In Hoyuk, a game from Pierre Canuel and Mage Company, players are Neolithic clans. Clans who just settled in Anatolia after leading a nomadic life for decades. The different clans build cities, harvest crops and they get better and better in keeping and raising animals. The area gets more crowded as the clans settle in and more villages are build. Whose clan will be the most wealthy? Whose clan will be the most developed? You vie for power with rival clans. Good living space is scarce in the land of Anatolia. Can you lead your clan to victory?
What do you get for your money?
You get 5 sets of 25 house tiles, 40 pen tiles, 15 construction tiles and a first player tile. You get lots of meeples. Namely, 20 oven, 20 shrine, 20 cattle, 20 villager and a shaman meeple. Then there’s the cards; 70 aspect cards and 24 catastrophe cards. You get a large board, 5 player counters and the rules.
How do you play the game?
In Hoyuk players are leaders of a clan and they try to become the most important, the most wealthy clan in the villages you build. You try to do that by having the most ovens, the most shrines or the most pens in a village. When you have that you get an aspect card. Every card is part of a set of cards with same symbol. You collect these sets and exchange them for points and at the end of the game, when one player has build all his houses, the player with most points wins the game.
At the start of the game every player gets a set of house tiles in their colour. You divide the aspect cards into several open stacks (depending on the difficulty level), put all the wooden bits in the right spots, shuffle the hazard cards and the construction tiles, assign the first-player token and you’re ready to go.
The game takes several rounds and every round consists of four phases. During the first phase the first player gives one construction tile to every player. On this tile you find three things you can build. There are always two houses on there and the third icon can be an oven, shrine, pen or even another house. Every player, in player order, may place these items on the board. After all players have build everything they want, the first player hands out another construction tile, player construct what the tile tells them and after that the first phase is done.
There are construction rules of course. You, for instance, must build next to one of your own houses if you build another house in the same block. Pens must be build next to a house of your own, ovens must be build on top of your house and so must be shrines. You can also build second stories on top of your house. This is a tiebreaker and a way to score cards when you play at a higher difficulty level.
In higher difficulty levels you can also place cattle in your pens or villagers in your houses.
During the second phase, except in the first round, disaster strikes. The first player must draw a disaster card and apply the effect. These disaster can cause players to remove half of their houses from a certain block or remove half of their ovens or shrines. When houses are removed, you turn them over and they become ruins.
During the third phase, majorities in all blocks are checked. Starting with the first player, everybody must choose a block and then you check which player has the most ovens, shrines and pens. Plus, in the more advanced games most houses, most houses with a second floor, most villagers and most cattle. If you have the majority in a block, you get the top card of the stack of that specific category.
On these cards you will find an icon, matching one of the construction actions, and with these cards you can do two things. Firstly, you can play them to construct the item on the card. Secondly, you can claim points by handing in one or multiple cards. Hand in one card will give you one point, hand in five cards with the same symbol will give you twelve points. You can only play as much cards per phase as the amount of families you have on the board. Families are made of all adjacent houses of the same colour. One block can have multiple families of the same colour when they have separated by a disaster.
You can play cards at the beginning of every phase. After you play cards, you place them in front of you on your own discard pile. In the fourth and last phase all players must place this pile below one of the draw piles on the side of the board. Then the first player token is assigned to another player by the current first player and the next round can begin.
After the round where one player places her last house on the board, the game ends and players can score some extra points. You get one point per unused card in your hand, plus you get points for having the largest family in a block and having the most villagers or cattle in a block if you play the advanced game.
The clan with most points, wins Hoyuk.
This is basically an abstract area majority game. However, you get points by collecting and playing different sets of cards. The way you can get majorities in different blocks is very tactical. You can see what every player can do in their turn, because everybody’s construction tile is face-up. You can get a good idea of where you can get a majority in what category by tactically placing your houses, pens, ovens etcetera in specific blocks.
These construction tiles seem limiting, but I do think it’s a good thing they limited your options. It makes the game more tactical more transparent, because you can see what other players can do. If players had the option to do every action in their turn it would be harder to see which majority to go for. On the other hand, these tiles can, especially in the beginning of the game, when you don’t have a lot of cards, make you basically lose a turn. For instance, when you have a tile with a cattle icon and you have no pens to place it in.
While these tiles make the game more structured, the cards you accumulate during the game will make it more random. You can additionally add items with your cards if you want, which makes it more difficult to predict where you can get a majority.
You want a majority, because it gives you a card you need to get points. You need sets with the same symbol, so you want to know what your fighting for, right? Well, you can’t. You can only see the top card of the stack, so only the first player has a good idea of which block he has to choose first to be checked for majorities. After that it’s a total surprise which cards you get for having the most of something. Sure every player can choose the block that they want to be checked. However, that’s after you decided where you want to have the majority. This basically means that the only thing you can do is get as much cards as possible and hope you can create sets of five cards with the same symbol.
This also means that being the first player is quite important and this role is assigned by the current first player, you don’t have any influence on his choice, maybe besides being a nice person.
The house and item placement through the construction tiles feels very tactical, but the rest of the game just consists of all these small random events. Majorities can change in an instant when other players play cards and place additional items on the board. The disasters are also something you can’t take into consideration. There are too much of them compared to the amount you actually draw, so you can’t prepare yourself for it. The only thing you can do is to find a some sort of balance, because the disaster mostly concern the largest or most of this or the smallest or fewest of that.
I do not say this game is bad because of the randomness, but you just have to know what you are dealing with. I expected a far more strategic game and it’s just not. The fighting for majorities, the tile placement and the placement of all the different items on the board are tactical, don’t get me wrong, but the result, when you win the cards that get you points, is very random. Not the winning itself, but the type of cards you receive as a prize. You can only hope you get the right cards to create the right sets.
The fact that you can create majorities out of nothing by playing cards, is random, but also kind of fun, because it means that you can really bug your opponent. This can be frustrating for the victim, but satisfying for the instigator.
I also do like the fact that players choose themselves underneath which stack they put their used cards. This means that near the end of the game, some majorities aren’t checked any more, because there are no more cards left to give out as a reward. So, at some point, having the monopoly in ovens can suddenly become irrelevant.
I said above that being or not being the first player is very important. Being first player has its advantages. You can choose which blocks is being checked first. It’s the only block where players win cards that are known to them from the beginning of the round, so as the first player you have a good idea what to place where when you want to go for certain cards.
Being the last player also has a big advantage. You are the last one to build, so you know more or less where you have to place an item to obtain the majority. This advantage is less important later in the game, because players get more cards to player in later phases, changing the majorities on the board.
When you aren’t the first player and the token is given to you during phase four it feels kind of random. However, as the previous first player and the player who has to give that role to another, you have make a strategic decision. Do you want to be last or do want to be close the to the first player? This is a quite a nice mechanism.
Hoyuk is a solid game with every player count. It is more interesting with more players, like many other if not all area majority games, but as a two-player game it did not disappoint. It’s a little random this way.
Flavour and Theme
This is an abstract game, no doubt about it. Hoyuk doesn’t feel thematic at all. Even the disaster cards, which are cards where you can easily match the destruction mechanism with the flavour of the cards, aren’t thematic. Wolves destroy ovens? Why not cattle? Why do the gods punish the village with most shrines?
Hoyuk does have nice ancient or Neolithic flavour, whatever that is, and that’s mainly because of the illustrations.
The game just looks very good. The board, which could have been just a black and white grid, is illustrated beautifully an the cards are too. The wooden tokens look cool (but what are these cattle tokens??) and the cardboard tiles are coloured differently and also have different illustrations for every player.
The only thing I don’t like, or not like so much, is the fact that the tokens don’t always match the illustrations and that can be confusing, especially for new players. The oven on the board and the cards, for instance, almost looks like a green, round, turtle shell, while the wooden tokens are grey and angular.
Quality of the components
You know you’re getting bang for your buck in terms of component quality with Hoyuk. A set of nice custom meeples in different shapes and colours, good quality cardboard and the card quality is solid too. So, all in all, a very good quality game.
Well, I expected a more strategic game. That’s the first thing I need to say. I had to get used to the idea that it’s not always the case. Majorities can change fast, disasters can strike out of nowhere and you don’t get to pick the price for your victories yourself, so you can’t count on anything and that can be frustrating. Additionally, when you do win (or lose) you don’t feel that it’s entirely because you played the game good or bad.
But that’s not the answer to the question. Is it a fun game? Well it’s not not fun. Is that an good answer? No, probably not. I like area majority games, vying for power is fun. But I need to feel, somehow, in control for it to become really fun. The idea of disasters happening in your village is saddening, but fun. But it’s only really fun when you know what you’re risking your life for. Collecting sets of cards can be fun, there are many fun games that revolve around this mechanism, but to be really fun you have to be able to actively pick and choose, you have to know what you are collecting. And, like I already explained in the gameplay section, that’s not the case here.
Despite my criticisms, I do like Hoyuk. It is a very decent game. It’s easy to teach, if you get through the rulebook, which is not so great. It’s easy to play, all the mechanisms are pretty straightforward. Plus there is room for a more advanced and slightly deeper game if you want that. So it has the right ingredients for being a nice gateway game, only if it were a little less random.
Many thanks to Mage Company for providing me a review copy. Visit them at their website.