HOYUK is a 2-5 player game from the MAGE COMPANY, the company who are responsible for the excellent 12 REALMS game. And also, I can now announce that off the back of a highly successful Kickstarter campaign, Hoyuk Anatolia will be available as an expansion in the near future.
The components are all made of good quality material, money hasn't been saved by offering shoddy card, illustration or design. However, I will say that the Village Meeples, Cattle Meeples and Oven Meeples plus the illustration to represent Cattle on the Construction cards leave a little to the imagination, but thankfully they are all totally different colours so there is never any confusion.
The game play is quite unusual, I would say almost unique - in fact I would say unique except that I know once I say that someone will pull out a game from the 1850's or whever that has a similar game mechanic. After set up you choose a starting player who then deals out one Construction board to each player, face up in front of them so that they are on visual display to all players. Every Construction board has illustrations of two houses and a Meeple or multi-meeple (one only and used not in the Basic game has the Shaman Meeple). Going first can be a minor disadvantage if the other players are not in a kindly mood because on their turn the first player builds everything on their Construction card; so 2 houses and one meeple (multiple meeples give a choice not a multiple build option). The houses can be placed on any square(s) on the board (the grid is very faint and thus is aesthetic to the design of the map as well as being practical) each house occupying one space or one house on top of the other to form a 2-storey house. The Meeple is placed on top of one of the player's houses, including 2-storey houses but not necessarily the newly built houses. There is an exception, one of the meeples isn't actually a meeple, it's an animal Pen; this is placed with its arrow pointing at one of the player's houses. Houses built together form a Block.
The second player can then place their houses and meeple. These may be placed adjacent to the first player's houses or the player is allowed to start afresh elsewhere on the map (board). Just a pointer here, the woodlands, hills and river on the map are simply aesthetic and may be built on/over as if they were empty plainland. The reason players would normally build next to each other's houses is that unless there are two or more different families living in the housing Block when the Blocks are checked to see who gains Aspect cards then no Aspect cards are gained, and Aspect cards are pretty powerful.
The game is played in Phases, four Phases in each Round. Aspect cards are gained during the 3rd Phase when the Blocks are inspected and checked. If a Block has more than one different family (player's houses) then you check to see who has the most Ovens, then the most Shrines and finally the most Pens - in the advanced and medium games other aspects are checked also, but for your first few games it is better to stick to the Basic game. The Medium and Advanced do add a little more game to the play but should be avoided until you have fully comprehended the rules and possibilities of the Basic game; believe me, there's enough of a game here to keep most players happy.
At the beginning of each Phase the players have the opportunity to play and activate any of the Aspect cards they have gained. They may action as many Aspect cards as they have families on the board EVERY phase (obviously as long as they have enough cards). This means that if a player has 4 families on the board and has amassed 16 cards, for example, they could activate 4 of them at the start of each Phase (activated cards are discarded) or any distribution of them as long as they do not exceed 4 per phase (as they only have 4 families). This sounds complicated but it really isn't, just count how many families you have and thats the number of Aspect cards you may play each Phase. You must remember that these are played at the start of the Phase not anytime during it. I say this because many was the time that we (but me in particular) went to play an Aspect card when the second Construction card of the Phase was dealt.
GGO Note: A couple of ideas we have tried are: a) allowing players to play Aspect cards after they receive their Construction cards and b) dealing both Aspect cards out at the same time so that players have a little more control. These do add a few minutes onto the game as players take the extra few seconds to determine which Construction card to play first and then they have slightly more options on where to play their Houses and Meeples from the card. We believe that the game already plays reasonably quickly so the few added minutes doesn't make it drag. There is already a rule in place to make the game a little shorter if you wish by the removal of an equal number of Houses from each player - instead of 25 try playing with 20 or even 15 - so if you use a) & b) and diminish the number of player's houses from the original 25 to say 15 then the additions will not run the game any longer than normal.
Now we get to the second phase; the Catastrophes: After every player has built using their Construction cards (except for the first round) it is time for the Catastrophe for the Round. This is usually very painful for at least one player, often more, as it generally means one or more Block is about to lose Houses or Aspects. These cards are identified by the top border art which, for the first few games at least, you will find yourself running to the rules booklet to pages 9 & 10 for the full explanation of what they are capable of. The icons do not particularly immediately impress on your imagination their representation with a couple of them looking similar at a quick glance. For older players (and I mean over 60s whose eyes are not the 20-20 they used to be) these cards have too much unnecessary illustration and not a large enough explanatory area ie the top banner could have been a bit larger and the flavour picture a little smaller; but these are just minor gripes because I am getting old and my spectacles are in need of stronger lenses. There is nothing you can do to negate a Catastrophe, but we have taken to building the odd House on the side of a Block so that it can be the one lost when the Catastrophe comes a-calling.
The Aspect cards are well named for they are indeed a very important aspect of play. These again have a tiny icon in the top left corner which represents a Shrine, Oven or Pen. Aspect cards can be used as a Building element, the building determined by the icon, or they can be collected and traded in for Victory Points. Single cards give 1VP, 2 cards score 3VPs, 3 cards = 5VPs, 4 cards = 8VPs and 5 cards = 12VPs but each group must all have the same icon and you can never hand in a larger group than 5, the VP values do not raise exponentially, but you could hand in a group of 5 and a group of 3 if you had 8 with the same icon for example.
HOYUK the basic game is itself very good, with or without our ideas and the new expansion (which I am hopeful of seeing and reviewing in the near future) it should remain in the top ten of games played for many a year.
But of course HOYUK isn't just a Basic game, it also has additional optional rules to make it both a Medium and then an Advanced game, both of these without GGO's ideas or indeed the Anatolia expansion. In the Basic game 2-storey houses are the tie breaker in tie situations but in the Medium game all houses are more important as you now score VPs for having the most houses in a Block and also for having the mosty 2-Storey houses in a Block. Note that 2-Storey houses count as Houses when adding up the total number of houses in the Block so a single storey house and a 2-storey house would be counted as 2 houses not 3. Also you can never build a second storey on a neighbour's house (full stop) to then claim it as your own (as you can in some other building games). The Medium game also brings more Aspect cards into play as the spaces on the board are then filled ready for players to claim them as rewards. The reward for "winning" anything in the game (most houses, most Shrines etc) is an Aspect card from the associated deck. When players discard Aspect cards after using them they are discarded face up under ANY one of the Aspect card decks - each player puts all the cards they have used in the Round under the stack of their choice. This may result in some stacks being exhausted (emptied completely) in which case no more rewards can be gained EVER from having the associated highest number of resources.
The final advancement to the Basic game from the boxed set (prior to any expansion) is the Advanced game. This brings more Aspect cards, the Cattle Meeples and the Meeple meeples and the single Shaman into play. This means that having the most Cattle and the most Meeple People meeples are now added to the list of what you can build to gain Aspect cards and (hopefully) VPs. However in these cases there are additional rules that must be taken into consideration. They are both commonsense (leaves me out then) and logical. The first is that if you are to have Cattle you must have somewhere to keep them, thus they go in the Pens meaning you need a House with a Pen attached before you can add Cattle (one Cattle per Pen - they are either very large cows or a load of bull) and the other reasonable expectation is that for Meeple People you need a House. Again only one meeple can live in a House (poor little lonely meeple) even if it is a 2-storey house (which we found to be a little strange and thus we allowed for 2 meeples to share a 2 storey house. This isn't that good an idea though for if the house is ruined you lose both meeples as well). Houses can have a Pen plus a Shrine or an Oven but never an Oven and a Shrine; they can also have one Pen on each side of the House (thus it is possible to have 4 Pens and a Shrine/Oven on one house - very dangerous if catastrophe strikes though. Houses lost to catastrophes are flipped over to the rubble side and removed out of the game when a new building is placed on the site, all adornments to the house are lost if the house goes.
HOYUK is an unusual building and resource management game because there are no actual resources per se. If you want to build a house you build one, you need the Construction card but you don't need bricks, wood & sheep etc. and yet it is a game as complex as Settlers of Catan but more satisfying (for me anyway) as there is very little luck involved. The randomness comes from the shuffled cards - all types, everything else is up to you the player. Thoroughly recommended to boardgamers who like to be able to play a gamers game with their families and not have to explain dozens of complex rules. HOYUK is pretty much as straightforward as the rules are written.