Hey, is that my fish? Or is it actually Haggis? It's hard to say, prompting the question, "Why do I own this?"
How did I get this? After several games of it with some friends, I believe I got this as a Christmas present, in hopes that it could serve as a Tichu alternative with my wife. She might have even been the one to get it for me.
Why do I still have it? I had a couple of friends who were always up for Haggis four or five years ago, and there was a decent chance it would get played at any given game night. Since then though, it's seen less action, possibly because I've moved around a lot. I keep it around though, mostly because I enjoy the game and it's small enough that it'll never be too big a burden.
How is it? My wife and I are both big fans of Tichu, the partnership climbing game that has been something of a background fixture in the hobby since the 1990s. The problem is that Tichu requires four players, which is not always easy to track down. Haggis plays two or three exclusively, and it is clearly designed to be a Tichu-ish experience for more convenient player counts. In that regard it works very well. There is obviously an attempt to smooth out some of the imbalance of card games in general. There are way more options for how to arrange your cards, each one potentially a part of several combos. There are also standard bombs that everyone is dealt, but that can also be used a few different ways. If you've never played Tichu and none of that makes sense to you, then suffice to say that Haggis gives far more flexibility to the player. If anything, it provides perhaps too many choices. It's clearly made for people who are more interested in a balanced design over an intuitive one. Not that the game is that hard for people who've played Tichu, but climbing games are already not intuitive for Western audiences. Tichu gets around this by having a basically familiar deck with some special cards, but Haggis is far more circular in its logic. Every move you make has a potential countermove, but that countermove can then be responded to in another way. I still prefer Tichu for its more elemental nature and for its emphasis on partnerships, but Haggis is a compelling game in its own right, and I think any collection would be well-served with both games.
How did I get this? This was purchased in another impulse buy of small games. Once again, this game was purchased with an eye toward playing with my wife. This time it was thankfully more successful.
Why do I still have it? I'm not the biggest fan of cooperative games, but I do think the approach that Hanabi takes is a good one. (I'll talk about why in a minute.) I find myself in situations where a lot of people I know like cooperative games, so it's a nice candidate to get thrown in the backpack and carted around.
How is it? Hanabi is one of those games that, while it has simple rules, is quite demanding on the players. It requires almost absolute silence to play well, and there is an astounding amount of focus and memory in the game. I'm a very social, rather flighty player, so the fact that I like Hanabi at all is a minor miracle. Unfortunately, if there is a weak link at any table it's usually me. I just don't pay attention to details very well, and if I can't talk during a game I usually won't bother playing in the first place. But there's something fascinating about Hanabi and its design, something that brings me back even though I know I'll never be great at it. I've still not seen anything quite like it. This is a deeply collaborational game, more than a cooperative one. The key difference is that the other players are vital to the experience, as opposed to other co-operative games that can typically be played solo. Everyone only has partial knowledge, and there's something poignant to me about how you can only learn about yourself through what other people tell you. It's still too demanding for me to ever be much good at it, but from an objective design standpoint its a fascinating game.
Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle
How did I get this? This was a birthday gift from my in-laws this last year. Then even bought it for me at a Filipino game store, meaning it had a bit of a mark-up from its American MSRP. (As I've mentioned before, I have great in-laws.)
Why did I still have it? Hogwarts Battle is a pretty bulky product, but it has almost totally been a game to play with my oldest son, who has seen all the movies and listened to all of the audiobooks. We've made it all the way to Year Six, though we've been stalled out for a while. I'm quite a Harry Potter fan myself, so I also get a charge out of seeing recognized characters on game components.
How is it? The most unique thing about Hogwarts Battle is also the thing that drives me crazy about it. I like the way you unlock more of the game, and increase its scope with each successive year, but that also means that if you aren't a particularly good game player (I'm not) you will forever have some of the content gated off to you, assuming you want to actually play the rules as written. Fortunately, there are other parts of the game I like too. It's deck-building in its most basic form, which I find a little refreshing after years of designers tinkering with the mechanic. It makes a concerted effort to select the easiest way of dealing with something. As a result it's not particularly fresh, but at least it plays smoothly. It also kind of wastes the Harry Potter license, particularly in its lame goal of preventing the bad guys from spreading influence on locations, but on a card-to-card basis I feel like it does a good job at approximating the characters in the design. It's the kind of thematic fidelity that will probably not satisfy most hobbyist gamers, but will be plenty for most Harry Potter fans who won't buy many other games. I think that's actually a pretty good aim for a game like this. Too many licenses are attached to games that the general public just won't be into very much, but this one is a very stripped-down experience that would appeal to a very wide audience. The downside is that I feel like it's holding me at arms length, but at least it's easy to teach and I can play it with my son. That's worth quite a bit.
Hemloch: Dark Promenade
How did I get this? Like Cartouche: Dynasties, Hemloch: Dark Promenade was from a pile of small games designed by John Clowdus and placed on Drive-Thru Cards, at least until his deal with Kolossal Games came around. I bought all four of the available games.
Why do I still have it? Aside from being a pretty good game in its own right, I place a premium on games like Hemloch: Dark Promenade. In a hobby that is increasingly driven by crowd-funding and oversized productions, there's something charmingly small potatoes about how John Clowdus runs Small Box Games. Even though he uses Kickstarter, he gives off the vibe of someone designing games simply because he likes doing in. In a world driven by demand and markets, Clowdus is the rare auteur in this hobby. Dark Promenade is not his best game, but it's worth holding on to just to feel like there's a part of this hobby that asks me to march to its beat, rather than bending to the whims of the market. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but there's room for both.
How is it? I've never played the original Hemloch, but Dark Promenade has a couple of fun things going for it. Over a series of hands the you play characters to exert influence on different areas of the board. These characters all give you advantages in certain kinds of places, but also have instantaneous effects and bonuses, etc. It is a very tactical game with cool visuals, and it rewards repeated plays as you understand how to utilize characters the best. The downside is that the game can feel a bit unbalanced, and not in a fun way. The luck of the draw plays a pretty big part in your success. If you draw characters who only like terrain that isn't on the board, you're going to have a hard time. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's insurmountable, but one definitely gets the feeling that it's a disadvantage, and there's a decent chance it can happen in any given game. I'm not sure there's a way past this given how the game is structured. That's just how cards are, and it's best to go with it and not worry about it too much. The moment-to-moment decision making is still compelling, and as is frequently the case with Clowdus's games, the illustrations give a great sense of setting. I have no idea if this game will ever return into print (Small Box Games tend to become rarities quickly), but it's interesting enough that I'm glad I had the chance to put it in my collection.
Hey, That's My Fish!
How did I get this? I think I got this in anticipation of some trip, since it's small enough to be played on an airliner tray. It's also a dirt-cheap game in its current form, just $12 full retail.
Why do I still have it? The goofy illustrations and simple rules make this a fun game to play with my kids, both of whom like to recreate the silly poses from the FFG version that we have. This is also a game that I sometimes forget I own, since it's so small that it can sink to the bottom of a drawer easily.
How is it? There was a time around the early 2000s when it felt like designers were really concerned about a game having too many mechanics. We've swung the other way since then, but Hey, That's My Fish shows that minimalist approach in action. This almost feels like a multi-player version of the peg-jumping game you find at Cracker Barrel. It's mostly harmless and over in about 20 minutes, but below that I sense a sort of reverence for perfect information and the "battle of wits" aspect of abstract board games. I'm not sure if that's really there, of if I've just read a couple of people on BGG who are convinced this is some kind of brilliant no-luck masterpiece. For my own part it's basically a distraction, the sort of game you play when a very specific set of environmental factors are met. Do you have people who don't play games much? Do you only have 20 minutes? Is space limited? Without those factors, I'm not sure I'd ever give this the time of day. But sometimes that's exactly the game you need, so Hey That's My Fish does have some value in that sense.
Next week: Genuine classics by Sid Sackson and Klaus Teuber, but not the ones most people think of.