Tabletop Review: Havok & Hijinks

Havok & Hijinks
Publisher: Epic Slant Press
Cost: $17.99
Release Date: 06/16/2014
Get it Here: Havok & Hijinks

Havok & Hijinks is a game I backed on Kickstarter for a single reason: the dragon art. You see, my wife loves dragons more than just about anything, and the cute baby dragon art that was on every card of this game was sure to delight her, no matter how poorly the game played. So I forked over $25 for the game and all the bonus cards along with nearly a thousand other people to help Havok & Hijinks raise almost three times the amount of money it was looking for. Not bad, eh? Well, the game arrived and I surprised my wife with it and she instantly fell in love. This was in the house for days where she’d just look at the art and say, “Ooh, pretty dragon!” before we ever got around to playing it. When we actually played it though her love for the art turned to frustration and sometimes rage as the game turned out to be as ruthless and cutthroat as it was cute. Even then, she continued wanting to play because of the art. After many a game of Havok & Hijinks we’ve had to call it quits because it angers my wife so much and it hasn’t been played since. That said, the game is extremely well made and if you’re looking for an easy to learn fast paced competitive game with some fantastic art, Havok & Hijinks just might be the game for you!

Havok and Hijinks comes in a really nice hard reinforced cardboard box with full glossy art that wraps around both halves. In many ways it is like the slipcases that Nippon Ichi anime collector sets come in. Even before you open the box, you can’t help but be impressed with the high quality production values in this game. Inside you’ll see the box has a set of rules and a plastic divider to hold both the Havok and Hijinks cards. You’ll also see the different dragon cards that come with the game. There are four in the normal box, but Kickstarter backers received a whopping thirteen! Each dragon has their own special Play and Crash abilities so the game will go different based on who you choose. We found the three best to be Ruby Dragon, Shadow Pearl Dragon and Amber Dragon as the ability to steal seemed to be the most helpful over all. Play abilities are those that you use on your own turn while a Crash is something you use on someone else’s turn. Think of it as an interrupt or a counter. Once either of these abilities are used, your dragon is turned over to show its Tired version. A Tired dragon can’t use either its Play or Crash abilities until it is turned back over to the Ready position. Each dragon has a specific way that this must be accomplished. For example, Amber Dragon needs to successfully trade treasures with another dragon or prevent one of its treasures from being stolen to flip back to Ready. Some dragons have an easier time than others to go from Tired to Ready so definitely think about which dragon you are going to take. Don’t just let the adorable artwork decide for you!

Then there is the game itself. The goal of Havok & Hijinks is to amass a treasure hoard worth fifteen points or more. Once a player accomplishes this, every other player has one last chance to play a crash and whittle that hoard down. If no one can, the player with the 15+ hoard wins the game. After you pick your dragon, each player is given a Bronze Talon card, worth a single hoard point. Hey, even the biggest dragon started with a tiny bit of treasure. Both the Havok and Hijinks decks are then shuffled and laid in the middle of the table. Each player is then dealt three Hijinks cards. These cards do all sorts of things. They are all either beneficial to you, detrimental to your opponents, and sometimes both! These cards can be offensive, like letting you take another turn with the Havok deck, steal or destroy an opponent’s treasure, or just force an opponent to accept a bad trade. They can also be defensive Crash cards like countering or nullifying an opponent’s action. Usually your hand size will always be three cards, but there are some times where it will be temporarily down to two or up to four cards.

The Havok deck is not something handed out to players. Instead on a player’s turn, they draw the top card in the Havok deck and see what they get. It could be treasure (which takes the form of monetary items or a helpful person) which is automatically added to the revealing player’s hoard. Not all treasure is good though. There are a few treasures in the deck worth 0 or even negative points. If you get one of those, you’re stuck with them! A Havok card could also be an event card. When an event is drawn the player or players must do as the card says unless someone can nullify or reverse the effects. An example event card would be Pandemonium (which has cute giant rampaging pandas for the art) where each dragon passes their Hijinx cards to the dragon on their right and a treasure card to the player on the left. You never know what you are going to get, but you have to take chances if you want to be the littlest dragon with the biggest hoard.

Havok & Hijinks is a VERY fast paced game. You draw a Havok card and then play a single Hijink card or discard one and draw a new one. You can also use your Play ability. That’s it. Move onto the next player. Repeat until someone has won. We’ve had some games last as little as five minutes due to some crazy good treasure pulls and as long as fifteen minutes. The game is designed for 2-4 players ages thirteen and up, but I do think even younger children could play this game without any real trouble. In fact, the only trouble comes from, as mentioned in the preamble, that the game is far more cutthroat than you would expect from the art. A large part of winning Havok & Hijinks comes from screwing over your opponent. Destroying their 6 point Princess Leigh treasure card or trading it for your 0 point thong (or A Helmet?) as the card adorably reads. You can snatch defeat from the jaws of success extremely easy in this game and it is, as I have experienced firsthand, very easy for a player to feel you are pikcing on them or purposely being mean to them, especially when your only Hijinks cards are ones that actively cause negative effects to another player. Because of the ruthless style of competition and actively hurting other players, my wife really didn’t like this game. It’s why we normally play co-operative games together. Still, she wanted to keep playing because she fell in love with the art style, even as her ire towards the game grew. That definitely says something about the quality of the art in this game. I have to admit, it does feature the most adorable dragons I have ever seen.

Although my wife really disliked Havok and Hijinks, I thought it was exceptionally well made. The game is very well balanced, and winning is just as much luck as it is thinking several steps ahead. I mainly won (and I won nearly every time) by playing defensively, usually playing Hijinks cards that protects my hoard while sniping better treasures from the more aggressive players. In this day and age of expensive board games that cost between $50-100 and take hours to play, I really loved how Havok & Hijinks was so short and cheap, while having some of the best production values I’ve seen in a card game in a long time. It’s an extremely simple game to learn but there is a lot of strategy involved if you plan on winning regularly. It’s definitely worth the purchase price even if you just end up buying the game for the art. I can see Epic Slant Press making as much money from prints and posters as they will from the card game itself. The art is that adorable. It’s one of the better games I’ve played this year, but the extremely cutthroat nature of the game made my wife angrier than any other competitive board game I’ve reviewed this year including Heroes Unite and The Doom That Came to Atlantic City, so it might not be for everyone. The game is very family friendly in style and mechanics, while being a game that can challenge even older gamers. I think most people that pick this game up will be extremely happy with what they find. I know I was.

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