- I’ve never really been a hunter. The Deer Hunter is one of my favorite films but I’ve never shot a living creature. I can see your face starting to wrinkle and this is all going South. Don’t worry, Merlin’s Beast Hunt doesn’t ask you to climb into a deer blind and rub foul urine on your clothes. This is not in fact a tabletop fantasy take on the video game Big Buck Hunter, but rather is a magic-infused competition of animal control. Yeah, when centaurs and unicorns run wild, they call you.
This job is actually kind of fancy. You get to roll custom engraved dice and slot them into depressions in the board. Depending on the symbols you roll, you will even get to place these swanky semi-transparent cards on their side, standing them up as arcane barriers and fencing in that mythical game running wild. Those slick dice pinch two opposite corners of the card and hold the thing upright.
Clearly this is another weird one which we’ve come to expect in the Zev Schlasinger era of Wizkids. This is also a case study in how a unique mechanism doesn’t necessarily make for a compelling game.
Let’s discuss the structure a bit more before wading into the criticism. This is a relatively snappy game as you roll four dice and then quickly puzzle out your best placement. There’s a balance between completing fence sections immediately versus placing a die or two and planning for the future. It certainly sways a little more tactical than strategic, but both elements are present to a degree.
The tension arises from players building off and stealing each other’s progress. You achieve points from the different fences you build based on a couple of parameters that add a modicum of heft to the decision space, but the largest payouts arise from completing a sealed pen and trapping a beast. This affords a bit of race-like pressure as participants ramp up the tempo and run to beat their opponent’s to the punch.
It’s all decent enough. There’s some thought and legitimate strategy anchored by this novel mechanism of standing cards on their sides. But decent is not enough. The central conceit of that innovative fence system is simply ho-hum. The issue is that the game doesn’t leverage the mechanic into a greater whole.
A friend of mine, Grace, commented that this is a similar problem to Mystic Vale. The core twist is interesting, but the game just doesn’t offer a compelling ride. A novel mechanism does not always make for a novel experience.
This is the type of game that you quickly set up, quickly take turns, quickly complete, and then quickly put away. If I was regaling you with lively tales from our most recent game sessions, you wouldn’t be spilling your mead over the story of Merlin’s Beast Hunt. Hell, I may even forget that I played it.
The strategic maneuvering is minimal as the board is chaotic. Tactical decisions are restrained due to the dice result set as well as what fence cards you currently possess. Swinging into large point gains is smirk inducing, but it’s not wild or dramatic.
Progress and the game’s arc of play are also abbreviated. Over a few turns you make measured gains towards completing a pen and either have it swiped out from under you or complete the rickety thing of woven lightning and thorn. Then you start over and begin anew. The board is sectioned off as areas are finished and the tempo never really ignites. This lends a repetitive strategic feel as variance is limited and your decision points are mostly identical.
The moments where it manages to crawl out of the shadow and actually attain interest lean into competitive interaction. It has this solid area control feel where you’re vying to lock down spaces. This affords a bit of maneuvering room for clever play. However, these burst of light are but intermittent flickers in a dank Dagobah cave.
It also sits in an awkward position of being too long for a filler but not long enough to be meaningful. At 45 minutes it’s not demanding, but it’s also not fulfilling. Unfortunately it’s a bit of a shrug.
I’m tempted to say it needed to go a step further and bolster the mechanism with a more meaty or substantial structure, however, I don’t actually think that’s the case. Merlin’s Beast Hunt feels the natural conclusion of those shifting fences, a stutter step rattrap of dance floor refugees devoid of rhythm.
- Much like Hako Onna, not every risky nu-Wizkids release is going to land. This doesn’t diminish their legacy or my desire to see a continual offering of oddball titles. But it does highlight the fact that even rock stars release an occasional Generation Swine.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
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