Hey everyone! Today I have the pleasure of introducing a new contributor to the site. Shane is a fellow teacher at my wife’s school who runs the gifted program. He has built a fair portion of his program around board gaming, with no small amount of help from my wife Sarah. So when the MAGE Company sent me a couple of board games to review I knew I should send at least one of them his way to have for his kids. In return he offered to write the review, and after reading it I feel like I’d probably do a disservice if I had attempted to do the same. Shane wrote a strong review below. If anyone else feels they would like their games reviewed by Shane let me know and we can work something out in order to put more copies in his classroom! -Melvs
In Hoyuk, players compete to develop blocks of families within a grid-based map. To do this, they lay down tile houses and wooden meeples representing resources. Each turn progresses from building (twice) to executing catastrophic scenario cards, awarding aspect cards for holding more resources than opponents, and then aspect card replenishment.
Dwellings are arranged by players in families (groups of one tribe) that are grouped together in blocks (groups of different families). While building, based on cards drawn twice per turn, each player attempts to have more of each resource (cattle, villagers, shrines, ovens, and pens) than his neighbors in each individual block. Controlling a resource in a block earns you aspect cards which can then be used to purchase more resources to place or victory points. Victory points are tracked on the outer border of the game board and determine the winner after all houses have been placed. A block doesn’t qualify for awarding aspect cards until it contains more than one family, which is an interesting and necessary mechanic.
Catastrophes are random events selected by cards and occur once a turn to work against the players, separating blocks and families and removing houses from the game. The shaman piece, however, can protect a block from these penalties and is placed using a construction card.
The intricacies of the block/ family dynamic are important and should be read and discussed carefully before the game starts. This may seem like a given but there are some intricacies that are subtle and less obvious, like the splitting of families due to ruined houses, placement of houses in existing blocks, or the inability to connect blocks.
There are three levels of play ranging from 3 aspects judged per block (shrines, ovens, and pens) to 7 aspects judged (shrines, ovens, pens, stories, houses, cattle, and villagers) and there is an option to play with fewer than 25 houses speed up the game. It was nice to have these options outlined, but the full game is so much richer in strategy and not so long that the shorter versions seem necessary. A 60 minute play time, as suggested by the box, is pretty accurate from our trials. Honestly, even in a full game with all aspects and houses, I found myself wishing we could continue.
As a gifted education teacher, I ask 3 things when I try a new game with my students;
- Do you need to be adaptive in coming up with a strategy?
- Is communication necessary, or at least helpful, to succeed?
- Will we be able to play this again with different results?
When my students and I journeyed back “some 10,000 years ago” with Hoyuk by Mage Company, we were able to answer a resounding “yes” to all these questions.
Some potential strategies to attempt were obvious after reading through the rules and the clear choices proved to be effective, but those who adapted to the placement of their opponents’ structures, negotiated with neighbors, and attempted multiple approaches benefited far more than those who chose an approach and dogmatically stuck to it.
I loved the communication aspect of this game, despite its lack of necessity during some playthroughs. Whereas communication can be brief and cold in some games that require or encourage trading, the negotiation in Hoyuk enhances the game and requires players to be tactful and clever. It is legitimately possible to be sneaky, supportive, underhanded, generous, or ambivalent in your diplomacy with neighbors and all these approaches have a place in seeking the most victory points.
Comparatively speaking, most games of this type seem restrictive in how far you can bend your conversation. That said, we finished a couple playthroughs with barely a word of discussion. It is hard to say communication is a necessary component, but imagine a game of Settlers of Catan with no trading. It would be possible, but far less engaging and entertaining.
After playing the game with 4 different groups of students of varying grade levels, I saw different results each time. Approaches worked for one group and were less effective for others based on opponents, catastrophes and chance. I personally tried different, and rather polarized, ideas from the start each time and saw relative success with each.
The individual clan powers were a disappointment. The Der’s house stealing ability and the Oleyli’s element theft are both helpful and powerful enough to base a strategy around, but the other 3 clans’ powers (extra resources and control of the shaman) feel like throwaways by comparison. I found it to be a disappointing implementation of a potentially exciting and game-changing element.
The requirement for 2 families to be in a block before it is scored works beautifully for forcing opponents to deal with one another instead of an independent free-for-all. It was satisfying to see players attempt to coax others over to their massive stronghold after turtling resources in a corner for a few turns only to see their efforts rot pointlessly when their negotiations failed. Give-and-take (or trickery cleverly woven into deals) won the day over brute, strength and lucky card draws.
I would also recommend more thorough catastrophe explanations on cards. The system adds an appropriate and welcome amount of recalculation and chaos to the game, but a more informative graphic, much like the element “suits” on the aspect cards, would reduce dependency on the game manual during play. The current graphic explanations are clever, but not very clear.
Hoyuk delivered an experience that fired on all educational cylinders, ended before strategies grew stale, and used tile, resource, and trade mechanics in an interesting way. It is simple enough so anyone can come up with a strategy to try and have fun, but also complex and interpersonal enough to generate multiple playthroughs with different results. It’s greatest strengths in my experience were the need for adaptability and genuine communication. The only real weakness we noticed was imbalance in individual clan abilities, and even those are far from detrimental.
My students look forward to trying the Anatolia and Obstacles expansions, as do I. Even without expansions, I would deem this game worth the price tag of $50 on Amazon based on the replay value provided by the aforementioned strategic diversity and communication. I look forward to the next time I can take over a block with the thieving Oleyli, protect a large stronghold block with the Lebu and their shaman, or cause havoc with the angry Ders.