Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Saturday 21 November 2020

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Squire for Hire

Game: Squire for Hire

Publisher: Letiman Games

Designer: Jon Merchant

Year: 2019

Eighteen card games have probably been popularised by Button Shy Games, who release one game per month. However, a few other creators have latched onto this format which is definitely appealing for its portability.

Squire for Hire is a card game for 1-2 players in which each player takes the role of a squire, hired for the noble quest of 'donkey'. You will be carrying all of the possessions of your hero on an adventure. The cards that you take during the game represent various loot, magic items etc. which will be added to your bag, which is the play area in front of you. Each squire likes to pack their bag differently and points will be awarded for cramming a bunch of good stuff and little junk into your bag, and then laying it out in your squires preferred manner.


Each player will start the game with a randomly assigned squire and a pair of treasure cards. Each treasure card features a grid with a mix of treasures/weapons, junk items and empty space. From these treasure cards they will keep one and pass the remaining one to their opponent. These tiles mush be placed so at least one item on the second card is entirely on top of the previous card.

After this the game will begin in earnest, the deck of treasure cards is placed in the center of the table and one card is dealt to either side of it face up so you can see the treasure. The card on top of the deck will have a quest on it, a small story which tells you what your squire (and their associated hero) are up to, and what they need to overcome. Typically quests require one of two things: enough spaces in your bag to be covered by one of the item types, or for you to lose an item of a certain type (by covering it up with the next card you get). Whenever you complete a quest you get to choose either of the cards beside it to take as your reward, placing it into your growing "bag" of treasures. You will then replace the missing treasure by flipping over the quest you completed. 
The game continues until the deck of treasures is completely run dry at which points players will score. Each item in your bag is worth one point, while each junk item is worth negative one points. In addition, if you manage to get two of the exact same item next to each other or you fulfill your squire's unique scoring objectives you will earn extra points. There is also a Mystic Runes pack which adds an extra item type: Runes. Runes all have their own unique effect once you place them, either letting you ignore junk, count the rune as a duplicate of an item it's next to, or place cards under, rather than over, you existing cards.

Amy’s Final Thoughts

Squire for Hire is a blisteringly fast game to play if you are playing it purely mechanically. The symbology is all crystal clear which means you know what to do at a glance and the actions are simple enough that no-one should suffer from AP while playing. That's not to say that there's nothing to think about, as you would expect the spacial puzzle gets quite complex, trying to score certain items optimally might involves covering up other items. There's a good amount of decision making to be made every turn. The game easily doubles in time if you read out the flavour text on every card as you go and I certainly recommend doing so on your first playthrough or two. The stories are charming little misadventures, explaining how your accidentally dropped your heroes plate-mail down a ravine, which goes a great way to explain why you have to cover up an armour piece, thereby removing it from your bag.

While there are only four squires in each pack, they are significantly different in what they want, which will natural lean you towards certain styles of play. However lean too far towards one item type and you can easily get caught out not having the requirements to complete a quest. It certainly stings to have to miss a turn in this game, Usually this happens due to bad planning on your part, but especially in the early game it can just be bad luck! If you add in the Mystic Runes (base set 2) you can have even more variety of play by mixing the packs together, though this can make the game a touch more swingy as the item availability becomes less certain. Still it's a nice bonus, and there's even a Squire Pack that adds 9 new squires to each pack!
Ultimately a pack of Squire for Hire holds a decent amount of gameplay into a small package. Each set is extremely small, easily fitting into a pocket or bag. While there may not be a world of infinite strategies to try out with this game, it delivers a good punch into a 5 minute game. Squire for Hire is a great filler game in great packaging, which means there's never an excuse to not have a game on your person at all times!

Fi’s Final Thoughts
There are many games that the mechanisms of Squire for Hire remind me of. Honshu and Samurai Gardener both spring to mind as games where a single card is split into smaller squares that must overlap each other in some way. Squire for Hire keeps the puzzle simple and simply asks you to aim for different scoring objectives based upon your squire character in each game. On each of your turns you might get unlucky and be faced with something you cannot complete without covering up a positive attribute on another card, but the puzzle is in covering over the right things to create the best patterns. If so can create some adjacencies between matching items, as well as focusing on the items you need for set collection then you might be able to find a way to score highly, even if bad luck comes your way.
While the theme of the game doesn't matter a whole lot to me when I'm playing, it is certainly quite a fun idea to think that your player area is essentially a backpack full of items that you are carrying for your master. In our first game we read out each card, but after that we weren't interested enough to look at anything other than the symbology, which is very bold and clear to understand. The artwork also adds some thematic charm, although these are some rather weird looking animals and I'm not sure I like how they've been made to look human!
With their very compact format, 18 card games run the risk of being forgettable and mediocre. Many of them have passed through our collection and some might still languish at the bottom of our 'small game drawer'. After a handful of plays, Squire for Hire has managed to stand out and I've found it very enjoyable to play. It's not that sophisticated and I feel like luck has a big part to play in my final scoring rather than my own skill, but it does have very satisfying and tactile game mechanisms that I just enjoy spending 5 minutes with. I genuinely see us packing this one next time we get on a plane or a train together and enjoying a quick little joyful gaming activity.
You Might Like...
  • Each game is a new little puzzle with asymmetric scoring driven by your hero.
  • There are plenty of new ways to expand and add variety into the game.
You Might Not Like...
  • Luck can play a part, especially in the early game. You can't really plan for the events that will come your way.
  • While putting two decks together should have the potential to lengthen your game, in practice it rarely does.
The Verdict
7.5/10 Squire for Hire is a game that doesn't last more than 5 minutes, but every time we put dry erase pen to laminated cardboard and complete our scores, it gives us a sense of satisfaction. It has a nice theme, nice puzzle, a bit of story (if you're interested) and some cute and strange anthropomorphic animals. For a game you can throw in your pocket, that's quite a lot to offer and it's one we'll be keeping in our travel collection.

Squire for Hire was a review copy kindly provided to us by Letiman Games.

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