One of Cornucopia’s absolute power cards, Hunting Party can best be thought of as a Laboratory with a built-in Chancellor, Farming Village, and Demonic Tutor. It is therefore the closest that Dominion comes thus far to one card being strictly superior to another, as Hunting Party almost always outclasses Laboratory, which is a terrifying thought considering Laboratory was already ranked the #2 non-attack $5 card.
In practice, a Hunting Party chain is essentially a Laboratory chain that only draws you the good cards in your deck. If you invest in enough Hunting Parties, then you will have an easy time skipping all your Coppers, Estates, and Curses on your way to consistently drawing $8 every turn. Hunting Party is most abusive when you are set up with a single Silver, a single Gold, and a +$2 terminal, since as long as you can keep playing Hunting Parties, you are basically guaranteed to consistently end up with $8 (a Copper, a Silver, a Gold, and your +$2) every turn, without any need to trash. That provides a critical tempo difference over Laboratory, which cannot simply rely on a single copy of its important cards even with trashing. More importantly, Hunting Party is slowed down less by deck-greening than Laboratory; once you start drawing Provinces in your hand, your Hunting Party will skip over all the other Provinces.
Hunting Party works better with terminals than Laboratory. In many decks, you often have a critical terminal attack (Goons, Mountebank) that you want to play as often as possible. Hunting Party’s built-in deck-cycling can get that attack out of your discard and back into your hand more quickly, letting you play it more frequently. Better yet, Hunting Party synchronizes your +Actions with those terminals pretty effectively. Suppose your next 4 cards were Goons, Goons, Village, and Village. With a Laboratory, you’d draw two Goons, and be able to play only one of them. With a Hunting Party, you’d draw one Goons, skip the other one, and draw your Villages. After gaining your +Actions, you can play the Goons, then hunt your other Goons down with your remaining Hunting Parties. In this way, it provides flexibility in a way that Laboratory cannot for +Actions/terminals decks.
Finally, Hunting Party works well with those spammable non-terminals that tend to require a very dense deck (Conspirator, Market). With Hunting Party, so long as you make sure to play your non-terminals in hand before your Hunting Party, you can essentially simulate a dense deck because you are constantly able to hunt down and play your non-terminals. It makes building Conspirator decks and Market decks actually viable in situations without heavy trashing.
So when is Hunting Party worse than Laboratory? In a very trimmed deck, your Hunting Party is going to be hunting for the wrong things, since you’ll mostly be skipping over Golds and Platinums in order to hunt down that random Copper you haven’t trashed yet. And if you’re hit by a handsize-discard attack, then you’re often forced to choose between keeping good cards in hand (and risk skipping good cards to draw into bad) or keeping bad cards in hand (and risk drawing other bad cards).
Of course, Hunting Party doesn’t work well when you need a lot of duplicate cards, like when you rely on Bank, Venture, and Coppersmith. But in practice, Hunting Party is good enough that you might as well just avoid those cards and build your deck around Hunting Party instead. Nor does Hunting Party live up to its potential if you can’t get many of them (think multiplayer); it’s still probably better than Laboratory, but it’s much harder to build abusive decks around it.
A special note about deck control: Hunting Party can create dangerous situations where your deck is entirely in the discard, usually after it tries to search for a non-duplicate card and fails. Because your discard likely consists of crap, if you play out all your Hunting Parties and then play another Action to draw a single card, you will trigger a reshuffle and create for yourself a draw deck composed entirely of crap you skipped over. The value of playing that last Market is probably not worth your next two turns being full of Copper/Estate sludge; better to just avoid triggering the reshuffle, so you can reshuffle all your Hunting Parties back into the draw deck.
- Untrimmed decks
- Opponents’ Cursing attacks (somewhat, as it alleviates the pain of the Curses)
- More Hunting Parties: this is a card that relies heavily on you having a lot of them
- Strong attacks (e.g., Mountebank, Goons)
- Spammed non-terminals (e.g., Conspirator, Market)
- Trimmed decks
- Opponents’ handsize-decreasing attacks