Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Pierre Canuel


No. of Players:
2 - 4



Sometimes already the name of a new boardgame stirs up my curiosity, and in case of Pierre Canuel's Hoyuk I was indeed wondering how this unusal name could be explained. The game's background story gives us no immediate connection - it is about human settlements in the Neolithic period approximately 10.000 years ago. Okay, the rules also state that the game takes place in Anatolia, a province of modern Turkey. Equipped with this information a google-query brought me to Çatal Höyük, a neolithic settlement which was located near the modern city of Konya in south central Turkey. The area was inhabited 9000 years ago by up to 8000 people who lived together in a large town, and Çatal Höyük is of special archeological importance because it has witnessed the transition of human life from an exclusive hunting and gathering subsistence to increasing skill in plant and animal domestication. So, Çatal Höyük is a turning point of one of man's most important transformations: from nomad to settler. And this finally brings us back to Pierre's boardgame, since the game indeed focuses on the players forming settlements and starting community life.

However, with humans coming together, there will always be some kind of rivalry, and in case of Hoyuk the players compete for most buildings and for most villagers, cattle, pens, ovens and shrines attached to their buildings. At the end of each round of play these different categories will be evaluated for each village (block of buildings) on the gameboard, and the respective player leading in each category is entitled to claim a valuable Aspect card for each of his leading categories. These Aspect cards can be used either for additional actions or turned into victory points, but more about them later.

Depending on the number of players, each player starts the game with an amount of 20 or 25 buildings of his own colour. During the course of the game they will slowly place the buildings from their stockpiles onto the gameboard, and the placement of a player's final building will herald the end of the game at the end of the current round. All other features like shrines, ovens, villagers or cattle come from common stocks, and the building allowance for each player is determined by a random distribution of construction cards which takes place at the beginning of each round. These cards have in common that all of them give a total of three building actions, but apart from the two normal buildings which can be found on each card the third action varies between a fixed feature or a feature of the player's choice.

At the beginning of the game the gameboard is empty, and so the players will start to place new buildings and cattle pens onto the board to form settlements. Here some placement rules need to be observed, and most prominent among these are the requirements that a player's buildings within a village need to be adjacent to each other (forming a "family") and that different villages cannot be joined together through placement of a new building. Buildings and cattle pens are placed directly onto the gameboard, whereas other features like ovens, shrines, villagers and cattle are placed within existing buildings or pens. As indicated, each village on the gameboard will be evaluated for each different feature at the end of a round, and so the players will try to get a leading position in as many categories as possible within each village.

This brings up the question why players actually should place buildings in a village started by another player. The rules explained so far might sound as if it could be most profitable for each player to build his own exclusive village, but this approach has been blocked by the rule that a village will only be evaluated for its features if it consists of buildings of more than one player. So, it's not really sensible for players to stay on their own, and this forces them into competition with each other.

At this point a game which may initially have sounded like a simple placement game gets tricky and fascinating at the same time. Not only the aforementioned rule for the scoring of village-features forces the players to diversify, but also the nature of the Aspect cards which can be earned by these evaluations. Each Aspect card either can be used for placing an additional building, shrine, oven etc., or it may be collected to get more cards of the same feature in order to discard them together to gain victory points. The bigger the group of cards discarded, the more victory points can be earned. However, both usages of the Aspect cards face a hard limitation, and so a player only can use as many Aspects cards each round as he has families (i.e. buildings in different villages). So, a player who focuses on just a few villages will not be able to play/discard many Aspect cards, and this would cut him off from the most important source of victory points.

Diversification is pronounced even further by the fact that the decks of Aspect cards awarded for leadership in each feature are limited. The players are allowed to "feed" these decks by placing used Aspects cards back, but if a deck ever should run out of Aspect cards it can no longer be replenished with used cards. So, players who concentrate too much on just one or two kinds of features may find themselves in a position where their leadership in these features becomes useless due to lack of Aspect cards, and so players with a liking for monoculture need to keep an extra eye on the deck of Aspect cards corresponding to their strong feature(s).

Quite interesting for a placement game is also the high degree of dynamism on the gameboard. Usually strategic placement games trend to develop more or less stagnant areas in the center of the gameboard, since new tiles normally are added at the borders of the placement area. Here Hoyuk goes a quite different way with the features likes villagers, ovens and shrines which are placed into existing buildings, and this effect is even further augmented by the deck of Catastrophe cards from which one card is revealed during each round. Life must have been hard in the year 8000 B.C., and so catastrophes like draught, epidemics, wolves or fires may have a really hard impact on the one or other village. These events do not come fully at random, but their effects are applied to villages which have most or fewest units of a specific feature, and so the players have some basic possibilities to include the upcoming catastrophes in their future plans.

Hoyuk is a perfect example of the high quality of games which may be produced via a Kickstarter-campaign. The concept of the game had been introduced and awarded at a French game designer contest as early as 2007, but as it seems Pierre had not been able to attract any of the major publishing houses to invest into this game. With Kickstarter, every good idea has an opportunity to achieve publication if enough investors can be convinced, and here Pierre was lucky to come across MAGE COMPANY, a publisher with good experience of crowdfunding projects in recent years. As a result, the interesting mechanisms designed by Pierre could be outfitted with nice artwork and solid wooden components which all contribute to the game's atmosphere. Taking all this together, the backers have been awarded with a very professional final product, and it's great to see that the game now is available for a broader public.

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Copyright & copy; 2015 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany