Being a vampire has its perks. You don’t age, you’re supernaturally attractive, and for some reason, humans are obsessed with writing crappy romanticized fiction about you.
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The only catch is, you still gotta eat, and the only thing on the menu is blood. Sounds easy enough right? You simply descend from your castle to feast on the poor townsfolk below. That is until you realize you should have stopped after eating that poor farmer instead of that tasty bureaucratic dessert. Eat the rich sure, but in moderation!
It’s not the bubble guts a vampire has to worry about after all. It’s the fact that the trek back up to the castle suddenly feels miles longer than the trip down thanks to your gluttonous dinner. Oh, and now the sun is cresting the horizon. You may as well put a fork in ya, because you’re done.
The Hunger is a competitive deck-building game where you compete with other vampires to earn the most points, usually by eating the most humans. The more you eat, however, the slower you get, and your joyful midnight jaunt could quickly turn into an uncomfortable gassy waddle.
If you can’t make it back before the sun comes up, the points don’t matter since you will be a pile of ash blowing in the wind. In The Hunger, you have to eat smart because it’s your health at stake!
|Gideon’s Bias||The Hunger Information|
|Review Copy Used: No||Publisher: Origames & Renegade Game Studios|
|Number of Plays: 10+||Designers: Richard Garfield|
|Player Counts Played: 2 & 4||Player Count: 2-6|
|Fan of Genre: Yes||Genre: Deck Building, Race|
|Fan of Weight: Yes||Weight: Medium|
|Gaming Groups Thoughts: Enjoyed It||Price: $50|
The Hunger utilizes a type of aesthetic and color scheme that I often praise whenever I see it used in board games. Colorful, but not whimsical. Most games sporting a vampire’s cloak would be draped in dull grays and browns. The Hunger, on the other hand, manages to add a dash of color within its components that make it look nice without giving off the wrong vibe.
The background art on the board is fantastic. It showcases a great view of the various regions, and villages while working in tandem with the iconography to reflect what is being portrayed. The board is double-sided too. One side is for the rookie mode and the other is for standard play.
Unfortunately, there is a glossy coating on the board that I’m sure helps keep it safe, but it also makes it shiny and reflective. Lights tend to glare annoyingly on it depending on where you are sitting relative to the room’s lighting. There is also a little mistake on the point tracker. 79 is listed twice instead of 78. Not a huge deal, but it failed to escape my nitpicking gaze so I had to mention it.
All of the cards are nicely illustrated. One neat aspect is that each human card has a unique name and portrait. Some of them share gameplay mechanisms, but they all have their own distinct visuals. There’s a nice bit of diversity between them too. That’s great because believe it or not Vampires are pretty progressive, after all, they believe in equal bites.
Missions are contained on nice thick tiles, there’s also a handful of treasure tokens, player mats, and markers. Finally, we have a really cool modular hunt board that slides together based on the number of players.
The Hunger has a surprisingly pretty quick setup and fits neatly back into the box with minimal use of extras such as plastic baggies, which is a nifty bonus.
A Reverse Deck Builder
If you play many board games, you probably have some type of expectation about how a deck builder plays. I want you to open a window and toss those expectations out immediately, or you will probably hate this game. I certainly did, at first.
The Hunger is a type of reverse deck builder. You purchase new cards to add to your deck sure, but doing so generally makes your deck weaker, not stronger. That’s a tough pill to swallow initially.
Every turn you draw three cards, these cards give you movement speed which is used to move around the board, but also to acquire new cards. In The Hunger, this is known as hunting.
Hunting humans is one of the main ways to gain blood. Blood is the game’s take on victory points. However, most human cards grant you no speed when drawn, they clog up your deck, make you slower and impede your ability to hunt. The clock is ticking, and at the end of round 15, the sun has risen. If you haven’t made it to safety, you’re toast, and you don’t add up your points.
The Hunger is pretty simple to learn, and that fact masks a deceptively high skill ceiling. Your early games can feel gross, as you’re likely to overstuff your belly and leave yourself with several dead turns where you really can’t do much.
There is a rookie mode, and you should definitely start with that, as it makes a few mechanisms a bit more forgiving. I’m stubborn and wanted to play the standard way immediately, and nearly bounced off the game entirely. That’s because The Hunger isn’t a game you grasp after just one play. There’s a nuance to its deck building that’s not common to the genre.
Unlike most deck builders, adding cards to your deck isn’t designed to make you feel good. In The Hunger, it’s the payoff that the deck building facilitates that matters instead.
Any good diet requires a bit of planning, a willingness to persevere, and the occasional cheat day to eat that spicy fella that’s been sitting on the hunt board for three turns looking like a snack.
Every human is worth a certain amount of blood as soon you hunt them. However, the further you venture out from the castle, the juicier they get. Humans hunted in the plains grant 1 extra blood, while those in the Forest grant an extra 2 blood. To further tempt you are powerful Roses that can be acquired at the labyrinth at the farthest reaches away from the castle.
Blood rewards are also granted to any vampire who makes it back to the castle, with bigger rewards going to those who make it back first. A vampire can survive in the safe zone near the castle, but they receive a point penalty and miss out on that home sweet home reward.
Not only do most humans provide no benefit to your deck, but many also have effects that trigger when played. Eat a spicy human, and you will be forced to beeline toward the nearest well to douse your burning mouth. Down a drunkard, and you may find yourself forced to wander away from the castle in confusion, while others may prevent you from hunting altogether.
To hunt, you spend the same speed you use to move around the board, and it’s up to you how to split it up. Cards in the first column cost 3 speed, the second costs 2 speed, and the third column costs 1 speed.
Any cards left on the board at the end of a round are shifted over. This leads to cards commonly piling up on the third column. The catch is, if you hunt a space, you have to take all the cards on it. It’s a great way to feed yourself on the cheap, but it can also fatten up your deck to a detrimental degree.
The Hunger’s cleverness lies in the freedom you have to create a meal plan and adjust it as needed. Firstly, you have the mission system that you can use to earn extra blood. There are always two random public missions that affect all players. You also start with a mission that you choose between two random ones.
Various spaces on the board allow you to look through the stack of missions contained on it, but the neat thing is, you are instructed to replace all but one of them. This means you not only get to choose a new mission, but you can also replace any of your existing missions with other ones in the stack.
This flexibility lets you change and adjust your strategy on the fly and it works great. I often feel like missions in games can be stifling as they shoehorn you into a specific playstyle or strategy. That’s never the case in The Hunger, you can always adapt by swapping out missions that aren’t working well for your plan with ones that do. I’m a big fan of how it’s implemented.
Secondly, your starter deck of vampire cards can interact with humans in ways to mitigate their disadvantages. Furthermore, new power cards and familiars also appear and can be hunted. Cards like Vampiric Thirst grant extra speed when a human is present while cards like Vampiric Will allow you to discard a card (such as a crappy human) to draw a new card.
Familiars stay in your play area once played and have constant effects. Rats like Wee Vlad, always give you one speed per human in your play area that’s worth 1 or 2 blood, for example.
Spending speed on powers and familiars usually doesn’t net you any blood directly, but can help you optimize your deck. You aren’t optimizing for giant combo plays though, but a way to efficiently use, digest or bypass the dead weight that the humans burden you with. Striking that balance is an important and enjoyable part of the game.
Picking up treasures awards you blood, but oftentimes also offers one-use powers, such as extra speed. You can also find ways to digest humans through careful planning. A digested human is removed from your deck, but you keep the blood they granted.
You can only move in a single direction each turn, but there’s nothing stopping you from moving in the other direction on your next turn to land on any space you want that you can reach. This freedom can really help you hammer out the details of your play style.
You can go treasure hunting, race for the Labyrinth, digest a bunch of humans, pick up a bunch of missions, or anything else you can reasonably pull off. You can push your luck, or play it safe, you aren’t shoehorned into playing a specific way, aside from the fact that you have to earn blood to win.
The biggest obstacle The Hunger faces is how it simply subverts the expectations of anyone looking to play it. In most deck builders, the joy comes from adding powerful cards to your deck that combo up into big plays. Not only is that not the case in The Hunger, but the game will also let you fail completely.
The first thing I did in my first game was to treat the humans like an all-you-can-eat buffet, and like a vampire staked through the heart, my deck died. I spent half the game being unable to move at all. It wasn’t fun, and I hated it. It took me a few more tries before the game clicked, but it really wasn’t The Hunger’s fault. I came at it with an expectation I carried over from other games, and when I tried to play it like those games, it slapped me to the ground.
I think that’s actually a good thing. So many games are designed to constantly shower the player with feel-good moments that it leads to really homogenized experiences.
I feel like a lot of victory-point-win conditions, just stuff the whole table with a bunch of points, and while the better player will eke out a bit more and win, it’s hollow. Everyone feels as if they did a great job, whether they did or not. I get the appeal, no one wants to walk away from a game feeling bad, but it also makes it harder to actually improve at those games, or to even see your progress.
A game that allows you to fail and blatantly so will enable you to learn from those mistakes. My joy in The Hunger comes from being able to take the challenges it puts in front of me and do well anyway. Adding individual cards may not be lighting up my dopamine receptors like a strobe light, but using those cards in just the right way to do the things I want to do certainly does. You get that same kind of combo high, it’s just handled on a smaller scale. The game isn’t a power fantasy.
That’s not the say that I don’t have my own share of criticisms. The dead turn issue still very much exists. Dead turns happen. When I was playing the game with just two players it was fine, but with four and five, it was painful. You wait for your turn to come around, only to do nothing and have to wait again.
There’s not much player interaction either. You’re drafting from the same cards, and if you land on another vampire’s space, you can bump them over, but that’s really it.
Yes, you are technically pushing your luck against them. You want to return to the castle first if possible. But it’s not really enough to keep you engaged during their turn. What they do is pretty inconsequential to you, and there’s nothing you can do to alter it anyway. Sometimes you can try to compete over public missions, but that’s inconsistent.
That lack of engagement makes those dead turns suck even more as you largely don’t care what the others are doing while you wait, and that’s a bummer.
It feels like part of The Hunger’s design philosophy hinges on not being like other deck-building games on your shelf. Being different doesn’t make a game good by default, but I respect that it intentionally avoids common design tropes that are known to be a success. Some players will flat-out bounce off of The Hunger, but I’ve never been a fan of designers trying to please everyone anyway. It’s fine to target specific audiences.
The Hunger is about making the most of bad situations. Where most deck builders are about creating a well-oiled machine, in this game you start with one. You have to figure out how to keep it running while a bunch of humans get stuck in the gears.
Deck-building games tend to have a flaw where most of the fun comes from adding cards to your deck, but keeping a thin deck is the most effective strategy. Many deck builders find one or more ways to address or mitigate that flaw, The Hunger simply embraces it.
From the very beginning, it’s clear that adding cards to your deck is going to hurt you. But, that’s quite literally how you win. You have to eat the humans. There’s a unique and satisfying challenge in trying to keep you’re deck efficient while straining against the game’s win condition. I think it works great, but it does take some practice. It requires you to empty your cup, so to speak when it comes to thoughts on how a deck-building game plays.
The sheer number of strategies you can pursue and the flexible freedom the game offers to chase them really benefit The Hunger’s eccentric gameplay. I went out of my way to try a bunch of different strategies, and I found them all to be viable, no single idea seemed to be the strongest. What mattered, is how you pulled them off.
The Hunger has teeth. Playing poorly will bite and leave you drained. But that’s part of the charm. Bleeding dry a good score requires you to stake out a strategy while knowing that feasting on the humans is going to slow you down. Being a picky eater with a plan that overcomes the weight of your bloodletting is what makes it an enjoyable experience.
The cardholders I use in my reviews are courtesy of InfinitionsTabletop on Etsy
More Deck Builder Reviews
- Great looking components
- The human cards are diverse and feature unique artwork
- Moderately quick to set up and easy to put away
- A flexible mission system allows you to swap out missions during the game
- Plenty of room to hone your own strategy each game
- A unique spin on deck building that rewards careful planning and efficiency
- Dead turns suck, and they are always a possibility in The Hunger
- Since the cards you add to your deck usually make it worse, fans of deck building could be left disappointed
- The glossy board can make lights glare annoyingly off of it and there is a slight printing error on the scoreboard
- The low player interaction makes dead turns even more painful as you wait for your turn to come around again