Time: ~10-15 minutes
Times Played: 7
A quick two player game is a godsend for a player such as myself. A majority of my gaming time is spent playing either with, or against, my fiancé. We love nothing more than to sit down and play a long drawn out skirmish like Twilight Struggle or labor away at making wine in Viticulture. We might even throw down another heavy game such as Food Chain Magnate immediately after clean up. But sometimes, you just need a palate cleanser. Something small, compact, easy to set up and just…play.
Which brings me to Hounded, by Clint Bohaty and Atlas Games.
First and foremost, Hounded is a cute production. There’s no way around that. Cute might even be an understatement. For a subject matter that could be perceived as particularly grim, the lively colors and wood figurines help bring an abstract-style of life to the board. I am not here to argue one way or another on the ethics or morality of Fox hunting/chasing (depending on where in the globe you are), but the pieces and artwork used definitely go a long way in making these depictions more cartoonish and acceptable. For playing purposes, the pieces are distinguishable and the tiles are easy to read and understand, from either side of the board. The wood tokens are highly detailed and are fun to move around. It also comes in a small tin, which provides easy storage and makes it a game that can be taken on the go without worry of bending or ruining a cardboard box frame.
And that’s all well and good but typically, we don’t buy games on just how good they look once set up (except for Ticket to Ride 10th Anniversary. That game is just gorgeous). So what is Hounded?
Hounded is an asymmetrical two player game where you go head to head against your adversary. One player tries to utilize the speed and scheming nature of the Fox whereas the other player attempts to use the hunter and his pack of dogs to corner the critter using sheer numbers. Hounded uses point to point movement (basically, think of a city map and how you would get from point A to point B. You can’t go driving your Volvo through the marsh land, you need to stick to roads and paths already laid out. Same principal applies here; you can only travel between locations if they are connected) and variable player powers (where each side has different abilities).
The game itself is played on a hidden variable board. Through each player’s movement(s), the ending location of a character reveals the tile and the ability of the tile. I for one love variable boards. Games such as Carcassonne or The Cave are highlights because it makes each game unique and different. The same premise applies here with the variable set-up. After a few play times, you will know of all the tiles but they may not appear when you need them. You might have an overall strategy in your head, but having to problem solve on the fly is the feature I enjoy most from this type of variation. Now that being said, this may not be a game for everyone due to that very reason. If you do not like the randomization, or not knowing what is going to come up each and every turn, this game may not be fun for you. But more importantly, on a side tangent, that’s okay! There are so many games out there just begging to be brought home and played, don’t pigeonhole yourself into forcing yourself to like something just because others say it’s fun. If you’re lucky, someone else will want to take the game off your hands and you’ll be left in the same spot you were at before you played the game the first time; looking for the next game to scratch your itch. Anyways…
The tile locations that are revealed have the possibility of helping, or hindering, each party. The Thicket tile allows the Fox to move an additional two spaces (if revealed by the Fox) whereas the Scent tile allows the Hunting party to move an unused character that turn (if revealed by the Terrier). The tiles also include time pieces for the Morning, Noon and Night, which when all are revealed (by either party), the game is over and the Fox is the winner. The Fox can also win by having 43 of the 49 tiles revealed. The Hunter and his Party can win by having the Fox end its turn within one tile of the Master of Hounds (the hunter figure) or if they are able to trap the Fox and the creature is unable to move.
And that’s it. There are additional tiles with added benefits and unique rules for the Fox and the Hunting Party, but I have basically just given you the entire foundation of Hounded. The game does come with a fabulous small and easy to read player aid for each player that showcases all the movement, special rules and tiles for the entire game. They basically tell the players the entire game minus set up and the winning conditions. They are some of the best player aids I’ve seen for a game.
For actually playing the game, depending on which side of the hunt you find yourself, you might find yourself with several decisions to make each turn…or just one. The tin for the game states that this is for gamers ages 13+ but I could definitely see the case being made for younger children playing this game with a parent, or even other siblings, especially if the youngest takes the role of the Fox as they only have one set of rules they need to follow and each tile they reveal will tell them exactly what they have to do.
The game offers several factors that would lead to high replayability. Two opposing sides with two different sets of rules and a board that is in constant fluctuation. An incredibly easy to understand rulebook coupled with a quick set-up and tear down time. A compact storage tin that utilizes space as well as any game in my collection and it plays on a relatively small area, so it could be taken on the go. Gameplay wise, Hounded itself is fairly light and once you have the hang of the roles, you can probably breeze through a game in around ten minutes or so.
So, what do I think about Hounded?
Well…Hounded was not the game for me. Or my fiancé. I wanted to love it. We both wanted to love it. I loved the two player concept. I loved the art. I loved the idea. I loved the pieces. I loved the battle of wits. But I didn’t enjoy the game play. It wasn’t as engaging as I had hoped and depending on the role that you’re playing, you may not be doing much each turn. Being the Fox is typically just moving from tile to tile, looking for the time pieces that can win you the game. You have high maneuverability (just like a real Fox, at least from my brief Fox knowledge gained via Ylvis) but it almost makes it too easy to jettison around the board. Playing against the hounds, I never once felt truly threatened or in dire straits. Yes, maybe the Hunting Party closed in and it looked like my goose was cooked, but it was just too easy to jump around and away from the threat.
Playing as the Hunting Party, I never felt like I was close to snatching victory and entrapping the Fox either. In fact, in our sessions the Fox was the uncontested winner each time. There’s a possibility that’s on us. Maybe the right tiles came up at the right time and made it too easy. I feel like we gave this game a fair shot and it just wasn’t in the cards for us. I want to think that this game will be played every now and then as a quick filler two-player game for us but I fear that it won’t.
I can’t put my finger on if the game is too light or if the decisions on one side of the board are too few or what. For the price and the amount of plays that we have already logged, I don’t think or feel like I wasted money. But if it wasn’t for the fact that we played so many games back-to-back-to-back, I am not sure that we would have broken Hounded out again.