Black Hat (Review by RJ Garrison)
Designer: Timo Multamäki & Thomas Klausner
Publisher: Dragon Dawn Productions
Playing Time: 45 minutes
You sit down at a table in the back of the coffeeshop. Not so far back that you stick out like you’re trying to not be noticed. You get your system loaded and check the spearphishing worms you’ve got up and running. You’ve been spoofing most of this town for the last week, social engineering and sniffing to find out how close you can get into Z-Corp’s servers. People here are a bit trusting, and that works for you. Or they have no idea how to create a safe password, but that just makes them easy targets. You’ve set your botnets marching and can just sit back and see what happens. They laughed at you when you claimed you’d be the next Black Hat and break Z-Corp’s algorithm, making yourself millions in crypto. You’ll show them. You open a couple of different bots to see what they’re up to and what, if any, new information they’ve obtained. “Game’s Up, Decklen! FBI!” you hear. The last thing you see is literally everyone else in the cafe standing and pointing a gun at you as the black hood goes over your head.
Welcome to the board game, Black Hat, where you and your opponents are hackers, trying to break into systems and be the best Black Hat, a hacker that hacks for personal gain.
The game is a fairly straightforward trick-taking game (on steroids) with a bit of a puzzle element added in with the game board and various ways to accrue points (or not accrue points in this case, as points are bad).
Here’s how to play:
First, the Black Hat is chosen by drawing the top card from the deck and counting that many players around the table. That player gets the Black Hat card. (more on that later…)
Each hacker is then dealt 10 cards that can range from 1-13 and include Jokers and The Black Hat card.
The player to the right of the player that received the Black Hat card goes first.
This player can lead any number of cards that are of the same number. (a 7, or two 12’s, or 3 of a kind, etc. Other players may then either play one card or the same number of cards that the leading player leads. Whoever plays the highest set of the number of led cards, wins the trick. For example, if two 5’s are led, the next player can play two 6’s, followed by an 10 from the next player and finally two 8s from the final player, The player that played the highest pair (the pair of 8s) wins the trick, and when a player wins a trick, they can move either one of their pawns or another hacker’s pawn on the game board.
The game board acts as the systems that the hackers are hacking into. Players are attempting to get their pawns in ideal spots to get the fewest points per round. Each spot is worth positive or negative points (hint, hint, negative points are good!) Or, players try to get to the very end space (the Critical Asset) which ends the game.
When a player plays their last card, the round ends. Anyone with cards left over in their hand counts the points on their cards and scores depending on where their pawns on the board are. A new Black Hat player is chosen and the next round starts.
There are Jokers and the Black Hat card. These cards, when played with any numbered card, become that numbered card. (Ie, a Joker played with a 7 becomes a pair of 7s.) The Black Hat is played as a Joker. Any of these cards played by themselves or with another Joker is worth 14 points.
The Black Hat card is played as a Joker, however, when the Black Hat card is played, the player that has played the trick with the lowest set of led cards wins the trick! Once the Black Hat is played, the winner of that trick takes the Black Hat and can also either take all the cards from that trick, or any non-joker cards up to the number of cards that was initially led.
The game ends when either a player reaches the Critical Asset or all players’ pawns are blocked and unable to move.
The player with the lowest score in the end wins the game.
There’s a number of variants and optional rules to help mix up the game a bit and add more variability, but I’ll let you read about those on your own.
COMPONENTS: I gotta say. This is the third Dragon Dawn Productions game that I’ve done a review for and the first that I really quite like the components. The top hat meeples are awesome. The board is solid and DPP offers several additional double-sided game board tiles that you can add in any number of ways to the game board to change the layout of the board and change the puzzle element of the game ever-so-slightly. The board acts as the servers or different components the players are hacking into.
MECHANICS: Combining trick taking with an area movement board gives players interesting choices to make while playing the game. Not only do you need to know when to take or throw a trick or card, but players need to watch for opportune times to take a trick so they can move their (or others) pawns on the board, setting up optimal moves to benefit themselves or hurt their competition. The rulebook is nicely laid out, easy to read and easy to follow with several well explained examples of how the tricks work and how they work with the special “Black Hat” card.
TIME, AGES & PLAYER COUNT: The time of 45 minutes works well with this game and it doesn’t overstay its welcome. The ages of 10+ seem just about right, but I only played this with adults. The sweet spot in the game is probably 4-6 players, although you can play with less and there is a 2 player variant that makes things interesting if you are lacking other players (thanks, COVID…thanks a lot.)
ARTWORK: Juha Salmijarvi and John Lewis, the artists for Black Hat did a really nice job with the artwork. The artwork matches the hacking theme, but isn’t overdone nor is it too busy. The cards are the most interesting as there are a number of different images on the cards that are techo-hackery (yeah, I made that up, feel free to use it) and work really well with the game.
FINAL THOUGHTS: I’ve always enjoyed trick-taking games like Euchre, Hearts or Spades. Check out Chris Wray’s article on10 top trick-taking games if trick-taking is your thing: 10 Great Trick-taking Games
Most of these I have yet to play. But I’ve always really liked the mechanic and the “old school” games that are trick-taking based. And I like this one as well. This one really starts to shine with 4 or more players.
I was originally worried that the player controlling the Black Hat card would essentially control the game, and that player can with less players, but the game is designed to have players make some very strategic choices on when and how to play the Black Hat and when to get rid of it. (The card is worth 5 points if you’re stuck with it at the end of a round it can hurt, for as we know, points are bad!)
There are a number of variants of the game as mentioned above, including a two player variant, and it is…ok. But the more players hacking on this one, the better the game.
This is one I look forward to getting to the table more often in the future with more people playing!
I Love it! RJ Garrison,
I Like It.
Not for me.