Aggressive Ovens and Aggravating Cattle Pens: Hoyuk

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

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Synopsis

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.

Classroom Application

As a gifted education teacher, I ask 3 things when I try a new game with my students;

  1. Do you need to be adaptive in coming up with a strategy?
  2. Is communication necessary, or at least helpful, to succeed?
  3. 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.

hoyukelements

Suggestions
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.

Conclusion

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.

Hoyuk

Capture

Market Price: $49.90

-Shane

Game Enlightenment

Game Enlightenment is part two of a dual posting in honor of #TabletopDay, written by my wife and professional educator, Sarah Smith. To read part one, written by me, click here! -Melvs

Albert Einstein says, “Play is the highest form of research.” When I see quotes from Mr. Einstein, I always think that it might be slightly cliche to use them in my writing, but this just fit my perspective on gaming so well.

I truly believe that that through games we re-create ourselves. Through games we become able to do something we were never able to before. Tabletop games will always have a place in my classroom. Teaching through hobbies is a magical opportunity. I am honored to be a part of this community.

-Sarah Smith

Being a fourth grade teacher, I am constantly trying to find ways to appeal to the minds of learners. Today, more than ever, our learners yearn for new ways of thinking. So many of the strategies in teaching that have been used are timeless and will continue to be important. I will in no way negate the greatness of memorization, repeated exposure, pencil on paper, standard algorithm, or proper spelling and grammar. Yet, I find myself along with many of my colleagues, attempting to pull every learner’s mind into the crave of enlightenment.

checkers

Playing games seems to be one way to inspire young learners. Board games, card, interactive sport games, and role playing games are proven ways that teach learners how things work. There are many strategies and skills that come from play. I want to address, that I also think unstructured play can be great for learners as well. Going outdoors and using imagination is simply amazing. But, in this piece I would like to stick to the “structured” form of play that I have had the pleasure of introducing in my classroom, and at a very recent dual school event. A few strategies, that I have experienced both for myself and observed with learners, include things like mental math, re-reading, problem solving, note taking, perseverance and collaboration. Ask any gamer, and the strategies would most likely go on and on. The skills that I have observed include interacting appropriately with others, using expansive language to communicate thoughts, goal setting and organization of materials. The increase in these strategies and skills have resulted in learners wanting to participate even in undesirable subjects. They experience increased reading and math levels. There is an obvious increase in classroom comradery, goal setting, and above all else FUN!

forbidden island

 

I have used games in my classroom from teaching Kindergarten in an inner city charter school to my current fourth grade classroom in a rural community. In all of my years I have been able to use a variety of games to teach life and academic skills, and how to have fun while learning. Last night was our first Mother/Son game night, that I organized with a group of parents at my school. It was one of most invigorating events I have organized this year. Playing games is always enjoyable for me, but to share it with learners and parents was like watching your D20 land on a critical hit!

game 2

The evening was a series of fun “carnival” like games in the gym, pizzas, snacks and conversations in the cafeteria, and (my biased favorite) tabletop games in the library. When you walked into the library it was a series of moms and their sons conversing with other moms and sons on goals and strategies of the games. Some of the most popular games were Forbidden Island, Machi Koro, SmashUp, King of Tokyo, Ticket to Ride, Chaos and Alchemy. There were of course some standards as well, Checkers, Candyland and Connect 4. My husband, Kevin Smith @sharndm and friend/colleague Shane Johnson @mrshanejohnson8 ran the room with ease. I have to say, I was super impressed with the amount of kids that were able to just pick up the goals of the games. Shane is the gifted instructor at our school, and I have seen him utilize his classroom for a way to use tabletop games to guide learning through multiple intelligence styles. Many of his students attended, and it was very obvious that they have made great strides in communication skills through tabletops. The evening ended in raffling off some games, a donated laptop computer, and lots of smiles. I drove home on cloud Valinor.

machi koro

I truly believe that that through games we re-create ourselves. Through games we become able to do something we were never able to before. Tabletop games will always have a place in my classroom. Teaching through hobbies is a magical opportunity. I am honored to be a part of this community.

-Sarah

Big Games, Small Learners

I can think of no finer subject on International Tabletop Day than stories of our younger generations being introduced to the joys of tabletop gaming! Many of you know that I spend at least one afternoon a month volunteering at my local library, teaching teenagers how to play, and run, Tabletop Roleplaying games. This isn’t a story about me though, I want to send up some accolades to the duel efforts of my wife, Sarah, and her co-worker Shane on their efforts to bring the joys of gaming to their students at Wright City West Elementary, here in Missouri, and find ways to encourage learning through these games as well.

shanes room

Just over a year ago Sarah began helping Shane develop a board-gaming curriculum in his Spectrum classes. See, Shane works with their district’s Gifted program. The only experience I have with children in such programs is having been in one myself. Many times these kids are incredibly bright, but may lack some of the social skills that make utilizing their gifts, in an effective manner, difficult. Shane has spent countless hours figuring out how collaborative board gaming, and even games where one needs to strategize against multiple opponents, into ways to develop social skills and analytical strategic reasoning. I think most of us realize, deep down, that tabletop gaming easily accomplishes these duel needs, and likely more. Personally I keep pestering Shane to write a piece for the blog with even more details surrounding his excellent program.

Shames room

Shane’s students love Machi Koro. Both the original & Bright Lights Big City

Sarah, being something of a board gaming guru herself, spent plenty of time introducing Shane to games she loves playing. Letting him know what she thought might be a good fit for his students. This wasn’t really enough for her though, she really wanted to devise a method to bring her love of gaming to the student en masse. She came upon an idea through her work with the Parent\Teacher committee that she helms as the teacher coordinator for the group. The last two years they had put on a successful Father\Daughter Dance but had never done anything for the mothers and the sons of their school. Sarah saw this as a perfect time to inject some gaming into the equation. She pitched the idea of a Mother\Son Game night, and the group took to the idea and I have to say, last night was a big success!

For a first time event, there was a large showing. Obviously games of all stripes were on the agenda, like the physical games in the gymnasium, but Shane and I ran a room with tables littered with board games for people to enjoy. One of the challenges we faced was the fact that the event was only going to last for two hours so we had to pick games we owned that would allow for multiple plays within that time frame. I ended up mostly helping introduce people to Gamewright’s Forbidden Island. I’m happy to say that both groups survived the sinking island and flew off to victory. Shane did a lot of floating around, assisting with multiple games and I spent a bit of time helping new players learn Iello’s King of Tokyo. Even got to help folks play a little of Michael Iachini’s Chaos and Alchemy (a game I was fortunate enough to playtest way back when!)

One of the best things about our board game room was hearing parents talk about how they had never known games like this existed. They expected the board game room to contain all the board games of their youth, and while we did provide games like Connect Four, Operation, Candyland, Sorry, etc., they typically wanted to try their hand at the new stuff. It is a testament to Sarah’s investment into this idea that many walked away intent on discovering more “games like this”. Especially because they could see how much their kids loved playing these new games. I sincerely hope we’ve created some burgeoning gamers out there!

game night library

The library for the Mother\Son Game Night!

Sarah has told me she wants to build on this, make it more than just a thing done for Mother\Son night, she trying to think on ways to build it up! Perhaps dedicate a full Saturday to inviting the families of surrounding communities to play games at one of the school buildings. The thought is fanciful of course, lots of logistics involved there, but it’s certainly a wonderful idea I’d love to see come to fruition. If anyone has the drive to see it done, of course, it’s my wife.

I just can’t wait to see the different ways Sarah and Shane bring tabletop gaming into the lives of their students. I know Shane wants to learn more about tabletop role playing games next, he’s only dabbled, and I’m excited at the prospect of assisting him in that goal. I know through personal experience that kids and teens can learn a lot from games like Dungeons and Dragons, thorough my work at the library, social skills, reading\writing, and arithmetic. It’s all there, packaged in a fun way that encourages collaborative teamwork as well. I’m only an amateur in the field of “teaching” with these tools though, in the hands of experts like Shane and Sarah it could do some really cool things.

-Melvs

If you enjoyed this article you are going to love Sarah’s. She delves into what teaching through learning means for her. I urge you to check it out!