#509 – Hierarchy [Preview]

Base price: $10.
2 players.
Play time: ~20 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Check it out on Kickstarter!
Logged plays: 4

Full disclosure: A preview copy of Hierarchy was provided by Button Shy. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game. 

It’s one of my favorite times of the month; another Button Shy game to check out! Seriously, though, I think Button Shy is really crushing it as a publisher; a bunch of their recent releases have been really impressive, from either a thematic, mechanical, or just a “I didn’t realize you could do that with 18 cards” standpoint. They’re doing a card game challenge now where all 18 cards need to be identical, and I can’t wait to see what comes from that. Anyways, let’s talk about Hierarchy, Button Shy’s latest title, hitting Kickstarter this week.

In Hierarchy, the Kingdom of Darkhill is ripe for the taking. I mean, the royalty aren’t too keen on you doing that, but, you know, supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not some farcical aquatic ceremony. At least, you’re 40% sure it was some farcical aquatic ceremony. Not relevant! Anyways, you may be scheming, but you’re not sneaky in the slightest. Your opponent knows exactly who works for you and what they can do. You can still trap them, though, if you play your cards right. The only question is, can you?

Contents

Setup

Oh this one’s a snap. First, set out the discard card:

Separator Card

Then, shuffle the cards and deal each player 7. One player should be the gold side; the other player should be the purple side.

Cards

You’re ready to start! The player holding the Imposter goes first.

Setup

Gameplay

Gameplay 1

So, the core game is this. You lose as soon as you cannot play. That’s pretty much it.

Gameplay 2 Huge

On your turn, you may play one card. If there are no cards currently on the stack, your card becomes the first card in the stack. If there are currently cards on the stack, your card must be higher than the current card on top of the stack.

Gameplay 3

Note that plenty of cards have effects, and a card only has an effect for as long as it’s the top card of the stack. Some cards may allow you to play a lower-numbered card, but be careful.

Gameplay 4

The game ends when a player cannot play a card; the other player wins!

Player Count Differences

None; it’s a two-player game.

Strategy

  • Control the line.
  • Make sure you know what your opponent can play.
  • In fact, try to predict what your opponent will play.
  • The game can flip on a dime.
  • Watch out for holding on to the Usurper and Tower.
  • If your opponent is not paying attention, you can trap them with the Baroness.
  • Remember certain cards can defeat others without needing to be higher.
  • The Impostor and Assassin are strong cards, if you can use them well.
  • The Sorceress is just a fun dunk, especially against the Usurper.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • Neat art style. Can’t really describe what it is, but it’s very specific and stylized. The cards look good.
  • Very different than Button Shy’s usual. This is like, the second Button Shy game I’ve played without a major spatial component in, like, a few years? I guess this one has the spatial component of “the cards go in a stack” but we both know that doesn’t count.
  • Interesting abstract. The cards feel like they’re designed to counter each other at very high levels and I really like that. It end-to-end feels like a smart design, and that allows for a variety of strategies even with the same hand, I feel. Whether or not they work out is a bit more up to the interplay between you and your opponent, which makes this one interesting to me.
  • Plays quickly. 20 minutes seems like a generous number; I bet you can get through games in 10 once everyone knows how to play.
  • Very small footprint. Hardly more than one card wide and five or six cards tall; that can be played on an airport tray table, which, as I get on an airplane, seems like a good investment.
  • Obviously very easy to transport. All Button Shy Games are and I fundamentally very much appreciate that.
  • Also very easy to learn. Play a card that’s higher than the current card, unless you’re allowed to play something else. Can’t play? You lose. There you go; you know how to play.

Mehs

  • Y’all know how I get about medieval themes. I just have so many games with them.
  • All the interactions make sense, but it would be nice to have a more explicit callout on how Impostor and Sorcerer interplay. I’m pretty sure the Impostor can’t be played in that case, since it only allows cards with a value higher than 8, but it would help if that were explicit.

Cons

  • This is going to be one of those games that some players are just going to hate. I think that’s pretty par for the course with games that are as abstract as this is, though; you can really plug along for a bit, think you’re doing great, and then suddenly one misstep and you’re done. The reason I think this is less of an issue than in, say, longer abstracts, is precisely that. This game’s like, 15 cards; shuffle the cards back up, redeal, and try again. No particular combination of the cards seems broken; it’s really up to the players to choose the correct ordering of their plays.
  • The decision space seems small enough that this game could potentially be solved? This is my CS brain getting excited, but honestly, I’m never going to invest enough resources into actually determining it. It’s just the vibe I get. Plus, the hands are pretty randomized anyways. There are over 3400 different options, if my math checks out, so we’ll see. It makes me worry a bit about how the game might hold up in the long term, but it’s definitely fun in the now.

Overall: 7.5 / 10

In Progress

Overall, I think Hierarchy is a successful experiment! I like that Button Shy continues to push the envelope of what they publish, and I think that this one is definitely different, but in a way I appreciate. It’s nice to have a game that’s thinky because it’s hard to play against an opponent, not because the rules overhead is so high, and this game has practically zero rules overhead. I love that. Plus, it has all the advantages of a Button Shy title; it’s easy to transport, doesn’t take up much space, and is generally pretty quick. I’m vaguely curious what other things they can do in the space, now, but I think keeping an eye on the challenges they start will be a very good way to find out more about that. In the meantime, though, I’m enjoying this little abstract, even if I’m not over the moon about the theme (I just want novel themes). Not every theme is for me personally, after all. Either way, if you’re interested in trying out something novel in the wallet game space or you’re just as big of a fan of Button Shy as I am, I’d recommend taking Hierarchy for a spin! I’ve enjoyed it.

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