Hiktorune Review

Why Japanese Game Design Matters

Apr 19, 2020
hiktorune header

Hiktorune Box Art Hiktorune

Developer: Masakazu Takizawa
Publisher: Koguma Koubou
Format: Card Game, Dexterity Game, Hand Management, Cooperative
Number of Players: 1- 5
Play Time: 10 - 45 minutes
Copy Provided By Publisher

If you know me, you know that I’m excited any time I get to review a title from Big Cat Games, and today we’re looking at Hiktorune. Picture this: a cooperative game where players work together to cast spells, solving challenges across the lands on their way to rein in a rampaging dragon. Now roll that game into 15 to 45 minutes, and toss in some cards with truly charming artwork and turns that take a minute or less. Now make it a dexterity game.

You heard me right. This is a dexterity game with cards, like Jenga with more freedom and about 2000% the laughs. It’s a bit odd to wrap your brain around at first, but once you do you realize you’ve stumbled across something very special. And then, maybe, you stumble across something a little more.

hiktorune full setup

The full setup. Putting this game on your table takes less than a minute!

Simple, Snappy, Sharp

Playing Hiktorune is incredibly simple, and while I often avoid the rules-as-review format I’m going to indulge a bit more than my usual this time. You see, how you play this game is essential to—well—everything! The cards have a rather pronounced texturing on both sides (and are double sided with art as well), and the game also comes with a small felt mat. Both are designed so that the cards don’t slide off each other or the table too much. You fan them out like an upside down book on the felt, and on your turn you take as many as you’d like from the middle. The rules seem at first a bit muddy on this point, possibly frustrating you if you’re the type that craves structure, but soon you realize that if you take the rules literally as printed, there are a LOT of ways to play.

When you take cards from the “spellbook” in the middle of the table, you only need to meet a few criteria. You can only use one hand. You can’t take the outside card on either side. And you can’t knock the stack of cards over. If they fall completely over, the team loses one life point, the deck and discard are shuffled back up, and play passes to the next player. I’ll come back to why all this matters in just a second, but here are just a few of the bonkers things you can do while following these rules. You can take a solid third of the deck into your hand all at once. You can catch the falling set of cards and gently tip them back to standing before they hit the table. You can contort your hand, holding up the cards with a single finger while nudging others out with the rest of your hand. You can get really, really creative! At first we thought we were cheating, but in fact the light rules in Hiktorune encourage you to get as wacky with your magic, and your dexterity, as your fortitude allows.

From here the game is equally simple. The active player can initiate one of the spell types indicated on the challenge card, and all players can contribute cards from their hands to cast it. Once a spell is cast, the active player discards down to the hand limit if they’re still over it and play passes to the next player. Repeat until you all complete your quest or lose all your life points.

hiktorune dragon card

You'll work your way up the branching tree of challenges, but if you find the dragon, you MUST defeat it. This card is always shuffled into the four of the top row.

Risk, Reward

You might’ve guessed by now that this isn’t the kind of game my friends ask for week after week, playing at game night for hours on end. This is a quick, light game that fits in the spaces we play such games: at parties, while people are still arriving at game night, when you only have a small table to play on, or when people want to learn rules in seconds and just get to playing something fast and funny. For those cases, if you’re looking for more of these kinds of games, Hiktorune totally delivers. Be warned that it’s not language independent, but you can find a copy of some English rules here on BoardGameGeek, and I also highly recommend using Google Translate on your phone to cue you in to which card is what. I used both and found zero issues understanding both how to play and what cards were what. So then this is just a simple review of a simple, good game and that’s it? Not exactly.

This game shared with me a very special realization. To illustrate it, let me tell you a little story. During PAX Unplugged last year I got to talking with one of the Enforcers who was working in the First Look area, specifically with the games from Japan. We talked about several titles on display, and through our conversation I learned that he had quite a formidable collection of imports from Japan. So naturally I asked, “What is it about those games that makes you go through all the effort involved to buy them?” The response was very thought provoking. I’d expected something around “I like the artwork” or “so-and-so is my favorite designer,” but instead I received “Japanese designers really seem to push game design in new and interesting directions, taking bigger risks than I see out of a lot of other designers.” I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t just a little bit dumbstruck by the reply. I couldn’t say anything, just nodding in agreement.

I’m paraphrasing here, of course, but the sentiment remains. Hiktorune might not be the greatest dexterity game I’ve ever played, nor my favorite party game, but it’s absolutely novel in the risk it takes. Making a dexterity game out of roughly finished cards, I’ve never played anything like that, and I cannot deny that this game pushes design in a direction I never imagined could be so fun. We in the board gaming hobby have many laments, not least among them samey themes and tired tropes. Trading in the Mediterranean, anyone? There’s a demand to see new and interesting ideas, for games to take new forms and tackle new ways to play. Say what you will about Hiktorune, but I honestly believe that if we had more games as inventive and ready to take risks as this we would be miles ahead on exploring those unknown waters of everything board games could be.

hiktorune card art

The card art is absolutely adorable!

Why We Need It

Wrapping things up here, I’ll leave you with these reasons why you might want to add a copy of Hiktorune to your gaming library. If you’re looking for another quick, fun title to play in a short span of time, this game is perfect for that. If you like the adorable artwork and the theme of casting magic as a group of mages together, solving problems across the land, it captures that feeling. But in my opinion, games I add to my own shelves need to do something different from the ones I already own; otherwise I find it hard to spend that money. I’ll just play what I already have more (goodness knows those of us with large game libraries are always looking for reasons to dig in with what we have). There is no other game quite like Hiktorune, however, and for that reason I don’t think it’s leaving my shelves any time soon. If you’re at all like me, buy this game to play something you’ve never before experienced.

To paraphrase the quote: they who dare, win. This game certainly dares to take risks, and with some clever execution I think it’s indeed a tiny-boxed winner. In a gaming world filled with repetition, it’s a small box breath of fresh air. Big Cat Games once again delivers with a unique title that you just can’t get anywhere else. If you haven’t yet checked them out following some of my prior reviews, do yourself a favor and maybe take this opportunity to go browse their offerings. As ever, they continue to bring high quality, interesting, and well-produced designs to the wider world.

Adam Factor