Monday, 12 August 2013

Review - Huntik: Trading Card Game


Huntik: Trading Card Game
Published by Upper Deck Entertainment
Designed by Big Bocca, Brian Hacker, and David Smith
For 1 or 2 players

If there is one particular grouping of words that is guaranteed to set off my Spidey sense, it is "trading card game." I don't have a problem with any of the words on an individual basis, but stick them all together, and in that order, and it's just a recipe for disaster.

You see, the problem with a trading card game is you have to enter into it knowing that any starter set you buy isn't going to give you the full experience. Indeed, if you want to know everything this game has to offer you are going to have to buy lots of blind-packaged cards. That means a serious amount of time and investment. And for a game to demand that level of commitment, it has to be really good.

I used to play Magic: The Gathering. That's a good game. That's a game that went "Yeah, you want more cards. I know you do. You aren't going to be happy unless you spend lots of money." And it was right. I spent an incredible amount of money, and spent countless hours creating themed decks to destroy my best friend in casual magic-flinging frenzies.

But I don't really have time to deck build any more; and frankly, I no longer see the appeal in buying a little foil wrapper that might contain cards I have already paid good money for in the past.

Huntik boosters
Huntik booster packs. Hmm... Shiny.

If that's the case, why the hell did I buy Huntik? After all, it isn't disguising what it is. It says "trading card game" right there on the box.

The truth is, I found this game in a discount store called The Works. They were selling starter boxes for £1. This seemed like a pretty good deal considering the starter pack contained two pre-constructed 30-card decks, a deck of mission cards, a mission map, and a DVD. Of course, I knew it was a trading card game, and therefore no starter set was going to give me the "full" experience, but I thought it might be a mildly diverting entertainment.

I subsequently went into one of the many stores in my area that sell everything for £1, and I happened to spot a very attractive metal tin among the toys. Turns out it was a special booster pack for Huntik, which contained four booster packs and a limited edition rare card. I liked the tin, so I thought I might as well drop another £1 to expand the game. After all, you shouldn't really review a trading card game based only on your experience with starter sets, as you really are only getting a very streamlined version of the game. Everyone knows that most of the fun comes from building your decks.

Huntik booster tin
Huntik booster tin. Hmm... Tinny.

However, having said that, I haven't done any deck-building with this game, and I don't intend to. I was so bored with what I experienced in the starter box, that I have no desire to put myself through any further torture just to be "fair" to the game. So yeah, I'm reviewing just what came in the starter box: two 30-card pre-constructed decks.

I have to be honest, when I first opened the box, I was far from impressed. The game is based on a pretty awful cartoon which just reminded me of Pokémon. That means the card art is lifted straight from the show, and is pretty flat and uninteresting.

Huntik cards
Huntik card art. Hmm... Shitty.

The game is played out on a paper mat, and I really hate paper mats. I realise there is no real way around the use of paper mats without adding a lot of expense to a game, but I really just can't stand them. I have a sheet of Plexiglas (like you might use for framing a poster) and I use it as an overlay for paper mats to stop them moving around and puckering along the creases. It helps, but it's not ideal.

My biggest issue when opening the box was the lack of a proper rulebook. You get a small pamphlet with the basic instructions, and a DVD that is supposed to have the full rules. That is so annoying. But it's not quite as annoying as putting the DVD in a DVD player and then being told you need to run it on a computer. And then running it on a computer and being told you need to go to a website.

Seriously? Really? You need to make learning the game this convoluted? This game has the sub-title Secrets and Seekers, and my efforts to even find the rules made it clear why.

The DVD contains an episode of the show. Hmm... cartoony.

Having finally located the rules and learned how to play, my opinion started to change slightly. I realised there were some interesting things about this game. First of all, its scenario based. The starter box includes a special deck of mission cards. This deck is further broken down into grouped cards that are used for particular missions. A set of mission cards might include an instruction card, a special boss monster to fight, several items to collect, or a location you need to reach.

For example, the training mission "Retrieve the Ring of Arc" uses just two cards. The first card has the instructions for how to play and win. The second card is the "Ring of Arc." You place the ring on the play mat in zone four. During the game, you need to reach zone four, pick up the ring, and bring it back to your starting zone. Your opponent is the defender and needs to stop you.

Huntik mission cards
Mission cards. Er... Missiony.

Even more interesting, some of the missions are for competitive play, some are for solo play, and some are for co-operative play.

Really wasn't expecting that.

I also discovered that the game involves movement. You actually bring your characters into play, and then move them around on the mat. Movement and positioning are quite important, and this lends a nice touch of strategy above and beyond choosing which card to play.

Unfortunately, this movement mechanism is also part of the biggest fault of the game.

You see, the game is divided into rounds, and each round is divided into turns. On your turn, you can do ONE thing. You can play a character from your hand onto your starting zone on the game mat, you can use a special action card (or a special action on a character in play), or you can move one character one or two spaces. That's it. That's all you can do. Then your opponent gets to do one thing. Then you get to do one thing. And so on.

Eventually, you will pass, because you don't have anything you want to do. If your opponent also passes, you both draw TWO cards (not a full hand), and a new round begins. Then it's back to that I-go-u-go system of performing one action at a time.

A good friend of mine who I was playing this with summed it up perfectly in one word: "sedentary."

The game is just so, so, so, so, so, so, so slow.

In our first round, my friend only had major heroes in his hand, and you can only play one major hero in a round. Furthermore, he played a hero who comes into play exhausted (you know, "tapped" like in Magic) and therefore can't do anything. So, the sum total of my friend's actions in the first round was to summon a character who he couldn't then do anything with anyway.

And almost everything exhausts your character. Moving (even just one space), or using a special power, will result in that character being unusable again until the next round. It really does make the game move incredibly slowly.

The first time I played this, everything seemed to take forever. It's hard to explain unless you have played the game, but only being able to do one thing every turn (and then having that one thing exhaust your character) means that even the most basic operations feel like a mammoth effort. Just advancing one character into your opponent's zone will take a minimum of three rounds.

It wouldn't be so bad if the combat part of the game was more interesting, but it isn't. If you trudge into a space containing an enemy character you must stop. Then you can choose to start a fight. Each character has an attack and defence. If your attack is higher than your opponent's defence, then you kill that opponent. However, you might be killed in the process if your opponent's attack is higher than your defence. If more than two characters are involved, then combat values are combined, and it is possible for multiple characters to be knocked out.

Some characters have special powers, and you may be lucky enough to have a combat card that will give you some kind of boost if you play it; but generally speaking, combat is just a case of comparing two values and removing the loser. Its very deterministic, and as you can see your opponent approaching a mile off (as he staggers along, lies down exhausted, gets up again, lies down exhausted, and then finally charges at you) you will have plenty of time to prepare. There really are very few ways to launch surprise attacks in this game.

Huntik tin - open
Another shot of that tin. Hmm... Lovely.

All in all, I think there are some interesting mechanisms in this game. Including movement and positioning could have worked really well, the mission cards are inventive, and including solo and co-op rules was a very good idea. Sadly, the core rules around which the game operates are all designed to create a game that plods along at a snail's pace. You don't get to do enough on your turns, and as you only get two cards each round, you will often find it difficult to put together any kind of meaningful combos or tactics.

There is a lot of missed potential. Which I guess is why you can buy Huntik for £1.

Those booster packs did come in a very nice tin though...


  1. I really like this review, and there's a few things I'd love to hear your opinion on concerning Huntik. I've left you a message on BoardGameGeek and it'd be awesome if you could take some time to look into it!

  2. Thanks for your kind words. I have dropped you a private message over on the Geek.


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