With the furor of The Hunger Games movie growing, there are two games out from WizKids right now that deal with the subject. I’m a fan of the books, so I thought I’d take at one of them here:
The Hunger Games: District 12 Strategy Game was designed by Christopher Guild, Bryan Kinsella, and Andrew Parks. It takes about 30 minutes to player, and is for 2-4 players aged 14 and up. The game is set in the world of the Hunger Games novels, written by Suzanne Collins. The books center around Katniss Everdeen, a sixteen-year old girl from a post-apocalyptic future where the world has been divided into 12 districts. Each year, one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 from each district are selected in a reaping ceremony to participate in The Hunger Games, a brutal reality show where the last one alive wins. I won’t go into more detail – if you haven’t read the books yet, at least read the first one before the movie comes out. The District 12 Strategy Game takes place in District 12 before the so-called reaping. You’re trying to collect resources needed to survive. It doesn’t actually follow the plots of any of the books, but is thematically tied to the reaping ceremony.
In the box, you get a game board, a resource deck of 55 cards, a special deck of 9 cards that grant special abilities, 4 11-card reaping decks, 4 player tokens, a round token, a first action token, and some cover tokens (used to block spaces in 2-3 player games). Each player gets a player token and the corresponding reaping deck (one card from each deck goes in the glass ball space at the center of the board), and the youngest player gets the first player token. Each player also gets a random starting special card and 4 random resources (from those marked with a starter icon). The special card is visible to all, but the resources remain hidden in your hand. Two random resources are dealt face down to each Hob space (there are two), one resource is dealt face up to each bakery space (there are two), and one resource is dealth face up to the discard pile in the Capitol Storage area. The remainder of the resource cards form a pile in what is called The Meadow.
There are 12 rounds in the District 12 game. Each round only has two steps: move the round token, and move player tokens.
MOVE THE ROUND TOKEN: The player with the first player token advances the round token to the next round, then follows the special instructions for that round. You may be instructed to add new resource cards to the board, trade with each other, discard certain resources (or be forced to put reaping cards into the glass ball for each resource you can’t or won’t discard), discard down to a hand limit, or pass the first player marker (which only happens in rounds 4, 7, and 10).
MOVE THE PLAYER TOKENS: In player order, you’ll move your player token to an unoccupied space around the board and take the specific action. Your options are as follows:
- The Woods – There are three available spaces in the woods (2 with three players, 1 with two). If you go to the woods, you reveal the top three cards of the resource deck. If there is at least one food among them, you take one food into your hand, discarding the other cards. If there is no food revealed, all three cards are discarded.
- The Everdeen House – There are three available spaces at the Everdeen house (2 with three players, 1 with two). If you go here, you draw the top card of the resource deck and keep it, not showing it to anyone else.
- The Hob – There are two available spaces at the Hob (one with two players, and no cards dealt to the blocked space at the beginning). If you go here, you can look through the cards and trade one from your hand for one in the Hob deck.
- The Bakery – There are two available spaces at the bakery (one with two players, and no cards dealt to the blocked space at the beginning). If you go here, you get to take all resource cards in the space next to your token.
- The Capitol Storage Area – There is one available space at the Capitol Storage area. You can look through the entire discard pile, then trade one card from your hand with one that has been discarded.
- The Justice Building – There is one available space at the Justice Building. Discard one resource, then trade your player token with another token, immediately taking advantage of the new space.
After everyone has placed their token, you move on to the next round. Continue on until the twelfth round has been completed. You’ll then discard a final set of resources (or place cards into the glass ball), discard down to a hand of six cards, and then see who won. First, you shuffle all the reaping cards and draw one. That player wins the honor to be a tribute in the Hunger Games and is out. The remaining players count up their resource points on their cards and points from special cards to see who won (ties are broken by the player with the fewest reaping cards in the glass ball).
This is a very light game, as I guess should be expected for a licensed tie in. However, there’s also a lot more going on than your standard Monopoly variant. There’s a very small amount of worker placement going on since you have one player token and several places to go with it. There’s also some good resource management going on as you’re trying to get to certain goals so you don’t get more cards in the glass bowl – one food by round four; one food and one medicine by round seven; one food, one clothing, and one fuel by round ten; and one of each by the end of the game. You want to put yourself in the best position to win, though everyone still has at least a chance to lose.
Let me go ahead and address the reaping, because (to me) this is one of the most interesting parts of the game. I know, it’s completely random – you can play perfectly with no extra cards in the glass ball other than the one it starts with, and still lose because of a bad draw. However, that’s extremely thematic. In the book (not really a spoiler since it’s right there in the movie trailer), Katniss’ sister Primrose is chosen for the Hunger Games despite only having one entry in the ball. There was a system in place that allowed people to get extra entries in exchange for tesserae, a resource that would provide food to the family. Despite being poor, Katniss did not allow her sister to take any, instead adding her own name more. However, things went wrong, as they can in this game – though I seriously doubt you’re going to get anyone to take your place here.
It should be noted that there is a variant listed in the rules where the players with the most reaping cards in the glass ball lose points from their final total rather than having a feeding-to-the-crocodiles mechanism. However, I think I’d play with the elimination – I love that. I’ve played two games with that single elimination before the scores are tallied – Cleopatra and the Society of Architects feeds you to the crocodiles if you are the most corrupt, and Hab & Gut feeds you to the crocodiles (not really, you just lose) if you give the least money to charity.
I think it’s pretty clear that this game was designed with nongamers in mind – it’s not very deep, it’s pretty random, and it plays quickly. However, I think that a mass market game of this type is not a bad thing. There are at least some gamer mechanisms that are different than what’s on your standard Wal-Mart shelf. At the very least, it may get people interested in checking out the rest of the WizKids catalog. Perhaps a new gateway game? Time will tell. Thanks for reading!