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Review: Hugo (Escape from the Hidden Castle)

4

The castle cellar is a lonely place, and Hugo the castle ghost craves company. He is let out of the cellar during a party just one night a year at the stroke of midnight to capture some companions for the long, lonely winter.

Can you cleverly plot your movements around the castle and even throw your fellow guests into his path to avoid joining Hugo’s band?

How It Works

Hugo, das Schlossgespenst (or the American edition Escape from the Hidden Castle) is a roll-and-move game for two to eight players. Players are guests at a party who are trying to escape from the castle’s ghost. The player with the fewest fright points when the game ends wins.

Hugo set up for four players. The players have placed their pawns on the board.

To begin, each player chooses a color and receives a number of pawns depending on the number of players. Hugo is placed in the cellar, each player places a disc matching their color on the 0 space of the score track, and a first player is chosen. Beginning with the first player, players take turns placing one of their pawns along the track until no pawns remain. Play begins.

On a turn, the active player will roll the die. If the die shows pips, the player must move one of their pawns that number of spaces. If the die shows Hugo, the player moves Hugo a number of spaces equal to his current movement value.

Hugo begins the game in the basement, and once he reaches the main floor, players may duck into the castle’s rooms. Players don’t need to land by exact count in a room unless that room is already occupied (in which case they kick the previous occupant back onto the track) or the room is one of the rooms that reduces their score.

The Hugo track shows how many spaces Hugo moves when his symbol is rolled on the die. He moves faster as the game goes on, speeding its conclusion.

When Hugo passes or lands on a space that has player pawns on it, they are placed on the steps of the cellar, in order, and gain points equal to the points on that stair.

Whenever Hugo lands on or crosses the arrow that leads out of the cellar, Hugo’s token moves one space forward on his track, making him move faster each time he is rolled.

The game ends when Hugo’s token moves to the last space of his track or when one player has reached 46 points. Whoever has the fewest points wins.

A Less Ghastly Roll-and-Move

Roll-and-move games have not fared well in the hobby board game resurgence, and for good reason. Many of us probably remember cursing the dice that placed us–again–on our sister’s fully-loaded Boardwalk through no fault or decision of our own, or getting upset when the dice treat another player kindly while we just can’t catch a break. I get it. But Hugo, das Schlossgespenst (roughly translated, “Hugo, the Castle Ghost”–“Hugo” henceforth) reveals some of the possibilities of roll-and-move while still keeping a simple, entertaining game in focus.

Now, I’ve seen Hugo (formerly Midnight Party and released in the US as “Escape from the Hidden Castle”) praised as a party game for adults, and you can certainly play it that way. Up to eight players can run from our not-so-spooky castle ghost and have a fine time. I’ve played with adults, and it works. But the main group I’ve played Hugo with is children, and it works marvelously for that audience.

Hugo’s about to move.

The first reason is that it’s so easy to explain. The goal is simple (don’t let Hugo catch you), and the mechanism is simple (roll the die, move one of your pieces). There are some supporting rules, but they make some kind of sense: you can’t move into rooms before Hugo comes upstairs (why would you hide if you don’t know he’s coming?), only one person per room (the first person in probably locked the door). There are a few minor mechanical things related to landing by exact count or not, but that’s it: the basic framework of the game is simple to explain and simple to internalize, putting the focus on what’s happening on the board.

Hugo always moves clockwise around the board. The safest place is behind him. But you may not be able to stay there for long.

And what happens on the board is fairly exciting. Each time the die is rolled, there’s a 1 in 3 chance that instead of a player moving one of their own pawns, they’ll have to move Hugo around the board. The giant Hugo pawn adds to the theatricality of the game, and there are lots of lighthearted and fun moments of schadenfreude as Hugo comes within striking distance of opposing players. It’s lighthearted because, while the game does have some choices, much of the game is outside players’ control. And it’s fun because everyone likes to see Hugo get the players or make a narrow escape. It’s full of tension and great moments.

Here he comes! “Huuuuuuuuuuuugooooooo…!”

These moments are made even more fun when players enter the spirit of the game. If Hugo is within striking distance of someone’s pawn, there’s usually someone at my table chanting “Hugo! Hugo! Hugo!” (probably a little louder than I’d like, but frayed nerves come with the parenting territory). And when Hugo is rolled, there’s usually a collective, spooky “Huuuuuuuuuugoooooooooo!” as he moves along the track. I know–none of this is necessary, and none of it comes packaged in the box. In some sense, Hugo is what the players make of it (which is truer of most games than many of us realize). But Hugo’s cartoony artwork, evocative theme, and great components lend themselves toward this theatrical style of play more than other games.

I’ve talked about the incidental details of the game–how players can ham it up–but there really is an interesting design below the hood of Hugo that’s admirable in the way it plays with familiar tropes. All of us have played roll-and-move games where we feel like our choices have been stripped from us. It shouldn’t surprise us that master designer Wolfgang Kramer has found a way to breathe life into a usually lifeless mechanism (and that he found a way to do this in the 1980s, when the original Midnight Party was released).

With an exact roll, you can kick someone out of a room, putting them in Hugo’s path while you are safely behind closed doors.

Hugo keeps the random die result inherent in roll-and-move games but changes the usual formula by offering players a choice of which of their pawns to move. Every player, even in an eight-player game, has at least two pawns they’re responsible to keep out of Hugo’s clutches, which means every player has at least a decision between one of two. But the game is more interesting than this. Players who roll a number must move a pawn. As players’ pawns make themselves cozy in rooms, safe from Hugo, or as they rest from having already been captured in the cellar, they may eventually have to reemerge–a piece must move, even if it’s safe, even if doing so would put the piece in danger.

Ah! The relaxations of food or dance! These rooms reduce your score, but you have to land there by exact count.

Hugo is, in some ways, a game of probabilities–you want to move your pawns such that they are farthest from Hugo when he is likely to move. Of course, kids aren’t thinking this–they instinctively know that they need to get as far away from Hugo as they can, and fast. The luck of the die roll evens the playing field somewhat between kids and adults, but the simple concept also goes a long way toward allowing kids and adults to play the game together and enjoy it. Hugo is also a lighthearted game where bad things will happen to players, sometimes unequally, and it’s a low-stakes way to teach kids about good sportsmanship even in losses.

Looks like Hugo will have lots of friends this year.

Obviously, from what I’ve described, Hugo won’t be for everyone. Even though it mitigates luck through offering player choices, Hugo is still quite random. Especially in an eight-player game, if you roll Hugo on your turn, it will be another eight turns before you get to roll again, and all your characters may be caught by then. Also related to the randomness, the game is not a fixed length. While there are some clever mechanisms in place to cap the game (Hugo moves more spaces each time he’s rolled the longer the game goes on), they are dependent on Hugo being rolled. If Hugo isn’t rolled as often as seems likely, the game starts to wear a little thin, especially because the most fun part of the game isn’t running around in circles; it’s being chased by a ghost. Of course, if Hugo is rolled too often, the game feels devoid of choices. So Hugo can be fragile if approached strictly as a game rather than a shared experience.

The American edition has a fresh, more modern look, but my kids prefer the cartoony look of the German edition.

The components in Hugo require some explanation. The reason I’m talking about Hugo, das Schlossgespenst and not the English release Escape from the Hidden Castle is that the German components are just much more interesting to kids than their American counterparts. The German game has a big, friendly-looking plastic ghost and plastic player minis. The art is cartoony and lighthearted, and it looks much more like a family game. I’ll admit that the Escape from the Hidden Castle look is much more to my taste as an adult, but the German version gets my kids excited and (usually) keeps their attention. I actually bought the American version on the strength of the reviews for Midnight Party; I passed it on after buying the German version once I saw which one my kids wanted to play.

The German components. My kids love moving the big Hugo pawn (which is hollow, so he can cover the minis when he takes them prisoner).

Hugo supports two to eight players, and I’ve played it at all player counts. It’s more strategic the fewer players you have, but the chanting, schadenfreude, and excitement increases the more heads you have hunched around the table. So while the experience is different depending on player count, I wouldn’t turn it down at any count (although with more players, I definitely want kids at the table). Hugo includes two play modes–the original Midnight Party and the updated Hugo. (The board is double-sided to accommodate the two games.) I’ve only played Hugo as it looked more interesting to me and my kids.

The insert. There’s a lot of stuff in the box for the price point, a defining trait of Amigo’s big-box releases.

As a game with adults, your mileage may vary with Hugo. But as a game for a mixed group of children and adults, Hugo is exceptional. I’ll close with this example. My sister and her four kids were over at our house, and my kids wanted to show their cousins Hugo. So I got out the game and taught it, and it kept seven kids occupied for a full half hour (either player or watching) with just one adult’s supervision. Usually a screen is involved to keep kids engaged with that kind of adult-to-kids ratio. I can’t guarantee those results every time, but it does illustrate that Hugo is a fun game for kids and adults and usually will keep their interest. Don’t let roll-and-move scare you off. Hugo is a gem.

  • Rating: 8.0
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Summary

Pros:

Simple rules and concepts keep this accessible to kids
Random die results even the playing field between kids and adults
Game's bright look and inviting theme get players involved

Cons:

A bit fragile, depending on whether Hugo is rolled too much or too little
Can feel out of players' control, especially in high-player-count games
Probably best with mixed group of kids and adults

8.0 Spooktacular

I'll try anything once, but my favorite games are generally middleweight Euros.

Discussion4 Comments

  1. Hi, I recently bought Hugo, and need a few clarifications… In the extended version, if my guest comes out of the dungeon (let’s say from +10),does my chip move back 10 steps? Likewise, if my guest comes out of a +1 room, does my chip move back 1 step? Also, when I land on a door, have I already reached the room or do I need one more step to enter the room? I will be grateful to hear your thoughts on these. Thank you!

    • You don’t lose points when you leave a spot that gives you points; you collect them immediately, and they stay. (So you can get those points again if Hugo catches you.) It takes one extra movement to enter a room. (If you’re standing on a door and someone is in the room, a 1 will knock them out.)

      I hope this helps!

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