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
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
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.
"Real men play board games"