The Replayability Number of the Beast.
The woods are certainly lovely and dark, but are they deep?
Beast came out to rave reviews and I am in firm agreement with our original review that this game is exciting, challenging and extremely immersive. After a few plays through, though, and having seen all the hunters and beasts in action, I did find myself wondering whether it would really have the complexity and variety for multiple plays.
Base Game Replayability
Fortunately, there are several elements that are (or at least could be) different every time: which combination of hunters and beast is selected; where the hunters start; which contract is chosen; which items come out; which beastly talents appear, which map is used; which players are teaming up . . . there are seemingly endless possibilities.
However, not all of these have an especially significant effect on how different one game is to the next: each hunter only has one unique ability; the beast always starts in the same place; and there aren’t that many different action cards, hunters’ items or beastly talents. So, how much of the game’s design puts style over substance, wowing players in their first few games but not necessarily tempting them back again and again with compelling play?
As well as starting on the same spot, the beast almost always has to reveal itself one way or another in order to achieve its win conditions, so the role of the hunters is not so much search and destroy as prepare and pounce - you can be fairly confident that the beast will rear its ugly head at some point so you just need to be able to respond when it does. Or so I thought, until I managed to string together 11 consecutive movements on the third day without being revealed, leaving my pursuers so bemused that they were unable to stop my victory.
This speaks to the true potential of the game: it is very open to a wide variety of approaches and styles so that players are free to express themselves and explore new stratagems. Different beasts naturally lend themselves to more aggression or more stealth, but players are able to stamp their own personalities on it as well. Similarly, pairing up different hunters can have a significant impact on play-style - although each hunter only has one unique action, they can be upgraded to develop their unique talents and combine in interesting different ways.
That being said, I have seen far more successes for the Beast than for the hunters - although the hunters take more actions collectively, being able to coordinate them effectively in order to deliver the requisite damage to the beast is difficult. Therefore, there is still a question for me of whether it will hold up to multiple plays as hunter, because consistently losing is no fun.
It’s also worth noting that, if you’re playing with three or four players, there is the problem of the most experienced hunter player quarterbacking, so choosing who pairs with who carefully is recommended.
Contract Play Variation
The contracts go a long way to dictating play, so it’s a good sign that Studio Midhall are encouraging custom contracts so enthusiastically. Having played several games of the basic kill-or-be-killed contract styles (at 2, 3 and 4 players), I felt like I had a good grasp on the mechanics and tactics of the game, and so I felt confident trying the alternative ‘Shipwreck’ scenario.
In this contract, no settlers are placed in the settlements, but instead only two are used and they both begin by the shipwreck in the far west of the map; the hunters are charged with an escort mission which requires them to deliver at least one to the Easternmost settlement (alive!).
Going into this game (as the hunters) I felt confident that I knew how to keep the beast’s claws away from my previous settlers. How wrong I was!
I kept our group close knit, using watchtowers to survey the ground and escorting the settlers closely. We came into direct conflict with the Beast and its summons fairly quickly and I thought all was in hand.
Then, before I knew where to look, the game was over at the end of the first day, something we hadn’t come close to seeing in any of my previous games. It was clear that this would require a completely new strategy, and I think the true nature of Beast was revealed: its puzzles are a canvas for the players. Its mechanics are very simple and its moving parts are few, and yet I was totally surprised again after several games.
There may be a steeper learning curve for hunters (my tip would be for players to be aggressive and draw the beast out - hunters respawn for free!) but that is an indication of untapped depth - I certainly feel like there are many, many more exciting games to be played.