Full disclosure: A review copy of Hiktorune was provided by Big Cat Games.
Let’s get into another doujin game! Between these and the box of Brain Games titles I got in the mail the other day I’ll probably start writing about Gen Con releases in September, but what can you do. There’s a lot of exciting stuff, here, anyways, so I’m gonna see how well I can mix them / maintain a five reviews a week pace before my body gives out. So that’s gonna be fun. Let’s ignore all that ominous talk and dive right into Hiktorune, the latest game on the review pile.
In Hiktorune, you play as spellcasters (wizards? unclear) who are tasked with saving the realm through various feats of magic and dexterity (mostly dexterity, which should worry you if you’re a frequent reader of the site). Naturally, you have your trusty spellbook with you, but you’re going to have to leaf through it quickly and remove some pages if you want to make any headway on saving the realm. Easier said than done, though, since the book’s magic may backfire if you’re not careful. And I hear there’s a dragon. Can you cast enough magic to protect your home? Or will this whole enterprise only spell your doom?
To set the game up, first set the felt mat out in the centerish of the play area:
Next, set out the starting quest card, and set aside the Dragon Quest:
Put the player token on the Starting Quest:
Shuffle the others, and place two Quest Cards above the Starting Quest, face-down, starting an inverted pyramid shape. Shuffle the dragon back in and add two more rows, one with three cards and then one with four cards:
Set out five of the life tokens:
And set out the spell gems near the spell mat (the card underneath):
Final thing: shuffle the spellbook cards and make a balanced pyramid of cards in the center by laying the deck on its long side and sorta pulling the bottom of the stack backwards to spread it on the felt mat:
When you finish, it should look kinda like this:
Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to start!
Full disclosure: An English rulebook doesn’t exist, so I’m working off of some translations and kinda winging it in the gaps. Don’t hold it against me.
Alright, so, your goal in Hiktorune is to cast spells together, cooperatively, in order to complete quests. If you get to the end of your quest line (4 quests, counting the starting one), you win!
Your first goal is to finish the first quest, cooperatively. It’s called “Let’s All Cast a Spell Together!” For that one, you’ll have to cast a spell that everyone helps with! But casting a spell isn’t the easiest thing.
To cast a spell, on your turn you must use one hand to extract cards from the spellbook in the center of the table. There are some rules to this, as you might guess:
- You cannot use more than one hand.
- If the spellbook collapses, you’ll lose a life (unless it’s during the first quest, where you can’t lose lives). If it collapses, discard the cards you tried to pull out of the stack and shuffle those (and the other discarded cards) back in with the stack and recreate the pyramid.
- You cannot take the outer cards of the spellbook. That would be kind of cheap, anyways.
- You may move the felt, at your own peril. If the book collapses, that’s still on you and you still lose a life.
- You can change your mind and release cards. You don’t have to commit to cards.
- You may take almost as many cards as you want. There must be some cards remaining after you’ve taken them.
If you pull the cards out successfully, you can use them to cast spells! Every spell needs a caster (or the Almighty card, which can be used as any caster) and four components of the same color as the caster. If you need some help, your co-players can contribute components, but you must play the caster!
Once you cast a spell, place its corresponding gem on the nearby card to indicate that you’ve successfully cast it. If you cast all the spells required for a card, you’ve completed the Quest! Most quests have some benefits:
- Let’s All Cast a Spell Together!: You may reshuffle the discard pile into the deck, once, for free.
- The Dragon’s Egg: You may reduce the cost of defeating the Dragon by 3 Spells.
- The Dragon: You win!
- Some give you spell ingredients for free.
- Some let you regain health.
After that, you may choose either the left or right quest path. Once you’ve done so, flip the next two cards ahead of the chosen card in your quest sequence! One thing, though: if you reveal the Dragon, you must defeat it. You can’t save the realm with a Dragon flying around!
If you have nothing else you can do, discard down to four cards and end your turn. Note that the book doesn’t come back together just because you finished your turn! You can only shuffle in the discards if you lose a life or mess up casting a spell.
Continue until you either run out of health or complete your quest line. If you run out of health, you lose, and if you complete your quests (or slay the Dragon), you win!
There are, of course, some variants:
- Hard Mode: Start with only 3 health.
- Harder Mode: 3 health and skip the tutorial.
- Hiktorune Marathon: Play all the quests; don’t stop when you complete four. See how high of a score you can get!
- Story Mode: One player must tell a story to weave together your quests. Win or lose, the narrative may change. Have fun with it!
Player Count Differences
There aren’t a ton of changes, other than more cards will likely be out at any given point in time. You’ll be able to store more at four players, but in order for everyone to cast a spell for one of the ALL spells, you’ll also need more players to have access to resources. Beyond that, it’s plenty fun at any player count, so I don’t have a strong preference on this one.
- Don’t get greedy. You really can take a lot of cards, but to what end? It’s much better to get what you need than it is to take a bunch of things you can’t necessarily use. You can only cast so many spells before they stop being relevant. That said, if you’re fighting the Dragon, not a bad idea to just go for it and try and take everything at once. It could be cool.
- If you can help players, do that. I usually try to leave a card that another player needs easily accessible, so that they can grab it on their turn. That’s generally kind, especially if your players are struggling (or if it’s their first game). They may still not go for it, which happens, but you should at least try to make things more accessible for players that need it. Just, you know, don’t tip over the pile while you’re trying to help someone else.
- Don’t hold on to too many casters. Ideally, the only ones you take on a turn are the exact ones that you need. If you take more than that, you risk junking up your hand with casters you can’t use.
- Only take what you need. Like I said, you can only keep four cards in your hand between turns, so you shouldn’t be attempting to hoard too many cards. Unless you use them all on a turn, you can’t keep that many of them.
- Sometimes you need to go big. All that can get thrown out the window if you need to do a mega-magic turn or something. Take as many cards as you can and cast a preposterous number of spells. The most I’ve done in one turn is 3, and that took a lot of doing. If you can pull it off, it’s amazing, and if you can’t, well, nobody will fault you for trying. Unless they do.
- You may need to do some weird stuff. I usually try to keep part of my hand on the pyramid so that I can catch the cards if they slide towards me and then pull the cards out so that the pyramid generally tilts toward the rest of my hand. That way, I avoid a complete and total collapse of the pyramid while still being able to extract the cards I need. It just looks really weird, in practice, since my pinky is essentially supporting the whole pyramid.
- If you want to practice, practice during the tutorial round. Try learning some card-grabbing techniques then, since it doesn’t cost you anything to mess it up. Just make sure you’re not wasting too many cards, since you can only pull the discard pile back in during a refresh of the card stack.
- If you don’t need any more cards, just take one that you can throw away. Really good contenders for this are the gray cards; if it’s a card specific to a quest that you aren’t doing, dump it. If it’s an Almighty, then dump whatever Caster you have and save the Almighty instead. Either way, it kind of works out in your favor if you plan well.
- Look ahead to see what cards you need for certain quests. This is another thing you can do if you have nothing else going on, or if you’re trying to decide which cards to keep. If you can’t keep anything immediately relevant, keep some future useful cards in hand.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Pleasant art and colors. It’s, perhaps, slightly anime, which may not be for everyone, but it reminds me of your standard sword and sorcery video games with slimes, dragons, quests, spellcasting, and all that fun stuff. It helps that the game is also fairly bright and colorful, so it feels pretty vibrant every time that I play, which meshes well for me.
- Dexterity games are my jam. They’re a lot of fun, for me, and I particularly like that this one is some sort of card removal game, rather than my normal throwing, stacking, or flicking games. Keeps things pretty fresh and interesting. It’s very nice, and I haven’t tried something like this before.
- I appreciate that the cards are textured to try and increase their cohesion. They slide past each other a lot less quickly and frequently than slicker cards do, and you absolutely need that to be a feature if you want to survive to the end of the game.
- Doesn’t take that long to play. As with most cooperative games, it goes much faster if you lose, but that’s hopefully not what you’re setting out to do. Even then, it’s still only a 30 minute or so game.
- I appreciate the random quest ordering, especially that the later quests aren’t immediately revealed. It does add a nice sense of discovery to the game, especially if you’re hoping you can avoid the Dragon. It’s a huge relief when you get to the end of the game and you realize that the Dragon never came up, so you managed to avoid it. It also makes the game feel pretty replayable, which is super nice. It would be nice if the quest cards had more variable effects, so it mattered more what you chose to do with the quest that you’ve completed.
- A very tense game. The feeling you get when the card pyramid almost falls over is terrifying. I love it. It’s definitely a game where all players will go silent when you’re pulling from the pyramid and then erupt into cheers when you get the cards out, especially if you get the cards you need.
- It’s cooperative! I can’t imagine how much of a mess this game would be if played competitively, but I would like to find out. I like that you can leave cards behind for players or contribute to their spells, and I love that some quests require everyone to contribute. It’s not necessarily possible for one player to dictate the entire game beyond suggesting cards you should grab, since it’s really up to you to actually get the cards.
- Pretty portable. It’s easy to take most places, just make sure you don’t mess up the felt mat. The cards can kinda just fit in their own thing, and the quests go with them. It’s very easy to take places.
- The card pyramid can be a pain to set up. It’s a bit frustrating when you need to try and get the pyramid standing quickly and you’re struggling to get it into the right position. Slows the game down a bit. Thankfully, since you’re using most of the cards, it’s not usually a huge problem.
- The current lack of official English rulebook does not really increase my confidence that I’m playing the game correctly. I worry that I’m missing something, and I don’t really love writing a review for a game if I’m not sure I played it correctly. Being totally fair, we still had fun either way, but it’s a bit disconcerting. I still have no idea what card “Torn” is, for instance, but I know it lets you extract more cards for free.
- The cards being Japanese text only also make playing the game a challenge. This is where symbols would have helped a lot; instead, I have to use the translate app on my phone to figure out mostly what the cards want me to do. They’re not especially helpful.
Overall: 9.25 / 10
I love Hiktorune. It’s exactly up my alley. Fun and colorful game, interesting dexterity mechanic, and it’s cooperative! That’s a blast, for me. I think I’m the only person I know who loves Hiktorune, which is also just my fate, but I’ll get into that solo mode sooner or later. I think the nice thing is that even in spite of me only having most of an idea of how the game works, we’ve found a way to play that’s been really fun for everyone (or at least me, since I love this kinda stuff). I’m genuinely hopeful that some publisher brings it stateside (putting some bets on Ninja Star Games, since they localized Sweets Stack, and Hiktorune features a crossover promo quest, which is delightful). Part of this hope is that I really would like a full-English rulebook, since I currently don’t 100% know if I’m playing the game totally correctly. That said, I really do enjoy the way I’m currently playing it, so if you’re into cooperative games and especially if you’re into cooperative dexterity games, I’d recommend taking Hiktorune for a spin! You may just have to come up with a few rules on your own.