Review: Happy Pigs

 

Game: Happy Pigs Release Date: 2013
Designer & Artist: Kuraki Mura Player Count: 2 – 6
Publisher IELLO Play Time: 30 – 40 mins

In Play 2In this smart, pleasantly frustrating and cute spin on one of the oldest board game genres you’ll be a cuboid-pig farmer, attempting to rear, grow, and sell on your biggest and best pigs for good old fashion dollars!  Each turn you’ll desperately have to gauge the market to make the best use of the scant options available to you, hoping (or if you’re smart, planning) the best strategy so that you’ll get the best returns for all that pig mess you’ve had to stand in to get there!

Player ActionTokens

The game is played over one year, made up of the four seasons, which in turn is made of four rounds. (You may start to notice some symmetry here)  In which you choose from the same four possible actions: Buy, Mate, Feed, or Sell.  

When buying you’ll be able to buy more pigs (you have a choice of four sizes), or items such as inoculations love potions or special food.  Mate, surprisingly allows you to add a new little piglet to your pig farm if you have a breeding pair.  Feed makes your pigs bigger, which helps you make more money when you eventually sell your pigs, with large pigs being worth five times more than a piglet.

Pig Sizes

On top of this, each round has a Seasonal Effect card which affects the game in some way for that round only, these range from market fluctuations, special offers, to Bacon Festivals.   Yes, Bacon Festivals, with a capital “B”.

Finally, at the end of each season, any pigs that you haven’t inoculated unfortunately die off (not the real sad part of this game).  At the very end of the game, all players sell off their livestock and whoever has the most money wins. A very mechanically simple, slick game then by the sounds of it, right?

This Little Piggy Went to Market

Seasonal EffectsThe core of the game comes from how a player gets what they’re after.  It isn’t a simple case of first come first serve, or the highest bidder, no.  Happy Pigs has a very simple, yet very effective supply and demand system powering its engine.  In each round, the four actions are only available X amount of times (where X is different for each action and in each round) and you’ll have to share X with every other player who wants that action at the same time as you.  So, when you want to feed your pigs, you have to consider and be prepared for the fact that you may not be able to use all eight Feed actions.  You may have to split those eight actions anywhere between two, and six ways – and that doesn’t leave a lot of food.

This does two really interesting things to the game.  One, it will really tick you off.  A lot.  I’m quite a vocal and…shall we say animated gamer.  I actually managed to make an opponent cry when playing this game – with laughter at how colourful my language became when describing my frustration – but still, he cried.

And the second interesting thing it does is it keeps you above the game, this game has zero player versus player mechanics and in many ways you’re tableau building, but unlike other tableau building games, where it is often too easy to become solely focused on your own creation with little concern for the other players.  That isn’t possible in Happy Pigs, every player has to be aware of what the competition is doing each and every round.

All seasons are created equal, but some seasons are more equal than others.

Season CardsI’m just going to come out and say it, this game is swingy, it can also suffer from a runaway leader, and arguably has a dominant strategy.  All of these issues arise from the Seasonal Effects.  For me, these hamper (HAMper, get it?…I’ll get my coat) an otherwise very interesting and enjoyable game.  In total there are 24 of these cards, only 16 of which will be used each game, however many of them are repeated (or virtually repeated anyway).  A quick count tells me there a 6 cards that raise the prices to varying degrees, 5 of them give $25 payout, there are 4 copies of the Season of Love card, and then a further 5 cards that give you one or other of the goods.  In short, of the 24 cards but only really 7 types of card.  Even the action numbers are pretty static, and once you’ve had a close look the strategy becomes fairly obvious.

Market Items

This quite frankly pees me off, because it creates a very uneven playing field.  Prior game experience is pretty much always going to put you in a better winning position in most games (more so those that don’t have a big luck aspect), but in Happy Pigs, a novice player will stand very little chance against someone that knows the scant card probabilities.  Which, in my mind defies the whole point of the seasonal effects in the first place, they should either be consistent, or widely varied.

Action Charrt

 

Here an Oink! There an Oink.!  Everywhere an Oink! Oink!

Happy Pigs has a lot of components. There is lots of cardboard in this box, every single possible item is represented as a cardboard chit.  There are literally hundreds of pigs.  

Towers of Pigs

Not anywhere near enough money tokens, and plenty of cardboard chits for each of the three items available at market (if you are so inclined to get the expansion Happy Pigs: Farm Friends, or even some of the promo Ducks and/or Penguins you’ll have a box  (thankfully bereft of any insert) bursting with cuboid cardboard animals, but enough that each player can play with their own animal) and every time you play this game you’ll have to get them all out, use a fraction of them and put them all away again.  

 

 

 

Why there isn’t a tracker per player for their items and/or money I don’t know.  I like my box organisers, and I like to do whatever I can to speed up the set-up, but I do find it frustrating that I have far too many of one component and not enough of another.  In short, a game about money should have plenty of money.

Money.jpgThe art from Christophe Fossard is gorgeous (as it always is and I recommend giving him a follow on Twitter or Instagram too if you like the stuff he churns out for, well pretty much every major games publisher), and hats off to him for making a cuboid piglet look so darn cute – but, one can’t help but feel a little disturbed by the giant pigs complete with sweat and bags under their eyes.

 

 

 

Squeal Piggy…a pig loving critique

Fair warning: the below “rant” about Happy Pigs is arguably superficial, and highly subjective (as all reviews should be).  If the theme of a game is of no consequence to you, skip to “Rant Mode Complete” and avoid reading about why I will never play this game again.

>>Rant mode engaged<<Fundamentally I have two (and a bit) issues with the game itself.  The repetitive Seasonal Effects and swingy nature aside – as those aspects do actually add to some of the frustrations and fun I have when playing.  Yet, I have an issue with the theme, and as a novel irk, the name of the game itself!  

That’s right Happy Pigs, what a delightful sounding game?  However, the game is not concerned at all, in any way with the emotional or even physical well being of the pigs.  Even the box art sees a very cartoony pig RUNNING FOR ITS LIFE from an equally cartoony pig farmer bent on its capture.  This isn’t Okja, the Happy [Super] Pig playing in the mountains of Korea, no. This is Fat Pig, Fat Wallet: Happy Farmer.  

Happy PigThe theme too is a little on the unpleasant side for me.  I’m an animal lover, and if I had space at home there is a fair chance I’d own (or at least have seriously considered) a pig as a family pet.  I don’t eat pork either, so a game about rearing pigs, feeding them to the extreme only to sell…well, I just don’t like it.  Neither can I fully get over the idea that obesity is not only celebrated in this game but is highly rewarded.  

With minimal work the game could be re-skinned as Happy Pandas or Happy >Insert Endangered Animal Here< and not only would you still have the interesting economic game at the core, but it could also have educational and conservation lessons in there too. >>Rant Mode Complete<<

By the hairs on my chinny-chin-chin

On the whole, this game is not what it appears or alludes to be.  It looks very cute and very friendly, you may even mistake it for a family or children’s game with its bubbly art style, and cheerful name.  I can pretty much guarantee that playing this game at “family” time will cause a ruckus.  It is cutthroat, it is a tightly wound economic engine which will have you screaming blue- effing-murder at your opponents before the end of the first season.  What appears to be a simple choice of four simple actions has massive and long-lasting implications, and before you make that choice you have to decide if you are going to hamper an opponent or try and help yourself.  Once you get the swing of this game it does tick by at pace, where you feel busy most of the time, even when you’re not physically moving pigs or items around your farm or market, the cogs will still be turning trying to work out not only what your next move is, but everyone else’s is too.  This is more so the case once you have a firm grasp of the game and play each round simultaneously – this does mean that up to 6 players can get a game played in around 60 minutes.  If you aren’t paying attention, or if you are on the wrong side of the swing you can and will see the entire game slip away from you as one or two players steam ahead leaving you up to your ears in something that you hope is just mud.  

In Play 1

In many ways I feel like this game is almost there, Rant Mode notwithstanding, it is like a Kickstarter that really should have hit more of its stretch goals.  A greater variety of Season Cards could have put a lot of my qualms about this game to pasture.  I have frustrations with this game, and yes some of those are fun, but not fun enough to keep me going back for more.

 

The Good

Tense player interaction

Great engine building

Mechanically simple and easy to teach

Some great artwork

 

The Bad

Too many chits and tokens

Not enough variety in Seasonal Effects

Swingy

Easy potential for Runaway leader

This game was purchased at a reduced rate from Zatu for the purpose of a review.

Box

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