Full disclosure: A review copy of Hats was provided by Thundergryph Games.
I suppose that now that I’m out of doujin games to review, it’s just going to be a lot of Gen Con games for a while. That and a big box of games from outside the US that Nice Game Shop sent me. We’ve got one of those this week via Abracada… What?, one of the most challengingly-named games I’ve played in some time (especially because the version I have is the Korean version, which is Abraca… What?, for some reason), but we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about the newest title from Thundergryph Games, Hats! Another Gen Con premier. It’s part of their new Wonderland-themed line, and that’s delightful. Also, the reviewer package they sent it in was super cute — it came with a box of tea and a letter from them that was wax-sealed! I’m not sure if that needed to go in the disclosures or not, so, here I am mentioning it now. Wax seals are really cool, everyone; that’s the whole review.
Anyways, in Hats, you’ve been invited to the Mad Hatter’s garden to play a game of hats. And everyone knows in a game of hats, you win or you die. You’re at least 40% sure that’s how a game of hats works, and it’s a solid 40. To prevent a terrible outcome, you’ll be swapping hats, trading hats, wearing hats, eating a cookie maybe, and, of course, holding on to your absolute favorite hat. Will you be able to take enough hats to win the day? Or will your chances of success end up being capped?
Setup isn’t too bad. Set the board in the middle of the play area:
Set the napkin nearby (it has a scoresheet on the other side):
I usually put the cookie on top, for starters:
For a two-player game, you’ll remove hats of two different colors. Beyond that, shuffle up the Hat Cards:
Deal each player 9 hats, and fill the board with hats (you only use the final space in a 3- or 4-player game). Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to start!
The game of Hats is one of trying to accumulate valuable hats while protecting your favorite, since that will ultimately be worth even more to you. However, as you’d expect from a Wonderland game, everything is constantly shifting and changing, so this is a more difficult task than it sounds.
A game of Hats is played over 8 rounds; after all players have played their eighth card, you’ll calculate scores and the player with the most points wins! Let’s talk about how the rounds go.
On your turn, you must either Exchange Hats or Create a Black Hat.
You may take one of the Hats from your hand and exchange it for any face-up Hat on the board, following one of these two rules:
- The two hats are the same color.
- The hat from your hand has a higher value than the hat on the board.
Once you’ve done that, add the hat you took from the board to your tableau, face-up in front of you. If you now have more colors represented in your tableau than any other player, take the cookie and place it in front of you.
Create a Black Hat
Instead of exchanging a Hat, you may play your Hat face-down in front of you to your Tableau as a Black Hat. Black Hats are always worth 1 point at the end of the game. Black Hats also count as a type with respect to earning the Cookie.
After doing one of those two actions, you may discard a card from your hand face-down and draw a new replacement card from the deck. If the deck runs out of cards, shuffle the discard pile and use that as a new deck.
End of Game
The game ends when players have all played their eighth card. The ninth card remains in your hand as your favorite hat. Your favorite hat earns a special bonus (maybe) at the end of the game. Now to score. First, if any cards on the board are the same color, flip every card but the card in the lowest-valued slot face-down; those won’t count. Then tally up points:
- Hats: Each Hat Card you have is worth the same number of points as the position of the face-up card of that color. So if there’s a Green Hat face-up on the 6, all Green Hats are worth 6 points.
- Black Hats: Each Black Hat is worth 1 point.
- Favorite Hat: Your favorite hat immediately loses you points equal to its value, but then you gain points equal to the value of all other hats of that color in your tableau. It’s best to keep a low-valued hat as your favorite hat, I would assume.
- Cookie: If you have the last cookie, you gain 5 points.
The player with the most points wins!
Playing With Four Players
At four, you play the same as you would at three, but you’re on two teams of two. Sit across from your partner. Instead of discarding and drawing as an action, you may swap a card with your opponent, face-down, as an action. The only thing is, you cannot discuss the type, color, or number of the cards you’re swapping.
Player Count Differences
I’m generally pretty opposed to team-based variants for games, or, at least, I don’t like to learn the game that way. For me, it’s difficult to grasp what the strategy of the game is for your first game, and that’s compounded by having another player to deal with. I kind of wish that were more clearly indicated in the player count, since I usually ignore those kinds of variants. That said, I struggle a bit with this one at two, also, since it kind of feels like the game is moving a bit too quickly to have much strategy. The sweet spot for me is three players, since you can form light alliances with other players who have similar tableaus to try and maximize your overall score. It feels dynamic at about the right level for me, and I’m a fan of that. So, yeah, I’d probably mostly keep this one to three players, personally.
- Make some friends. The game gets a lot easier if you and another player are both going for the same color card. Just make sure your opponent that you’re leaving out in the cold can’t devalue it.
- Save some high cards for the end. You’ll want to hold on to some 6s if you want to have any hope of toppling some of the late-game cards. This is a great way to not make friends and to ruin someone’s entire game by wiping out half of their points. You’re not here to make friends.
- Don’t let your last card be a high card. You’ll lose a lot of points via the Favorite Hat “Bonus”, that way. I usually try my hardest to keep a 1 in hand for those kinds of situations.
- Gain as much knowledge as possible. I usually discard a card every turn and draw a new one. This way I have a better idea of where things are, at least until the end of the game where I want all the cards I have. Naturally, don’t do this on your last turn unless you’re going to get hosed.
- If you’re going last, feel free to swap a high-value card for a low-value one. You don’t have to worry about someone taking the card, since you’re the last player to go, and you can get another card of a high-value color if you play your cards right. That’s good!
- If you control one color, feel free to go deep. I try to build up, but in a way that my opponents don’t get too wise about; I usually put the 4 or 5 lower down, and then build starting from 1 and moving up, and then I slide the 6 in at a much higher value and remove the lower-valued other card. It works generally pretty well, as long as people don’t think too much about it.
- Devaluing someone’s color really works best if they have a lot of it in their tableau. This is generally just good strategy, though I’ll admit it won’t make you many friends.
- If the hat isn’t going to score anyways, it may be worth considering making it a Black Hat. 1 point, while pretty disappointing, is strictly better than 0 points, so, go for it if you can.
- The Cookie is a decent consolation prize, especially if you can effectively lock it down early. Opponents have to have strictly more different colors than you if they want to steal it, so it becomes harder to steal it as play goes on. Eventually, to steal it you need to have one card of every color in play, which won’t be worth it. It’s 32 points, at best.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Fantastic art. It is kind of on-brand for Thundergryph, but it really is a phenomenal-looking game.
- Great components. The cookie and napkin are both really nice, thematically thoughtful additions. I’m a big fan of them, and I wish I’d see more stuff like that in other games.
- Plays quickly. It’s usually a 20-minute game once everyone knows how to play. It takes longer at four, but that’s due to additional players and the weirdness around team dynamics.
- Not too challenging to learn. You basically either swap cards or burn them, according to some swap rules.
- Solid theme. I’m not normally a big Alice in Wonderland person, theme-wise, but the game really sells it.
- Easy to transport. You can kind of not use the board and just pack up the cards and cookie and it works fine. The board is nice but it’s more aesthetic than practical.
- The rules around discussing trades aren’t super clear in the rulebook. It says you can freely discuss everything but the number, type, and color of the card you’re trading; so what can you discuss? What you want from the other player? An example would have helped.
- The orange and red are slightly close together, color-wise. It makes your first few plays hard.
- I would recommend against four players for your first game. I really don’t like starting learning a game with the team variant; in this one, I found it made trade harder than I already think it is and our strategy was super unclear, so I just felt like I was letting another player down. Score-wise, I totally did, so, at least I was right about something.
- The construction of the box is so-so. At least in my copy, the magnets that should keep the box shut aren’t really well-placed on the bottom half, so if I’m not transporting it carefully it’s very liable to just dump its entire contents out into my bag, which isn’t fun.
Overall: 6.75 / 10
Overall, I thought Hats was enjoyable. I think, for me, the major players in me leaning favorably on it were the art and the components; Thundergryph has proven itself to be truly a frontrunner in the industry in terms of the pieces and the art they put into their games. It’s very visually striking, and the purple box is a particularly impressive piece. If you have friends that are into games as art or conversation pieces, I’d highly recommend this and several others. On the gameplay side, it’s a fairly straightforward card game; I wouldn’t go out of my way to say it does anything particularly novel, but I also think it’s shooting for the light card game space and ends up there. It feels pretty thematically accurate, in the sense that you’re playing a wild game of hat swapping and that seems on-brand for Wonderland, so I can appreciate that. The thing is, whether or not you’re successful more often than not relies on the right hat at the right time. But, on the other hand, the game is often quick enough that it doesn’t matter a ton, in that sense. If you’re looking for an Alice in Wonderland-themed game night, I’d highly recommend this one; it really captures the feeling of what you’d expect from such an event. If not, I’d recommend it for people who really appreciate beautiful games or short and quick, high chaos games. If that sounds like the kind of gamer that you are, then you should check out Hats!