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Jay Little
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OVERVIEW: Minion Hunter is a cooperative board game for 1-6 players, published in 1992 by Games Designer Workshop. The game is set in GDW's "Dark Conspiracy" setting, a dark, gritty futuristic setting of the world gone to hell. Into this cheerful setting step the players, working together to fend off the forces of evil from destroying the world -- or at the least messing it up worse than it already is. The players will succeed or fail based on their teamwork, risk management and (admittedly) more than a few die rolls.

Minion Hunter is far more than the sum of its parts, and remains one of my favorite games. It is a "classic" game with novel gameplay and fun cooperative elements. Despite showing its age in terms of production quality, Minion Hunter still delivers an overall gameplay experience that other cooperative games fail to live up to.

COMPONENTS: While perhaps shoddy by today's standards, the components included in Minion Hunter are on par with its contemporaries. The rulebook, cards and money are all single color printed on thin, standard stock paper (rules and cards in black ink, paper money in green ink). The large box suffers the same problem as most larger size games of the time -- the thin cardboard used easily warps and causes compression damage when stacked with other games (very common among large Games Workshop boxes like Manowar or Warhammer Quest).

There are some plastic standup character tokens (with stickers, which look nice once applied) to represent the players and the four evil powers vying for global domination/ruin in the game. A small pad of character sheets helps players track crucial information about their characters (four stats improve during the game for conflict resolution).

Minion Hunter includes a large, bifold-Monopoly size square gameboard. The board depicts two player locations. The first is a futurustic map of the USA, showing the convergence of some regions into MegaCities like Seacouver (Seattle + Vancouver... see how clever that is?), Chatalanta and Chiwaukee. Aside from normal city areas, there are Outlaw lands ruled by Mad Max-ish renegades and gangbangers, as well as Demonground regions that are literally hell on earth. Neither are places you want to end up. The second player location is an abstracted encounter track that surrounds the entire map. This encounter track isn't tied to a specific city, but generically represents things that may take place in any city.

The board also features a small Hospital space where players go when defeated during a conflict, a sort of "holding area" before they're free to return to the board. Best familiarize yourself with it -- you'll be there a lot. And finally, there's the Plot Track, which houses the Plot Card deck (see below) and helps provide a timing element to the game, as well as shows you how close to losing the game you all are (based on the position of the bad guy's tokens on the adjoining Threat Chart).

There are two card decks in Minion Hunter. The first is for Equipment, which provides a variety of stat boosting bonuses or other benefits to the players. Most pieces of equipment take up certain "slots" to prevent a character from having 2 or 3 "computer" or "body" pieces active at the same time. Folks on the same City space (on the map, not the encounter track) can swap out gear and cash to make sure everyone is kitted out. The second deck of cards is the real soul of the game -- the Plot Deck. These cards depict a location on the back of the card and an event on the other side. Some events are minor disturbances taking place around the US, while others are catastrophic disasters sure to plummet the world into anarchy and chaos.

Several sheets of paper money are also included, which need to be cut out. They are incredibly small and all colored the same, regardless of the denomination. The paper money is a waste of time, however, as payment/income increments may range from five bucks up to hundreds of thousands of dollars... Too great a range for poker chips, either. We always just track it with paper and pencil for each player -- this inconvenience is enough to shave .5 off my final rating.

SO WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA?

Four vile, dastardly powers are looking to devastate the world: The Morlocks (sewer dwelling freaks seeking to rise up against the overworld), ETs (extra-terrestrials looking to enslave us), NUKids (nuclear-irradiated mutant punk gangs) and the Fey Folk (damn fairies, always messing with us humans). For whatever contrivance floats your boat, you and your fellow players have decided to "Not Take It Any More" and thwart their plans. But time (and the Plot Deck) are stacked against you.

At the beginning of the game, the characters are weak, broke and clueless. By traveling around the outer ring's encounter track, players have the opportunity to earn cash, pick up equipment, improve their skills and tinker around with other game elements.

But those four evil powers aren't standing idly by while you bulk up -- after a player's turn, the current Plot Card moves one space along the Plot Track. When it reaches the end of the line (adjusted by the number of players in the game) the plot is flipped face up. If it was a minor disturbance, the group got off lucky and there's rarely a side effect. If it was the evil plans and machinations of one of these four main powers, the corresponding marker is advanced along the Threat Chart next to the Plot Track based on the strength of the card -- a Level 4 Fey Event that goes unresolved would advance the Fey Marker 4 spaces.

So eventually, the players reach a point where they need to start visiting the cities listed on the backs of the Plot Cards to investigate the rumors and new stories that "something's going on" to keep these evil doers from advacing too far. Once on the main map, after a Plot has been resolved, players can either "jump off" back to the encounter track for more training, or move point-to-point along the US map to other cities. If they've got spare cash, they can improve their odds of surviving the trip and actually reach their intended destination by taking a supertrain or plane.

So players jockey around the two maps, juggling gear, earning cash and developing their stats while dealing with threats. They've got to keep an eye on any of the factions inching too far along the Threat Track -- because if any of the Threat Counters ever make it to 20, the game ends and everyone's a loser! But if the players are collectively crafty (and lucky) enough to survive all the Plots in the deck, they win!

Fat chance, but hey, it could happen...

THE CORE MECHANIC

Often Plot Cards or Encounter Locations require a player to make a "skill test" based on one of their four attribtues -- Contacts, Combat, Empathy and Stalking. Tests are either Easy (allowing you to double your rating in the corresponding attribute), Average or Difficult (forcing you to halve your attribute, rounded down). After adding up your attribute, any equipment bonuses and applying the difficulty modifier, the player rolls a 10-sided die. If the number is equal to or less than the required target number, he succeeds. If it is higher than the target number, he fails.

Success and failure carry wildly different consequences depending on the situation. If you're trying to bum some equipment, success may earn you 1 card from the Equipment deck, while failure may have no result. If you're trying to stop the Morlocks from destroying Memphis, success prevents them from advancing a whopping 6 spaces on the Threat Chart, while failure earns you a trip to the hospital and the loss of an equipment card.

HIGHLIGHTS

- Players need to balance character advancement/improvement with the need to stem the tide of evil. Often you may need to head out to a Plot Card area feeling underpowered and overwhelmed, simply because you can't risk it possibly being the Fey Folk, for instance. Even if you try and fail (and end up in the hospital) you may be providing critical information to the rest of the group about whether or not they need to rush to the same place and stop a threat, or can spare another round building up.

- The novelty of the Plot Track cannot be properly conveyed here... It is very clever and helps provide a certain staccato pace to the game. It keeps folks moving and adds to the tension as cards draw ever closer to the end of the track.

- Players really need to work together in terms of making sure folks have enough cash, are geared up with the right equipment, that the overall group has a good mix of attributes, and when/where/how players should go after some of the Plots.

- There is a wide variety of possible Plot Card events, from red herrings (nothing was there, it was a false lead), to minor disruptions, demonground encounters and the big ticket Fey, ET, Morlock and NUkid events.

- There are dozens of great adjustments and variants players can use to easily customize Minion Hunter to their preferred level of difficulty (frustration?) and keep the game fresh. We've embraced two of them and always play with those options now, since they make the game tense and extremely difficult to win -- making it feel like a real accomplishment when we pull it off.

- Despite the obvious role of luck, Minion Hunter offers a greater sense of tension, several decisions to make about pressing your luck, as well as a feeling of greater control over how the game develops (especially with character advancement) than cooperative games like Lord of the Rings or Arkham Horror.

WARNING LIGHTS

- The paper money really is that bad. I can't believe I wasted time cutting it all out, only to find it virtually unusable.

- For task resolution, a roll of "1" always succeeds, and a roll of "10" always fails, regardless of any modifiers or difficulty -- so success and failure are never guaranteed. This keeps things from being a foregone conclusion and adds an element of risk/tension to even the easiest encounter, but some folks may not like it. (I do, however)

- The hospital track, demonground & outlaw encounters have a limited number of possible outcomes which may start to feel a bit repetitive after several plays. The expansion expands these options and offers greater variety, but does introduce more randomness.

- There's a certain memory element that can come with repeated playings... You may eventually come to learn that there are no dangerous Morlock events in the Quad Cities, for example, so you skip the Quad Cities Plot on the track if the Morlocks are the only folks threatening you at the moment. I don't have that sort of memory, and neither do my friends, so it's never been an issue for us -- just pointing it out, though.

- There is a fair degree of luck with the die rolling. Sure, you can hedge your bets with better equipment and training, but task resolution still comes down to a die roll. Over the course of the game, you may be making 100 or so die rolls, between movement and task resolution. Still a lot fewer than in some games (Arkham Horror comes to mind), but something to point out if that ain't your thing.

- Don't get too cocky thinking you can't possibly lose a game when all you have to do is keep from having three people in a row roll anything but a 9 or 10 to kill off the Fey Folk. It's happened to me.

CLOSING THOUGHTS: I first played Minion Hunter back in college, and keep pulling it out. Its blend of luck, odds stacked against you and the component quality (compared to snazzier modern games) may not be for everyone -- but it offers a rich, rewarding experience for the right group, and is at least worth a shot for anyone at least moderately interested... I've played 20+ times, and still enjoy playing Minion Hunter.

There is an excellent expansion, titled Minion Nation, which offers new twists to add even more replay value (so you can't just memorize the Plot deck to know which events occur in which regions) as well as nicely summarizes all the charts and tables (with a few new options) that are occassionally referenced during the game. I'd rate this expansion as "must have" for anyone who enjoys Minion Hunter, or wants to get the most out of what this system can provide.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Minion Hunter is still one of my All-Time favorites. It is one of the best cooperative games out there. Yes, there is a lot of luck involved, but clever groups with good teamwork can overcome luck and will be rewarded with a wonderful gaming experience. One of the most often played games I own. A social, outgoing and talkative group will get the most out of this game.

A recent replay confirmed just how much I love this game. It is indeed an "experience" game moreso than a "strategy" game, but for what it does, and the niche it fills, there is none finer. If the current version of Minion Hunter mechanically stayed intact but benefited from the excellent production quality and marketing that someone like Fantasy Flight Games is able to apply to a game, it would easily be among their top rated games, quickly outdistancing Lord of the Rings, Fury of Dracula and Arkham Horror as the best cooperative game in their library.

RATING MODIFIERS:
9.0 Base rating
+ .5 Nostalgia bias (still have warm fuzzies recalling previous plays)
+ .5 Best In Show bias (best cooperative game I've played)
- .5 For Components (especially the money)

FINAL RATING: 9.5/10




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Jake Thornton
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Great review! Really nice to read a review from someone who clearly loves a game, but isn't so blinded by adoration that he can't see it's flaws too. Outstanding
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Steve Bernhardt
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Good review. I never played Minion Hunter, but I really liked the Dark Conspiracy RPG, so the existance of this game is intriguing.
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Sue Hemberger

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Maybe an unanswerable question, but I'll give it a try anyway. My 8 year old loves Break the Safe and I refuse to play. Might Minion Hunter be a good middle ground for us? I think what she like about Break the Safe is that it's cooperative and the combination of race and chase. She may also like the simulation aspect. What I dislike is that there's not much (or much interesting) decisionmaking. In general, she likes games with special cards -- whether character or event -- and can play games like Roma, Boomtown, and Queen's Necklace. Does this sound like a fit for us?
 
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fishhaid
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Nice review. One question I always want to know: Does the game have a "sweet spot"? Does it play better with the full complement of players, or does it scale well with any number? Or on your point system, how many points for each number of players? Thanks for writing a nice review for an older game.
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Jay Little
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smithhemb -- It's so hard to say. My nephew loves the game, 13 now, but 9 when he first played. There are mutants, monsters, crazy things going on... There is "conceptual" violence in the game, meaning you're traveling to these different areas to kick their asses, not make nicey-nice, but there's nothing in the artwork or text that conveys anything that would be especially scarring.

I love the fact that this is a game that kids can mechanically play (roll the dice, flip cards, track money) but since it's cooperative, they're on equal footing with adults since it's completely acceptable (and encouraged) to offer advice as to what to do next... This can help them evaluate their options, and boost their confidence to get involved even when it's not their turn.

It's so hard to say given the games you've listed, but since it's such a sterling cooperative game, I'd say give it a shot! If you end up tracking down and hating it -- lemme know, and I'll take it off your hands.
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Jay Little
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cfisher -- While I've never played it "truly" solo with only 1 character, I've played solo games with 2 or 3... and that's always been interesting.

The Plot Track scales by adding an extra space that a Plot Card has to travel before resolution based on 1-2, 3-4 or 5-6 players. As such, odd numbered groups of players may find they have slightly tougher time. The Plots resolve at the same "speed" for 3 player as it does for 4 players, but 3 players have fewer folks to develop their stats.

I love this as another way of adjusting difficulty, but there are plenty of other ways to tinker with it, as well.

Since there can be a bit of die rolling (but downtime is rarely an issue since turns go fairly quick) I'd say my favorite player number would be 4 -- everyone can specialize in one of the four attributes and shore up any group deficiencies.

Next would be 3 or 5... With three, everyone needs to spread out a bit more to cover up for whatever attribute is collectively weakest (since everyone can't specialize in one and exclude the fourth completely). With five, you might be able to double up a bit more with attributes, but on turns where 2 or 3 people find themselves in the hospital, and those Plot Cards start resolving w/o anyone there to stop them, it can get pretty tense.

I don't think it would be much fun with just 2 players, unless each player played 2 characters... With only 2 characters in the game, getting 1 stuck in the hospital is cripping, both characters need to focus on 2 attributes, slowing their rate of advancement, and Plots resolve so quickly that you may find the game ends with a loss before you really get into the swing of things. But winning with only 2 players sure feels like an accomplishment!!
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Tim Deagan
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We've been on a quest to acquire all the decent cooperative games (it's all my kid will play right now.) I finally scored Minion Hunter on ebay last night. I was really looking forward to adding it to our co-op set:
Lord of the Rings
Vanished Planet
Break the Safe
(various 'Family Pastimes' games I can't bring myself to play shake )
Assorted house-rule co-op variants of games like Carcassone, etc.

But, after reading your excellent review I'm really really excited to score it. Thanks for putting the effort in to make a useful, readable and engaging addition to the Geek.

--t
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Jay Little
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Glad to hear you've been able to track down a copy, Tim. Once you get your hands on it and are able to give it a spin, I'd love to hear what you think, and share some of our favorite variants/house rules to reach the perfect level of insanity for our gaming tastes.
 
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Tim Deagan
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Thanks! I got the copy today (unpunched!)

I'm digesting the rules prior to bringing my son up to speed.

Interestingly enough, I'm having trouble finding the statement in the rule book that allows characters to trade money or equipment when sharing a Dark America Map location. That seems to be the basis of the cooperative play component (other than table talk.)

Any idea which section to look in for this?

Thanks,
--tim
 
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Jay Little
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Hey Tim, the trading option is actually listed in the expansion, Minion Nation, but is not explicitly stated in the core rules. I've played with several of the expansion rules so often now that I sometimes forget what the core rules are -- this is one I overlooked when writing the review.

Here's the cooperative option from P. 3 of the Minion Nation expansion:

Quote:
Character Meetings: One highly recommended option for further fleshing out the cooperative nature of Minion Hunter is to allow minion hunters to meet on the Dark America map in order to give away, trade, sell, or purchase items from each other. Under this option, characters must be in the same metroplex in order to make any gifts, trades and/or sales, and the exchanges take place on either of the involved characters' turns.

If there is a Dark Encounter at the metroplex, a character who travels to the metroplex must first encounter the Plot Card and either escape from it or defeat it before meeting with any other characters there.


We infer that this also includes trading cash, not just equipment cards. I think we adopted this rule immediately upon getting our hands on the expansion, and have always included it since. In fact, I'd recommend playing this way from the get-go, as it seems an obvious means to create more cooperation and teamwork.
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Tim Deagan
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Excellent!! Thanks. I'd ordered Minion Nation, but it hasn't arrived yet.
That rule addition dramatically increases the co-op nature (though coordinating actions against a common foe is nothing to be sneezed at )

--tim
 
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Luc VC
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Excellent review!
I should be getting my copy in the mail soon.
I'm really looking forward to it .

I haven't been able to locate Minion Nation though.
But I guess the base game could keep me busy for a while.

Have a nice day!
 
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"When it reaches the end of the line (adjusted by the number of players in the game) the plot is flipped face up. If it was a minor disturbance, the group got off lucky and there's rarely a side effect."

Does this mean there's a risk of frequent down time?
 
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PeterCSM wrote:
Does this mean there's a risk of frequent down time?

Not at all - there are always more plots advancing.
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