WBG Score: 8.5/10
Player Count 2-4
Published by: Studio Midhall
This was a kickstarter preview copy. I did not have all of the final components or the double sided board that will come with the final copy. But I was able to play a full games on one map, with five different Beasts and many different combinations of six different hunters.*
At first glance, this game looks stunning. The art and theme are beautifully atmospheric. But we have all been let down by good looking bad games before right? Well, after playing the game multiple times, I can tell you now, the game stands up to the art. This is a truly absorbing game that will pull you into its clutches. Making you think about it between games, and want to play again, over and over. But for now, just look at that box art!
...OK, have I got you back? No? No problem. Have another stare. I will be here when you are ready...
Right, let's get to it. Beast is a stunning game. During your first experience with this, I would wager you will think this is a little too asymmetric. It feels unbalanced in favour of the hunters, and the rule book even suggests this may be the case. Not specifically in favour of one player, but that you may feel that you are falling behind in the game. It encourages you to stick with it if you fall behind early on. I found that my first two games saw quick and brutal victories for the hunters. But as we started to learn how to play the game with a little more stealth, and a lot more patience, the game evened up quickly.
But let's rewind quickly and talk about how this all began. Beast has been made by first time designers Aron and Elon Midhall. How do people making their first game make one this good!? The game successfully funded on Kickstarter during 2021 and is currently available for pre-orders from the backerkit page here.
In Beast, you are playing either as the Beast or the hunters. The Beast and the Hunters live in the same land, and due to reasons all to familiar with us all from real-life, they just can't seem to get along! Sadly, this means the hunters can only win if they weaken the Beats so much that the game gets to Night four, or they destroy the Beast entirely. The Beast however just wants to feed, although sadly, this takes the form of the Farmers and Nobles that have settled on its lands. If the Beast can take three of these settlers out before the forth night then the Beast will win. This sounds gruesome, but for some reason, it just doesn't feel like that in the game. I suppose as all you are actually doing is moving meeples from the board or adding heart damage tokens to a player board. *There is a second board and other missions and different victory conditions but I have not been able to try these with the prototype copy I have.
Before you begin, players must decide who will play as the Beast and who will play as the Hunters. Provided with this copy were five Beasts and six different hunters. They all have their own different special powers and unique ways of using the action cards. You can play this game in a two player with one player controlling two hunters, but it works best in a three with two players controlling one hunter each and one playing as the Beast. The only variation between a two, three, and four player game is the drafting round, and for a four player game, how big the map is and how many Hunters there are. In a four player game the entire map is used, for a two or three player game the south east area is off limits to keep things tight.
Players must sit around the table according to their role. In the picture above you can see the perspective from the Hunters viewpoint. The text on the board relevant to the hunters is the right way up and the item cards available to you are facing you. The Beast must sit on the opposite side to see their text, but more importantly, keep the players apart. This is a hidden movement game after all. Here is the view from the Beasts' perspective.
The rules of the game are conveniently placed on the edges of the board and begin at Dawn with a drafting phase. Here, both hunters and the Beast will take cards and pass the others along, readying themselves for the day ahead. The cards work for both hunter and Beast with a simple top and bottom action. The top is for the hunters, the bottom is for the Beast. Players will be looking to take what they need whilst not giving away things their think their opponent might be after. Players will then add these drafted cards into their own specific player deck shown by the art of the back and to any Beastly Talents or Items them have unused from the previous rounds.
The cards show either a red or blue circle action. On your turn in the day phase, you can play up to one red card and up to one blue card.
Starting with the Beast, players will now take turns to play one or two cards to move around the board, search, hunt, attacks animals, hunters or other humans, or other specific actions such as for the Beast, deploying their summons. Each Beast has a unique summons. A secondary creature the Beast can call upon for help. The Bolgin for example, a giant frog like creature, can call upon three different Polyp's who once summoned, can move into neighboring areas and explode. In doing so they will give one damage to all creatures there and turn the area into a swamp, an area that favours the Bolgin.
Each area on the board is one of four different land types. Swamp, Forest, Cave, or Settlement. This is important as each Beast has a favored terrain in which it can carry out special attacks, and some cards only work in certain terrain. The hunters in return, can lay traps in each of the four areas of the board, north east, north west, south east and south west, and do so across one of the four types of terrain. They can do so, in the knowledge of what areas the Beast they are fighting will be stronger in and be more likely to move into.
The Beast starts the game in the central space on the map. It can then move two spaces, north, south, east, or west, hidden from the hunter players. The Beast does this by choosing two cards from a huge deck, and placing them face down on the board. This records their turn so it cannot be changed or forgotten, but keep secret. In the final version of the game there will also be a mini map that the Beast player can use to track their progress. This sounds very useful as I was often plotting my moves in my head as the Beast player and the Hunters were staring at my eyes and head direction as I did this!
The Beast also has the option to play a no movement card. This is a good way to fool the hunters as from their perspective, it looks like you moved. You have played a card just the same. But of course, the Beast simply hid into the background. Waiting to pounce.
The Beast will only ever reveal itself when it attacks or is found by the hunters from a successful hunt action. But the Beast will give away clues throughout the game as to its whereabouts. Firstly, and the main way this happens is whenever any hunter moves onto a location that was a space in which the Beast recently moved through. When this happens, the Beast must place a footprint token on that space to let the hunter know they found live tracks.
The other way a Beast's location can be revealed it when it attacks, as the Beast leaves evidence of its presence either with an injured person or animal, or the complete removal of its prey. This is done either by adding a wound marker to the animal, hunter or human character it attacked and moving the Beasts marker to this space. Or, by removing the prey altogether if the attack was fatal. Each attack played in the game by all players, hunter and Beast, delivers just one damage. But players can upgrade their characters and powers to start to increase this in later days.
The Beast can giveaway clues as to its location in other ways. If the Beast plays a card which can only be carried out on a certain terrain, then of course, the hunters will gain information from this. When the Beast adds a summons to the board, this must be done one or two spaces from where the Beast is. This again gives clues as to where the Beast may be. Some cards allow for multiple actions to be done and in any order the Beast likes. Move and Summons, Attack and Move etc. The hunters will not know which order these events took place. So, there is some mystery here. But as the Beast, you need to move with stealth and patience to avoid becoming an easy kill yourself. If you ever end your turn as the Beast with your location known, then you will become easy quarry for the hunters. Attacking and moving in the same turn, in that order, is key to the Beast's success.
Once all the cards are played, or all players have passed, then the night phase begins. This allows players to upgrade their characters using grudges that they have earned in the day through various cards actions, or for the Beast as a result of attacking the Settlers, Sheep, Bears, and Pigs. The hunters have some interesting options but the real excitement here comes for the Beast's character. They have some very powerful, unique and interesting powers that will be game changing if you can get it right. Learning how these upgrades all work and getting to use them for the first time is a genuine thrill!
Each Beast has the chance to turn all attacks into double damage, but the rest of the upgrades are specific to each one. They allow the Beast to move after an attack, transform nearby locations to their preferred terrain, add cards back into your hand after certain actions, and many more interesting powers. The upgrades are permanent throughout the rest of the game apart from the yellow circled ones which are one time actions.
During the night phase, players will also check to see if they have fulfilled the specific contracts to that day's mission. There are two maps and two types of contract. I was only able to play on the Northstar Expanse map with this prototype copy, but this allowed for some interesting benefits to be won. The contracts add some focus to each days play and help each player develop their powers across the game. The Beast for example was rewarded with Ancient Power token which increases one attack by one attack point. The Beast can also get Beastly Talent cards, and Grudge points for killing Sheep, Pigs, and Nobles. The hunters are rewarded with grudge points and Watchtowers for damaging the Beast one, two, or three damage points on the first, second and third night respectively. The Watchtowers help the hunters see footprints across a wider territory.
The game carries on for three days; or until the Beast is slayed or kills three Nobles or Settlers. I found that after a few games, we always at the very least got to the third day, and the game was always won with the Beast needing only one more kill to win, or the Hunters needing just one more successful attack on the Beast to be victorious. Games are often tight and very tense affairs. Hidden movement games should be tense. You should feel nervous and excited about hiding or searching. Beast gets this part just right!
There are some very interesting cards that allow for brilliant moments in the game. In one two player match I had where I was playing as the Beast, I was too close to the hunters, and they knew where I was from a previous attack I had made. I played my Rush card to move three spaces away, and then my Beast's special Leap card which allowed me to move a further two spaces. This card could only be played from a Swamp though, so it did give a clue as to where I had been. My son (nine), playing as the hunter, then played the Prowl card which allows you to move one space, but then move one additional space for each space you move onto where you find some live tracks. He took a punt on the direction I had started and successfully tracked me five spaces to where I was now located. This sort of clever card play, combined with deduction, a little bit of guess work and luck; when it works out like this, brings a lot of joy to the table. Moments like this are common in Beast, and will keep you coming back for more.
Beast is a phenomenal game. It works well in a two, and four, but I found to be best in a three. A two versus one is perfect for a game like this. One versus one works as the hunter has two hunters to control, but it just doesn't feel as fun. There is obviously a lot less table talk with two than three or four. Two or three hunters chatting between each other, strategising and plotting whilst the Beast listens is pure board game gold! This is lost in the two player format. In a four, you have more of this, but I found some elements of quarter backing where one player took a lead and tried to dominate what the other hunters did. It also felt tough as the Beast to have three players after you. Perhaps the other side of the board and the other daily contracts work differently for other players? I don't know yet.
Playing as the hunter, tracking down and finding the Beast is wildly satisfying. To do so, you must first find a live track, then play your Hunt card to reveal the Beast, and then attack. The Beasts all have four or five health so you only need to do this a few times across the four days to win, but as this happens so rarely in the game, when you do achieve this, it feels great.
For the Beast, you only need to kill three Nobles or Settlers. So, again, your attacks will be rare, but highly rewarding when you do pull them off. As your location is revealed when you attack, you need to do so when you can move away right after the kill, or when you are far away from any hunters. Both of these things is hard to achieve. When you do manage to achieve this, it feels great!
Winning and losing at this game feels good. All games are close, so losing can be frustrating, but you will still feel like you had a great experience, and can credit the other players tactics and skill to best you. There is some luck in this, guessing which way the Beast has gone. But also a lot of strategy. When you win, it feels wonderful. Like you have actually achieved something. There are no victory points. No end game objectives. No second place ties. Just a simple kill or be killed, win or loose fight off. Thrilling, tense, tight gameplay all packaged into a tight game time. This game comes highly recommended from me. I cannot wait to try the finished version.