Quick Look: Beast
Designer: Aron Midhall, Elon Midhall
Publisher: Studio Midhall
Year Published: Kickstarter Campaign from 28 September through 28th October 2021
Welcome to the Northern Expanse, a place where nature is still unexplored, mystical and dangerous.
When the humans first arrived, they thought they found an unspoiled paradise, filled with bountiful forests, lakes swimming with fish and cold freshwater flowing from the mountains.
But as their settlements expanded and the surrounding forests grew thinner, nature itself pushed back. Great creatures known as Beasts emerged, and with their fangs, claws and mystical powers, they proved an incredible threat to the humans. In order to protect the settlements, humans enlisted specialized hunters, tasked with tracking and killing the Beasts before too many of their kin perish.
The Beast uses a deck of direction cards to move over forests, swamps and caverns, using guile and deceit to hide its track from the hunters. However, whenever a hunter moves over a location where the Beast has previously been, a trail appears. Only when a hunter searches a location or the Beast itself attacks an unsuspecting target is the Beast’s actual position revealed. More so, each hunter has but one chance of searching each round, making it a tense and difficult decision. Hunters seldom have full information whether the trail they’re pursuing contains the Beast’s actual location, or if the trail has already gone cold.
Each action you perform in this game is done by playing a card from your hand (up to a maximum of two cards per turn). This means that if a player wants to search, attack or move, they need to have a card in their hand that lets them do that. Before each round, both hunters and Beast participate in a draft for the most important cards. All action cards can be used by both Beast and hunters alike.
Teamwork above all
In order to win this game, you either need to cooperate every step of the way if you play as a hunter, or skillfully outmaneuver your opponents if you play as Beast. On their own, hunters are never stronger than the Beast. Only when hunters communicate, strategize and combine their actions can they bring down the Beast before it’s too late.
Do you ever have nights where your group can’t decide whether to play a competitive game or a coop?
If you have this problem, Beast might be for you.
Beast is game for 2-4 players that pits a crew of skilled hunters against one of several mythical beasts that has been ravaging the countryside, eating livestock and destroying the livelihoods of local denizens. It fuses cooperative and competitive styles by allowing multiple players (hunters) to team up against the Beast (a single player) in the ultimate fight for survival and domination. Will the intrepid hunters manage to topple their foe, or will they themselves become the prey?
For the purposes of this preview, I received a prototype that is still in development, so be aware that what I describe is potentially subject to change. With that being said, let’s dig in!
In this game players begin by choosing their role. Hunter players will have 6 characters with asymmetrical abilities to chose from. The Beast will also be able to select one of a number of unique monsters such as a giant frog-like bog monster (The Bolgin)or a sort of Wolf Queen, each having unique minions that will tirelessly serve their alpha master.
Game play will take place over several “game days”. If the Beast ever manages to kill a certain number of settlers, they automatically win the game. If the Hunters manage to kill the Beast or somewhat thwart it long enough for reinforcements to arrive (generally 3 days), they win. Easy in concept. Difficult to master, for both factions, too, I might add!
During each day, Action cards will be drafted for both players and beast. Players (both Beast and Hunters) will divide all the Action cards for the day up evenly amongst themselves. They will then take one card to use for their hand, and pass the remaining cards on to the next player clockwise, taking another card one at a time until all cards are drafted. This phase is particularly important, because it dramatically alters what you (or your opponent) will be capable of doing during their turn! If you see a card you do not want your enemy to utilize, take it!
This is also doubly paramount of importance because each Action card offers specific abilities that can only be utilized by the appropriate party : Hunters can only perform the actions on the top part of the card, while the beast utilizes the bottom portion of the card, so while you may initially write off a card for seemingly offering limited use to you, you cannot neglect that rejecting this card may place significant advantages to an opposing player if you ignore what it does for them!
Other types of cards that Hunters and Beasts may acquire during their game :
Abilities — These are the “special moves” that are available to both Beast and Hunters.
Items — Available only to hunters, acquired mostly through utilizing certain cards. Can also include traps!
Beastly Talent : Used by the Beast, these are mostly gained by killing in the countryside.
Movement Deck : Only used by the Beast. (Hunters move by using their regular cards)
Other game items :
Watchtowers. When constructed and occupied by hunters, grants a superior vantage point, reveals nearby Beast Trails.
Traps : Use to spring a potentially lethal snare on the Beast
Grudges : The basic currency of the game, utilized by both Beast and Hunters
Ancient Power : Grants you 1 point of more damage when attacking (utilized by both Beast and Hunters).
You set up the game board by placing the Beast Marker in a central spot on the game map (Please note that this Beast Marker only represents where the Beast was last seen, not necessarily where they currently are!). You will then set up various animals in the countryside (Bears, Sheep, Pigs), as well as a number of settlers within various settlements.
Hunters will then decide a settlement to start each of their respective characters in.
After this, the hunt is on!
Perhaps the most unique feature of gameplay is with the Beast’s movement, which is handled with a deck of movement cards, and utilized only when an Action or Ability card specifies they may move X spaces. The Beast movement deck has a plurality of North, West, East, and South cards (along with a few No Movement cards) so that they can secretly lay these cards face down in front of them to internally keep track of their whereabouts on the map.
If a Hunter ever intersects with a space that has been recently visited by the Beast, the Beast player will place a Trail marker on that space. This again doesn’t necessarily mean that the Beast is located there…but then again, maybe it does.
If a Hunter feels confident that the Beast is indeed there, they must use a card that has Search on it to reveal the Beast, and then they may attack it. If they use a Search card while the Beast is not actually there, the card is essentially wasted for this day—which is a shame , because Search and Attack cards are rather limited!
Fortunately, there are other ways to ascertain the whereabouts of the Beast. Since it is required that the Beast kill a certain number of settlers within a certain time frame, than simply cannot stay passive. Consequently whenever the Beast attacks anything, they are revealed—The Beast marker is moved to their newly revealed location and all previous Trail markers are taken off the board since Hunters all now exactly where the Beast is.
Keen Hunters may also notice that the landscape is mysteriously transformed to a new terrain type. What was once a forest might become a bog, or what was once a settlement may be littered with caves and warrens, which is clear evidence that your foe must be nearby. Likewise, if a pack of wolves mysteriously seems to appear out of nowhere, there must be a reason for it…
A game day ends when all players pass consecutively, whether because they all ran out of cards, or because some are opting to stay put and save some cards for the next day.
At the end of each game day, Hunters and Beast also have to option to purchase upgrades for themselves, granting enhanced damage, mobility, intuitive / predictive ability, or even upgrades for minions for the Beast.
There is also a reward for both Hunters and Beast provided they met certain criteria for the day as denoted by the game setup. If the Hunters managed to score one point of damage during day 1, they can gain a free point of movement (not as insignificant as it may sound!) and an extra Grudge, while the Beast will gain extra Grudges if it managed to kill a certain number of animals.
If a Hunter ever dies, they will re-spawn in town the next day, but will permanently lose access to their special abilities!
The game proceeds until either the Beast is dead, or a predetermined number of days passes.
Overall, I loved this game. While there are still a number of uncertainties and rule clarifications I needed to have addressed, this was to be expected.
Here is what I liked :
—An ultimate cat-and-mouse game, with calculated risks for both parties that do not involve dice at all, but rather cunning.
—Totally asymmetric experience between Hunters and the Beast
—Beasts in particular are highly thematic and varied. It was fun being able to be the frog-like Bolgin and slurp up villagers without even being in their settlement, and making a leap multiple spots away on the map such that the Hunters never knew what hit them.
—The Beast minions are also wonderfully thematic, with abilities that closely match up to their Master, ie, basilisks can petrify Hunters and render them temporarily useless, polyps can explode for splash damage, etc…)
—Planning is ahead is a must, and places a heavy emphasis on selecting the right abilities, upgrades and cards for the right time.
Not much from a gameplay standpoint. There are a few kinks and clarifications that I noticed (such as how Ancient Powers may affect certain game cards) but now that I have brought them to the attention of the devs, I am sure these will be clarified in the rules / FAQ once the game is officially out.
The main concerns I had were with the game board itself. While it is really good from a thematic and visual standpoint, the fact that the sides of the board are dedicated for a portion of the rules makes it so the locations and icons on the board are in our mind much smaller than they should be given the way the game is expected to be set up with the Beast player always playing on the opposite side of the hunters.
Additionally larger icons for locations would mean the board may not get as cluttered, especially when a space may have an animal on it, a transformation, a tower, hunters and beasts and trails all on a single space at the same time!
As helpful as it is having printed information for hunters, beasts , etc on the side of the board, we found it may be perhaps better to instead have players aid cards with that info instead. Having a very large 4×6 gaming table with a good distance between one side and the other, it made it sometimes hard to see the locations, especially when the beast and other players are on opposite sides from each other . This made it awkward for the hunter team, since there is not enough room for all of them to be directly on one side of the board, they are sorta in a line on one side of the board with some being far enough from it to have difficulty seeing things, hence a larger board would mean larger icons.
Additionally, larger icons for locations would mean the board may not get as cluttered, especially when a space may have an animal on it, a transformation , a tower, hunters and beasts and trails all on a single space at the same time!
As you may have gathered, Beast is a classic one-versus-all scenario that fuses competitive and cooperative styles together—and I might add that it does so seamlessly to give an experience like no other. I most definitely look forward to the full game when it comes out, because it fills a niche that few games manage to carve territory into. The world needs more one-vs-all games that don’t overly rely on miniatures, and Beast will most certainly find a permanent home with us when all is said and done!
Check out Beast and Studio Midhall on:
Jazz Paladin- Reviewer