#782 – Hammer Time

Base price: $25.
2 – 4 players.
Play time: 15 – 30 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 3 

Full disclosure: A review copy of Hammer Time was provided by HABA.

I’m actually having a pretty good review week, as of writing! I’m plugging away, getting stuff done, and still having enough time to try out a bunch of games I’ve been really looking forward to. So there’s that. I’ve actually sat on this review for a bit so I could get a sense of the game, and I’m excited to be able to share a larger, more well-thought-out take on this game about hammers with y’all, at this juncture. Let’s dive in.

Sshhh! Dragomir is finally asleep, and this is the perfect time to mine Sparkle Mountain, his protectorate. You just crave those gemstones, and you’re pretty sure if you can fill up your cart maybe four times or so, you’ll have enough to last the rest of your little life. And that’s pretty good! The problem is, Dragomir is touchy about theft, for some reason? Apparently he believes all the gemstones are his. So rather than debate that out, you’ll just have to work quickly if you want to take what’s yours. These gemstones are yours. We’ve established this. Try to keep up. Will you be able to make your fortune on Sparkle Mountain? Or will you find out that with regards to these specific gems, you can’t touch this?

Contents

Setup

Very few, which is helpful. First, you’ll need to stick a neoprene mat to the bottom of the box:

Then, spread the crystals on top:

Set the hammer nearby:

Give each player a set of Wagon Cards in the color of their choice:

And shuffle up the Task Cards:

You should be ready to go!

Gameplay

In Hammer Time, your goal is to quickly and stealthily fill your carts before Dragomir wakes up! This imposes limits to how much mining you can do, safely. The game takes place over a series of turns, each consisting of five phases.

Hammer Time!

First, just take the hammer and whack the box. Try not to dent it, but I’m a review, not a cop. You need to hit the box so that at least one gemstone falls off. If none fall off, whack it again until at least one does.

Note that you can move the box to get a better angle, but if moving it causes any gemstones to fall, place them back on the box and immediately end your turn. Yeah, you lose your turn for that. Don’t do that.

Count the Gemstones

Once you’ve knocked at least one gemstone off, count them! If you need help counting, there are gemstones along the side of the box, and you can line up your gemstones there, which is a nice touch. If you knocked off 9 or more gemstones (you’ll run off the edge of the box), put them all back on top of the box and immediately end your turn. Your greed awakened Dragomir! If you knocked off 8 or fewer gemstones, your turn continues.

Check the Task Card

There are various tasks that you can complete on your turn. So check! Can you complete the face-up task card this turn? If yes, you can take the Task Card and flip it over to serve as a wild gem later. If not, do nothing. Better luck next time.

Either way, proceed to the next phase.

Fill the Cart

Now, add the gems you’ve taken to open spots in your cart. They should match up with the colors on the cart, or if you have a clear gem, that’s a wild gem that can be placed anywhere. Black gemstones aren’t able to be placed in your cart, sorry.

Either way, place unused gems back onto the box and move onto the final phase.

Check the Cart

If your wagon is completely covered, you can place the gemstones in it back on top of the box and flip the card over, revealing the next cart to fill. Note that this means that you cannot fill more than one cart per turn (since you returned the unused gems in the last phase). You can also use completed Task Cards as clear gems, but only if you completely fill your cart as a result of using them.

If not, your turn ends, and the next player takes the hammer!

End of Game

As soon as any player fills their fourth cart, the end of the game begins! Play until all players have taken an equal number of turns. Any players that have completely filled their fourth cart win the game!

Master Variant

Looking to shake things up? Try the Master Variant! Now, each turn, you roll a die and have to do specific challenges based on what die face is up!

  • Red: You have to lay your head sideways on the table while using the hammer. Like you’re asleep!
  • Orange: You can’t touch the hammer with your thumb while you use it.
  • Yellow: Instead of using the head of the hammer this turn, you can only use the handle.
  • Green: You must keep your eyes closed while using the hammer.
  • Blue: You must use the hammer with your non-dominant hand. If you’re ambidextrous, congratulations.
  • Purple: You get to punch the box, in a move that can easily be described as “incredible”.

Player Count Differences

Not a ton, given that each turn is kind of an isolated event. There’s player interaction in the sense that you’re returning gems to the central play area, but beyond that there’s not much. The major interactive element is that players are racing to complete their carts before each other. But even then, it’s not explicitly interactive. You’re interacting with a shared space on your turn and then taking your spoils back to your personal zone to place them in your cart. You really can’t mess with other players unless you try to put the gems back on in a way that will potentially make it hard for your opponent to get what they want. I don’t think that’s really in the spirit of the game, the whole way, but it is a little funny. It’s also very hard to do! Maybe you can do it! But as a result, the only thing you really notice as the game increases in player count is that there are more turns where it’s not your turn. That’s not too bad, honestly, but it does make for a fun two-player experience.

Strategy

  • I mean, this is largely a dexterity game about knocking off certain crystals. Don’t hit the box too hard. This is pretty much the biggest struggle I have during the game. I have a hammer, and my entire body just wants to slam the box with it. And I can’t! It’s not good! That knocks off too many crystals! But the temptation is powerful. Anyways, this moment is to say that you really need to knock off fewer than nine crystals if you want to be able to place anything. Focus on that and you’ll at least be off to a good start? You can figure out the rest on subsequent swings, or something.
  • Also try to hit the box near the crystals you want? Yeah, I suppose this is also key. You do need crystals of certain colors to match your cart requirements, so I generally encourage folks to hit the box near the crystals you want. Usually, when I hit the box, I kind of end up displacing the box more than the crystals, so hitting near the crystals I want kind of moves the box out from under the crystals. Avoid the black crystals, because they’re worthless (unless the specific task card that asks for two black crystals comes up), but try to get clear crystals if you can! They’re wild. And they can be used as any color.
  • Completing the task cards is generally helpful. I mean, that’s what they’re for, at least. You need to complete the task cards, if you can, because they’ll count as a bonus crystal of the color of your choice! And that’s handy, no matter what card you’ve got in front of you.
  • You can try to set your opponents up by placing crystals near the edge of the box lid when you return them after your turn, but that frankly seems too convoluted for me. If you do that, you might be able to create a scenario where they knock off too many crystals and lose their turn! I don’t think that’s like, an especially easy trick to pull off, but if you can do it, it might be worth it.
  • Moving the box may help you get a better angle, but make sure you don’t knock any crystals off and lose your turn. Yeah, this is delicate work, but it might be pretty useful to get the box in the right spot before you whack it with the hammer. Just move it carefully! If you knock any crystals off, your turn ends prematurely. So if you think the situation on the box looks precarious, it might be worth not moving it. Just force your opponents to get out of their chair so you can get a better angle on the box from their side of the table. It’s rude, but effective!
  • Try changing up your hammer styles to see if you can get more (or fewer!) crystals, depending on your needs. You don’t always need to slam 8 crystals off the box lid! There are sometimes task cards that reward you for taking fewer crystals or an odd / even number of crystals. It’s worth thinking about as you try to strategize around how to hit the box. I mean, there’s only so much you can do with a hammer, but, you know.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • I love the name. It’s just a very good name. It’s also accurate! It’s time to hit the box with the hammer. Literally hammer time. Hammer o-clock. The hour of hammers. Et cetera.
  • The Master Variant is pretty great! Lots to do. I particularly like it because the Master Variant makes the game even goofier. It’s a bit swingy, since some die faces are easier to get results with than others, but I think the game is relatively silly enough that it’s just fun to play regardless.
  • It’s a cute theme. I think the art helps (see below), but dwarves trying to secret gems away from a sleepy dragon wtihout waking it is fun. It’s kind of similar to Wobble King, in that regard, but I think I prefer this theme slightly more? I just like the dragon and the hammer, I think.
  • It’s also fun! Who doesn’t love smacking things with a hammer? I’ll be real. The hammer is what sold me on this game. Like, don’t get me wrong; it’s not the nicest hammer in the world (ignoring for a minute that a real hammer would be game-breaking in more ways than one), but it’s suited to the game, itself. I kind of would like a mallet of some kind, but there’s something wrong with me if I’m spending time in a review discussing the merits of various fake hammers and how they would potentially influence gameplay. That’s why y’all come to What’s Eric Playing?; hard-hitting thoughts on hammers, I guess.
  • I think limiting the number of gems that can be knocked off is wise; it also disincentivizes players like, damaging the box. I was honestly worried about the hammer dynamic when I first heard about the game, so I think this is pretty wise. It also has the fun bonus of making it frustrating when you get a bunch of gems and none of them are of any use to you. The tension between trying to get a ton of gems and getting the gems you actually want without knocking off too many is quite entertaining.
  • The art style is pleasant, as well. It’s bright, colorful, and fun. For a game about smacking a box bottom to knock gems off the top, it’s pretty much exactly what it needs to be. I actually like the cover of the game a lot! The yellow from the HABA box does an excellent job highlighting and contrasting with the key art, which is considerably darker than HABA’s usual (in color; it’s not like, a violent game or something). It kind of just all works together pretty cohesively, which I like.
  • The wild gems and the useless gems are both great, in my opinion. I just like the idea of both of them, frankly. The wild gems do a good job balancing out the difficulty of getting the exact color you want (or getting too many of them), and the useless gems are just a fun bit of garbage to shake things up from turn to turn. I specifically appreciate that there’s also a task card for getting two useless gems in one turn. It feels like a nice bit of design, end-to-end.

Mehs

  • I keep missing whenever I have to swing the hammer with my eyes closed. It’s not even a “I hit the box too hard”, I just literally can’t make contact with the box. It’s silly. I’ve been working on trying to get better at it, but what can you do. I just kind of line it up now and then try to hit the box with my eyes closed? It mostly doesn’t work, but I can occasionally knock off a crystal or two.
  • I got gently stressed trying to apply the mat to the bottom of the box. It covers up the bottom! How am I supposed to be able to read it? And then I realized these are silly things to be worried about, but there was a brief moment where I was mildly worried. I think there’s some tension with trying to make the box bottom fit perfectly, but that’s fine.

Cons

  • The neoprene mat doesn’t stick especially well. Maybe it was the heat, but the mat was kind of coming off after a couple plays. Worst-case, I can super-glue it down, but it might be worth wiping the box bottom down with a little bit of rubbing alcohol or something to make sure there’s no dust or hair on it before you stick the mat onto it.
  • Some groups may overcorrect for trying to avoid knocking off too many gems and slow the game down by consistently knocking off 1 – 2 gems per turn, which can be a bummer. It’s a bit funny, but you can definitely see players get a bit stressed if they lose a couple turns and overcorrect by trying not to knock as many crystals off. The problem is, if they’re only knocking one crystal off or so a turn, then the game slows to a snail’s pace. It’s a bit worse if players aren’t knocking crystals off that actually match their cart color, so they’re very slowly knocking off the wrong things. It’s probably my biggest issue with the game, but if you just whack the box bottom a few times, other players will get the hint, I think. The nice thing is that as you get crystals for your cart, players will generally feel a sense of urgency.
  • The gems aren’t really double-coded, so I worry that folks will have trouble distinguishing colors if they have any form of colorblindness. That’s kind of key to winning, unfortunately, so that does make this game inaccessible if you’re colorblind in any way, which is frustrating. With the die, especially, it seems like they should have placed a symbol on it to indicate what challenge the player now has to do, rather than just having blank color stickers.

Overall: 8.25 / 10

Overall, I think Hammer Time is solidly fun! I wasn’t not going to love at least part of it; it’s got a hammer, and I get to hit non-player things with it. Even as part of the game! Kind of the dream, here, y’all. Let me hit more things with hammers in board games. That seems like the solve, here, for pretty much any board game. Dry euro? Hit it with a hammer. Party game? Hit it with a hammer. Multi-hour, multipart legacy game? Hammer. We’ve figured it all out. I have no idea how this would play with younger folks, but this is a cute, quick, and entertaining game for folks when you’re looking for a break between games, or if you’ve got someone who isn’t sold on the entire “board game” thing but is sold on the idea of hammers. Who isn’t? I do appreciate that it’s a new interaction mechanism for dexterity games, though it feels reminiscent of the Toc Toc Woodman / Click Clack Lumberjack sort of games. In lieu of an axe, you have a hammer. The thing is, I’m significantly less terrible at this game (still not great at it), and that’s good for me. My major gripes are that I didn’t love having to cover the bottom of the game box with a neoprene mat, especially because the mat doesn’t stick particularly well. I can’t totally tell if that’s by design, but as a person who hates writing in books, the idea of covering the bottom text of a game box with a neoprene mat is stressful, even if I understand why it happens. The only other problem I’ve run into is player overcompensation. If you lose enough turns, players may start to try and hit fewer gems so that they at least get something. If players move too slowly the game drags. So just try to avoid that. Hammer Time is smart for having both the simple, core gameplay that’s highly accessible to new players, and the Master Variant that shakes things up a bit more and introduces sillier modes of play for people who are looking to spice things up. I enjoy both quite a bit, and if you’re looking to just whack a box with a hammer or you enjoy some silly dexterity games, I’d recommend trying Hammer Time! I thought it was very fun.


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