Full disclosure: A review copy of Squire For Hire was provided by Letiman Games.
Alright, back with more reviews this week. This one’s Squire For Hire, a new wallet game from Letiman. They’ve never done wallet games before, but, it’s 2020; we can all branch out a bit. Interested to see what’s going on with this one? Let’s dive in and find out how it plays.
In Squire for Hire, you play as a new squire for an adventurer who goes on exciting quests and conquers dungeons. You don’t do any of that, personally, but you do get to hold the bag, which is pretty much the same thing, right? Oh, and you need to organize the bag; these adventurers are essentially hoarders and will gather new stuff constantly. Great for them, less fun for you. You figure you can make it a bit more interesting if you turn work into a competition against your fellow squires. If you can be the best, maybe the adventurer will show you how to use a sword!
Basically none. Give each player a character:
Give them two Loot Cards; each player may keep one:
Then, shuffle up the Loot Cards and flip them over to their Encounter side:
Place two cards Loot-side up, one on each side of the center Encounter card. You should be ready to start!
So, you play as squires with an important mission: organize your knight’s loot bag! It’s a career with a lot of great growth opportunity as long as you don’t die. Your knight is going to go on adventures with you in tow, so, keeping relevant items within reach is of utmost importance. Do that, and you might just be named the greatest of all squires!
On your turn, there will be a face-up Encounter Card in the center of the play area. You may choose to attempt it or ignore it. If you attempt it, you usually have one of a few options:
- Using items: This requires you to have the items indicated. When they say 3 Magic, for instance, they don’t mean 3 Magic items; they simply mean 3 tiles’ worth of Magic items. If you have them (don’t forget that every Character gets a +1 to some type of item), you succeed!
- Spending items: This requires you to cover up the item(s) that you’re using. Provided you have the items to cover, this is also a success!
On success, take either one of the Loot Cards to the left or right of the Encounter Card and add it to your bag. At least one square must be covered on a previous card, and if you spent items, the item(s) you spent must be covered by the new card. Beyond that, feel free to rotate the card as needed to make it fit! Flip the Encounter Card onto a Loot Pile to end your turn (flip it onto the empty one, if one pile is empty).
If you choose to ignore the Encounter, check to see if it is a Dungeon. If it is not, flip it over and place it on one of the Loot Piles. If it is, do nothing; your opponent has a chance to take on the Dungeon. If both players ignore the Dungeon, then it gets flipped onto a Loot Pile.
Either way, once the Encounter Deck runs out, shuffle the Loot Piles together to make a new Encounter Deck and reveal two new Loot Cards. When it runs out again, the game’s over!
Generally speaking, you get 1 point for every item (thing with a colorful outline) you have, and -1 point for every Junk item you have (thing with a gray outline). Each character has their own special rules for Junk and items, but you also get a bonus +1 point for every pair of the same items you have adjacent to each other (orthogonally, not diagonally). The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
None! Purely two-player game.
- Keep an eye on what your opponent has available to them. This is a big one. You need to know if they can take things that you want or succeed on challenges. One of my favorite things to do is to pass on Dungeons that they can’t get, forcing them to forego a card and ultimately still making it my turn. It’s a quick trick.
- Also, take what they need for their really high-scoring adjacency bonuses. You don’t really want them to be getting that +2, and you especially don’t want them to be turning that into multiple +2s. To that end, just … kind of take what they want. The only way to be the most successful squire is occasionally to do some hate-drafting.
- It’s not a bad idea to take something big that you don’t get extras of early. It’ll help you get more Loot. The big ones cover a lot of space, so they’re kind of hard to get if you’re concerned about getting a bunch of stuff to fit in the bag perfectly, but it’s a great way to have a pretty consistent buffer so that you can grab most Loot Cards that you’re presented with. The ultimate bonus is if that thing you’re grabbing is super valuable to your opponent. Then not only do you get it, but you deny them a big, valuable object that’s easy to place for adjacency bonuses. As I said earlier, it’s definitely hate-drafting, but, honestly, it’s not the worst strategy.
- Watch out for too much Junk. You should be covering most of the Junk you find, honestly. That said, a -6 / -7 isn’t too unreasonable. You don’t want to be trending towards a -10+ or something; then you’ve just got yourself a bag full of garbage. That’s too many points to lose.
- You really need to place your stuff adjacent. Those bonuses aren’t anything to mess with. Or, more realistically, you’re going to need those if you want to have a shot at winning; just having a bunch of stuff in the bag isn’t necessarily going to be enough.
- Burning a few items is far from the worst thing you can do. It’s not necessarily that bad; it allows you to also do some emergency reassembly of your bag, if need be. You can use this to coalesce Junk together and cover it, or get rid of some items that you’re never going to get adjacency bonuses for. Just remember that every item is worth a point on its own, so don’t burn too much trying to get extra space in your bag!
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Cute animals are always a bonus. This isn’t a pro as much as it is just kind of a fact that I’m sharing with you all. I have yet to play a game that couldn’t be improved with more cute animals.
- I love these kind of wallet-sized spatial reasoning games. Sprawlopolis, Circle the Wagons, and Seasons of Rice come to mind immediately; I think this has some advantages over Circle the Wagons (mostly narratively), but I am glad this is a genre that’s still seeing growth.
- Very portable. It’s a wallet game; that sort of comes with the territory. Though this one follows the other wallet model of Concrete Canoe Games, in which it’s just in a tiny tuckbox with the rules printed on the box pieces. That’s useful, albeit a smidge impractical; I do prefer just a rulebook.
- Easy to learn. It’s essentially just placing blocks of loot inside of a bag for organizational reasons. Encounters are just checks to see if you have the right amount to gain more.
- Seems expandable / able to be spun off. I could imagine more characters, new lands to explore, or some sort of bonus set of packs or something. There’s always a lot to do in this space; the bare minimum is retheming it, which can always be fun for small games.
- It would be kind of interesting if you could organize the cards into an actual narrative and then play it, but I do like the micronarratives. It’s essentially a like, Suggested Setup, which would be fun; you could actually do stories! Or have Story Packs that tell stories as you play through them, like the Fast Forward games from Stronghold.
- Some of the characters’ alternate junk scoring seem a lot more difficult to hit than others’. It’s weird, but also I don’t think I’ve played many games where that was the primary swing, so, it might be worth considering ignoring that and just moving on with getting the items you need? Worrying about it later isn’t always a bad plan; it just ends up being slightly disappointing because you want to capitalize on the skill.
- It does have a bit of a “rich get richer” issue. It’s a mixture of there being a luck element to whether or not you can complete the Encounter and how the initial cards are dealt; if you manage to get a few key items early enough in the game, you’re unlikely to be forced to get rid of anything if you don’t want to. The catch-up mechanism there is likely that you also tend to accrue Junk at a higher rate, but you need items to do well and not being able to take things is certainly somewhere between a frustration and a bummer.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, I think Squire for Hire is a solid title! It’s going to be another nice entry in that long list of small games that are very few cards but have that nice spatial aspect to them, which, personally, I don’t think I’ve seen enough of yet and I can think of five offhand already. What can I say? It’s a strong genre. Interestingly, this one isn’t hitting Kickstarter; it’s opting for a direct-to-retail approach, unlike all the others. So I’ll be curious to see how that turns out for it. Like pretty much every game in this genre, I think I’d love to see more from it; not that it’s lacking, I just … really like all these types of games and so I always want expansions and sequels and whatnot. It’s just my preferred type of game. The more, the merrier, I suppose. Plus, more to this one means more cute animal friends trying to lug bags of supplies, and I’m pretty solidly here for that. I’d be interested to see what else comes from this title in the future, but I’m definitely here for it. If you, like me, are a big fan of these types of games, or if you’re looking for a quick game that will challenge your spatial reasoning skills without being ten pounds to carry, I’d recommend Squire for Hire! I think it’s another fun entry in this specific-yet-surprisingly-broad genre of games.