Board Game Designer Makes Debut Exploring the Competitive Fun in Friendship

In Aaron Franco’s thematic board game, Hunker, players are forest animals competing to prepare for winter - and helping each other along the way.

Hillsboro, OR, March 06, 2020 --( In a genre best known for war games, zombie invasions, and the intricacies of historical Mediterranean trade, one upcoming board game seeks its niche in the power of friendship. When designer Aaron Franco set out to create his first game four years ago, he decided on this unconventional theme as a challenge to himself. “Helping others to help yourself is a design space that isn’t widely explored in competitive tabletop games, so I was eager to test some boundaries.”

The result of Franco’s efforts hit Kickstarter last week. Hunker: Fierce Friendship, Frosty Fortitude features players as woodland animal friends preparing for winter: scampering around the forest, foraging for food, building shelters, hunkering down to avoid bad weather and - notably - being friendly to one another to earn bonuses.

During development, Franco drew inspiration from two nontraditional game design sources: his mother and his 10-year-old niece. “My mom is famous in our family for making these selfless plays to help others. It’s the same with my niece. Winning for them is when everyone is having fun. I designed Hunker with their philosophy in mind.”

Franco hired artist Elizabeth Jancewicz about a year after beginning development to bring its world to life. “I needed someone who could evoke this feeling of friendship in the art, and Elizabeth did an amazing job populating Hunker’s world with charming animals and lush, imaginative vegetation.”

Over thousands of hours of work since then, it has improved from a game that, he said, “made my wife fall asleep at the table during its very first play,” into an experience that players now describe as fun, beautiful, and immersive. “Really well done and loved the art, premise, and idea of friendship,” wrote one player. “Hunker is the game America needs right now,” said another. In a professional review, game designer Edo Baraf said Hunker is “oozing with personality. Lots of interesting and compelling mechanics and a very fun sense of the environment.” Its industry accolades include being named a finalist in the 2018 Cardboard Edison Award, a Showcase Game for BostonFIG Fest, and most recently an Indie Showcase Game for Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle in mid-March.

During playtests with friends, family, and complete strangers at gaming conventions and design events all across the country, Hunker's theme has come to mean more than its initial design challenge to Franco. "These tender little moments started cropping up during playtests: something kind someone says, or players doing nice things for each other even when there are no points to gain. I’ve been genuinely moved watching people enjoy the game, and the time with each other."

This convinced Franco to double down on the friendship theme, which helped Hunker find a niche in the crowded tabletop games industry. He says he has even seen its friendly world welcome new players into the hobby, people who might otherwise be uninterested in battling mutants or managing a farm in the 1800s. “Sometimes I want to wage an epic battle against some invading horde of monsters for the very fate of the world. And sometimes I just want to be a little gray squirrel, bounding through the forest with my woodland friends, keeping an eye out for food and shelter - and each other - as the snow falls all around us.”

He has high hopes other gamers feel the same way.

Hunker: Fierce Friendship, Frosty Fortitude is live on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter through March 24, with pledges starting at $49.

Aaron Franco is a graphic designer and game designer living in the Pacific Northwest. He began Paper Wilds in 2017 to design and publish board games with positive, family-friendly themes centered on nature. Hunker: Fierce Friendship, Frosty Fortitude is his first design.
Aaron Franco