Full disclosure: A review copy of High! High? High!! was provided by Big Cat Games.
Back on the doujin wagon! Big Cat Games provided a lot of games to review, so let’s hit up the next one, High! High? High!!, a basically unsearchably-named card game of futility and foundational overinvestment.
High! High? High!! has some similarities to No Thanks, another classic card game, but this one’s going to hurt you a bit more (but far less than Tokkome). Plan your picks, bet against your opponents, and don’t get caught matching anyone else’s cards! How high can you go?
Not much to set up. There are the cards, which you should shuffle:
There are also the scoring tokens:
If you’re playing at 3 players, remove one of each numbered card and one scoring token.
Make a row of cards, face-down:
- 3 players: 8 cards
- 4 / 5 players: 10 cards
This will be your round tracker. Next, make a line of face-up cards:
- 3 players: 1 card
- 4 players: 6 cards
- 5 players: 1 card
I guess it’s only a line at 4 players. Oh well. Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to start!
High! High? High!! is a pretty quick game of pressing your luck. On your turn, you’ll either draw or withdraw until all players have withdrawn, have five cards, or have played 10 turns. Once that happens, scoring occurs, and the player with the most points wins!
If you choose to draw, take the top card of the deck. Blue cards have values 1 – 4, Yellow cards have values 5 – 8, and Red cards have values 9 – 12. If the card you have is higher than every card in your stack, you may place it on top of your stack. You cannot move cards in your stack around; that’s just how they are. If you can’t take it, place it on the bottom of the deck.
You may instead withdraw by taking one of the square gem tokens. They’re worth 6, 3, and 1 point at the end of the round. If you withdraw, you “pass” on every subsequent turn. Note that you cannot withdraw if you have taken 0 cards.
Once all players have taken a turn, flip the leftmost face-down card of the face-down row and have players take another turn. These cards try to help you by giving you more information on what’s still available.
After 10 rounds, you’re done. You can end this earlier if every player withdraws (remembering that if you have 5 cards, you must withdraw). Now, we move to scoring.
Scoring is where this game gets cruel. Maybe not as much as Tokkome, but still pretty harsh. Start with your Blue cards. Every player reveals theirs. If any players match, they have knocked each other out, and they cannot score any cards higher than the cards below their match. This means if Player A has 1 and 2, and Player B has 2 and 3, Player A gets 1 point for the round; Player B gets 0. Rough. That said, Player A and Player B keep their cards around, because they may be able to knock other players out in the Yellow and Red cards. Check those next, following the same rules as previously. Once you’ve done that, add bonus points for the players that took glass tiles:
- Dark Blue: +6 points
- Sky Blue: +3 points
- Pale Blue: +1 point
The player with the most points wins! You can, if you want, play best of three rounds, but it’s up to you.
Player Count Differences
The player count matters a bit, but that’s part of what makes it exciting. At five players, you should expect the scores to be lower; there are a lot more players pulling cards, so your chances of collisions are pretty aggressively high. I suppose the lowest chance of that is at four players, since so many cards end up out of play (16, as opposed to 9 at 3 or 11 at 5). There’s something to the idea of withdrawing earlier at higher player counts, since you have a guaranteed 6 points (and nobody else can say that), but it also can be useful to try and grind it out and see if you can get enough low values to knock other players out, if that’s how you want to live your life. No strong preference on player count for this one, though probably not 3, just out of a profound desire to avoid variants, when I can.
- Don’t take every card. There’s something to that. Naturally, you generally want to try and get complete sets, but in all likelihood, another player is going to inadvertently pull the rug out from underneath you both. Plus, it’ll take quite a while to grab every card of a color, and by then another player will have already withdrawn. Hope your indecision was worth at least 6 points, or else you’ve just hosed yourself.
- Watch what colors your opponents are taking. If they’ve taken two yellows, then you know with reasonable certainty that the first one isn’t an 8. The second one might be, though, so be careful. This should inform whether or not you choose to keep a card when you see it. Also, if you see your opponents have been strategically ignoring an entire color, then you should aim to pick up as much of that color as you can.
- Remember what you’ve seen. If you know what you’ve seen, then you can leverage your secret information to your advantage. That’s going to be critical, but it’s only one half.
- Keep track of what’s not available. Don’t forget that there are cards out of play and cards in the central row. If you see a number twice among those and you have the third one, you’re probably safe. For that number, at least. Just make sure the ones below it are safe, too.
- If you’re hosed, might as well take more numbers. Best-case you can hose the other players too and keep them out of the running. You especially want to do this with high numbers since they can swing the match more in your favor (or against you).
- Sometimes it’s worth it to just withdraw. Remember, withdrawing is +6 points. That’s sometimes more than you can get in an entire round, if you’re unlucky. I’ve seen a few rounds where someone has gotten only that token and still pulled out a win. It’s not a particularly glamorous way to win, all things being equal, but a win’s a win.
- I would personally avoid taking 12s. For me, it’s a great card to take before withdrawing, and it’s only one red card, so there’s lower chances that someone will take it. However, I think everyone might feel that way, so there’s a chance that two other people may get lucky and think the same thing as you! That would be profoundly unlucky.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I really like the color scheme! It’s very bright, high-contrast, and looks good on the table. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend playing it on a bright white table, but I use black for most of my gaming so it’s totally fine for me. It honestly reminds me a bit of like, highlighters. Going with green for the box to contrast against the cards was also a very strong visual move.
- Very portable. It, like many of the other doujin games I’ve gotten (Capturing Cage, Tokkome) is very tiny. Almost small enough that I occasionally worry about losing it, but very tiny nonetheless.
- Quick to learn. It’s got a pretty low overhead; I’ve compared it favorably to, like, No Thanks!, and I think they’re pretty similar weights. The only tough thing for this one is the scoring, and you will pick that up pretty quickly (in a “trial by fire” sense). Tokkome is a bit easier to learn, in my opinion.
- The gems are very nice. They’ve got a solid weight to them and they’re a nice color; best of both worlds, in my opinion. I do slightly wish they came in different colors (for even more easily differentiating them), but the progression of blue is very nice.
- Another three-round game where the state between rounds doesn’t matter that much. I always find that a bit disappointing, as I’ve mentioned several times, but I think my fix of “just play it as many times as you want” remains the optimal solution for these.
- This was very tough to find on BGStats. Something about the way the punctuation interacts with the search feature. It’s probably using a regex search or something, which would be annoying, given the ?.
- Getting completely hosed out of a round is a bummer. It’s hard not to get a little irritated about it, especially if someone happened to burn you at the base of your stack (so you end up with nothing). It’s tough. This and Tokkome really seem to focus on the player’s futility in trying to direct their own agency, which I respect, though.
- It’s not always going to feel incredibly strategic. The problem that you might run into is that it doesn’t necessarily matter what you took; it matters what your opponent took, as well. And that means if you have a player who’s just taking everything, they’re going to go down, for sure, but they’re also going to take you down with them. That kind of lack of agency wouldn’t fly in a game that’s of any real length, but thankfully this game is pretty short, so it’s not that big of a deal. Any longer and this would be a major con, though it still doesn’t feel great during the game.
Overall: 7 / 10
Overall, I think High! High? High!! is pretty fun. It helps that I don’t 100% play it by the rules, eschewing the multiround structure for a quick-and-simple single-round game (or five+ rounds of a single-round game, which is also pretty fun). When I play it, I’m mostly there for laughs or the persistent feeling of futility you get when another person successfully ruins your entire scoring structure, but that’s just life, isn’t it? It is for this game, at least. People who may enjoy this game are the people who like the sorta introductory card games that got a lot of us into board gaming — Coloretto, No Thanks!, Saboteur, Hanabi, etc; all those small box games that end up in a lot of people’s all-time favorites. That said, between this and Tokkome, I’m probably going to end up going after those cruel, cruel horses every time. Either way, if you’re looking for a fun, quick card game with some bright art and cool pieces, High! High? High!! is a solid choice! I quite enjoyed it.