Every so often a game comes along where the theme, mechanisms, art, and components are interwoven so seamlessly, you can’t help but smile as you play it. A recent example that triggered a smile like this for me is Hickory Dickory, a new 2023 release from designer Sawyer West and Plaid Hat Games, which I had the pleasure of playing on a review copy provided by the publisher.
In Hickory Dickory, you and up to three other players control your own team of mice competing in a royal scavenger hunt hosted by Lord Cuckoo. Your mice ride around the minute hand of a cuckoo clock collecting tiles that can be delivered for points, while trying to prioritize tiles that also match their hunt board. Whichever player manages their team of mice best and scores the most victory points wins.
Hickory Dickory’s table presence is lovely. The main game board looks like a cuckoo clock and there’s even a chain board below it. During setup, you place action space tokens at each number around the clock. A few are always placed at the same number, but majority of them are randomly placed so you have some variation from game to game. At each number except for 12, there’s an inner ring space and an outer ring space. Each outer ring space gets randomly seeded with a tile at the beginning of each round, and those tiles are up for grabs for the first mouse to take the action at each space.
Each player gets 4 mouse cards for their mice meeples that’ll be rummaging around the clock. Each mouse card has a number of storage spaces indicating how many item and relic tiles that mouse can carry. You’ll also get a random Hunt board which indicates the starting positions around the clock for 3 of your mice (your Scavenger, Scurrier, and Spotter). However, there’s also an advanced setup variant where players choose their starting mouse positions in priority order, one mouse at a time. You also have a Scamp mouse which doesn’t start on the board, and a Scaler mouse which stays on the the chain board of the clock. That’s your team!
Hickory Dickory is played over 5 rounds, and each round the minute hand makes a full rotation around the clock stopping at each number so the mice there can jump off the hand to perform that action or onto the hand to ride to a different one. The cuckoo clock’s hour hand starts at 7, and at the end of the 5th round, the clock strikes midnight and the player with the most points wins.
Each round is divided into 12 clicks. When resolving a click, first you move the minute hand to the next number on the clock. Then you activate each mouse on the minute hand in order, starting with the mouse at the front of the minute hand. When you activate a mouse on the minute hand, you can have the mouse stay where it is on the minute hand, or it can jump off the minute hand to the outer ring space and perform the current action. If there’s a tile on the outer ring space, the mouse can claim it before taking the action.
Whenever you claim a tile, you place it in an empty space on the corresponding mouse card. If that mouse doesn’t have an empty space, you can still claim the tile and discard it, or discard a different tile to keep the new one. If any of your other mice are at the same number as the minute hand, they can freely trade tiles, regardless if they’re on the minute hand, or on the inner or outer ring.
Looks like someone’s about to get bumped…After the mice on the minute hand have been activated, you activate each mouse on the current inner ring space in order according to the priority track. A mouse activated on the inner ring space can either move to the outer ring space and perform the current action, or jump on the minute band behind any other mice that are already on there. In some cases, this will bump off the mouse that’s at the front of the minute hand. When bumped off, a mouse activates and can jump to the current outer ring space or jump backwards to the previous outer ring space. When your Scurrier mouse jumps or is bumped off the minute hand, it can jump normally or it can leap to either of the next 2 outer ring spaces.
In a 4-player game the minute hand has 5 spaces to hold mice, and at smaller player counts, you add blockers to reduce the amount of spaces. Most mice only take up 1 space, however, the Scavenger mice are larger and take up 2 spaces. So if you end up with 2 Scavenger mice on the minute hand, there’s only room for 1 regular-sized mouse before mice start getting bumped off.
This bumping mechanism adds an interesting layer of player interaction to Hickory Dickory and amplifies the logistical efficiency puzzle of managing your mice. You’ll be trying to figure out the best time to jump on and off the minute hand with each of your mice for whatever you’re going after, but you cannot ignore what your opponents might do since there’s a chance they’ll bump your mouse off the minute hand and foil your plans, regardless if it’s intentional or not. It’s fun player interaction that keeps you on your toes without being excessive. From my experiences, there are usually more occasions where there’s a low chance, or no chance that you’ll be bumped off, but I like that that it gives you something extra to mull over as you plan your actions. You should especially beware of being bumped if there’s an action space with lots of mice on the inner ring space, because odds are, most of those mice probably want to go for a ride to a different action space.
Priority trackThe priority track is another thing to factor in when you think about mice jumping on the minute hand and bumping mice off, since the order each mouse activates matters. There is a priority track to the left of the clock to determine the activation order when there are multiple mice on an inner ring space. You start with the color the priority marker is on and that player activates one mouse of their choice, if present. Then you continue clockwise, until all mice on that space have been activated. The key point is that if you have multiple mice on an inner space, you only activate one at a time in priority order.
Now that you have an idea for how your mice move around the clock to perform actions, let’s go over some of the actions and how you score points in Hickory Dickory, noting some actions have a cost and you might have to spend some tiles to perform them.
• You can search to claim tiles from the bag and add them to the corresponding mouse card. When searching with your Spotter mouse, you draw an extra tile and then return one to the bag. The main way you score points in Hickory Dickory is by delivering sets of item tiles, so searching is a great way to get them, and with your Spotter, you improve your odds of getting tiles that are better for you to score.
Mouse cards w/ some goodies
• You can visit the market to either claim 2 tiles from Itsy Bitsy’s discount bin or take 1 wild item. There are 4 tiles in the discount bin at the start of each round and they are not refilled until the end of the round, so there’s some scarcity to factor in. The wild tiles are awesome because when scoring, they’re considered to have every color and every symbol.
Itsy Bitsy’s Market
Racing up the chain for points…• You can draw a favor card, which are juicy little cards you keep secret from other players and then you can use them during one of your mouse’s activations. You can’t ever hold more than 2 favor cards, but trust me, you’ll want to use them often, so that shouldn’t be a problem. Favor cards have a bonus action and/or bonus tile which you can use when delivering items. In some respects, they remind me of the intrigue cards in Dune: Imperium. You can have your eye on an action space with a free tile that you need and think you have it in the bag, then your opponent plays a card on their turn that lets them leap ahead and they grab it before you. You just never know what favors people have or when and how they’ll use them. This another aspect of that game that makes you pay attention, or perhaps be suspicious, of what your opponents might be up to.
• You can gain/teleport your Scamp mouse. This is the only mouse that doesn’t start on the board, so you need to trigger this action to place it on any outer ring space on the clock. After you perform this action for the first time, you have a 4th mouse on the clock for the rest of the game. After your Scamp is out and you take this action, you can teleport it to any outer ring space. Your Scamp can’t hold many tiles, but that teleport ability is really sweet. At least 1 favor card has this action, besides the action space on the board. So again, you never know what your opponents might be planning and conversely, you can set yourself up for a really cool turn if you play this action on a favor card at the right time. It’s especially satisfying when your opponents are least expecting it.
• With the climb chain action, you can move your Scaler mouse up the chain a number of spaces, and if you land on or pass any point spaces, you score that number of points. When your Scaler reaches the leaf at the top of the chain, it stops and scores points listed above the pinecone weight token on the right chain. Then you move the pinecone token up to cover that number, unless it was the 4-point space which is never covered. Finally, you move your Scaler back down to the starting pinecone at the bottom of the left chain. This is an excellent way to score a chunk of points early on since it starts at 9 points if you reach the top first, and decreases gradually to a mere 4 points. It’s also worth mentioning that you can’t land on another mouse; instead, you’ll stop at the next empty space. Timing this right, you can get some free advancements on this track by leaping onto other mice.
• Aside from the climb chain action, just about everything you do in Hickory Dickory is to strategically set your mice up to deliver items and score victory points. When you perform the deliver action, you score 1 point for each item and bonus tile (on favor cards) that you deliver, plus 1 point for each item in the largest symbol group, and 1 point for each item in the largest color group. In addition, Lord Cuckoo has specific quests for players to complete. At the start of each round there will be 2 quest cards revealed that can give you extra points when delivering items if the items you deliver match the items on an available quest card. If you’re able to score a quest card, it’s discarded after you score. Then after you score points for delivered items and potentially a quest card, you place matching tiles on empty spaces of your hunt board, which might be worth points at the end of the game. The tile placement on the Hunt board is definitely reminiscent of Azul. Any tiles that you can’t place on your hunt board are returned to the bag.
Quest card examples
• Besides item tiles, you might be able to claim special relic tiles throughout the game. There are only 3 unique relic tiles, so they are very rare and they can’t be delivered like item tiles. Instead, you take them directly to Lord Cuckoo at the action space at 12 o’clock. When you deliver relics to Lord Cuckoo, for each relic tile, you score 5 points and gain a favor card. Then you have to leap to the 1, 2, or 3 outer ring space. This special relic delivery space is always at 12, and does not have an outer ring space like all of the other action spaces.
• There are two other actions to help your mice along which you’ll find on favor cards. There’s a throw action where you can have one of your mice at a different location “throw” tiles to your active mouse and vice versa; it’s a way to trade remotely which can be super helpful in a game where you’re trying to make the most optimal deliveries for scoring. With the leap action, you can have an active mouse leap clockwise to an outer ring space up to 3 numbers away.
After the clock tick at 12 is resolved, that’s the end of the round, but there are a few end-of-round steps you complete before jumping into the next round. First, you roll the cat die twice and place an adorable cat paw over the action space at each number. These action spaces are blocked on the upcoming round, and none of the mice on the minute hand can activate at a number with a cat paw. Then you’ll advance the hour hand to the next number on the clock. If the hour hand moves to the 12, the game immediately ends, otherwise, you move all mice that are on outer ring spaces to the corresponding inner ring spaces, and refill the quest cards, and the tiles on the outer ring spaces and in the discount bin at the market. Finally, you move the priority marker to the next space on the priority track following the arrows.
These cat paws tickle me
When the clock strikes midnight, the game ends and you score additional points for completed rows and columns on your hunt board. In addition, you gather up all of the item tiles remaining on all of your mouse cards and score them collectively as a final delivery, but without scoring quest cards or adding tiles to your hunt board.
Hunt board w/ a completed row and column
Hickory Dickory is an absolutely adorable, whimsical game, but don’t let the cutesy theme and art mislead you; there’s definitely a solid game here which can appeal to experienced and new gamers alike. Since the theme is so well integrated with the mechanisms, I think less experienced gamers will catch onto this in no time. With the logistics of managing your mice and trying to make optimal moves to score as many points as you can with deliveries, people who mostly play medium-heavy games are also likely to enjoy it. Plus, a 4-player game can be played in about 90 minutes and it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
There’s a decent amount of player interaction and plenty of interesting choices as the minute hand moves around the clock and you decide when it makes most sense to have your mice jump on and jump off. When possible, you’ll also want to leverage each mouse’s special ability too. There’s scarcity from tiles on the action spaces, the quest cards, and discount bin items, so you’ll be rushing to beat your opponents to those. Meanwhile, you can’t ignore your opponents’ Scaler mice moving up the chain to score points, especially earlier in the game. There really are a lot of things to consider when you take your turn, but it didn’t bog the game down. It feels like it moves at a good pace, since there’s really no set turn order and also because I’m invested in what my opponents are doing on their turn, especially when it comes to hopping on the minute hand.
The cat paws blocking actions after the first round keeps things interesting too. One of my games, we kept rolling a 6 for 3 rounds in a row and blocked one of the two delivery action spaces. If we wanted to make any deliveries, we had to have a mouse move all the way to 11, and so then you have to also make sure that one mouse is loaded up with as many good tiles as possible. Again, it sort of feels like a logistics puzzle. Besides the fact that I just love the cat paw tokens, I really like how they change up the dynamic of the game depending on which actions are blocked for the round.
I have had some rounds of Hickory Dickory where I felt like I didn’t accomplish much, but I can’t tell if it’s me not playing optimally or if that’s just the nature of the game. It could also be the result of the cat paws blocking spaces that would’ve been helpful to me. Either way, I do enjoy the decision space of figuring out when I want to have a mouse jump off the clock and take an action versus riding further ahead for something else, at the risk of getting bumped off.
If you’re a fan of unique, thematic games that you can play with new or experienced gamers in less than 2 hours, be sure to check out Hickory Dickory. I’ve certainly enjoyed my plays of it and look forward to playing it more.