[If you know Rebecca and me well, you know that we are avid gamers. I’ve decided to try my hand at boardgame review. I’ll post one from time to time.]
Hoot Owl Hoot
- Brief Description of Game
A cooperative children’s game for 2-4 players. There is a track on the game board with alternating colors for owl tokens and a smaller sun track at the top of the game board. Four to six owl tokens start at one end. The goal of the game is to move all the owls into the nest at the other end before the sun rises all the way. Each player gets three cards. Cards show a single color or a sun. On your turn, you play one card. If you have a sun card, you must play it and advance the sun token one space. If the sun token advances to the end of its line (13 spaces), the players lose. If you play a color card, you chose one owl to move to the next space of that color ahead of it. If the next space is already occupied by an owl, your owl leapfrogs to next open space of that color. If there are no more spaces of that color between the owl and the nest, then you move the owl into the nest. You draw a new card after you play.
A game takes 10-20 minutes depending on the focus and age of the players. Some people say that the game is like Candyland, but (based on my memory of Candyland) that is not true at all. Candyland is all luck; there is no decision-making, you just go to the space whose color you’ve drawn. Hoot Owl Hoot requires strategy and cooperation. You have many moves to choose from. Thus adults can actually enjoy Hoot Owl Hoot.
Players need to work together to create chains of owls occupying the same color so that owls can advance a great distance on the board by leapfrogging. Additionally, there is variation in how the colors alternate, so sometimes you have to consider which color to play with which owl to achieve the greatest movement forward. If players try to treat a certain owl as theirs alone and not work with other people, then you’ll probably lose. At the same time, young and inexperienced players can play with just four owls and can win by just randomly playing cards. However, with six owls, there is a chance that you will lose even with a good strategy.
Luck is a big factor in this game, since the content of your hand and when the sun cards come up is just luck of the draw. However, there are only 14 sun cards total, so it is likely that you will get through most of the deck. Through teamwork and judicious playing of cards, you can still make the chains you need to win in a six owl game.
A two-player game is harder because there are fewer cards in players’ hands and thus it is more difficult to make a chain. On the other hand, it can be harder for four players to cooperate and there is the danger of one player trying to boss the others around.
The game play is so simple that it could be transferred to any theme – children coming home before suppertime, parking cars before the lot closes, landing planes before dark – but the owl theme is attractive to children. You can also say “hoot” whenever a owl leapfrogs over another, which is one of my four-year old daughter’s favorite things about this game. The board is colorful and well laid-out.
- Components + Set-Up
A board, six owl tokens (cardboard), a tiny sun token, and small rectangular cards (card stock). The components themselves are of okay quality. The cards are a little hard to shuffle. The box is just a box, so you’ll need to provide your own small baggies or everything will slide around. Set-up is very simple. My four-year old can set up the owls and sun while I shuffle the cards.
- Interaction between the Players
Players must work together if they are trying to get six owls home. There can be a danger that a more experienced player will try to boss the younger kids around for the sake of winning. Thus an adult supervisor may be necessary. However, with four owls, it is possible for the players to win with minimal cooperation. I think that the game is very good at being accessible for very young players (my daughter could move the owls at the age of three), while also rewarding and teaching cooperative play and strategy.
- Fun + What happens if you are losing?
There is a good chance that you will lose when playing six owls, however, this creates a sense of excitement when you draw cards – will it be a sun? You will also normally be able to get some owls home. Since the game is meant to be cooperative, tension can arise between older and younger players and those that understand cooperation and those that just want to claim one of the owls as theirs. Older players may have accept defeat in order to give the younger players real choices. Adult supervision will be needed for younger players and mixed age groups. If you lose, the game is so short that you can try again immediately.
It would have been nice if there had been a designated place on the board to lay the deck and played cards. Also, it can be easy to lose track of how many suns have come out, since you are just supposed to move the tiny sun token each time a sun card is played and it’s easy to forget to move it. Actually playing the sun tokens on the board would have been better. One could imagine cards that create more choices, such as choosing between colors or being able to move the sun backwards, but that would make the game less accessible for younger children.
- Whom is it for?
Hoot Owl Hoot is a gem of a children’s game. It is simple enough so that very young children who know their colors can play, but has enough of a strategy element so that adults and older children are not bored. The variable difficulty makes the game accessible to a variety of skills and ages.
- a) Family with kids – Highly recommended. 5/5
- b) Casual gamer – Would this game be desirable for people without kids? Probably not, but getting all six owls home before the sun comes up is always a good challenge. 2.5/5
- c) Hardcore gamer – No, but this is a good game for training children to be hardcore gamers! 2/5
- d) Social gamer – It would be possible to get a game of Hoot Owl Hoot in between your Balderdash and Dixit, but your guests would probably think that you are goofy. 2/5
Bottom Line: Great children’s game with simple mechanics, but real strategy and cooperation. This is my favorite game to play with my four-year old daughter.