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Kill the Unicorns

Pirates, Zombies, Cats, Bees. All have been thème du jour in the board gaming hobby and while these have all populated some good games, the lesser favoured unicorns have exhibited a tendency toward the mass market, with Unstable Unicorns (Breaking Games) and the recent reskin of cult hit Horse Fever (Cranio Creations) simplifying things in Unicorn Fever (Horrible Guild). Publishers Morning and designers Cyril Besnard, Loic Chorvot and Alain Fondrille have evidently got a little sick of the candy-sweet theme and decided it's time to Kill The Unicorns.

Inside the lurid pink shelf-unfriendly box, you'll find a good insert cradling 140 well-illustrated cards, 20 tokens, and a decent but nigh-on-illegible rulebook: pink text on a pink background... make sure you've got good lighting! The game could fit inside a much smaller, drawer-friendly box, but I know shelf presence is a thing for publishers and retailers alike.

The player count for Kill The Unicorns is 3 to 6, though I have issues with that which I will address later... Setup is quick and well explained: each player gets a character card, eight Hunt cards and eight Scheme cards; and, every round, four unicorns are lined up for hunting, with each player placing one of two Scheme cards next to a target of their choice. Then the first player passes or selects a one, two or three card bid for the next Hunt; players blind bid once around; highest bid wins, unbroken ties discard the unicorn. After four unicorns have been hunted, players may buy a bonus item from the gnomes' black market: a good reason to hold back some valuable cards. Repeat this three times and total scores.

The whimsical art by Levi Prewitt thoroughly endears one toward Kill The Unicorns and, though the content is sometimes puerile - poo, farts and pee all feature - it is done in a way that makes one feel less disposed to grouse. I particularly liked the Unicorn paté, which is a useful mechanism for converting unwanted beasts into points. At the end of the day this is a light-hearted game of sixteen auctions with hidden information on many of the lots and a set collection aspect which has some very necessary mitigation thrown in.

That number of sixteen auctions is fixed, by the way: four in each of four rounds and, contentious for some no doubt, is the fact that bid cards are lost whether you win the auction or not. Leaving aside ties negating some Hunts, at the maximum player count, players might only get two or three unicorns, which is hardly enough for 'set' collection, and some Scheme cards can make those hard-won unicorns score negative points. These three elements combine to create the distinct possibility that some players might finish with no successful Hunts or a negative final score.

While the above would not play out in quite the chaotic manner as it sounds, each character card comes with a 'power'... often, a very powerful power. The Wizard can make an opponent shuffle a Hunt card back into hand and play at random; the Bard can force a player to skip a Hunt completely; and the Huntress can decide to withdraw her Hunt cards once she's seen everyone else's. In a game where cards are scarce currency, being able to take back a payment is huge. There is a variant option to play without the powers and scheme cards: we chose to tone the powers down by making them once per Round, rather than once per Hunt.

I am a veteran gamer, so there's little doubt I am over-analysing this: Kill The Unicorns is a game aimed at families, tweens and possibly teens having fun, without thinking about it too much. But, to my mind, light games need just as much balancing to keep players from souring on them, especially with regard to asynchronous powers. At three or four players, with a little house-ruling thrown in, this is an enjoyable auction game with backstabbing and enough agency to make it feel like you have navigated tumultuous waters more by judgement than luck. The higher player counts and character powers, though, come with a distinct caveat, or you might find yourself in possession of a smelly unicorn.

(Review by David Fox)

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