If you’re looking for a game that may require you to roll the dice both literally and figuratively, Merlin’s Beast Hunt by WizKids Games could make an excellent choice.
Based in the time of King Arthur and his knights, Merlin’s Beast Hunt calls for players, depicted as wizards, to build fences and capture magical beasts. Completed fences and captured beasts lead to victory points, and the player with the most points wins.
As simple as that description is, the game plays out like a more complex version of the “Squares” game we all played on notebook paper as kids. Further, even laying down a single fence requires some good fortune in both cards and dice, so planning your next move can be tricky. So did this game come with enough magic for Nerds on Earth to stake a CLAIM?
Staking our C.L.A.I.M. on Merlin’s Beast Hunt
The layout and concept of this game are unique, and it has unique components to match. Each player has color-coded die and cards, and the cards – which are clear plastic – depict one of the types of magical fence: lightning, water, thorns and bamboo. The clear cards create a neat balance between luck and planning as players at least have an idea what fence type is available to them next turn.
The four beast types – chimera, centaur, unicorn and basilisk – are represented by standing cardboard figures that are well-designed. The board is also a credit to the game’s design, as it functions well for the game’s dice mechanic, which we’ll get into a bit more later…Or right now, actually.
This game walks a line between luck and strategy as players seek to build fences and hopefully capture monsters. Each fence card must be supported at each end by a pair of dice, one of which must match the fence type of the card. The more dice that match, and the more dice that were placed by the fence card’s owner, the more points that player gets.
These dice, of course, must be rolled on the player’s turn. Once one or more dice are placed in one of the dedicated spots on the game board, only dice of that type – or wild dice – can be placed there. And new fences and dice must be placed in such a way they they connect to previous construction. So while the roll of the physical dice is sheer luck, as always, placement of these resources on the board requires a fair bit of strategy.
The artwork in this game is nice-looking while also functional. Each of the beasts is distinct in both appearance and shape, which is important within gameplay. Additionally, the dice and player cards are clearly marked for their respective colors and symbols, which makes scoring each fence and captured creature much easier.
Essentially, the game has all the necessary aesthetic value without getting in the way of function or gameplay.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Merlin’s Beast Hunt is how the difficulty level increases as the game goes on. Because of the constraints for dice and card placement, and additional fence requirements for collecting each beast, each turn has the potential to add a layer of complexity.
Additionally, even if multiple moves are available, a player may not want to make some of them. Completing a fence, for instance, gives victory points to the player whose card is involved, not necessarily the owner of the dice. And other moves might make it easier for another player to fully capture a beast, so that leaves another angle for players to watch.
With the added difficulty of each turn, our play-through picked up in focus and overall competition. What started as “let’s see where this goes” quickly became a turn-by-turn effort to position ourselves for points while preventing other players from capitalizing. This left us in the later rounds calculating the risks of certain moves that could’ve yielded big points if they turned out correctly.
These moves also would’ve allowed an opponent to capture another valuable beast and pick up the win. Eventually, I gambled by making such a move because I knew my turns – based on the available dice pool – were becoming limited, and it soon allowed an opponent to capture the beast he needed to win, on the third tiebreaker.
Merlin’s Beast Hunt is simple to pick up with a unique and fun gameplay mechanic. Due to increased and ever-changing difficulty levels based on both luck and strategy, players have the chance to experiment with both long-term strategy and new directions with each turn.
Furthermore, the game packs a good deal of intriguing action into a relatively short play time. Players who have even a decent understanding of how it works will have little trouble getting a game in during a 45 minute or 1 hour session.
I’d wholeheartedly endorse picking up a copy of Merlin’s Beast Hunt if you get a chance! Snag it from Amazon here.
You can also catch our review of another Arthurian Legend themed game from Wizkids, Lancelot, here!
[Disclosure: WizKids Games provided Nerds on Earth with a copy of Merlin’s Beast Hunt in exchange for an honest review.]