|Interaction||Components & Design|
Marie Cardouat is a familiar name in gaming circles as an artist. She’s famous for her downright amazing work on the original Dixit as well as some of its expansions, and her art for other games like Steam Park is no less beautiful. You can see fresh art in the new Funforge game HOP!, but this time there is more Marie in the box. For the first time she’s also one of the game designers, together with fellow Frenchman Ludovic Maublanc.
Marie’s illustrations have always been in a style fitting for beautiful children’s books, and that is still just as true in HOP!. Beyond the illustrations, the game’s story is equally made for kids. After finding a book describing a magical kingdom in the sky, the child heroes of HOP! decide that they have to see the realm of magical creatures living in the clouds for themselves. And once that decision is made, it is a matter of moments before they are floating into the sky, each carried by a handful of balloons.
HOP! is labelled ages six and up, and children of that age will easily grasp the rules. And they will play it just as well, or just as badly, as most adults because HOP! is a dexterity game. As our heroes float into the sky they must toss a ring between them. Tossing and catching that ring is how you score points.
You’re not just randomly tossing the ring around, however. That would be far too easy. There are some exacerbating circumstances. The player on turn is always the one to toss the ring, or the Hurler in HOP! terms. Hurler doesn’t sound entirely appetizing, but at least our British friends will prefer that word to the alternative Tosser.
The first thing the Hurler does is draw a Dare Card. Those cards have fanciful names that could be straight from the Kama Sutra, but aren’t. Names like The Caterpillar or The Little Red Hens. Those cards describe how exactly the Hurler must hurl the ring this turn. You will end up tossing the ring from your elbow instead of your hand, or from a position lying flat across your chair. (And you thought that time you spent practicing planking was wasted… )
For all but a few cards, the Hurler will designate another player as the Skewerer. That player is called the Skewerer and not the Catcher because the only legal way to catch the ring is to Skewer it on your outstretched index finger. Many cards involve more players either as Assisters that help the Hurler and Skewerer succeed or as Turbulators that try to get in their way in a variety of ways. Making faces at the Hurler, yelling at inconvenient times or wrapping their arms around the Hurler without actually touching him are all possible jobs for Turbulators.
All the players not involved in the toss at least get to bet on it. With a white or black cloud token they indicate if they believe the toss will succeed or not. That way, everyone is involved in every toss and everyone has a chance to gain points.
In case of success, the Hurler advances one step on the game board, which is easily the largest, fanciest and three-dee-est way to count to seven ever included in a boardgame. Skewerer and Assister each take a Cloud token with a secret value from zero to two points. Turbulators don’t gain or win anything when the toss is a success.
If the toss goes awry and the ring falls the long, long, long way to the ground, then the Hurler loses one of his five Balloon tokens. I probably don’t have to draw you a picture how losing all of them is bad. Skewerer and Assister don’t lose or gain anything. Turbulators now earn a Cloud token.
Success or not, the uninvolved players gain a Bird token, a white one if they bet right, a black one if they didn’t. When a player has collected three white birds, he advances one step on the game board. For three black ones he loses a Balloon. In both cases, he discards all bird tokens afterwards, including the one of the other color. That’s fortunate when you lose two black birds before they can hurt you, less so when it’s your white birds flying away.
Play goes around the the table until either one player reaches the top of the game board or one player loses their last Balloon. In both cases, the game ends immediately with the final scoring. Players score for their position on the board, plus the value of all their Clouds. If a player lost all their Balloons, they don’t score points for their position on the board, but they do score their cloud tokens.
With how the final score is put together, it’s easily possible to win the game without ever making a successful toss. If you are a successful Skewerer, Assister and Turbulator, the cloud tokens are worth enough points. That’s where the only bit of strategy comes into HOP!, don’t choose the player with the most clouds to be your Skewerer, spread those clouds around. Other than that it’s a pure game of dexterity, with a bit of gambling mixed in.
HOP! is found somewhere on the same family tree as Dungeon Fighter: You must complete dexterity tasks in a variety of ways dictated by card draws. But it’s much more family friendly than Dungeon Fighter is, especially more suited for younger children. The theme of the game does not involve killing monsters, players don’t make any strategic decisions that could have long term consequences, and since you only draw one Dare Card you cannot end up with impossible combinations like you sometimes do in Dungeon Fighter.
The dares vary in difficulty, but all are absolutely doable for children inside the age bracket. And by adults without any yoga experience, for that matter. This, together with the beautiful art and components, together with the children’s book story, make HOP! a great family game.
Of course, you can enjoy it with your crowd of grown-up gamers as well. Depending on the people, they may have a blast. But to play more than once or twice they may quickly miss some meat. Not really making decisions is easily forgiven by children in light of all the things HOP! offers, but older gamers may quickly feel like something is missing.
HOP! is a prime example why games have a target audience. It’s not something you will unpack often with the people you play, say, Terra Mystica with. But to play with kids, and that includes kids much above the six year minimum age, it’s an amazing game.