Travel through the mountains, collecting gear for your adventurer and packing it into your ever-expanding bag. Do you have what it takes to be the best squire?
What Is Squire for Hire: Mystic Runes?
Squire for Hire: Mystic Runes is an 18-card packing game designed and illustrated by Jon Merchant and published by Letiman Games. It’s for 1 or 2 players, ages 12 and up, and takes about 15 minutes to play. It can be combined with the original Squire for Hire to accommodate 3 or 4 players. Squire for Hire: Mystic Runes is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge of $12CAD (about $8.50USD) for a copy of the game. There are additional funding levels that include extra squire characters and the original core set.
New to Kickstarter? Check out our crowdfunding primer.
Squire for Hire: Mystic Runes Components
Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality, though much of it is very close to what it will look like in the finished version.
The components are pretty simple: it’s 18 cards total in a little tuckbox that unfolds to show the rules. The tuckbox itself is nicely designed—the back is made to look like a pouch of items, with a flap that folds down and latches shut.
There are 4 Squire cards with different scoring bonuses, and the back of the Squire card is a player aid explaining the different mystic runes. The Squire illustrations are fun: they’re all animals of various sorts, and each one has a name and a title that indicates whose squire they are: Merchant’s Haggler, Druid’s Fledgling, and so on.
The other 14 cards are Story cards—each one has a story on one side with requirements for gaining loot, and the other side is a 3 by 4 grid depicting various items in it. The items come in various sizes and shapes, fitting into the grid boxes, and each also has a colored outline indicating the type of item: weapons, armor, magic, and valuables. There are also some items on a darker background that are junk, and some mystic runes that are new to this core set.
How to Play Squire for Hire: Mystic Runes
The gameplay is the same as the original Squire for Hire, but with the new mystic rune items.
The goal of the game is to score the most points by efficiently packing your bag with the items your adventurer wants.
Give each player a random Squire card. (You can give each player one of the unused Squire cards as a reference card for the mystic runes.)
Shuffle the deck of Story cards and deal two to each player, item-side up. Each player chooses one card to play before them as their starting bag, and shuffles the other back into the deck.
Place the deck in the middle of the table, story-side up. Flip the top two cards face-up next to the deck, one on each side, so that the items are showing.
On your turn, you read the top card of the Story deck, which includes quests, encounters, and dungeons.
Each Story has one or two requirements at the bottom to gain a new loot card: some require you to have a certain number of “squares” of a particular type of item in your bag, and others force you to use items of a certain type. If you have enough of the requisite item (count the total number of squares of that type you have), then you succeed and get a loot card. To use an item, you’ll have to completely cover it up with a new loot card.
Either way, when you get a new loot card, you take either of the face-up cards next to the deck and add it to your own bag, placing it so it overlaps an existing card. At least one item from the new card must fit fully within your bag—that is, it must be within the perimeter of the cards you already had on the table. Also, if you cover up any items in your bag, they must be completely covered—you cannot cover up half of an item.
If you cannot fulfill the requirements (or choose not to use items), then you may choose to pass and do not collect a new loot card.
At the end of your turn, you flip the Story card into one of the two slots next to the deck. (If there’s an empty slot, the new card must go there.) Quests and encounters can only be resolved by the first player to read them; dungeons remain until somebody has completed them or once everyone has had a chance and failed before they are flipped.
The mystic runes are new to this core set: there are three different runes, each with a special ability.
The Void rune cannot be covered up, but it also makes all adjacent junk items worth 0 points (overriding Squire abilities).
The Morph rune can either be considered a rune or take the shape of any one item (but not a different rune type) for scoring.
The Hide rune lets you place new loot cards under existing cards instead of over them, as long as it is visible. New cards still must have at least one full item “fit” into the bag.
When the Story deck runs out, reshuffle the loot piles once. (In solo play, do not reshuffle the cards and only go through the Story pile once.) The game ends when the deck runs out the second time (or the first time for Solo mode).
Add up your score as follows:
- 1 point for each visible weapon, armor, magic, valuable, and rune in your bag.
- 1 point for each pair of identical items that are touching (diagonals don’t count).
- 1 point for each pair of runes adjacent to each other.
- Bonus points for the item type and certain combinations shown on your squire card.
- -1 point for each visible junk item in your bag.
Highest score wins! In the solo game, score at least 25 points to win. (There doesn’t appear to be a tie-breaker rule.)
Why You Should Play Squire for Hire: Mystic Runes
Packing games are a fun genre: they call on your spatial reasoning skills, figuring out the best arrangement of items based on the rules of the game. In many games, you’re packing polyomino tiles of some sort into a limited amount of space. Squire for Hire takes that in a different direction: all of the “tiles” are rectangular cards, and instead of fitting them into a limited space, you’re expanding your bag as you go. Sure, it’s also stretching the limits of the theme a little—I guess these are all bags of holding?—but it makes for a fun puzzle.
The main rule you have to watch in Squire for Hire is that each new card you add has to fit at least one item fully into your bag. So if there’s a single-square item on a corner of a card, it’s really easy to do because you just overlap that corner somewhere, hopefully without covering up any of your other carefully chosen items. But, of course, things aren’t always that simple. Because there are also junk items that you want to cover up so they don’t cost you points at the end of the game, and sometimes you’re required to cover up particular items because of the story requirements.
And then there are the bonus points for your squire. Every item is worth a point regardless of size or type, but each squire gets bonus points for one particular type of item, and for the bonuses, size does matter. Only the biggest and best equipment for your adventurer! In addition, you have to balance your various bonus opportunities—putting identical items next to each other, pairing up the specific items shown on your squire card, or making use of various rune abilities.
Each squire also has an expertise with a particular type of junk item. Autara can just ignore herbs entirely, while Musca can cancel out any junk if there are at least 3 of that type. (It’s not junk; it’s a collection!) Knowing which types of junk you can risk collecting (and which to leave for your opponent) can be a big help, because then you don’t have to try to cover them up.
The Story cards present various types of requirements, and so you never know exactly which things will come up. Many of them have an option that simply requires that you have a certain number of squares of a particular item type: if you hit 4 of an item type, then you’re set to pick up that type of card if it comes up. But if you have to use items to fulfill a requirement, you start losing things. You have to decide: is it worth covering up these points to get a new loot card, or is it better to forgo taking a card? You’ll only get a limited number of turns in the entire game, so skipping a loot card for a turn can feel particularly costly. Also, if you focus entirely on your particular bonus item type, you may end up unprepared for any of the other quests. Is it worth covering up a bonus item in order to get more loot?
Since I don’t have the original Squire for Hire, I’ve only been able to play solo and 2-player games so far. It’s fun, but I generally prefer playing games with more than just 2 players, so I’m curious how it feels when there are more players competing for the loot cards, especially if there are multiple people interested in the same items. While you don’t necessarily interact directly with the other player’s bag, you do have some interaction in the form of hate-drafting: taking a loot card that you know the other player may want, or else covering up a card (when you flip the Story card) so they can’t take it.
Overall, I think Squire for Hire is a clever spin on the packing game genre, and the pocket-sized form factor makes it an easy grab-and-go game. For more information or to make a pledge, visit the Squire for Hire: Mystic Runes Kickstarter page!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a prototype of this game for review purposes.