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Merlin's Beast Hunt

This is a game from WizKids that's slid under the radar (or should that be scrying glass?). It doesn't seem to have attracted many other reviews and so has had little attention. That's surprising because Merlin's Beast Hunt is an interesting game with some unique features.

The slightly bizarre premise is that Merlin has organised a tournament for competing wizards as a kind of magical parallel to King Arthur's tournaments for sparring knights. Players (2–4) represent mages who are competing to erect elemental fences in which to trap mythical beasts.

What you're actually doing is rolling customised six-sided dice and using them as posts to support barriers. The dice faces represent each of the four element and barrier types, plus a 'wild' that can be used as any face and a beast symbol that brings on another beast or moves one already on the board.

You score for the fences you erect depending on the dice used (both yours and those of other players) and the player that completes an enclosure that 'captures' a mythical creature wins that creature and will score bonus points for them.

The dice as gateposts mechanic works well, helped by a board that has cutouts to accommodate the dice. Tho' the dice rolling involves luck, there's plenty of scope in Merlin's Beast Hunt for strategy as you'll be making choices about how best to use the dice you roll, and when and whether to re-roll. Some beasts can only be enclosed when certain conditions are met: Chimera have to be surrounded by at least three different types of fence; Centaurs can only be captured if at least one fence is 'reinforced' (has fully matching dice at both ends); Basilisks can only be captured on one of the two centre squares.

With art by Brian Fajardo and Oliver Morit, the game is well produced with beast standees, 80 custom dice and transparent plastic 'cards' for the fences, and Ian S Bach's design brings something new to the area control game. Tho' the theme is only a thin veneer on an essentially abstract game, this is a game with the potential to appeal to a wide audience. It falls down tho' in the relative complexity of the scoring, which even one or two of the seasoned games players on our team found at least initially confusing. If only the scoring were as transparent as this game's great fence 'cards'! To be fair, the rulebook does illustrate the various conditions for scoring alongside examples of valid and invalid dice and fence placement but our fear was that the scoring rules could be be seen as a barrier by some prospective players.

If you're happy to leap that hurdle, then this is a strategy game with a difference that's certainly worth checking out.

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