By Michael Fox
Dungeon crawlers come in many flavours; there’s your classic hardcore adventures like Descent, filled with statistics and many different coloured dice. There’s also D&D, of course, either in it’s ‘proper’ RPG form or the recently released streamlined variant that is Castle Ravenloft. If you’re after something a little more accessible, you could do a lot worse than hunting down a copy of the wonderful HeroQuest – one of the first ‘big’ games I ever got as a child, and one I still love to this day. I recently spoke with James Mathe from Minion Games, a new-ish company based in Wisconsin in the United States. We discussed what they’re up to right here (have a look, it’s very interesting!) and covered a game they put out last year called Those Pesky Humans. While it may look cutesy, it actually falls somewhere between the three games I mentioned up there – TPH is the very definition of not judging a book by the cover…
Non-judgemental folks, read on.
Ostensibly for two players (though it can be adapted easily to play with three or four) it’s a story of treasure hunting and nasty monsters, albeit with a few twists. Firstly, you don’t all play the good guys – one player takes on the role of the Ogre Master, controller of the dungeon, while the other has three Human Avatars at their disposal. The goals are simple – the Humans need to collect three hidden gems and have at least one character escape; the Monsters simply need to wipe out the Pesky Humans that give the game it’s title.
It’s a simple set-up: the Ogre Master has a set of ten double-sided tiles and creates a dungeon, making sure that each room (some of which have special rules to take note of) is connected to the network via at least one door. Up to ten doors are randomly selected (which will either be normal, locked or trapped) and placed between the rooms. Next up, ten treasure chest tokens are chosen (making sure that the three gems are in there, along with two secret passages – the other five are the Ogre’s choice and can be curses, traps or even scary beasties) and one is placed in each room. Start hexes are then put in opposite ends of the dungeon and you’re ready to go.
The game actually plays very simply – each player has a hand of cards that bestows various abilities and buffs upon their characters. The Ogre Master has the added bonus of also having loads of cards that summon minions that will (hopefully) beat up the Humans. They range from the squishy (orcs and kobolds) to the deadly (dark rogues and direwolves) and – if you feel like it – you can even get in on the action yourself… in fact, it’s positively encouraged, as the Ogre Master is very strong indeed. There’s also the very useful respawn ability – if he gets killed, he will reappear on his start hex next turn. No such luxury for the Humans though; if they’re dead, they’re dead. Kind of. There are some cards that allow you to revive fallen comrades, but they’re rare!
So, each character (Ogre, Human or Minion) moves round the dungeon according to their movement score as shown on their Avatar Card. Should they encounter an enemy, it’s time for combat – and it’s very simply resolved. You have an Attack rating, you roll a dice and add them together (factoring in any bonuses you may have picked up or cards that could affect your total). Your opponent does the same but uses their Defence rating. If your score is highest, they take a hit. If they win, you’ve missed. It’s so simple, even younger players will have little problem with it. I was initially a bit worried about combat taking so long, but there are plenty of cards in both decks (which can be played at any time) that ramp up the damage. Characters also have abilities that they can use at appropriate moments that may help out as well.
Things look good for the bad guys…
With two players, Those Pesky Humans actually rattles along very quickly. As mentioned above, it’s also playable with more – you simply share the characters out between everyone, but I found this slowed the game down quite a bit. This is not a big issue, but as I was playing as the Ogre Master I felt that I had a lot of downtime as the three Human players discussed their strategies and potential moves. As a one-on-one affair I felt there was a lot more interaction with my opponent – three against me had me staring into space a few times…
It’s an enjoyable game, but (of course) there are a few downsides to mention. Having played it a few times now, I have a feeling that if the Humans lose one of their characters, it’ll only be a short time until they’re fully wiped out, especially if the Ogre Master has managed to summon a decent army of minions – so if you’re playing the good guys, be careful! There’s also a slight issue with the quality of the components – everything is printed up on lovely heavy cardboard, but you need to place and remove a lot of doors and monsters into teeny plastic bases. This means that a lot of the bottom of the pieces can get torn up rather quickly – not good when the doors that you have are labelled at the bottom and become unreadable after a few plays. I think it may be a good idea to actually label underneath the bases with coloured stickers instead – it’ll certainly save the pieces from falling apart.
All in all, Those Pesky Humans is… interesting. If you pick up the box, you may well think that it’s just a kids game and disregard it. This is a MISTAKE. Yes, it may look like it’s aimed at a younger market (a special mention must be made of the splendid comic book artwork and knowing nods to certain gaming tropes) but that belies a game that actually has a lot of depth. There’s a lot of thought in there on both player’s parts – for example, the Ogre Master builds the dungeon and places the various treasure tokens where they want, they control the minions… every decision is their own. The only elements of luck are the dice rolls in combat and the cards you draw – you need to adapt your play around what you’ve got in your hand and what your opponent is up to. Those Pesky Humans isn’t child’s play. Far from it – it’s a challenging and surprising little game that deserves to visit your table. If you’re looking for a dungeon crawl that you can have a lot of fun with and doesn’t take itself too seriously, I recommend it.
Those Pesky Humans is available from all good game stores, though you’ll invariably pick it up cheaper if you venture online. Best with two players, it’ll cost you around £30. However, if you’re a bit strapped for cash there’s also a Print & Play version available for the tiny amount of $12! Thanks for reading!