In Hemloch you play as the last heirs of two powerful bloodlines. You need power to survive so your goal is to influence the citizens of Hemloch to support you and your house. In order to take control of the city you’re going to command various Minions from the city’s five largest factions. You play these Minions on various parts of the city known as Locations. Every Minion you play performs a special ability when placed in a Location. Each Location has a special ability that can only be used when Minions of a matching faction are placed there. Your goal is to have the most influence in each Location and control the city.

In the box:

60 Minion Cards – 30 white & 30 black. These are identical 30 card decks and one is handed to each player. Each Minion has an influence value, special ability and faction.

9 Potion Cards & 9 Trinket Cards – These are cards that can be taken by using a Minion’s or Location’s special ability. They give you special actions and are worth points in the end game scoring.

4 Location Cards – These represent the four areas of the city. Each one has a special ability and a certain number of Influence Spaces.

1 Festival Marker – When this piece is on a Location you may not play cards there.

4 Night & 4 Day Cards –You must organize the eight day and night cards in two separate piles. You start the game with only the pile of four night cards creating a Week Deck. Each round has two turns, the first and the second players’. You start a round by drawing a card from the Week Deck (with nights only) and you place the Festival Marker on the Location listed on the card. After each player has taken their turn you draw another card and repeat. After four rounds you have the Week’s End step where you count both players influence in each Location and add one day card to the Week Deck. You must also remove the matching Night card from the deck still keeping the number of cards in the Week Deck at four (three Night and one Day). After that you not only do an Influence Check at week’s end but each time you draw a Day card as well. So as the game progresses you’ll have an increasing number of Influence Checks as you add Day cards to the Week Deck.

30 Player Markers (15 Blue and 15 Yellow) – Each player will take all of one color and use them to place in the Influence Spaces of the Locations to control the area and gain points.

The box is your standard Small Box Games VHS box that fits nicely with the other SMG titles.

Set Up:

Set all four Locations in between both players

Separate the Potions and Trinkets

Separate the day/night cards in two piles (start game with only the night cards)

Give each player 15 player markers

Give each player a deck of Minions (white or black)

Draw five cards from your Minion deck and your ready to play

Game Play:

You may take two actions per turn, and you may choose from these available actions.

1. Draw a card.

2. Play a card.

The game ends if:

Either player has placed all of their player markers.

Two Locations have no empty Influence Spaces.

All Potions and Trinkets have been acquired.

Either player runs out of cards.

There are four Days in the week deck.


I really like the way John Clowdus designs games and Hemloch is no exception. There is a reason for almost every mechanic and it seems like a priority to make them work within the theme. For instance when the Festival Marker is in a Location the people in that area are celebrating so they are too busy having fun to be influenced. The Trinkets are like bribes that you pay to an opponents Minion to lure him to your side of the city. The game play just fits so nicely together and it makes sense thematically.

Some two player games can be brief and fun but are too light for gamers who like a “meatier” experience. Hemloch has actual strategy, yes you heard me correctly, a 15-20 minute two player card game where you can use an actual strategy. You can try and get your player markers on the Locations quickly by using Minions, you can stack Minions on a Location to try and win Influence Checks, you can try and obtain as many Potions and Trinkets as possible for a quick win, you can be aggressive and try destroy your opponents Minions, player markers, Potions and Trinkets; or any combination of those things. How John was able to squeeze such a big game into such a small box J I’ll never know.

Hemloch is also fairly easy to learn after you get past the day/night bit which eluded me until I put the game out in front of me. After that it made perfect sense and now I find it’s one of the features that add to the unique quality of the game. The cards are absolutely gorgeous with a fantasy setting that really feels alive and interesting. I’d love to see more coming from the Hemloch universe.

Before I played Hemloch if you were to ask me what my favorite two player card game was I would have probably said Omen. After playing Hemloch……I’ll get back to you on that one. Seriously guys, if you have never experienced a game from Small Box Games you are doing yourself a great disservice. Find someone you know who has one and give it a whirl. I say this with all sincerity; John Clowdus makes some of the best two player games in the industry. Hemloch is one of the most fantastic two player games I have ever played; honestly.