Players: 3-6 Ages: 8+ Game Time: 30-60mins
With Hallowe’en coming up, a game with a tongue-in-cheek spooky theme is always welcome in my house. I feel incredibly privileged to have been given the opportunity to try out Midnight Pig, a new game by Harry Chapman Darlington in which your goal is to keep your village alive over seven perilous rounds. Harry is a local lad and was so kind as to hand-deliver the only alpha copy of the game in existence to my humble dwelling for a thorough dissection.
Above: the initial set-up of Midnight Pig, plus a peek at the box art and rule pamphlet
Before we get to the meat - or flesh - let me just mention the potatoes. For the sake of full disclosure, I want to note that I could not play this with 3 players due to the social distancing measures currently in place. Instead, I had to make do with standing in as a player three as well as player one. Whilst I feel that my experience would’ve been fuller with a “real” third player it is extremely easy to see what this game would be like in its natural habitat, so I am happy to discuss the experience on this basis.
Midnight Pig is a lightweight competitive party game with elements of card drafting and player interaction. Each player builds a tableau of cards - I’ve affectionately nicknamed it a “village” - which they are responsible for defending from the other players over the course of the game.
Setup and teardown shouldn’t take more than about a minute of your time, so it’s a very easy game to get to the table. Rounds are fairly quick and are comprised of a few different steps:
Draw a character
Optionally play any number of characters from your hand into your village
Take two actions
This simplicity makes the game very easy to teach; ideal for warming-up on game nights or for getting non-gamer friends involved. Don’t be fooled though - you can really get your teeth into this game as the rounds progress and it can very quickly turn from an appetiser to a main course.
The goal of the game is to have the most characters in your village at the end of the final round, but how you get there is up to you. You can go on a killing spree and decimate your rival players’ villages or you can focus on building up a populous village in the hopes that you’ll clinch the victory through sheer numbers. Realistically, you’ll be playing a balancing act somewhere between these two, but that’s the beauty of the game and the experience is really driven by your preferred playstyle.
Starting out, each player has one character in their village. The first round eases you in gently, but if your friends are anything like mine this isn’t going to be an easy ride to victory. It didn’t take long for the massacre to start. Your village can be wiped out in a round if you don’t play your cards right (trust me, I’ve been there). Your opponents can kill characters that are in your hand as well as the ones that are out on the table. Building a village is treacherous; no-one is safe.
The game features two types of characters that you can play into your village, the fragile villagers and the beefy monsters. Villagers are your bread and butter, with - generally speaking - fairly basic abilities such as “kill a villager” or “repeat the last action you took”. One of these is the Squealing Pig, a villager who’s insignificant other than for giving the game its name and giving any successful pig murderer one of each resource if they manage to get him during the final “midnight” round.
Monsters have a basic ability set, but also have special “midnight” abilities. These actions cost resources to use in the first six rounds, but are usually a powerful upgrade to their regular abilities. Although these actions are free to take in the “midnight” round, getting in there early certainly has its perks. You have to manage your resources carefully though, because if you spend them all on backstabbing your friends you may find that you’re unable to save your monsters from perishing in the finale, potentially leaving you with an empty village and a slim chance of victory. Offence isn’t always the best defence.
This game makes the best of resource management. In my playthrough, players were deliberately refraining from spending their resources which led to a shortage and I had to resort to very creative methods of obtaining more. The cards seemed well-balanced in this regard, but there is certainly a heavy element of luck at play.
Harry notes on his Kickstarter page that “Midnight Pig has been designed to offer players tons of opportunities for tactical play”, which I find to be absolutely true. Some abilities allow you to steal resources and even characters from other players, but to make the most of these you have to be tracking not only the cards that you’re collecting but also those of other players. This is a nice addition for more seasoned gamers, but it’s possible to take a casual approach here too.
If you’re somebody who likes Lady Luck to have a hand in their outcome, you can choose to draw event cards as actions instead of using character actions. These event cards come in a couple of flavours, events (blue) and items (purple). If you draw a blue event card it is immediately played, which may be to your benefit or detriment. These cards don’t tend to alter play too dramatically, but if you’re fortunate you might end up slightly better off than previously. Item cards get added to your hand and can be played at any time. These again have a wide variety of effects, although in my experience these tend to be more beneficial to the person who plays them. They are a nice touch, though admittedly we didn’t draw a great deal of them in my game so they weren’t used heavily.
Above: an example of an item being used. In this case, I attached the love potion to the cursed bride and the snap dragon to try and give other players an incentive to kill the bride.
As the version I played is alpha, there are a couple of things which I feel are worth mentioning. The cards seemed fairly decent quality and nicely printed but I’m unsure whether this version matches the proposed card stock for full-scale production. I also had to come up with my own creative solution for round tracking as a round tracker is not available at this stage of development, but I’ve been assured that there will be provision made for this in the full release. I was pretty happy with my method anyway as I had the perfect spares lying around for it.
Above: my ingenious solution to round-tracking, using some spare pieces I had laying around.
The character illustrations are quirky and charming, fitting in nicely with the almost B-movie like theme. You’re likely to see all of your favourite spooky tropes in here, from a tentacle-mouthed cultist to creepy twins. I really like the minimalist and cartoonish art style because it’s a constant reminder not to take things too seriously - always important when you’re getting into a snafu with your friends.
In its current form, you’ll have to be prepared to make some house rules, as the actions on the cards could benefit from some further playtesting and proofreading. That said, Harry’s looking into updating the card text to fix some of the issues we faced prior to the project being completed. The rulebook itself is concise and tells you everything you need to know to get going without being too lengthy.
I do recommend this game, and I’ve put my money where my mouth is and backed it on Kickstarter. I think it has something to offer gamers from all walks, but especially those of you who enjoy shorter and more light-hearted experiences. It holds water on its own, but I can see it being a wonderful filler too. I would like to see what the solutions are for round tracking and rule discrepancies, but I have every confidence that will be sorted before the project ships early next year.
If you’re interested in Midnight Pig you can support the project on Kickstarter here until 25th October 2020. The price of a single copy of the game is £25 excluding shipping, and bundle deals for multiple copies of the game are available.