Malum Hortus is the new ambitious project from Atikin Games. The people behind a number of charming small box games and projects. You can find out more about them here. But now, in what is their first big box game, Malum Hortus takes players into a mysterious and enchanting garden, as dangerous as it is beautiful. In this preview we will run through the basic gameplay and give you our thoughts.
You can find more about this game here - https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/atikingames/malum-hortus?ref=discovery
Malum Hortus Board Game Preview - This is a prototype version with only some final art and components, and it does not represent the final quality or look of the game.
Malum Hortus is set within a strange and dangerous garden. But don't be fooled by the word garden. You are playing as a small Nymph, and this garden is more of a spiralling jungle to you. Your job is the help save as many critters as you can, whilst avoiding the plants attacking you as you try to make your way to the fringes of the garden and escape. This is a cooperate game where you will all win and lose as a team.
To set the game up, place the board as below with critter tokens on each critter space. Place the flowers onto their marked spaces onto he tracks, two per path. And set each standee onto the starting spaces in the centre of the board. Give each player a character board, health tracker and power token along with three rune stone cards. Shuffle the rest of these cards and place in a face down deck with three cards facing up forming the rockery. Shuffle the animal cards and place them into a face down deck in the central player area along with the three dice and Root board, which shows the flowers in play for this game and their turn order. Place the Corruption token into the middle location. This is given to any player who loses all their health to remind the players it has happened. Finally, set up the night deck, placing as many cards as you want based on your desired difficulty. You are now ready to play.
Players will now take it in turns to play one card from their hand in an attempt to escape the garden before they become trapped within its grasps. Each card has two uses. The main action shown on the top left, which will be to either take damage, gain magic, heal, move another player, move one of the flowers, or gain an additional night card. Players will take this action, then move the number of spaces as shown on the bottom right of the card. Movement can be forwards or backwards, and sometimes there will be no movement at all. Generally when the card has a stronger power. Players will then carry out the action of the space they landed on which will be to either take a damage, gain magic, heal, or attempt to save a critter.
To save a critter, players must discard five magic tokens and then draw a critter card. Some reward you with a bonus, whilst others may punish you in ways you did not expect.
Once players have played their card they will redraw one card from one of the three face up rockery cards to get back to a hand of three. Other options available to you are to discard your cards and redraw three cards, or to discard the current three face up rockery cards and redraw these. Players also have one passive and active power. The passive powers are in play at all times and helps players gain extra magic, take less damage, heal, or save critters with less magic. The active powers come in to play when players chose so at a cost of two magic, and allow players to move their character extra spaces, move the flowers out of their way, heal, or stun a flower making it inactive that night.
When all players have taken their action, the night phase begins. All flowers will become uprooted which means they will move and attack. One player will need to roll the D6 to determine each flowers movement which is done in order according to the Root board. If any plants move onto a space occupied by a players standee then you need to roll the D4 to determine damage. Some powers, cards or effects will increase or decrease this so be sure to check.
When all flowers have been uprooted, draw the top night card read it aloud and carry out its actions. Some cards will help your progress, others may hinder your way. They continue the story in a beautiful way. The writing is wonderfully ethereal and engaging.
When a player reaches the end of their track, they have escaped. They are still in the game and play cards as usual, but will now focus their attention on helping the other players.
If the final night card is drawn and last least one player is still in the garden then all players will lose. If more than one player loses all their health then all players lose. The only way to win is for all players to reach the final spaces of their tracks before either of these conditions are met. There are multiple ways to set the game up to create the right level of difficulty and tension for your current desire. This is crucial to the success of the game. The balance needs to be right for a good game. And when it is right, this is wonderfully tense.
The best way to describe this the feeling I have when I play this game is a poetic wistfulness. It has a delightful narrative running underneath the clever card play and cooperative movement of the players that keeps you hooked.
It will be interesting to see what the final artwork looks like. A lot is just holding copy for now, so it is hard to get a true feel for the game, especially as it relies so much on the theme to help with the story. But, the mechanics are solid, and the tension created from the gameplay is a very enjoyable. A good co-op game for me needs to be winnable but challenging. Suspenseful but achievable. This game delivers here. You need to set the game up right for you to achieve this though. You need to decide how many Night cards are used in the night deck and reducing the amount of lucky critter cards in the critter deck to suit your groups experience with the game.
The game ends in a slightly strange way currently but I think this will be ironed out in the final version. You will score based on how many critters you saved, how much health, magic and unused night cards you had left, and then lose points if any player had their health reduced to zero or not. But this score feels arbitrary. You either won or lost. What good does a score do? But perhaps some tiers of scoring based on the difficulty level could be used to present different endings. Currently there is a brief piece of text to read based on how the game ended. Perhaos there could be different ones for each score? This would hold the thematic ties to the game a little more. There is a delightful introduction to this game. The story within the game from the night and critter cards shines through. It needs and deserves an ending of a similar nature.
I like the small asymmetry with the characters and perhaps would like to see this developed with the eight different flowers, which currently all operate in the same way. A small change in each flowers behaviour would be interesting to me. And perhaps a way to make the game path a little less linear. Maybe some of the unused spaces on the paths now could be portals where characters can jump from one path to another.
I will follow this campaign with great interest and am keen to see how the game develops both in terms of look and rules. But in its current form I would say this is a sure fire hit, and a game I would happily play again and again. I found myself wrapped up in its beauty and whimsical charm. I found the theme intriguing, original, and captivating and the balance of the game play perfectly poised.