of which location you can access from round to round, it encourages trading (which doesn't happen in a 2 player game). Someone will definitely become tribute, making the odds that much scarier with each card you add to the Ball. Yes, it's light, but it definitely conveys the day-to-day survival aspect of the books. We all want the bloodbath of the Arena, but no such luck. Then again, the brutality and excitement the Games were only part of the whole, the threat of them looming large and terrifying in the first act of the book terrifying in itself.

I am glad to add it to my collection as a quick 30 minute play to break up the epic sessions of longer, more involved games. Is it for everyone? Probably not. Let's end with a sustenance analogy: I liken it to a $1 slice of pizza one can pick up here in NYC on the go: it's no gourmet meal, but it's filling and leaves enough of a taste in your mouth that you may just go for seconds.
Tue Mar 20, 2012 3:34 pm
Author: qwertymartin
Very nice review - I agreed with pretty much everything.
Mon Apr 2, 2012 2:17 pm
Author: byronczimmer
Action Phase wrote:
So, yeah, the Glass Ball; this is the part I think a good many people will despise, though future wife and me both find it is thematic and pretty awesome. At the beginning of the game, you have a stack of cards of your color. You put one in the Glass Ball for each Player. As we were playing with only 2 players, 3 dummy cards of the the 2 colors not used are added to up your odds. Before scoring, you shuffle up the cards in (on) the Glass Ball. If a card of your color is drawn, guess what? You lose, as you have been randomly selected as tribute for the Games. Those not selected as a tribute count up the Resource value of the cards in their hands. Whoever has the most points wins.


If there is a mechanism in the game for taking additional resources at the cost of putting your name in the ball more times, then this is entirely thematic, and not dissimilar to Cleopatra and the Society of Architects, though in this situation - you have one 'vote' already loaded before you even start the game!
Mon Apr 30, 2012 7:57 pm
Author: pyroraptor70
Quote:
So, yeah, the Glass Ball; this is the part I think a good many people will despise, though future wife and me both find it is thematic and pretty awesome. At the beginning of the game, you have a stack of cards of your color. You put one in the Glass Ball for each Player. As we were playing with only 2 players, 3 dummy cards of the the 2 colors not used are added to up your odds. Before scoring, you shuffle up the cards in (on) the Glass Ball. If a card of your color is drawn, guess what? You lose, as you have been randomly selected as tribute for the Games. Those not selected as a tribute count up the Resource value of the cards in their hands. Whoever has the most points wins.


This was actually my favorite part of the game! For some reason the suspense of, "Will it be me?" is just so thrilling. I had actually played a game where I managed to put only 1 card in the glass bowl while my fiance had the most at the table in with a total 6 and I was the one picked and she ended up winning the game handily with over 20 points. It adds a whole new element to the game that is just so... exhilarating.
Tue Jul 31, 2012 7:27 am
Author: Sir Charles Oslow 3
Thank you for this review. I've been curious what people thought of this game and the Jabberjay game for a while now. It sounds like it's worth having in our collection, but I think I'll wait until I can find it at a thrift store or garage sale after the hype of all the movies comes to and end. It sounds like a good game to play in between the longer games, but I'm not sure I'm ready to spend $20 for it. Thanks for the review, it answered all the questions I've had about the game for quite some time now.
Mon Sep 3, 2012 9:05 pm