Full disclosure: A preview copy of Hunker was provided by Aaron Franco. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
And we’re back with another Kickstarter! Got a few of these running through the end of the month, with this, then Tumble Town and a re-launch with new rules for Blockers. Gonna be a busy month, which is great because I have … all this … free time. Oh well. I’m about to blow off reviewing for the evening to play video games, which is questionable since I’m not totally ready for Monday, but, gotta play games while the sun shines, right? Or something. My poor work ethic aside, let’s dig into Hunker and see how this new game plays.
Winter is coming! And it’s not followed by a disappointing dragon that can understand metaphor or some high-key sweeping last-season character changes; it’s just the regular winter. That’s probably a relief, but you don’t watch TV anyways; you’re animals that live in the woods. You’re deciding to make your foraging into a fun game to see who can emerge victorious. Competition is great! Or, at least, it’s great as long as you win. Will you be able to come up with that victory? Or is there snow chance for you to win?
First off, give everyone an Animal:
They come with their own tokens:
Now, build the board.
You’ll have different layouts for different player counts; add the Swamp at 3 players, and the Meadow at 4 players:
Each board section has its own color and associated Food Token Bag:
Those contain Food Tokens; make sure they make it in the bag. After you’ve done that, each player places their animal on a space along the outer edge of the board. Set up the Season Tracker nearby:
Event Cards go on their respective spaces:
Now, for something cool. Snow Tiles!
They’re very pretty. They go on the Season Tracker according to your player count:
- 2 players: 6 / 11 / 17 tiles.
- 3 – 4 players: 7 / 13 / 20 tiles.
Then, three of the Snow Dice go on spaces on the Season Tracker:
And add a Hunkered! Emblem per player to each of the Event Cards:
Finally, shuffle the Friendship Card deck and give each player two cards:
The Outsider Pawn starts out of play, so, just place it somewhere. Choose a start player and give them the Nature’s Whims die:
You should be good to start!
A game of Hunker takes place over several rounds as animal friends prepare for a long winter. Working around each other, they seek to store food and shake off the cold, but even they can’t ignore all the snow that’s coming down. Only one will collect enough to really emerge after the winter a champion. Hopefully that’s you. Let’s outline how the rounds work. Each turn in a round has three phases.
During the Forest Phase, the first thing you do is roll that big Nature’s Whims die. That does a variety of things; it might move the Outsider (allowing you to block foraging, force players in that forage zone to drop two un-stashed food tokens, and take one token from the region’s pouch at random), force un-hunkered players with 8+ food tokens to drop half of them, or allow you to pull a food token from a region and place it face-down within that region’s forage zone (the outlined inner zone of a region). If that region isn’t in play, use the Grove instead.
Once you’ve resolved that, go to the Actions Phase.
Every player can perform the same set of actions; you may do three of them on your turn (including the same one more than once, usually).
- Move: Move your token around the board. Different animals have different Move speeds, so they can move more or less quickly in one action. Note that you cannot move through Snow Tiles. If you need to Move but you’re currently on a Snow Tile (one was placed on you by a helpful opponent) you may take one free move into a clear space. If no such space exists, you must Dig yourself out, first.
- Forage: When inside of a Forage zone, take food tokens from that region’s pouch and place them face-up in front of you. Similar to move, different animals have different Gather abilities, so they can take more or fewer food tokens in one action. You may only Forage in a given Forage Zone once per turn. You also cannot Forage at the same Forage Zone as the Outsider. He freaks you out, every time.
- Build: Place a shelter cube on your current space. Like Move and Forage, this has some minor asymmetry to it, but that’s because certain animals require more cubes to build a complete shelter, allowing them to Hunker. More on that in a bit. You may not build if any of the following are true:
- You’re currently in a Forage Zone.
- Another player has already Built on that space.
- You already have three cubes on that space.
- Dig: As snow falls, you’re going to need to move it. You may move up to two snow tiles from anywhere in your movement range to anywhere else on the board.
- Socialize: You may cycle your Friendship Cards; discard one or both to the bottom of the deck and draw until you have 2 in hand.
There are also Abilities (free Actions) that you can do multiple times per turn. You can do these when it’s not your turn, but only during the Snow Phase (before the dice are rolled).
- Hunker: Whenever you’re on a space with a complete shelter (yours or another player’s), you’re considered Hunkered against certain effects. You don’t even need to ask to crash there!
- Stash: When you’re Hunkered in your Shelter, you may save food tokens for scoring by turning them face-down. I usually then organize them by color, for various reasons.
- Eat: You may discard an un-stashed food token to use its effect (generally a free version of another Action) or to Borrow another player’s food token’s effect. You may only Borrow once per turn, and you cannot Eat after the Snow Dice have been rolled.
- Befriend: If you’ve performed the action on a Friendship Card, you may reveal it to gain end-game points and then draw another. You may only do this twice per turn, and it can be done outside of the Snow Phase if it’s not your turn. You may only complete one card of a given type with one action, even if you have two of the same card in hand.
To start the Snow Phase, let every player know that you’re about to roll the Snow Dice so that they can use Abilities if they’d like to do so. It might be worth Borrowing a free Move to get Hunkered, for instance.
Then, roll the Snow Dice. If they’re blank, nothing happens. If they have a white hex, place a Snow Tile on the board within your animal’s movement range. Do not do this during the first round of the game; give players a bit of time to set up.
End of Round
When each snow tile stack is depleted, the seasons change more aggressively. When that player’s turn ends, the Seasonal Event occurs and all players have to check for being Hunkered:
- Hunkered in your own shelter: Gain a Hunkered! emblem; these can be used for a free Action on a later turn.
- Hunkered in another player’s shelter: Nothing happens.
- Un-Hunkered: Drop half of your un-stashed food tokens.
End of Game
After the last snow tile is placed, the game is done! Do the final Seasonal Event and then move to end-game bonuses. Note that your un-stashed food is worthless, so try not to keep too much.
Count your points from the bonuses, Friendship Cards, and stashed tokens. The player with the most points wins!
I’m just going to mention these in passing rather than detail them, but this does have rules for building a custom board, usually building around the Grove and then letting players choose which Regions they want and where. Note that the Food Tokens have thematic distributions for each region, so this may change up the strategy!
You can also add in a player after you’ve started playing (assuming you’re under 4 players). It’ll be tough for them to win, but they essentially start with some tokens and shelter cubes. It’s more about giving someone else a chance to play along with you rather than just watching vacantly.
Player Count Differences
I think this game shines as player counts increase. At lower player counts, even with a smaller board, you don’t necessarily see as much player interaction (and you just end up complimenting each other; maybe a great game for date night???). At higher player counts, you’re going to have more things going on when it’s not your turn. More snow, more regions, and just more … happening. I’m into that. Since the game is so friendly, it’s not really bad to have more player interaction, and consequently having more players gives more opportunities for that interaction, I reckon. I think that really goes back around to the game’s design, though; it seems to know that. It gives you cards to try and increase player interaction, it allows for drop-in play, and it allows you to hide in other players’ shelters. The game seems aware that it has more to do with more players, but it’s still fun at two. I respect that, but, yes, would likely most highly recommend the game at 3+ players.
- You need to be Hunkered when the round ends. You don’t want to lose any tokens, because, hey, those are your points that you haven’t scored yet, and you don’t want to lose a Hunkered emblem, since they’re both worth points and a free bonus action. They’re super useful! We love our free action nuggets.
- Risk and reward are things to consider when you’re foraging a lot. It’s useful to try and minimize risk, but if you take too many tokens, then, well, you run the risk of dropping them all when your opponent rolls. That’s really great for someone else, but it can potentially kill your chances of winning. Try to stay below 8 tokens, if you’re not going to Hunker at the end of your turn.
- Eating to Borrow a Move action can be useful, if it gets you into a shelter. As with all risk / reward actions, you kind of need to decide how many points it’s worth losing if you don’t take that Move action. Again, this really only matters if you’re worried about losing tokens to a rainy day or the Outsider. If you’re still relatively confident it’s not going to happen
- The Outsider lets you get a food token from the region you’re blocking off. It’s a useful mechanism for getting a couple tokens from the regions you’re missing some points from. It also helps prevent players from getting to those regions, which is a useful way to deny players doing the same thing.
- Make sure you’re pulling a few tokens from every region. You really want that valuable doubling bonus from whatever you have the least of. It’s worth a ton of points! Or, at least 10. Which is a pretty good number?
- Getting Friendship Cards done can be pretty valuable. You can usually pull at least 10 points or so from doing them. And, again, we’ve decided that 10 is a pretty good number of points, I suppose. It’s official, now.
- Learn some good compliments for your friends before you start playing. You want those complos to sound genuine! Or, at least, if they sound insincere it’s going to make the game feel a lot longer.
- If you’re placing Snow Tiles, place them around a player, rather than on top of them. Placing it on them allows them a free lateral move on their turn, which is helpful for them. If you move it such that it’s around them, then they have to spend an action Digging their way out. It’s nice and wasteful for them.
- If you know which regions players need resources from, cut that region off so they miss out on the bonus points. As I mentioned, you get to double-count the region you scored the fewest points in, so, if you can guarantee that your opponent(s) will get zero in one area, you also neutralize that bonus. Strategic! Or mean. Or both!
- Get a good shelter down early. Preferably one that’s one Move away from multiple Forage Zones. It’s nice to have a central focus point. Just, you know, be careful that that doesn’t make you complacent! You still want to make the big bonus for having the most Shelter Cubes at the end of the game.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I really like the snow tiles. Honestly, they’re a beautiful way to express time passing and the seasons changing, and I think the game absolutely crushes that. You feel like winter’s approaching, even though the snow tiles are placed a bit abstractly. The best part is that the game starts with a great table presence that only improves by the end of the game, where it’s truly beautiful. Really love how the game turned out.
- I’m also a big fan of games that consider and try to support drop-in play. I’m not entirely convinced it’s winnable for the player that drops in, but at the very least it gives them something to do while they wait for you to finish up. It’s an interesting conceit. I like that the rulebook acknowledges this but goes back to the core of gameplay; having fun with your friends. It’s cute. Haven’t seen drop-in play since The Shipwreck Arcana, I think. Or Just One!
- Really like the theme. Forest animals are great; I’m 100% sure that’s why Root was so successful. No other reason. Yup.
- The art style is pretty nice, too! It’s … I’m not sure how to describe it. Maybe ornate? Thoughtful? Can’t really describe. It’s very colorful and bright. I like it. It’s very pleasant.
- I don’t normally mention this because Kickstarter previews, but my preview copy is very nicely made. The boards are acrylic! The whole thing is a really well-put-together product. That gives me confidence for the final product, honestly. If someone’s going to put that much thought and care into just a preview copy, it’ll be interesting to see what the actual version is going to be.
- I’m generally a sucker for modular boards, anyways. I like that you can even make custom ones, and that the different boards introduce different tokens with different distributions for certain actions. It’s a smart way to split up certain effects and give players control over the kind of game they want to play. It’s very clever, and I think it works.
- The very light asymmetry is a really nice touch, to be honest. It makes it easy to learn the game but every player plays pretty differently. It’s almost a bit closer to variable player powers than asymmetry, since players take the same actions, but this is a semantic distinction that I promised myself I’d stop making, so let’s move on from that. I appreciate that it doesn’t add a ton of rules complexity but can really change how you play.
- The Friendship Cards also force you to interact with other players, but in a positive way, allowing for something for you to do when it’s not your turn. I really like that almost none of the player interaction is destructive (unless you dump a ton of snow onto another player and block them a bit). I suppose the Outsider placement can be destructive, but it’s never really come up for us. The Friendship Cards in particular do player interaction well on two fronts. They’re pleasant and uplifting, so it encourages players to interact (always good), and they can be activated when it’s not your turn, so you’re encouraged to stay invested in the game even when you’re not playing. Even if another player is taking forever, these give players a reason to pay attention. It’s a very smart gameplay conceit, which is something I keep saying about Hunker, so, that’s very good.
- The compliment cards are cute, but they eventually can be a bit junky to the game’s flow because they may not feel sincere. You gotta do what you gotta do for points. I think that the fix, here, is allowing players to reject the scoring for the Compliment if it’s not sincere and forcing them to try again. Make it worse and make it that you can only attempt to score two Friendship Cards per turn, so now you’ve wasted a slot? You’ll get some really intense compliments, but, I’m into it, probably.
- I’m hoping there will be a variable number of end-of-season events, as otherwise it doesn’t make a ton of sense to have them on their own cards rather than just on the board. Seems like something that will happen as a Kickstarter stretch goal. I have no idea, though.
- Some tightening of the scope around Friendship Cards may make the game’s flow a bit less confusing. It’s stated that you can play two per turn, but, the “per turn” part is a bit unclear. Per round might be too infrequent, but per player’s turn can be a bit annoying if one player keeps drawing Compliments. Who knows. It may just be around Compliments, since they don’t require a specific activation criteria, and so a lot of Compliments all the time can start to be a bit distracting rather than mildly pleasant.
- Risk-averse players may struggle a bit with this one, as certain animals have to play a bit more riskily in order to beat out others. That’s the name of the game when you gather less but it’s easier to shelter. You’ll have to take on more tokens, and that might lead to some strategic Outsider moves, if you’re not careful. Or, worse yet, some dice-related bad luck. Be careful, but, if you’re risk-averse, I’d recommend one of the larger animals.
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Overall, I think Hunker is solid! It’s very much a lighter asymmetry game, which I appreciate, even if it’s a bit longer than my usual play time. It’s also got great art, which I’m always into. And fun animals? Always a delight. I’ve jokingly referred to it as My Little Root, which isn’t totally fair to it, but it’s also not entirely inaccurate. It is a game about animals vying for woodland dominance; they’re just a lot more friendly and a lot less anthropomorphic. Which is also fine. The nice thing about this one is that it’s got a lot of my favorite things in a board game. It’s got some randomness, but not too much (the food tokens you draw are random, but have a small variance). It’s got solid art, and is a generally pleasant and colorful game to look at. But it also has some really incredible table presence. The snow tiles really elevate the game, aesthetically, and they do a good job representing the passing of time and making the impending end of the game feel more … tangible? Yeah, tangible. The asymmetry also works super well! It’s a very light asymmetry, which, as I mentioned earlier in the review, I think will be more appealing to players who haven’t tried that style of gameplay before. It’s some mild number tweaking, but it can really change up how you play. I can’t wait to see what they do with stretch goals and other improvements during the Kickstarter; I think this is one to watch, for sure. If that sounds up your alley, I’d definitely recommend checking Hunker out! I’ve had a lot of fun with it.