Game – SUPERHOT Card Game
Designer: Manuel Correia
Publisher: Board & Dice
Artist: Paweł Niziołek
Player Count 1 – 3
Runtime: 20 – 40 minutes
SUPERHOT the micro deck building game is based on the very successful video game of the same name the crux of which is the move you move the faster time passes, stay still and so does time. Add to this very unique twist in the FPS genre a very eye grabbing and minimal art style and it’s easy to understand why the video game garnered so much traction. These fundamental aspects of what made SUPERHOT the video game it is have been downloaded on to cardboard to create an equally unique tabletop experience. It is a deckbuilding, hand management game where your cards not only represent your attacks and your defence but time as well. How does it do this, and how well does it? Well, dear user, sit down and jack in: your SUPERHOT card game review is loading.
I always like to envisage and describe this game as if the player is playing a retro computer game of John McClane, a Steven Seagal character or >INSERT ACTION HERO MOVIE REFERENCE THAT MILLENNIALS WILL KNOW< as they have to neutralise a bunch of bad guys who are raiding/robbing/bad-stuffing in a building. In typical fashion, our hero is unarmed and must use their smarts, their wits and an unbreakable will to overcome the massive odds stacked against them. That is what is going on in my head when I play this game, and it is just one of the reasons I enjoy it so much.
SUPERHOT makes full use of all of the 82 cards in the box, they circle around the play area in a very different, unusual and interesting way and, depending on where they are, it changes how you need to use or react to them. Now, I say “they circle around the play area”, but I use the word ‘circle’ in the loosest possible way. It’s more like a swirling tendril of movement. Much like watching a swarm of woodcutter ants as they do their “woodcutter-ant-thing”, you know that they have a plan, that they know what they are doing, but from the outside looking in, the ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ seem hard to define. It is within this maelstrom of cardboard that the magic and mayhem of SUPERHOT the card game surges into action.
I don’t often like to spend a lot of time writing about the components and the rules of a game, but if I try and tell you how this game feels and flows and how it is interesting and worthy of your time and money without first telling you about them, you and I will both get lost very quickly. In short, to adequately describe a cake I need to talk about the flavours, and SUPERHOT has a very special flavour.
There are three types of card, mission cards, which will outline the objective for your current level of the game, these stack up until level three which acts as the finale. Easy, got it.
Bullet cards. Bullets are bad. When they are in their neat little deck, they are thankfully, less bad. When they are in any other deck or in the play area, then they’re in flight. And that is bad. When they’re in your hand, well, that’s worse. Have four of them in your hand, and that’s, well; it’s game over.
Every other card is an obstacle, and that’s a pretty broad term for something that you’re going to interact with. Mainly bad guys, dudes with guns, dudes with shotguns, dudes with katanas, tables, pillars and pliers – yes pliers. All of these cards are multi-use use cards, when they are in your hand you make use of the top of the card, and when it’s not you use the bottom. Again: easy.
Then there is The Line. This represents everything that is immediately in your vicinity – try not to think of it as a queue of things to interact with, the line is a representation of three-dimensional space. Its radial space, not lateral, despite the name.
With me so far?
Now, the cards in your hand are both the actions you can take, and most importantly, each card is also a unit of time. For the sake of convenience let’s call them seconds. The Line is everything that you can possibly interact within the next six seconds. Taking on a dude with a shotgun is going to require some real clout, as you have to equal or beat his defence with your attack/dodge/combination of both. The more cards you use, the longer it takes to beat him.
When you play cards you put them in the Used Cards section (time spent). The obstacles you interacted with become assets you get to use in the next few seconds, i.e. you’ve stolen a gun, dodged behind a pillar, flipped a table etc. these cards then come into your hand. You’ll then draw more cards from your deck up to four of them (if you play it right you can end up with more than the starting four cards in your hand, this is you doing something I can never seem to do, something I like to call “Being good at SUPERHOT”). This represents the passage of time for you, the player.
Now, for every second you spent doing something, that time now passes in the game, the line moves along like a conveyor belt. If you used three cards/seconds those obstacles that formed the first three seconds of the Line now pass into your discard pile. They are now behind you (for the time being). Important to note here is that it is the three seconds that passed, not necessarily what happened in those three seconds. So you don’t remove the first three cards, but the cards that are in the first three spaces.
Then the bad guys have their go, that’s when they’ll fire their guns, or hack at you with a katana. And when they fire their dreaded bullets. You’ll take the appropriate number of bullet cards and put them in the Object discard pile. They are now in flight, but you’ll have a little time before you have to deal with them.
Do you remember those really simple mission cards I mentioned earlier, and how they stack to create a finale? There is an important piece of information I didn’t mention, you don’t reset the decks between levels. All those bullets that were fired in level one, unless you’ve dealt with them, they are still flying around. Upon completing a level all you do is reshuffle the decks, draw a new hand and new mission cards. This adds such a great level of complexity to the game, a wonderful scaling and compounding of danger making level three an utter bitch. It creates a gravitas to your decisions, as something ignored, or not dealt with properly now, will come back and bite you once those decks are reshuffled.
SUPERHOT has a very distinctive look, and one of the things it does is it allows the player to imprint their own vision/theme over what is presented to them (much as I discuss at the top of this review), this is facilitated and indeed encouraged by the low polygon minimalist art style. These “bad guys” are beyond race or gender (okay maybe not gender there is a definite lean towards a male physique and they’re called dudes, but you can’t prove anything). This for me is a really interesting and innovative step for representation in board games. On the flipside of this, where I see John McClane taking out a bunch of guys doing terrible German accents, you could play this game from the point of few as the antagonist, taking out the security guards for your own nefarious gains! By not identifying anything, you get to tell your own story.
Alternatively, you’ll just see a load of red and black blobs that you just can’t connect with in any meaningful way, and the game just won’t connect and resonate with you, but you should be able to pick up on this when you look at the cover of the box.
There are but two more important things o say about SUPERHOT. The first of which is that this game is tricky. For me at least I found it initially hard to get my head around the flow of the game and the movement of the cards. It is one of those games that if I don’t play it regularly I find that I still need to refer to the rulebook occasionally just for a clarification or a refresh.
The second thing is that SUPERHOT is a solo game at heart. Yes, it can be played at two players, and it can even be played at three (and these are as a co-op, versus, and even semi-co-op). But, it is meant to be a solo game, if you do fancy taking it on in either of the other modes, all players need to be au fait with the game at the one player count first.
Sounds pretty cool, right? It is. It really is. It may also sound a little confusing, and it is that too, but, as soon as you get into the rhythm of movement, of thinking of the cards not only as actions but as time itself, the game clicks. The overriding theme of computer hacking from the original video game is enhanced here by the card art and layout of the mission cards, it is all incredibly apt as it provides a metaphor for itself, looking beyond the mere mechanics of the game to experience the game itself. One cannot help but draw a parallel to that of the Matrix, and specifically, that moment when Neo sees the code and understands that it is both there and not there at the same time.
With SUPERHOT, as soon as you stop seeing the mechanics, you’ll see the game.
This review was based on a full-priced retail copy of the game, bought with my very own hard earned cash.
On researching this game to gain a fuller understanding of the designer, theme etc. I did learn that the implied role the player takes on is that of an Agent Decker, with a game of the same name upon which the mechanics of SUPERHOT are based.
This review was based on a full-priced retail copy of the game and a paid for play mat – because, y’know “Pimping”, all of which I paid for myself, out of my own pocket.