Published by Tinkerbot, and with art by Alexandra Vardanian, Haunticulture is one of those games where it's hard to escape the suspicion that the quasi-punning title preceded the design. No matter, Bevan Clatworthy has come up with an interesting deck building, area control, set collection and tile placement game with a theme that mashes up ghosts & ghouls with gardening!
The game takes 1-4 players, with both the solo and two-player game making use of an AI deck of cards. With three or four players, you'll just be playing with other humans. Except of course that all the humans represent cadres of curiously green-fingered monsters. You'll each start off with a skeleton, a ghoul and four zombies, but you'll always have the option to spend gold to swap a starting card for another more powerful card from the monster deck display. Players each have their own player board representing a garden plot laid out in a 5 x 5 grid. It starts off with gold coins in the centre and at all four corners, and you'll want to retrieve that gold so you can spend it and so you have more squares available to lay out the plants and garden ornament tiles you collect.
You play your monster cards to a central 4 x 3 or 3 x 3 grid (depending on the number of players) and you take the action indicated on the card. Your skeleton gives you a 'dig' action, allowing you to dig up the gold on any square in your garden plot, freeing up the square and giving you gold that you can spend on upgrading cards or to pay to allow you to place in your garden any ornament tiles you collect. Zombies just let you collect one gold from the central supply. Your ghoul allows you to 'rummage': draw a random tile from the bag. These are all the basic single actions but if at any point you place a monster so that there are three in a row of the same monster type, regardless of who 'owns' them, then you get to take a more powerful action.
In addition to the actions taken when you place out your monsters, you'll also have an eye to trying to win area control in the row and column in which the monster is placed. There's a tile placed at the end of each row and column, and at the end of the 'gardening' phase of monster card placement, for each row and column you add up the gardening value of players' monsters. The player with the highest total gets to choose which of the two tiles to take from the end of that row or column. The player in second place takes the other tile. Some tiles have a negative value, so there's scope for manoeuvring to lumber an opponent with a tile that will be a liability.
Once tiles are collected, players simultaneously 'plant' them in the gardening plots. Some plants simply score victory points wherever they are placed but most score in relation to the plants to which they are adjacent; so, for example, solitary pumpkins score just 1 point but those planted in a rectangular patch score 3 points each. The scoring cards for each plant are double-sided so you can vary the way in which each scores. You have to place out all the plants you collected in the gardening phase but any garden ornaments that you collect can be held over to a future turn. You may decide to do that because it costs gold to place out each ornament or because you are holding out to collect a complete set before placement. For example, fountains are made up of four tiles, each of which cost 2 gold to place. Completed fountains score a whopping 20 victory points but partially completed fountains score nothing at all. There are monster cards that trigger a 'steal' action tho' so there's a 'push-your-luck' hazard to the decision to hold onto an ornament rather than paying to play it to your board.
There are other elements too - including secret objectives that give you another way to score. Haunticulture brings together then a wide range of 'euro game' mechanics but manages this without burying players in a heavy rules overhead. This is a game that's easy to learn and fun to play. It's coming to Kickstarter just ahead of Halloween on 27 October. Click here to find out more.