I have very little experience with One vs. Many games. I’ve played Scotland Yard once, Betrayal at House on the Hill once, and Pandemic with the bio-terrorist expansion once. All of these experiences have been fine, but none of them have inspired a love for the genre for me. Bear backed the Beast Kickstarter, and has been eagerly anticipating its release, so, for this week’s game night, Beast was the game we played.
How to Play
Beast’s rulebook is deceptively thin, considering how much asymmetry the game holds. As a ‘1 vs many’ game, there are two halves of the conflict that need to be taught, as both sides need to know what powers and limitations the other has in order to effectively strategize.
With 6 different beasts, 6 different hunters, and 4 different contracts included in the game, there’s plenty of variety to choose from. We chose to follow the suggested first time set up with “The Great Cleansing” contract, with the Beast Fangrir being hunted by Helga and Assar. The gameplay is pretty simple, each of the characters has a set of ability cards, then, each player will draft 4 of the 16 action cards. Each card has a symbol in the centre, either red or blue, along with two potential actions at the bottom. The top action is what the heroes get to do if they play that card, while the bottom action is what the beast gets to do if they play that card.
The goal of the game is outlined on the contract, and for The Great Cleansing, the Beast had to kill two of the three villagers on the map. The hunters had to either survive until night of the third day, or, slay the beast.
The Beast is often “hidden”, with their figure on the map only denoting the Beast’s last known position. Whenever the beast moves, they play a direction card face down. If a hunter or villager manage to happen upon the Beast’s trail, the beast must put down a trail token. The Hunters have an ability to “search” a location, which, if the Beast is in that location, becomes revealed, and is now attackable. The Beast can become hidden again as soon as it moves from its spot.
Every round starts with the Beast taking their turn. Every player can play one or two cards on their turn, but only one card of each colour. No doubling up on red actions here! Around and around players take actions until someone passes. There is a rule stating that you cannot pass if someone has less action cards than you do. The round only ends once all players pass in succession.
After all players have passed, they enter the evening phase, where, both Beast and Hunters get to spend the grudges they earned during the day to unlock new abilities. Once all players have completed their evening phase, the morning begins with another action card draft. The game ends when either side of the conflict achieves their goal.
Asymmetric games are always difficult to grasp on the first play. Each character, Beast, and contract has their own nuances, and I can’t always foresee a character’s strengths or shortcomings and how they’ll play into the chosen scenario, so I’m always thankful when the game offers character suggestions for first time gamers to get into the experience quickly.
On the very first turn, I was able to deuce where the beast had moved to with 100% accuracy, moved into that spot, and hunted him successfully. This hit left Fangrir scared. He spent the rest of the round moving and attacking the bare minimum to accomplish his daily goal, then running away again, not leaving him exposed for a single turn.
At the start of the second day, Fangrir got a Beastly talent that allowed him to react to our Hunt card. When one of us played the Hunt card, he could spend a grudge to instantly move to an adjacent location, rendering one of our hunt cards worthless. There was one point during the second day when I was standing on the location and was 100% positive that I was on the same location as the Beast, but I didn’t have any cards with a Search ability, so, there was nothing I could do.
We chose to end the game after the second night, as it was getting quite late. It took us about 3 hours to set up, learn, and play through 2 full rounds of Beast. A lot of that length of play comes down to analysis paralysis. Both sides have a lot to consider on their turns, and when you’re staring at a hand of 8 cards trying to figure out which two you want to play, it can really slow you down. One of the games that Beast reminded me of was INIS, which is another drafting game. I imagine much like INIS, Beast gets better on repeat plays, when all players know what ability cards are available, and are more intimately familiar with both roles limitations and powers.
Bear was adamant that if we had continued into the third round, he would have taken the victory, but I’m not so sure. We needed to hit Fangrir 3 more times, while Fangrir needed to cross half the map and attack a villager. Between the two hunters, and Bears’ cautious nature, I don’t think he would have been able to pull it off without either running out of steam, or, getting pummled on the one turn he left himself vulnerable. It would really have come down to the cards that got drafted, and the reactions/items/beastly talents that would swing the game in either direction.
My big frustration with Beast came with the Beast’s hidden/reveal mechanic. I really disliked that all the Beast has to do to become hidden again is simply move, but for the hunters to find the Beast, they need to play a card with the “search” keyword. It was superbly annoying that I knew exactly where the beast was, I was standing right on top of it, but I just didn’t have a search card to play, leaving us at a weird stalemate. I feel that if I need to search to find the beast, then the beast should have a corresponding ‘hide’ keyword, or, I should be able to just attack a space that I think (or know) that they’re, and if I’m right, do damage to you, and if I’m wrong, get a punishment, like slay one of the pigs and give the Beast the corresponding grudge. Just, more freedom to actually progress toward the hunter win condition.
I don’t like games that handcuff you. The situation of “The goal of the game is to kill the beast, but you can only attack him if he’s revealed, and you only get one reveal card per round. Also, the Beast has a reaction card that nullifies that card once” really frustrated me. I suspect the reaction card to nullify the hunt card one time would be less powerful in a 4 player game, but it felt very swingy in our game, and I can only imagine would be pretty killer in a two player game.
I can really see how Beast rewards experience. The more we know what cards are in the deck, the better we can control the draft and what ability cards even get given to the beast, the better we can all find those crazy combos that make us feel powerful. I am really looking forward to learning what really makes those hunters different, and what surprises the other Beasts have in store for us. I also really wonder if that same mission would be harder or easier if we didn’t just follow the suggested Hunter setup. All things I’m excited to discover!