Don’t Ignore ‘Honga’!

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Honga cover

Your clan is looking for a new leader—one who can gather supplies, barter with other clans, and honor ancient traditions. But don’t forget to mind Honga, the saber-toothed tiger, or you’ll be short on food!

What Is Honga?

Honga is a game for 2 to 5 players, ages 8 and up, and takes about 45 minutes to play. It was designed by Günter Burkhardt with illustrations by Stephanie Böhm, and is published by HABA Games. Honga retails for $49.99 and is available in stores now or directly from HABA USA.

Honga components
Honga components. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Honga Components

Here’s what comes in the box:

  • Game board
  • Depot board
  • Honga token
  • Fire token
  • Mammoth Tooth token
  • 46 Action Disk cards (28 gray, 18 red)
  • 32 Barter cards
  • 25 Bonus cards
  • 5 sets of player components, each containing:
    • Player board
    • Caveman meeple
    • 6 Mammoth meeples
    • Scoring marker
    • 4 Food markers (fish, berry, mushroom, water)

The components are colorful and fun to look at: mammoth and cavemen meeples, little shaped resource tokens, a giant wooden mammoth tusk, and an oversized Honga meeple, which is printed on front and back with the smug sabertooth tiger. The player boards are nice, dual-layered boards with recessed channels used for tracking your resources. The main board in my copy doesn’t unfold completely flat—that’s an issue I’ve seen more commonly with games in recent years, and I’m not sure what causes that.

Honga characters
Each of the boards has a character portrait, along with a mammoth icon showing the player color. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The character artwork is cartoony, and the board artwork is pretty standard “caveman civilization” chic. There are some fun character portraits on the player boards, but my kids weren’t thrilled with them because it limited their color options to the boards with characters they liked (rather than being able to choose any combination of character and color).

Honga card backs
The backs of the cards are fairly plain, though each is branded with the “HABA” logo. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The cards themselves are a bit strange—they’re more like thin cardboard than cardstock, so they’re quite stiff, and they also have the little stem nubs on the edges like they’ve been punched out of a sheet. It also seems a little strange to me that the backs have the “HABA” logo prominently printed on them; that’s not something I usually see on card backs, and it seems like the bonus cards and grey action disks could have had something a little more elucidating on them. (Note that the “red” action disks are the ones that are orange-colored and have a mammoth tusk on the back.)

Honga box
The components could easily have fit in a square box. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The box is somewhat oddly sized for the components. It’s a rectangular box, but as you can see from the photo the components easily fit into a square on top of the folded board. And yet the box isn’t wide enough so that the depot boards and player boards can sit side by side next to each other—it’s just a hair too narrow for that.

How to Play Honga

You can download a copy of the rulebook here.

The Goal

The goal of the game is to score the most points by climbing the sacred mountain and bartering with other clans.

Honga 3-player setup
Honga setup for 3 players. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Setup

Set up the board: place Honga in the center space, the bonus card deck in the leafy space, the barter cards in the top center space, and the mammoth tooth in the mammoth field. Reveal the top 3 barter cards and place them in the three spaces at the top of the board, next to the other clan villages. Shuffle the two action disk decks separately, and deal 1 grey action disk to each player.

Honga player board
Your player board tracks your resources, and has spaces for storing your bonus cards and for playing two bonus cards. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Each player chooses a color and places their caveman meeple on the bottom step of the sacred mountain, the scoring cube at the beginning of the score track, and all their mammoths on the separate depot board. You start the game with 1 each of fish, berries, and mushrooms, and no water.

The player with the shaggiest hair is first player and takes the fire marker.

Honga action disks
Grey action disks have 4 handprints; red action disks have 5 handprints. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Gameplay

On your turn, you will play your action disk to one of the four circular spaces on the board. The board is laid out like a tic-tac-toe board, with the circles at the intersections. When you place the action disk, the handprints on the card will be pointing toward the various spaces, allowing you to take those actions. Each handprint lets you take one action, so multiple handprints in the same space allow you to take the action multiple times.

Honga board
The board has 9 action spaces. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

From left to right, top to bottom, the 9 action spaces are:

  • Collect 1 mushroom
  • Barter with other clans
  • Collect 1 berry
  • Draw 1 bonus card (by combing through the thick forest)
  • Take care of Honga
  • Climb the sacred mountain
  • Attract 1 mammoth
  • Collect 1 fish
  • Collect 1 water (2 water can be substituted as any 1 resource)

Here are a few more details about the different actions.

Honga - player board with Honga
Here comes Honga, ready to devour your food. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

We’ll start with Honga, since it’s one of the most important actions to take. Honga is your clan’s pet, or mascot, or perhaps just a hungry predator who figured out that he could get a lot more food if he just sat around in the human village instead of eating up the humans. At any rate, if you don’t spend at least one handprint on Honga’s space, then Honga comes to your player board (before you take your actions) and immediately eats 1 food—fish, then berries, then mushrooms, then water. If you have none of those, he’ll eat an entire mammoth. If you don’t have any of those, then he doesn’t eat anything.

The trick, though, is that once he’s on your player board, he doesn’t leave if you mind him on a future turn. He’ll just stick around, eating one thing each turn. He will only leave if another player fails to mind him, or if you play a bonus card that removes him.

Honga barter
There are always 3 clans to barter with. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

When you barter with other clans, you may choose any of the three cards at the top of the board. Trade in the resources shown at the bottom of the card, and then score points as indicated on the card. The card is then discarded to the depot board, and refilled at the end of your turn.

Honga barter cards
Barter cards have a range of point values and requirements. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The barter cards are worth between 3 and 9 points, and require a mix of resources. The illustration shows what you’re trading for, and is just there for thematic purposes, but it’s kind of fun to think about what you’re trading for.

Honga bonus cards
Bonus cards can be found in the forest. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Searching the forest gives you bonus cards, which have various effects. Some give you resources that may be spent when bartering, or let you substitute one resource for another. Some reduce the cost of attracting mammoths, or let you trade in resources for victory points. A few may even be spent to get rid of Honga, returning him to the center. You may only play 2 bonus cards per turn, after resolving Honga if needed, and then they are discarded to the depot board at the end of your turn.

Honga sacred mountain
Climbing the sacred mountain. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

For each handprint pointed toward the sacred mountain, you may move up one step. If you reach the top step, everyone scores points for their current position on the mountain, and then returns to the bottom.

Honga mammoth field
The mammoth field. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Attracting mammoths is a little tricky. Each handprint allows you to attract one mammoth to the field, but you must pay 1 fish, 1 berry, and 1 mushroom per mammoth. Take the mammoth from the depot board, and add it to the end of the line, bumping any other mammoths forward one space. The mammoth herd has a maximum size (based on the number of players)—if there are more mammoths than the maximum, the ones at the front get bumped out of the field and are collected by their owners. So it takes a few visits to the mammoth fields before you actually collect a mammoth, and it’s easier if there are other players also adding mammoths to the field as well.

If you have the majority of mammoths in the field, you also collect the mammoth tooth—this allows you to draw from the red action disks instead of the grey action disks, which gives you an extra handprint each turn. If there’s a tie for the most mammoths, the tied player with the most recently placed mammoth gets the tooth.

At the end of your turn, you draw a new action disk and refill the barter cards if needed.

Game End

The game ends when a player hits a certain score, which varies based on the player count (as marked on the scoring track). The round is completed so that everyone had the same number of turns. The highest score wins, with ties going to the player with the most food remaining.

Honga 5-player game in progress
A 5-player game of Honga in progress. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Why You Should Play Honga

You may be familiar with HABA as the publisher with the bright yellow boxes; the company is well known for its games for young children. What you might not know is that they also have a line of games for more experienced players, known as “Game Night Approved.” These provide a bit more depth and strategy (and also come in non-yellow boxes). Honga is one of the latest titles in the Game Night Approved series, and I was happy to try it out.

The core of the gameplay in Honga is pretty simple: play an action disk, take the actions where the hands are pointing. The primary sources of points are trading with the other clans (which requires collecting resources) and climbing the sacred mountain.

The strategy comes in figuring out which approach you want to take to score points. The barter cards that are available may drive which resources you collect (or whether you attempt to get a mammoth). There are many very useful bonus cards, but their utility depends on the circumstances. Sometimes you really want the card that makes mammoths cheaper; other times you really just want some extra mushrooms for bartering. Or, if you decide that running around collecting resources is going to take too long, you might just spend most of your handprints on climbing the mountain instead.

Throughout it all, of course, Honga hovers nearby, ready to start eating up your food if you don’t spend at least one handprint to mind him. Depending on your action disk, sometimes it means taking an action you really didn’t want, or wasting an extra handprint on Honga. The fact that he’s hard to get rid of once he shows up gives that decision a little more weight—you have to hope that another player ignores Honga, or else dig through the forest for one of the few cards that chases Honga back to his spot.

Still, it is possible to score pretty well even with Honga chowing down on your supplies. I had one friend who came close to winning even though he was stuck with Honga for nearly the entire game. He ignored Honga early on, and the other players minded Honga every time, so the only way to get rid of him was a bonus card. We realized that if you’re not spending a hand on Honga each round, that amounts to an extra action—so if you play your hands right, you may be able to overcome that handicap. I suppose that different groups may have different play styles: if your whole group is conservative, Honga might stay in the middle the entire game; if they’re riskier, Honga might make the rounds a lot.

The mammoths are more valuable for trading, but also require a lot more effort to obtain: first you have to collect the resources, and then you have to wait until there are enough mammoths collectively to push yours off the front of the line. There are a few bonus cards that can score points, but not enough that you could ignore bartering or climbing. Going after mammoths tends to be a long-term investment. The mammoth tooth bonus adds a little more incentive, because the red action disks give you an extra hand each turn. That can make a big difference over a few turns, so players are less likely to let you just keep the mammoth tooth unchallenged and will attract their own mammoths. And the more people are fighting over the mammoth tooth, the more quickly everyone will collect mammoths.

The scoring options seem pretty closely balanced; I think it may be possible to stay competitive by just climbing the mountain over and over again—plus if you don’t care about bartering, you don’t care if Honga is eating up your food anyway. (It would be a much less interesting game for you, though.)

All in all, I think Honga is a nice, lightweight strategy game. I had some nitpicks about the components, but they’re fairly solid overall. The rules are simple enough for younger players and it’s quick to set up and start playing. It’s not a brain burner, but does have a touch of longer-term planning with the mammoths, and it has some basic resource collection mechanisms. It may not satisfy those who want a lot of deep strategy, but I think it will still appeal to a fairly broad audience. The use of the action disk to select your actions isn’t something I’ve seen before and is a clever use of the cards.

If you like the caveman theme, and especially if you’ve got kids who are starting to get into more strategic games (instead of more luck-based games), then Honga may be a good fit!


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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

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