Buzzworthiness: Hierarchy

Thanks to Button Shy Games for providing a preproduction review copy of this game.

image by BGG user jtagmire

Hierarchy is an upcoming two-player game designed by Hugo Kawamata that will be published by Button Shy, pending the results of their upcoming Kickstarter campaign. The game is basically a power struggle, with players attempting to be the last one standing.

Most Button Shy games are 18-card affairs. This one, however, has 14. Well, 17 if you count the title card and reference cards. The 14 cards for player are numbered 1-13 with one card showing a ?. Each one has a different special power associated with it. Cards are identical on both sides, except one side is purple and one is yellow.

The gameplay is very simple. Each player is dealt seven cards. Because every card in the game is in play, and because they’re double-sided anyway, hands are open – just spread them out on the table in front of you. The player with the Impostor goes first and starts the line by playing one card. The other player then plays a card that either has a higher value or that has a special ability that allows it to be played there. The game continues until one player cannot play, and their opponent wins.

That’s it. Of course, the different abilities are what makes things interesting.

  • 1. The Assassin can be played on any card (other than the Leper or Tower).
  • 2. The Leper can be played on any odd-numbered card.
  • 3. The Serf is played as a 3, but after it is played, becomes a 7.
  • 4. The Tower can be played on a higher number if you also discard another card from your hand.
  • 5. The Surgeon allows you to return a card your opponent has played to their hand. They also get to return one of your cards.
  • 6. The Knight can be played on the Dragon.
  • 7. The Usurper can be played on a higher card. The next card played must be lower.
  • 8. The Sorcerer negates all powers on cards in hand.
  • 9. The Dragon can be played on the Baroness.
  • 10. The Baroness can only be played if there are 7 or fewer cards in the line.
  • 11. The High Priest can only be played on the Knight, the
  • 12. The Queen can only be played if the Baroness is in the line.
  • 13. The King can only be played if there are 7 or more cards in the line.
  • ?. The Impostor can be played as a duplicate of a card already played by your opponent.

The copy I received is a preproduction copy, so things are subject to change. Button Shy games tend to be pretty close to production-ready when they’re sending out review copies. The cards are the same on the front and back (other than the color), and the text describes what they do fairly well, though an FAQ in the rules helps with some of the stranger concepts.

Thematically, you’re just throwing your influence around, trying to trap your opponent into not being able to play. It’s a very light theme, and probably didn’t have to be royalty, but there are some interesting connections between the cards. The Baroness has to be in play before the Queen, which makes sense. Also, the Dragon can beat the Baroness, and the Knight can beat the Dragon, which gives a real damsel-in-distress kind of feeling. However, the game is still fairly abstract.

Mechanically, the game is very simple – you play a higher number than your opponent did, or you play a card with a special ability that allows you to play a lower number. Some of the powers take a little getting used to – the Tower, the Surgeon, and the Impostor are all more on the complex side – but overall, they’re fairly easy to understand. The biggest secret of the game is figuring out when to play them, especially right at the beginning of the game. The first plays of the game can be a little agonizing as you try to see several moves in the future and determine what you’ll need. How quickly should you play your Baroness – she’s got a fairly high number, but she needs to come out early in the game, or you can’t play her. When should you bust out that Impostor? If you play the Surgeon now, which card can you give your opponent that will do minimal impact, and which is your opponent likely to give you?

With this game being a perfect information type game, you know exactly what your opponent has, and so there’s a little game of I-clearly-cannot-choose-the-wine-in-front-of-me going on. And because the cards come out randomly, every game will set up differently and you’re forced to figure out different combinations of plays in order to be successful.

This game really gives me a Love Letter vibe in that it’s fast, you’re trying to outwit your opponent with only a few cards, and it has a royal court theme. I also get a little Red7 as you’re trying to manipulate the powers into being the last one that played. But this game stands on its own as something pretty different, and surprisingly replayable – with just 14 cards, you wouldn’t think that you could have so many different ways it could end, but I don’t think I’ve had two games end the same way so far.

This is a very short game. A round usually takes just a few minutes, and you can play several rounds in a row without taking more than 15-20 minutes out of your day. It’s a pretty good game for playing in a restaurant while waiting for your food, or standing in line. It does spread out a bit since you’re basically making a line that could be up to 14 cards long.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? I like this game quite a bit. It’s fast, portable, replayable, and has lots of strategy for such a small package. It’s a pretty cool system, and I do recommend it. If you’re interested in checking it out, the Kickstarter is currently scheduled to go live on October 8.

Thanks again to Button Shy for providing a review copy of this game, and thanks to you for reading!

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