Feel that chill in the air? The weather is shifting, and snow is starting to fall. It’s time to gather up food, dig your shelters, and Hunker!
What Is Hunker?
Hunker is a resource-collecting game by Aaron Franco for 2 to 4 players, ages 9 and up, and takes about an hour to play. It is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, and a pledge of $49 will get you a copy of the game. While the game is competitive, it’s designed to be friendly and not as cutthroat, and the themes are indeed family-friendly. However, don’t think “family-friendly” means the game is simple or shallow: there’s some strategic depth to Hunker that more experienced players may enjoy.
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Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality. For example, my copy included two additional animals that are stretch goals in the campaign: the beaver and the deer. The exact number of food tokens and cards might also change in the final version.
Here’s what will come in the box:
- 5 Region boards
- 5 Food bags
- 150 Food tokens (30 per region)
- 48 Snow tiles
- Season Tracker board
- 4 Event cards
- 12 Hunkered tokens
- 5 Snow dice
- Nature’s Whims die
- Outsider pawn
- 42 Friendship cards
- 4 Player Aid cards
- 4 Animal meeples (squirrel, rabbit, fox, bear)
- 4 Animal cards
- 52 Shelter cubes (13 per animal)
The illustrations for the game, by Elizabeth Jancewicz, almost have a stained-glass look to them, and wouldn’t be out of place in a children’s book. They’re mostly seen on the cover and on the animal cards, but I like that they’re a different style than what you usually see in games, which helps set Hunker apart visually. I do wish there were even more of her artwork in the game, but what’s there is lovely.
Each of the animals has a card with an illustration, as well as some important information: how fast the animal can move, how much food it can forage, and how big its shelter needs to be. Each animal also has its own custom meeple. (Note that the beaver and the deer are stretch goals, so they will be included if the game hits a particular funding level.)
The region tiles are made up of smaller hexes, and are irregularly shaped. Although it’s possible to create a map that has no holes in it, the game encourages you to make maps that have some bottlenecks because that will create more obstacles when the snow falls and starts to block off pathways. Each region tile has a 3-hex foraging area marked with a bright outline, and the rest of the region has some features that share the tile’s color, though these can be a bit harder to see. The whole map uses the green trees and blue flowers to tie everything together, but those do make some of the regions less easily distinguished.
The food tokens have differing abilities on them, based on the regions, with some alliterative mnemonics like the floodplains have abilities for foraging and the hollows have abilities for hunkering. But that’s not quite as useful as a chart of abilities, and I wondered if those icons could be marked on the region boards themselves to make it a little easier to remember (or at least on a reference card).
There’s a big, chunky 8-sided die called the Nature’s Whims die, rolled each turn. The prototype used an extra-large die, which I found a little difficult to roll, but I don’t know what the final version will be. The snow dice are simple 6-sided dice that have white hexes on four faces and are blank on the others.
How to Play Hunker
There will be a link to download the rulebook on the Kickstarter page, though it wasn’t ready at the time of this writing.
The goal of the game is to score the most points by stashing food and completing friendship cards, along with a few endgame bonuses.
Set up the map using the region tiles depending on the player count, either using the standard layout or a custom layout. Give each player an animal card, meeple, and shelter cubes.
Shuffle the friendship cards and deal two to each player, and then set the deck nearby. Place the food tokens for the appropriate regions in their matching bags, and set them nearby, along with the Nature’s Whims die, two of the snow dice, and the outsider pawn.
Set up the season tracker board: using the side corresponding to the player count, place snow tiles on the three events as indicated on the board. Also, place three of the snow dice on the spaces shown. Below the board, place the four event cards: Rattling Leaves, Shivering Cold, and Billowing Drafts. The Endgame Bonuses card is placed below the Billowing Drifts card. Place 1 Hunkered token per player on each of the events. Each player should place one shelter cube on the scoring track.
Choose a starting player. In turn order, each player places their animal meeple on a hex on the outside edge of the map.
On your turn, you first roll the Nature’s Whims die. This may move the outsider to a forage zone, which gives you a token from that bag, but prevents any foraging there until the outsider is moved again. Or, it may put a food token onto the board, which can be picked up by anyone moving through the space. Lastly, it could cause a sudden squall that forces you to drop some food tokens if you’re caught out in the open.
Then, you take 3 actions from this list (and you may repeat actions):
- Move: move your animal, as many spaces as your speed
- Forage: draw tokens from a region’s bag if you’re in the forage zone, as many as your foraging number
- Build: put a shelter cube on your current space
- Dig: move 2 snow tiles on the board
- Socialize: discard friendship cards and draw replacements
A few other details: You may move into spaces with other animals, but not where there is snow, and not into a foraging region where the outsider is present. When you forage, you place tokens face-up in front of you. You may not build in forage zones or where other animals have built. Your shelter is complete when there are as many cubes on a single hex as shown on your card—so the squirrel needs a single cube shelter, but the bear needs a 3-cube shelter. You can’t add more cubes to a completed shelter.
When you dig, you may move 2 snow tiles that are within your movement range to other spaces within your movement range, so the faster your animal, the farther you can move snow. Snow can’t double up, but can be placed on any hexes otherwise, even if they’re occupied. Once placed, you can’t move into a space that has snow on it; you have to dig it out first.
There are also abilities that can be used that do not take up your 3 actions:
- Hunker: stop on anyone’s completed shelter
- Stash: while in your completed shelter, flip food tokens face-down to stash them
- Eat: discard food tokens to use abilities
- Befriend: complete a friendship card
The funny thing about completed shelters is that it doesn’t matter what your size is, if it counts as completed for its owner, then you can hunker in it. So a bear can hunker in a squirrel’s 1-cube shelter, but a squirrel can’t hunker in a bear’s 2-cube (incomplete) shelter. I like to picture the children’s book The Mitten by Jan Brett whenever larger animals squeeze into smaller shelters.
The food tokens are worth 1 or 2 points, and some of them also have icons on them indicating various abilities, from some that are the same as your actions and even one that lets you move the outsider. On your turn, you may eat unstashed food tokens to use the abilities, returning them to the box. You may also eat food tokens to borrow abilities from somebody else—for instance, if another player has a face-up food token with a movement ability, you could discard one of your own food tokens to take an extra move. You may even eat to borrow abilities on somebody else’s turn, but only once per turn.
Friendship cards are worth between 1 and 4 points, and have various requirements that usually involve some sort of interaction: sharing a space with another player, digging out somebody else’s shelter, and so on. If you complete a task, place the card face-up in your scoring pile and then draw a replacement. You may only complete 2 friendship cards per turn.
After taking your three actions, roll the snow dice. (Skip this during the first round.) Take that many snow tiles from the season tracker and place them on the map within 2 hexes of your animal. Then your turn ends, and the next player takes a turn.
When a stack of snow tiles runs out, it triggers the event. You add the snow dice from the season tracker board, increasing the chance of snow for future turns. Anyone who is not in a completed shelter must drop half of their unstashed food tokens (in empty adjacent spaces), and anyone who is in their own completed shelter earns a Hunkered token. Hunkered tokens may each be flipped over for an extra action later in the game, and are also worth endgame points (even if spent).
After the third event, Billowing Drifts, is triggered, finish the entire round so that all players have had the same number of turns.
Score as follows:
- Score stashed food tokens. Unstashed food is lost.
- Score completed friendship cards.
- The player with the most shelter cubes on the map gets 7 points; second most gets 3 points.
- Score 2/5/9 points if you have 1/2/3 Hunkered tokens.
- Score your scarcest region’s food tokens again: whichever region you have the fewest tokens in, add the total point value again.
The highest score wins, with ties going to the player who completed the most unique friendship cards, and then the most 1-point food tokens.
There’s an advanced mode for 3–4 players with a “Now Don’t Be Greedy” rule: if the lead player is 10 or more points ahead after final scoring, the second-place score wins the game instead. In this variant, everyone starts with a 3-cube completed shelter at setup, and you’re allowed to stash food tokens in another player’s shelter, putting them into their stash.
Why You Should Play Hunker
Hunker really evokes the feel of animals running around, gathering food and preparing shelters as the snow starts to pile up—though this is a happy, fairy tale sort of forest where the animals are all friends and say things like “Howdy, neighbor” to each other as they pass each other on their errands. There’s no attacking each other (not even the fox and the rabbit) because winter is coming and there are more important things to do.
And there is plenty to do! The rules aren’t terribly complicated, but each turn presents you with a lot of choices to make. Since you only have three actions per turn, you have to decide how to budget those actions. Building a shelter, of course, is crucial so that you don’t lose food tokens when the storms rage. But what good is a shelter without food? You gotta go foraging—which means moving out into the open, where you’re vulnerable to the elements.
If you’re already in a shelter, you might use three actions to move, forage, and then move back to your shelter. That keeps you safe so you know you won’t lose any food if a sudden storm hits. However, it’s also inefficient. Maybe it’s better to move and forage twice? But then you risk losing food.
Do you build multiple shelters around the board, so you can zip over to one at a moment’s notice? Or do you try to build one shelter somewhere centralized, hoping that you can use those extra actions to forage more food? Well, a lot of that depends on how fast you are, how much food you can forage, and how big your shelter needs to be. The squirrel is fast and needs a tiny shelter, but can only forage 3 cubes at a time. The bear moves quickly, too, and gets 4 food at a time, but needs 3 actions to complete a shelter. One thing’s for certain: whichever animal you are, you’ll be envious of the other animals’ speed or foraging or shelter size.
The food token abilities present some really fascinating choices, too. Since actions are so precious, the ability to eat food tokens for extra actions is very helpful, but you’re sacrificing points to do so, and the tokens with abilities are worth 2 points. However, you can also eat those 1-point tokens to borrow somebody else’s ability if they have the ones you want. And there’s the other trick: do you eat/stash your valuable abilities so that nobody else can borrow them? Or do you save them so that you can use them in a pinch? I love the fact that an ability token can be used multiple times by other players while it’s sitting face-up, but as soon as the owner uses it once, it’s gone.
As the game progresses, though, the action economy shifts: now there’s snow on the board, and you may not be able to get where you’re going without spending an action (or a food token) to dig out a path. Remember when I said the map will probably have some holes and bottlenecks? We had one board layout that reminded me of Seattle because it had so many gaps and narrow crossings—and when those filled up with snow, it was like rush hour.
The friendship cards are cute and have funny titles, but most of them give you points for doing something that could be beneficial to other players: for instance, you could score when somebody borrows one of your food token abilities, or if you place snow tiles on the edge of the map instead of in the middle. Some represent animals having friendly interactions: building next door to somebody or sharing a space with them. There are some that lead to funny passive-aggressive behavior, though: if you get points for digging somebody else’s shelter out, that might incentivize you to dump snow onto their shelter first.
The one friendship card that has gotten mixed reactions is “My, You’re Looking Well!” card, which gives you 1 point if you pay another player a compliment. Designer Aaron Franco explained that he’s hoping the game will encourage players to be friendly to each other—that the objective of the game isn’t just to score points, but also for everyone to have fun and enjoy the interaction with each other. I do think that’s admirable; the face-to-face interactions are one of the things I love about tabletop games. However, giving a point for a compliment seems forced and a little weird, and when playing with friends who really wanted to focus on strategic play, that particular card fell flat after it appeared a few times. I know Franco is still playing around with the cards, so it’ll be interesting to see what the final list is.
I’ve gotten a chance to play at all player counts (2, 3, 4), and have enjoyed it each time, though there was one 3-player session where we ran out of food early into the third event, which made the last third of the game a bit anticlimactic. The food token count might be adjusted a bit to prevent this from happening, but we were also foraging pretty aggressively in that game. I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of the game: I played with a few friends who prefer heavier games, and they came away with a positive impression (aside from that compliment card).
Overall, Hunker is engaging and does a good job pulling you into the wintery theme, and it’s a solid game from a first-time designer. Even without attacks, the game provides plenty of opportunities for player interaction, and the stashed food tokens mean that it can be hard to know for sure who’s ahead until the points are all counted. If the cover art caught your eye and you like the setting, it’s worth checking out!
For more information or to make a pledge, visit the Hunker Kickstarter page!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a prototype of this game for review purposes.