Can you pack enough rewards into your bag to secure the job?
Android & iOS
# of Players
Squire for Hire is a set collection game with a spatial twist from Letiman Games. Players assume the role of a squire who is looking to prove their worth and get hired by way of achieving a high enough score as they embark on their adventure. A string of successful encounters along the way will allow you to build up your bag of tools to earn those points. A game can be played in about five minutes.
I’ll discuss the game as it plays as a solo experience, the basic rules are the same for multiplayer, I will go into a little bit of detail on that in a later section.
A game begins with the selection of one of five squires to use. Once selected, you are given two cards to form the start of your bag. These cards are broken up into 3 by 4 grids with various items covering one or more grid spaces throughout. The items come in two flavors: items and junk. Items are good, junk is bad. Simple enough.
The premise of Squire for Hire is that you are completing encounters and using the rewards from those encounters to build up your own personal knapsack. Adding more and more loot, while doing your best to avoid junk, is the key to success. Too much junk weighs you down and loses points, while synergistic sets of items earn bonus points as do spatially adjacent sets. The exact details on which junk and items are better or worse varies with each squire. All items will always earn points, but the warrior squire will provide bonuses for weapon items that other squires won’t, for example.
The core of the game is adeptly placing new loot cards into your bag. You want to use them to cover up items and junk which aren’t as important as those on the card you are adding. Covering up a treasure item to add a weapon to your bag is a great trade for the aforementioned warrior squire, but it isn’t a great move for the thief who prefers to collect treasure.
When placing loot there are a couple of simple rules to follow which ensure that each addition is a give and take situation. I’ve found this to be a nice balance as each card makes me scratch my head a bit as to what the optimal move might be. It also comes into play when selecting which loot you want to take.
You get to choose between two face-up loot cards after a successful encounter. An encounter is simply a requirement of having a certain number of items of a type in your bag or using a certain number of items of a type. A common encounter might say either have three treasures or use one treasure. If you chose to “use” one, you are required to cover a treasure item when placing your new loot card. If you choose “have” then you get no additional placement requirements, this is typically the better option which is why the requirements are higher.
This is a very simple game that plays really quickly and it is one that I have very much enjoyed. It came out of nowhere for me but has taken over my digital tabletop time in the past couple of weeks. The games play so quickly but each one provides tough decisions from start to finish. It all comes down to simple set collection and, ideally, placing matching items next to each other, but the decisions never seem that easy to me. A dead simple ruleset with head-scratching decisions is a really fantastic sweet spot that is very difficult to hit. Squire for Hire absolutely nails this balance.
Barrier to Entry
Squire for Hire is taught through a series of brief text rules. There are three separate sections covering the basics, how to play, and the Mystic Runes. The tutorial covers how to play but doesn't cover the controls. One embarrassing aspect I didn’t realize my first game was that I could drag cards as I was adding them to my pack. I was quite confused when I ended up with zero points.
The tutorial could be better, I think, but the games play so quickly that once you have the basic understanding from the tutorial you can run through a few games and learn the ins and outs. Not ideal, but not a gamebreaker either.
Look and Feel
Visually, the game looks really good. Nothing overly flashy, but the artwork is very well done and that theme is carried well throughout the entire app. The squires all look great and the various items on the cards all look good and unique enough that it’s not an issue telling which is which.
Controls are a bit tricky in this game as placing cards with a wide range of space in which they can go can prove difficult to pull off. Thankfully, the app also delivers here. You drag the card you are placing and have buttons for rotating it in either direction. In the case of the initial cards, or with the Mystic Runes deck, you can move the card you are placing up and down with a simple button sitting next to the card. Zoom in and out with a pinch to see the state of your bag quite easily. All of this works really well and makes what had the potential to be a tricky user experience come across quite seamlessly.
The game features local pass-and-play for up to four players. The game scales the number of cards to match the player count and final scores are compared to each other to determine the winner instead of 25 being the ultimate goal. Individual players will see many fewer cards in multiplayer mode than in single player, so the overall arc of games is changed a bit. I personally don’t see a ton of utility in this game as a pass-and-play title, but I am certainly very glad it exists and it’s certain others out there will get a lot of mileage out of this mode.
Single player games are broken up into Single Game and Quest. Single Game allows you to pick one of two decks (more on that in the next section) or combine the two. You play a solo game attempting to hit 25 points so that you are hired and have “won” the game. You can also choose to stack squires which gives you two sets of scoring bonuses to use in a game, with a goal of 28 points in order to be hired. This is a small addition which adds even more variety to the game.
There are six Quests, each with unique rule stipulations you must follow. These six some in two flavors: Each <INSERT ITEM TYPE HERE> is worth -1 point and Speed Runs. The first four in the former category are self explanatory and force you to alter your strategy a bit. The speed runs are a really difficult challenge as you try to hit a point threshold (either 20 or 30) in as few turns as possible.
All of this adds up to a surprising amount of variety for the digital version. The game also features achievements, these are tied into Google Play Games on Android. There are 37 for the completionists out there.
The app features the Mystic Runes expansion. This adds three special items to the cards, runes, which each have their own ability. The characters have updated scoring conditions to match the new cards. The expansion can be played entirely with its own cards or mixed with the base game.
The best part is that Mystic Runes is free! It unlocks once you achieve “hired” status in the base game by scoring 25 or more points.
The Wrap Up
Squire For Hire was a complete surprise to me and it has been a great, unexpected burst of fun. The ruleset of the game is very simple but the decisions are fun and challenging. Trying to maximize points with your abilities and adjacency rules while balancing the trash items ensures that every card choice and placement decision have a few different levels of strategy to consider. That’s a lot to pack into such a short game.
Squire for Hire hits similar marks for me as other rougelikes such as One Deck Dungeon and Meteorfall, but does so in a much more condensed package. There are sacrifices, of course, as Squire isn’t nearly as deep as either of those titles, but there is a lot to be said for hitting similar notes while playing in about five minutes.
I have no complaints with the implementation outside of there being a bit of room for improvement in the tutorial. Everything works well here, there is a lot of content and even some added modes to extend the longevity. Longevity was my only real concern after I had a dozen or two plays under my belt. The modes and squires and decks are all there to keep things fresh, but how would the core gameplay hold up? Thus far, I can say it’s held up quite well. The game is really tough to put up high scores in, I still fail to get hired much more often than not. Maybe somebody better at these types of games (which could be everyone) will find the challenge a bit easier, but for me I’m still trying to crack the code which has kept my 20th and 30th plays remaining quite fun. At the quite reasonable asking price, I think this game is a great value.