Dice on Fire Review: Hitman Holiday (formerly Deadly Vacation)

Hitman Holiday (formally Deadly Vacation) is the first game to come out of Medieval Lords and designer, Dominic Michael Huang. It should be cropping up on Kickstarter any time now, but I got my hands on an advanced copy. Let's take a look!

(Now called Hitman Holiday)

In Hitman Holiday, between 2 and 10 players take on roles as assassins at a beach resort. They travel around the resort and attempt to kill each other, with each player having another player as their contracted target. The targets are kept secret, so there's an element of bluffing and this creates a palpable sense of tension. There's also tons of items thrown in which allow you to catch the other assassins in the act, or indeed kill them, and a couple of guards to further complicate things. Kill your targets to get points! Figure out whose chasing you and get more points! Forget to eat, sleep, or go to the bathroom - all of which are tracked each turn - and things will start going wrong!

First up, what a great theme. A load of world-class assassins go on a beach holiday and endeavor to kill each other. Awesome! When I pulled this game out and explained the theme, people were pumped to play.

Contents of the box. There's a lot in there! The main board is really good looking.
The second thing I really liked about Hitman Holiday is the secret objective mechanic. So as assassins, we roam around this beach resort, waiting for our opportunity to strike. But we can't just randomly kill anybody, we have to kill those players on our contracts - our secret objective. Now, the bulk of the game consists of players moving around the map, sneaking up on their opponents and murdering them in a most cruel way. If you are too obvious regarding which player you sneak up on (1) you'll never catch them because they'll run away, and (2) they'll report you to the in-game cops. If they're accusation is correct, then you'll get arrested and executed! This secret objective - figuring out who is after you and trying to avoid suspicion falling on you - is where the good fun and memorable moments in this game are held.

Our contracted targets.
The component quality is surprisingly good for an indie game, with unpainted plastic miniatures for each of the ten characters, a load of player boards, and commissioned artwork. The game board itself is fantastic - with a cool image and clear markings. But components is also where my first real problem with the game comes in - the first thing you notice when you open the game is that there are hundreds of tiny tiny cardboard chits representing player resources and actions. And they're a total headache - the chits have character faces on, but printed so small that you really have to lean in to figure them out. That might sound like a silly complaint, but this game supports 10 players. I tried with 8, and already, crowding around a little board covered in tiny almost indistinguishable tokens - damn, it's a problem.

The various chits/tokens that the game uses.
Good luck identifying these on a busy game board.
So let's look at that player count: 2 to 10 players. I found that Hitman Holiday  didn't work for me at high player counts. This isn't a party game - we all need to see the board, place tokens, and move our pawns. Even if players are quick to move, you can easily take your turn and then wait upwards of five minutes for your next go. Ideally, you should be spending this time deducing who is trying to kill you, but expect to see players getting distracted.

The player tokens are plastic and are provided unpainted. They're much nicer than plain pawns.
There are a couple of unique mechanics used in Hitman Holiday - which immediately gets me excited - but actually, they usually end up just being a little weird. One of these unique ideas involves player needs - your assassin needs to eat, sleep, and go to the bathroom. If you don't, then there is the potential that your assassin will shit themselves. Really. And you lose some points - like you lose street cred or something if you shit your pants. I understand that the mechanic is there to keep players from hiding away - they have to keep moving through the various spaces that provide for your needs - and I'm not turned off by the fact that it involves toilets - it's just thematically weird that a great assassin would find going to the bathroom such a hindrance. It's weird to say, "OK, I'm going to kill this person, but... oh... wait... I really need to do this thing first!"

The needs dials are on the left - for bathroom, food and sleep. Vladi has to use the bathroom every four turns, but only needs to eat and sleep every six turns.
All in all, Hitman Holiday had some fun moments and memorable bits, but it did not go down particularly well with me or my game group. It's too complex for what it is trying to do and far too fiddly in general. If I can gather 10 players, I'm going to play The ResistanceWerewolfThe Last Banquet, or split into two smaller groups. Not play a turn-based tiny-tokens game. I feel like Hitman Holiday has potential to be tons of fun with the right group of people, but otherwise needs to do some drastic simplification. It really can't handle more than about 6 players effectively and all those tokens and bathroom needs could surely be handled more elegantly. I'd rather have fewer players, a smaller board and with all the crap (literally) cut out, while retaining the focus on the deception and backstabbing.

On the surface, Hitman Holiday has great production values and looks like fun - indeed it is fun quite frequently - but once you have it on the table and get down to it, it really doesn't do it for me. The pretty fun gameplay of backstabbing and deception are overshadowed by other logistical issues.

An item card. This one makes it more difficult for you to be targeted by another player.

I spoke to the designer, Dominic Huang, personally about the game and he explained that his philosophy in design is to always have something unique happening. He certainly achieves this in Hitman Holiday, but it's a gamble that doesn't really pay off in this case. It is, however, a good production from a new designer and company - I'll definitely keep my ear to the ground for their future releases.

You can find and back Hitman Holiday on Kickstarter from February 10th (link).

Colourblind Info

When you're in the game, there are no colour issues with Hitman Holiday - everything is designated through distinct player models or tokens with character faces. When you're putting the game together and assembling the character dials, the dials are distinguished by blue and purple - I had to get my wife to do it.

The bulletin board is used to track turns and place clues about who is hunting who.