The life of vampires has really been romanticized by Hollywood. Glittery skin, perfect hair, fancy weddings. You know what doesn’t get enough air time? Indigestion. Stomach aches. Lethargy. Eating humans isn’t just all fun and games, it can really mess with your energy levels if you aren’t tracking your macros.
And that, my friends, is basically The Hunger. You are a vampire on the hunt. You want to get full and get back to your castle before the sun comes up. But with every hunted human you devour you lose a bit of pep in your glittery step.
The Hunger is a deck-building game played over 15 rounds. Each round you’ll draw three cards from your deck, determine your speed for the round, and move around the board and grab a human snack. Humans will go into your deck, giving you victory points. But at the end of 15 rounds, you better be back in the castle or you will burn up in the sunlight and definitely not win.
At the beginning of the game, your deck consists only of vampire ability cards. These all add to your speed for the round and some will allow you to discard and draw additional cards. Once you determine your speed you can move up to that number of spaces. Unlike some other deck-building games with maps… you can choose a new direction every round. So if you feel like going away from the castle and venturing out, you can. Next round you can head back out. The farther from the castle you get you’ll earn bonus points for your hunts and the end of the map has a labyrinth with very powerful rose cards. But you can also just stick close and zig-zag through the plains gorging yourself on whoever you come across.
Any speed you don’t spend on movement can then be used to hunt. The hunting board has columns with costs of 3, 2, and 1. So if you have three speed left you can take any card you want. But if you only have a single speed you have to take from the 1 column. At the end of the round, cards will get cheaper, and potentially cards will start stacking up in the 1 column and you can hunt them all in a single action.
Most of the cards you hunt will be, obviously, humans. These humans give you tasty, tasty victory points. But generally, they have 0 speed. So into your deck they go and do nothing but slow you down. There are a few with special abilities but they are almost exclusively bad (or at least random). You can also hunt new vampire power cards which generally are much better at helping you move but don’t give you any victory points.
That’s basically the whole game. There are some locations on the map that generate other effects. Buildings where you can digest human cards you’ve eaten, removing them from your deck (but keeping their points). Crypts where you can get new missions that give you end game bonuses. And treasure chests that give you bonus points and a token with an additional ability. But the most important location is the castle and making sure you are there by daylight!
When the Hunger was released the immediate responses were basically—it’s like Clank!, but with vampires. And I don’t really like Clank!. But, I do like Richard Garfield. Obviously Magic: The Gathering is undisputedly the best game design ever. But even in the more traditional board game realm King of Tokyo is a mainstay, Bunny Kingdom is one of the best drafting games, and Carnival of Monsters is immensely underrated. So I’m predisposed to liking The Hunger.
And after my first play of The Hunger, I was hooked. I ate a bunch of rich nobles. I was fat and happy. And I burnt up in the morning sun. It was hilarious, tense, and I vowed to play again and try a different strategy. And so I did. I played again and I ate some people and made it back and scored points. It was lovely. So I played a third time and it kind of just felt like the first couple times I played.
What became apparent in that third play was that all of the interesting parts of the game are in the movement. How far out do you go? When do you come back? Do you try to get some treasure? Do you head on the outer paths to get more treasures? Is there a point where you realize maybe you’ve done too much and you stop hunting and just start sprinting back toward home? Love that part of the game.
What The Hunger is missing is interesting cards. And from a game designer known for his interesting card designs, that was quite the letdown. Hunting cards was just boring. Most of the humans have no abilities so you just take whatever scores you the most points. You could have a mission that wants you to collect a certain type of human that can influence that some, but mostly… just eat whoever is worth the most. Maybe if there is a great vampire power you’ll take that. But even those powers aren’t really that interesting, just allowing you to have more speed more often.
I would love to see humans that interact more with the make-up of your deck. Or more with variable points so it isn’t necessarily so easy to know which human will be the most valuable by the end of the game. Or vampire powers that do a whole lot more creative things. Or having different cards available when you get farther from the castle, giving you more incentive to push your luck.
One last nitpick. Digesting the humans you’ve eaten is one of the coolest ideas in the game. When teaching it everyone gets a good laugh. It makes sense thematically, at least somewhat. (I’m not sure why you can only digest certain types of humans in certain types of buildings, but alas.) But the idea that the humans you’ve previously devoured are no longer weighing you down is pure genius. Unfortunately, it happens very rarely. You have to land right on the location and you have to already have that card in play or in your discard; you can’t dig through your deck to find them. Most players didn’t manage to digest anyone at all. Would have loved for this to be more prevalent in the game.
The Hunger is certainly a mixed bag. I really like the theme of the game and I think the mechanisms do pretty well at having it make sense. It comes off in a cartoony playful way, not a scary vampire horror sort of way. The decisions to make on where to move your vampire each turn and how far to explore out from the castle can make for some interesting decisions and tense moments.
But for a deck builder, it’s just too bad the deck isn’t more interesting. The reality is the majority of the cards you add to your deck throughout the game only serve to make it worse. And even the ones that make it better do so only incrementally. There isn’t any grand overall strategy in deck construction and thinning your deck (via digestion) happens all too rarely. There is an expansion coming for The Hunger and it promises to add more cards and more to do, so we will keep our eyes peeled for its release.
Final Score: 3 Stars – Great theme. Just a bit repetitive and none of the cards really do much. Hoping to see more from the expansion.
• Cards are all underpowered and few have interesting abilities.
• After a couple plays there doesn’t seem to be too much left to explore in the game.