- Designers: Gabriele Bubola
- Artist: Paolo Voto
- Publisher: Thundergryph Games
- Players: 2-4 players
- Time: 20-30 Minutes
- Times Played: 6
“Offff with your hat!”
I love simple card games that play quickly, but yet make you think. Games that aren’t bogged down with needless, excessive rules. Knowing that, it should be no surprise that one of the people I listen carefully to around here is W. Eric Martin. It’s very rare that he has lead me astray. Last year he had me ready for Lost Cities Rivals (which is still possibly my favorite Gen Con 2018 game) and this year he put Hats on my radar.
Hats is a card game where two to four players vie to have the most valuable collection of hats, using an interesting exchange mechanism.
Hats consists of 42 hat cards, in seven different suits/colors, a tea table board for the exchanging of cards, a scoring napkin (which is actually a nice dry erase board), a dry erase marker and a non-edible cookie. It is important to note that the cookie is not edible — please don’t try to eat it. Just mentioning it here has probably made Chris a bit nervous.
At the start of the game, the deck is shuffled and everyone is dealt nine cards. You then fill the tea table board based on the number of players. With three or four players you fill all six spots, with two players, you only fill the first five. An important note: With two players, you are going to remove two suits from the game before dealing out the starting hands, otherwise you’ll use all forty two cards.
A turn in Hats is super simple, you exchange a hat card from your hand for a card on the tea table board, taking the newly acquired hat and placing it face up in front of you, or you take a card from your hand and play it face down in front of you. This card now represents a black hat. Optionally, before or after you take your action, you may discard a card in your hand and take the top card from the draw pile. It’s super simple so far. Don’t worry, it stays simple, but there are a couple of additional rules.
When exchanging cards from the tea table board, you need to follow a couple rules. One, you may exchange a card of the same color. Meaning if you are exchanging an orange hat card from your hand you may exchange it with any orange hat card on the tea table board. Secondly, you may exchange hat cards of different suits only if the card you are placing on the tea table board from your hand is a higher value than the card you are taking.
Why are you doing this exchanging on the tea table board? The tea table board is going to give you the value of the hat cards. There are six spots on the tea table and they are valued from one to six. So if the purple suit ends the game on the six spot, each purple hat card in front of the players will score six points. If there are multiples of a single suit on the tea table, the lowest value is the only one that counts.
Hats ends after all the players have placed eight hat cards in front of them in their collection. Yes, that means you will have one left in hand, this hat is now your favorite hat. Total up the scores using the values on the tea board for each suit in front of the players. If there is no representative suit on the tea board, those suits are valueless. In the example above, the purple suit is on the three spot so those purple cards would be worth six points (as each is worth three points, regardless of the numbers on the actual cards). Next, take your favorite hat, add up the face value of the hat cards of the same suit in front of you and then subtract the face value of the card you kept in hand — yes, you can end up with a negative here. Score one point per black hat in your collection. Lastly, whomever has the most different types of hats in their collection will gain the final cookie at the tea party and gain five points — and black hats can count towards this. The person with the most points is the maddest of them all, and thus, the winner.
Four player Hats plays a bit differently than two or three player Hats. With four players, you will be playing with a partner and you will gain a different possible action. You can exchange with your partner instead of with that draw pile. Scoring works exactly the same, and the team with the most points is the maddest.
The immediate knee-jerk reaction I had when first hearing about Hats, was that it sounded similar to another Alice in Wonderland-themed card game that I enjoy, Parade. There are some similarities in play with the card exchanging rules, but ultimately they are two different games that just happen to have the same light-hearted theme.
That theme lends itself to some wonderfully whimsical and unique artwork, and Hats knocks it out of the park in the production and art department. The cards are a perfect cardstock, the art is colorful, I just wish that the orange and the red were a bit more differentiated, in darker environments they can look the same. Luckily, along with the unique artwork for each hat suit, there are symbols as well. So while the colors aren’t perfect, they made sure you can still tell the difference. The plastic cookie is a nice touch to pass around the table as you are battling to have the most different suits. If only there were a way to make plastic crumbs fall off it at the same time. The permanent dry erase score “napkin” is another touch that is completely unnecessary to game play, but manages to add to the presentation as a whole. Thundergryph has shown they know how to produce fantastic looking games with Pot de Vin and Spirits of the Forest, and now they have the gameplay to back it up.
The always-changing value of the hat cards is a fun challenge to juggle. You want to know that what you are collecting will be valuable at the end of the game, but you also need to be able to adjust what is on that Tea Board and try to control your own destiny. It’s a difficult thing to balance. The lower the hat card on the tea board, the more likely, or rather, more easily it can be traded out and changed. So while grabbing that six out on the Tea Board and bringing it to your collection and replacing it with a one, or two, seems like a great idea, that’s not always the case, as someone can just replace it with almost any card. For a game with only eight turns per player, you really feel like there is a tricky, meaningful, decision to make each and every time. That’s difficult to pack into any game, let alone a game that consists of only forty-two cards, and that plays in twenty minutes or so.
I have enjoyed playing Hats at all player counts, even playing incorrectly and not playing as teams in a four-player game has worked out just fine. The partnership game does add a bit of guessing to the game, and you need to be paying attention to what your partner is playing as you want to try to help them as best you can. Normally for me that means passing a low card in a suit they are collecting in hopes that they can score higher with that favorite hat collection.
Hats would be a perfect candidate to travel with, to put in your Quiver carrying case, and keep it with you at all times, but those extra components are currently keeping me from adding it to mine. That doesn’t mean that I won’t be taking the game with me everywhere, I’ll just be presenting it in that wonderful magnetic box, with the beautiful artwork. Hats is simple to teach, quick to play and allows you to feel like you are playing a game that requires your utmost attention for each and every action you take. I wish that more games made you feel that way.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it. Brandon Kempf, Eric M.
I like it.
Not for me…