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Subject: [Review] Hunting Party rss

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Tom Vasel
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Hunting Party (Seaborn Games, 2005 - Ben and Patrick Christenson) claims that it is "German Strategy meets American Fantasy". That is certainly a combination that I enjoy, so I was certainly eager to get my hands on a copy of the game. After some shipping snafus, I finally got a copy and was intrigued upon reading over the rules. Hunting Party has one of the most interesting and unique mechanics I've seen in a game in a long while - the "shares" involved.

The game itself resembles a little bit of Clue mixed with Fantasy special abilities, and a bit of "fighting". There are some problems with the game - such as some game length issues with certain players, and sometimes entirely too much chaos with special abilities. However, the components are very nicely done for a new company (with a few problems), and all in all, it's an impressive first offering from Seaborn Games. Hunting Party certainly won't please everyone, and I can see that certain combinations of special abilities may take some games to endless loops of repetition, but anyone looking for a fantasy deduction game will find it here.

The game works best with three players, although rules for two, four, and five players are included. Each player is given a "prophecy tablet" and a sheet of paper, eight "shares" of one color, and three pieces of gold. The rest of the gold (and silver, four of which equals one gold) is placed in the bank. Twelve stacks of cards are shuffled and placed in a four by three grid, so that they form a map of a kingdom. Three piles represent market locations, four represent Hunting locations, and five represent Hiring locations. Each player takes one card from the top of the Hiring location of their choice, which becomes their "Hero" for the game, and all eight shares are placed on that hero. Twelve Prophecy cards are included in the game, broken into three groups: Seeking (bait, sorcery, tracks, knowledge), Fighting (subdue, melee, range, mage), and Guiding (Palace, Catacombs, Darkwoods, Mystic Vale). Each player is randomly given one of each group, and the final three are secretly placed face down under the "Shadow" card. Players use their prophecy tablet and sheet to mark off the skill they get, because only the three skills under the Shadows card can defeat him. One player goes first, and then turns proceed clockwise.

On a player's turn, they have three options:
- Hiring: A player may flip over the top card from one of the five hiring locations and put that character up for auction. Each location shows a specific fighting skill, which means that characters with that skill most likely are in that deck. The player putting up the character for auction chooses whether to bid first or last, and then each player bids once with the highest player receiving the character. Bidding is done in number of shares, which are placed on the character by the person who is the winner. Players may not bid shares that are already placed on other characters other than their hero.
- Item Purchase: A player may draw one card from the top of each market location and look at them. They may buy as many of them as they want, paying one gold for each. Players may equip their characters with many of the items, as long as each character has only one equipment of each type (body, hand, head, and foot). Unpurchased items are placed under the stacks of market cards.
- Hunt: A player may go "searching" for the Shadow. To do this, they must "fatigue" (tap) their hunters who are going on the hunt. The hunters must have at least one skill of each of the three types. Players declare what three skills they are using (for example, Catacombs, Tracks, Subdue). Starting with the player to the left, and continuing clockwise, if any player can reveal a Prophecy card that shows one of the declared skills, the hunt is thwarted. The player must then fight a "Dark Agent". They turn over the top card of the deck that matches the Guiding skill they mentioned (if they used Catacombs, for example, they flip over the top Catacombs card). Each Dark Agent card shows a minion of evil, and the skills required to kill them (sometimes one of two different ways). If the player has the skills in their party needed to kill the creature, then the Dark Agent is defeated, and the player receives rewards from the card. If the player doesn't have the skills, then the player on their left decides which of their characters dies (can't be their Hero). If a player has successfully named the three skills under the Shadow card, then they must fight the shadow and have two of the fighting skills needed to kill it. If they do, they receive forty gold (split between shares), and the game ends. Otherwise, one of their characters is killed (chosen by the player on their left).

Players can disband any of their hunters at any time, as long as they pay them one gold per share on that hunter. Each hunter has a "normal" ability that they can use - sometimes for free, sometimes for the cost of a gold coin, and sometimes if they "fatigue" the hero. If a hunter is equipped with the item that lists their name, then that hunter becomes a "champion" and has one share removed from it. Both champions and the player's starting Hero can use the "champion ability" on their card, which are noticeably more powerful.

Some hunters "hate" other hunters and cost an extra share when in the same party. Others attract certain hunters, causing them to cost one share less. Players can sometimes steal characters with potions and special abilities, and some "handicap" characters are included in the game to give to players who have more experience than other players.

Whenever a player gets a bounty of gold from killing a Dark Agent or the Shadow, they do not receive all of it. They must "pay" the hunters in their party for the shares on them. Therefore, they only receive one-eighth of the bounty for each share on their hero. When the game ends, the player with the most gold is the winner!

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: The gold and silver pieces are large painted wooden tokens, and the shares are wooden pie slices (similar but larger to those in Trivial Pursuit). They were very nice and chunky, making them easy to handle. The cards were fairly large (about 50% large than normal playing cards), nicely laminated. I wasn't so keen on the Prophecy Tablet's, which were folded cardboard pieces that were to be placed on top of a paper. I would have much preferred simple sheets with grids, like in Clue. Hopefully one will be put up at www.boardgamegeek.com for download purposes. All the pieces did fit very well in the plastic insert in the large, very sturdy box. I must also mention that small pencils and paper were included.

2.) Artwork: A friend of mine called the artwork "old school D & D". I'm not sure if that's accurate, but I must admit that I wasn't a fan of the drawings. The characters seemed a bit lifeless. The cover of the box is especially jarring, as it looks like a bunch of people were pasted together into one picture to form a large scene. I will state that I can't draw worth a lick, so take my criticism at face value. However, the way that the backs of the cards formed a map on the table was a nice touch, and THAT artwork, as well as the art on the item cards, I found very agreeable and nice.

3.) Rules: If there's one thing to be impressed with in Hunting Party, it's the spiral bound rulebook, complete with tabs for each section. I was very impressed with the high quality, picture and example filled book. Each set of pages shows rules on one side and then related examples on the other. It was very simple to find any rule needed, and I hope that other rulebooks take this turn in the future. It was a little odd to read the rulebook straight through because of this compartmentalization, but overall the rulebook is a thing of marvel. The game is easy to teach - at least three people said - "Oh, like Clue!", when I taught it to them. The special abilities may throw some people off, but the game isn't that difficult to learn or teach. An exceptional flash demonstration is available at the website, www.seaborngames.com.

4.) Deduction: Learning the skills needed to defeat the Shadow is an interesting task, but one that is a little easier than it sounds. Unless special abilities come into play (and they very well might), most players will learn the abilities needed at the same time. Getting those skills into your parties is an entirely different matter; and although a player has an inkling of where to hire people with the right skills, it's a little more difficult than one might think.

5.) Shares: This mechanic is an amazing little twist that works tremendously well. When bidding, players are actually bidding with future money they will earn. Yes, I might win the knight because I was willing to give him five shares, but that means I will be paying him 5/8 of all the loot I get from him. Thus a player who has hunters who reduce shares on others is at an advantage, and champions are important. I've seen players who have huge, strong parties, but they get a measly few gold pieces whenever they kill an enemy. Sometimes a player can get in a situation where they have a few people with a lot of shares on them - in which they can't go hunting and earn any money. The game does allow a "reset", in which a player can discard all their money and hunters. As terrible as this might sound, I've seen it happen on several occasions.

6.) Special abilities: Players have all kinds of special abilities; and when there are several hunters on the table, these abilities can start causing havoc. From "stealing" another player's hunter, to fatiguing hunters, to resurrecting hunters, to looking at other player's prophecy cards, to removing shares, to loaning their skills to other players - there are several combinations that can occur. The rulebook deals with timing, and even though we ran into a few minor snafus, we didn't have any real conflicts between using the special abilities. People who like a nice, quiet deduction game will be absolutely horrified at all the odd things that can happen between turns, and the chaos of using many special abilities from items and hunters will not be pleasing to them.

7.) Fun Factor: However, this chaos adds a lot of fun to the game for me. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind the sheer abstract thinking that a game like Zendo or Sleuth requires, but sometimes it's just time to shake things up a bit. Hunting Party may be classified as a deduction game, but the auctions and fighting and usage of special abilities make it a hybrid that, while occasionally clunky, works on many levels. There's a lot of laughing and interchanges occurring; the game is very interactive betwixt players. Even folks who aren't fond of the fantasy genre can get into it.

8.) Variations: There are some variations in the back of the book, for other than three players (which I don't particularly recommend) allowing trading (which I do think is good), handicap characters (interesting, but not needed), and Shadow rules. The last I think is almost a necessity. Players can know what the final combination to beat the Shadow but refuse to go fight him, deliberately guessing wrong and killing Shadow Agents to increase their money. This can be stopped by having a "track" that means the Shadow kills everyone after eight or sixteen lost fights. This keeps players from going around in circles and helps the game out tremendously.

Do I recommend Hunting Party? That depends - if you think a fantasy/deduction game with chaotic elements sounds interesting, then you will love it. But if the chaos scares you, then it's probably best to shy away. This mixture of elements may not be for everyone; for me it was an enjoyable, tasty stew. I found Hunting Party to be fun, easy to play; and while there were lots of changes every turn, I was immersed enough in the play to enjoy them. The share mechanic alone is worth it to me to play the game again, and I hope to see more innovative titles from Seaborn games in the future.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"
www.tomvasel.com
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