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Beast

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RRP $69.99
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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. G…
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Category Tags , , SKU ZSM-SMBEAST Availability 3+ in stock
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Awards

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • Excellent hybrid of hidden-movement mechanics and hand-drafting
  • Highly thematic with meaningful emphasis on teamwork
  • Highly replayable with huge variety of options
  • Relatively Complex yet very accessible mechanics

Might Not Like

  • Really needs to be played with 3 to get the most out of it
  • Some of the Cardstock tokens are a bit generic
  • Could do with a solo mode
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Description

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 specialised 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.

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.

Across the frozen wastes, rushing rivers and verdant forests of the Northern Expanse, humanity tries to carve out settlements – but great, mythic Beasts have risen to defend the land from their incursions. Villages are forced to hire Hunters, master trackers to conquer the Beasts and keep humanity from the brink. Will you become the Beast? Or will you strike it down?

Beast is an exciting new hidden-movement game from Studio Midhall for 2-4 players, with one or more players taking on the role of hunters whilst one is the titular creature. Coming off the back of a highly successful Kickstarter, game combines deck-based hidden movement for the Beast with card-drafting of actions (basically search, attack and/or move); Beast and Hunter(s) alike can only take two actions per turn, and as a Hunter you aim to find the Beast’s trail: if you search a location where Beast has been (or the Beast attacks!) its trail is revealed, and you can start to hunt it down; as Beast, you must evade the Hunters (or take the fight to them).

The Number Of The Beast

First of all, let’s talk component quality: it’s pretty impressive. The hero and Beast standees give off a bit of Gloomhaven vibe (or I suppose Frosthaven, more accurately), clearly evoking the characters with distinctive art, whilst the little watchtowers are rather lovely. It’s decent thickness, high gsm with good feel in hand. More generally, the cardstock tokens are good, though not exceptional: the habitat tokens drawn from the (again, lovely) token bag are distinct from the others by size, the ancient power tokens are whacking great swords and the wound tokens are… well, heart-shaped.

If I’m being really picky there might be an accessibility issue there for some gamers – they could perhaps be more distinct.

Pleasingly, though, the two main types of cards are in distinct decks (small card for movement compass points, regular sized hero/beast cards) with sufficiently distinct card backs to make everything very clear. The meeples are absolutely stunning, settlers with the tiny pitchforks and nobles with swords a delight and the various animals, with whorls of gold decoration, look really beautiful; also, by having wooden Upgrade pegs that slot into the (very heavy-duty) character boards you don’t suffer the risk of token scatter (or indeed, token fatigue – we’ve all had it, punching out 5000 tokens…)

Speaking of player character boards, they really are superb: clear, straightforward and very sturdy. The (double-sided) game board itself is likewise beautiful, with the distinctive feel of a classic fantasy novel map, printed to very high quality but without too much sheen (really bugs me when the board is too shiny – is that me?), instead being quite matte and pleasantly tactile. A further gem is the micromat that allows the Beast to track their own position, complete with quick reference display. Also, the addition of A5 sized art cards is a lovely touch – the art of the game really is quite spectacular, so having key pieces to display really adds an extra something.

Run To The Hills

The game itself is played over 3 phases (Dawn, Day and Night); when a number of turns have passed (usually 3, but varies by scenario), even if the Beast has not been destroyed, the Hunters win as Reinforcements arrive to slay the Beast. Fundamental to the game is its hidden movement mechanic; the Beast plays from its own movement deck to the board, with a marker indicating only the Beast’s last known location. The Beast player seats themselves facing North, whilst the Hunters take the opposite side of the board; this reinforces the oppositional-yet-co-operative feel. The scenarios are on 2 “Contract” boards – two 2/3 player scenarios, 2 4 player, each using different sides of the map (further scenarios, and customisation rules, are available for download from the Studio Midhall site – you even get a handy QR code to scan and take you straight there!)

Into The Woods

In the game’s Dawn phase – having first placed the Beast at the centre of the map and players in a Settlement – Action cards are drafted between the players. In two player, the Hunter player controls two Hunters with two separate “hands”, whilst in 4 player, the Beast gets an extra card, to preserve balance. Now, in some ways the 2 player version can feel a little cumbersome; however, it also takes the game weight up to the upper end of mid so is equally a more satisfying challenge, if that’s your preferred poison.

During the main Day phase, you play Action cards, Hunters using the text on the upper box, The Beast on the Lower – so when drafting you are not only considering what will help yourself (and teammates, if Hunters) but hinder your opponent, or at least help them least. A further interesting twist is that, whilst you can play two a turn, only one may be a RED standard action and one BLUE special – forcing you to not only draft with care but plan which way you are going to respond to the plays of others. You have a number of character specific action cards, which you always have but can only play a limited number of times, and any card can be discarded for a single move.

Some cards are also Habitat dependent (Forest, Swamp, Cave or Settlement) – and different Beasts tend to favour specific Habitats, which can further affect both sides’ decisions – whilst others require Grudges. These are a means of marking the physical and mental scars of your past (whether as Beast or Hunter): the Beast typically gains them from hunting the animals of the expanse (sheep being less dangerous than bears, so grant fewer Grudges) or indeed human Settlers, whilst Hunters gain them from completing their contracts on the Beast (such as doing it a certain amount of damage, or killing its Summoned lesser beasts).

At Nightfall, you may upgrade your unique abilities on your board (or in the case of the Beast, damage also) which are typically passive but occasionally can trigger one-off effects; also, dead Hunters are resurrected by the Village Shaman, so no player is completely out of the game. However, if the Beast is not destroyed by the specified Night, or 3 settlers have been eaten, The Beast wins!

The Beast Is Back

Where this game really succeeds is the way it combines so many different aspects well. It’s a deduction game, with a dash of the social – the round-table banter (or, in the case of my children, bickering) – as the Hunters plan their turn is all part of the immersive feel of the game, whilst the hand-drafting plays to the tactical gamer and builds the complexity of the whole package without tipping into the upper end of mid-weight. It’s a really impressive package, and with 6 heroes and 6 beasts, all with very different play styles, plus a choice of maps and the ability to customise Contracts also, the replay value is massive. Playable in under a hour, it’s a superb game and a welcome addition to the shelf!

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.

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • Excellent hybrid of hidden-movement mechanics and hand-drafting
  • Highly thematic with meaningful emphasis on teamwork
  • Highly replayable with huge variety of options
  • Relatively Complex yet very accessible mechanics

Might not like

  • Really needs to be played with 3 to get the most out of it
  • Some of the Cardstock tokens are a bit generic
  • Could do with a solo mode