Year Published: 2015
Designer: Jeremy Lennert
Publisher: Victory Point Games
Playtime: 60-90 minutes
One Sentence Synopsis: Unless Professor Plum has toxic fangs, I don’t think he did it in the ballroom with the candle stick…
People had dispersed from our small gathering in the gallery room, leaving only myself and Butch among the artistic finery. He cut a striking figure but hadn’t struck me as very bright during our conversations, and yet some of the things he said made me suspect he knew my true intentions in the mansion this night. I had planted the seed in their minds that I figured he was the Vampire, so any action against him would appear justified, or at least give them pause. Now alone, I decided I couldn’t risk him delivering the first blow and exposing me to the others. I used my wasting ability only to find Butch immune. Blast! Now he knew for sure, and his vengeance was swift. Butch chased me from the gallery, down the stairs and back into the main hallway, passing two of the other guests as we traded blows. If I were to survive it couldn’t go on like this for long, so when the opportunity presented itself I spun on my heels and sunk my fangs into Butch’s shoulder, and again into his leg tearing a chunk of his flesh in the process and crippling him. Butch screamed in pain, collapsing to the floor and swinging his firebrand blindly as he fell. Unfortunately my luck had run out, and one of Butch’s last flailing attempts caught me across the temple and I collapsed to the ground in a heap. The Vampire was no more.
Hunt: The Unknown Quarry is a fantasy-noir, hidden identity game from Victory Point Games (VPG) that builds on the deductive aspects of its mystery-oriented predecessors like Clue, and ups the stakes by adding direct player conflict to the mix by pitting one secret monster player against a group of monster hunters. As the monster you’ll use planning and cunning to sow discord among the bounty hunters and make them mistakenly turn on each other before discovering your true identity and coming after you with a vengeance, whereas playing a hunter you’ll focus on searching the mansion for clues to deduce exactly which kind of horror you’re facing, and then root them out from your group of fellows. It’s not all sunshine and roses between the monster hunters, however- only one person can claim the kill, so you’ll find your working relationship with other players abounds with suspicion, and may turn violent.
Learning Hunt: The Unknown Quarry isn’t what I’d call difficult, but the sheer amount of secret/hidden information does require everyone have a thorough understanding of how things work before the game begins. Basically everything you do in Hunt is either for your eyes only, or for one other person to see, so any delay in resolving an action may give away your true identity, or mislead others into thinking you’re something you’re not. That’s all part of the fun of Hunt once you’re familiar with things and start trying to manipulate people, but especially as the monster player you won’t want to inadvertently give away any unnecessary information. Furthermore, with all the secrecy you’re essentially relying on every player to self-police themselves as far as adherence to the rules are concerned; pick up a card you aren’t supposed to or respond to an action in the incorrect way, and you may affect the accuracy of other peoples’ notes which is game-breaking in a deduction game. Don’t be surprised if your first play is a learning experience and you don’t get the full effect until everyone has a couple of tries under their belts.
Your bounty hunt takes place over three floors of an abandoned mansion rumored to serve as the monster’s lair. Each floor is composed of six rooms containing various numbers of randomized cards with items or monster information on them; those three panels take up a fair amount of room, which is somewhat problematic when you’re trying to pass action cards to players sitting on the other side of the table who each also have personal space for a screen and writing pad. The screen shields your writing pad from the prying eyes of others, though in my experience is about two inches too short or could use some top tabs folded inward for closer-quarters seating arrangements, and contains useful information about actions you can take on your turn, and the various monster abilities and combinations that determine which type of monster you’re actually facing. The cleanly laid-out writing pad has space for tracking the health of others and yourself, spots to help remember where key items are located, and baubles for each monster to remind you where the monster’s symbol is located on each item card, and to cross out as you narrow the options.
Knowing where each monster symbol is represented on item cards is particularly important if you’re the monster since you need to know at-a-glance whether a card affects you so-as not to give away your identity by taking too long. At the beginning of the game each player is dealt two cards from the item deck, and one person is randomly dealt two monster cards in their place; those two monster cards determine which type of monster you are, and therefore the cards that can affect you.
The other three monster cards are then shuffled with the rest of the items and placed out on the board for discovery. As players uncover that information they’ll slowly zero in on the type of monster they’re facing, and can start specializing their items to counter the monster’s abilities and do damage to it. Whether an item will affect the monster is determined by the circle of symbols around the artwork for each card- if a monster’s symbol is present, the card works against that monster type. Some items may also affect humans depending on the roll of a dice, which can help you either take out other hunters or figure out who is really the monster based on their responses to your actions.
On your turn you’ll take four actions in any order or combination, moving, searching(looking at) the cards on your space, picking up one card from your space, or using an action on another player who is in the same room. The first three are self explanatory, allowing you to get around the mansion and build your hand up to its maximum of four items(the remaining monster cards are never picked up so other players can use them to deduce the monster type), but using actions on other people has a number of subtleties. You can either choose to use an item or ability from your hand, or one of the three generic abilities available to everyone. To do so you announce the target (not the card) then roll a D6 to determine what the effect is, and/or whether it will affect a human player. If the result isn’t what you wanted you can spend another one of your actions to try again, or you can simply choose to waste the action and move on with your turn. If you still intend to use the card, however, you pass it face-down to the affected player, and they enact whichever consequence the card/dice indicate; effects range from looking at or taking cards from other players, to dealing a wound or forcing the player to lose an energy -every player has two energy, which is used to take an extra action, ignore harassment, or modify a dice roll by one-. Using an action on someone else also has the negative side-effect of causing them to become “harassed.” For every person who harassed a player before their turn, that player must spend an extra movement action to leave their current room.
You’ll continue to take turns in this manner until one of two outcomes happens: the monster player wins after “crippling” every player by dealing them each three damage (crippling a player also reduces their ability to move or use cards), and a bounty hunter wins if they’re the person to deal the final damage to the monster who has hit points equal to the number of players.
You’ll feel right at home in Hunt: The Unknown Quarry if you’ve experienced other games with deduction mechanics like Clue or Mystery of the Abbey: like many games in the genre, its core mechanisms hinge on eliminating possibilities until only a couple of options remain. Where it deviates and improves upon that formula is in its inclusion of the hidden role and direct combat, both of which really amp up the stakes and add a great element of suspicion that anyone familiar with cooperative traitor games will be familiar with. Instead of the action ending after discovering the solution, it signals the beginning of the masquerade to kill the monster without alerting other players or becoming monster-chow yourself. It’s a mystery game for gamers, or for adults who are looking for something with a bit more bite and substance than Clue, and its fantasy-noir theme is extraordinarily well suited to what Jeremy Lennert has designed. The gorgeous, richly-colored artwork servers to really draw you into Hunt’s world (much like one of Jeremy’s other titles and one of my favorite cooperative games, Darkest Night), and you can almost hear the pattering of rain on the mansion’s shingled roof, and the distant echoes of rolling thunder as you make your way through the musty rooms and corridors of a manor that’s still impressive even in its state of abandon.
That said, even with the added suspicion between other players I’ve still found playing the monster character in Hunt poses a much greater challenge than I’ve faced playing the traitor in other games, and I’d liken the feeling of urgency mixed with hesitancy more to what you might feel playing as Jack the Ripper in Letters From Whitechapel, or Dracula in Fury of Dracula. There’s no time limit to kill the bounty hunters, but the clock is not on your side: they’re eventually going to figure out exactly what kind of monster you are and start picking up appropriate weapons, and if they’re making heavy use of harassment actions your hidden role isn’t going to stay secret for very long. The upside to that is with everyone taking actions against one another it’s possible for you to escape notice if you start whittling away at their health, but more experienced hunters aren’t going to use cards that affect other humans unless they absolutely have to, and that can quickly lead to your discovery. Those cards aren’t exactly in short supply either, and I’d actually even consider a few of them game-breaking because they so easily expose the monster player.
What’s worse, if one person starts blatantly going after you or even subtly smacking you around, other players are going to quickly figure that out and pile on. It doesn’t even matter if you fight back to try and make it seem like they’re the aggressor and you’re defending- they’re going to think one of you is almost assuredly the monster, and go all-in to try and get the killing blow and win the game. Playing the monster in Hunt is like going into a rigged poker game, and the monster abilities never really make you feel like you’re menacing enough to have deserved the raid against your lair in the first place.
Component-wise you’re looking at a normal Victory Point Games title: they’re a produce-on-demand outfit, and while I’ve found the cards in VPG games are pretty durable and the cardboard for standees very thick(though sometimes not as compressed/solid as I’d want), the board for Hunt is folded card stock which I suspect will wear out and tear in the middle with continued use. The box is their simple, red flip-top design which comfortably fits all the bits and pieces, and it’s accompanied by an illustrated slip cover. The quality “issues” people have with print-on-demand games doesn’t really bother me with VPG, and their standards are definitely better than other similar studios or services, but I mention it here just so you’re aware if you really need all your games to have expensive components from a large manufacturer.
COG Takeaway: Hunt: The Unknown Quarry is the direct-conflict evolution of classic whodunnit games, combining deduction with combat and an active, hidden bad guy. The fantasy-noir theme is well presented and perfectly suits this style of game, and the graphic design fits well with the atmosphere while remaining functional and easy to grasp; that’s extremely important because Hunt relies heavily on secret information and actions that require players to not only thoroughly understand the rules so they don’t inadvertently mislead others, but so the monster player doesn’t give him/herself away with delayed responses. The amount of hidden elements has the unfortunate consequence of making playthroughs with inexperienced players a bit clunky, and combined with the competitive nature even amongst hunters it diminishes the across-table banter and strategizing that accompanies similar titles with cooperative aspects. Playing as the monster is no picnic, either, and I think an opportunity was missed to really make the monster player feel like a big-bad-wolf instead of a sheep in wolf’s clothing. Even so, Hunt: The Unknown Quarry is still a thematic, deductive experience I’d recommend to someone as a step up from more traditional deduction or mystery games, and given Jeremy Lennert’s history of great expansions for Darkest Night I think we can expect some cool innovations in the future if Victory Point Games expands on the horror.
Hunt: The Unknown Quarry is receiving a digital edition, which I think will work wonderfully and really smooth out some of the rough edges of the secret info/actions aspects. Visit the campaign here.