As the weather has taken a distinct turn towards the colder side of freezing here in Estonia, I have been forced to don a woolly hat to keep the old ears warm, as I tinker about on my computer. I have but a rudimentary understanding of digital security, and for the most part, rarely even give it a thought, but recently I became aware of certain shadowy figures sporting black hats… What the ‘ecky-thump is that all about? What are these characters up to, I wonder???
So What’s All The Fuss About?
Some time back, Black hat emerged from the makers of Perdition’s Mouth and Darwinning. A strategic game of digital shenanigans deep within the cyber world. These black hat wearers were the unscrupulous probers of cyber security. Individuals hell-bent on breaching, hacking and gaining access to the worlds most sensitive data…. And, as we all know, the data wants to be set free.
Now, on the immediate horizon, emerges a group of individuals sporting white hats.
White Hat is the latest version of Black Hat. Imagine Black Hat 2.0 rebooted, if you will. This is a revamped, newly improved version of the original game. The gameplay remains the same, but this time the hackers are in possession of some moral fibre. They test these security systems to identify possible weakness, not for personal gain.
…and what is more important, this newly improved version has a dedicated solo variant, meaning one to six players may access the cyberworld in boardgame format.
Immersion or Subversion?
White Hat is essentially an abstract boardgame set in a cyber-technology world. So looking for a realistic hacker experience will be met by disappointment. However, that does not mean to say that the game does not lack immersion. We, the players, become heavily engaged in strategy and gameplay. Locations (and their effects on our progress) do bear relevance to real life situations, so there is a goodly amount of theme running through the game. What this game isn’t, is a glossy computer theme pasted over an average tabletop game. There is relevance to the imagery (even in its abstracted form) which adds to the game experience.
It has been billed as a tactical boardgame drawing upon a novel take on trick taking mechanics. This may initially put some gamers off, as trick-taking is not always to everyone’s taste (myself included). However, don’t be put off by this trick-taking notion, as it is only a small, albeit integral, element of a much broader strategic game.
The overall game-plan is for each player to navigate/guide their two ‘hat’ pieces through a variety of digital locations; from internet cafes, root access points, public servers to FBI servers. Players are attempting to guide their ‘hats’ from the Internet Cafe/Public Server, to the Critical Asset location (the last location on the board), and thus triggering the endgame condition. The trick-taking element is a tactical way of establishing which player gets to move pieces (or interfere with the progress of other players progress)
As player hats move through the maze of locations, points are scored at the end of each round, taking into account the location of both ‘hats’. This is where tactical strategies come into their own. Not only are players looking to score high points with their ‘hats’, they are also looking for ways to hinder, block or outwit their opponents.
To make matters worse for everyone playing, landing on certain locations may trigger digital tracers… pawns run by the game its self. This looks for player ‘hats’ and, if able to occupy a space with one, eliminates the piece from the game, placing it in ‘tracer jail’
Reaching the last space is no guarantee of victory as there, throughout the game, a running points total. Sometimes there is no option but to move a ‘hat’ to an undesired location, including the end space, so winning or losing a trick-taking hand is vital to ensure you have greater control of where and when your own ‘hat’ moves.
Wood Chits And Cardboard Bits:
The prototype I played was of the same high quality as the first Black hat game. Well sculpted hat pawns, good quality card tokens and playing board, and nicely illustrated playing cards
Meeples and Standees:
Designer: Ren Multamäki & Thomas Klausner
Artwork: Juha Salmijärvi & John Lewis
Publisher:Dragon Dawn Productions
Playtime: 45 mins
Age of Consent: 10+
Yes, solo mode is available with the White Hat variant. From a player’s perspective, gameplay is just as it is in the multiplayer game. Where it differs is how the trick-taking round is handled and how opposition is controlled. It feels far more of a puzzle solving game in solo mode. It still demands personal tactics and strategy, but as there are multiple opponent ‘hats that move through the locations (and we, as the soloist, must move opponent hats as dictated by the trick-taking round outcome), we are faced with a perplexing puzzle to solve.
The draw deck acts as a timer for our game, and in turn, adds an extra dimension to our decisions regarding cards we play to win tricks. Burn through the deck too quickly and we drastically reduce the time we have to score points. Rush our pieces to the finish line too quickly and we reduce point scoring opportunities. This is especially true as two hats may not occupy a single location. If a hat is to land on an occupied space, it must ‘jump’ to the next location, and, as a result, may advance more rapidly than we would care for it to do.
This is a constant balancing act.
Bots and Wotnots:
The Bot and the wotnot for solo play are well thought out, when we consider the nature of the multiplayer game. From a whatnot perspective, we control all coloured hats, not as if they are multiple opponents, and thus are more like multiple cooperative hackers. As we will score all hats at the end of each round, we are invested in ensuring that the progress of all colours is optimised. When the end game is triggered, only the lowest score is considered.
The game its self is the AI. The trick taking element is actually the AI’s only participation in gameplay, but winning and losing tricks against this AI directly influences which hats we get to move.
The AI has a row of five cards (plus a white hat, if it shoes up). We play first and decide how we wish to win or lose a trick. The AI attempts to follow suit, using the lowest card it possesses, to win the trick (if possible). As the AI row is public knowledge, we can use this to our advantage when planning our strategy. But don’t be fooled by this simplicity and fore knowledge. It is no easy task to effectively control all hats, ensuring optimum benefit to all.
The AI has an additional ally in the form of the Tracker. Just as in the multiplayer game, the tracker seeks out our hats and, as you can well imagine, the loss of a hat can significantly affect scoring to devastating results.
The Real Nitty Gritty
- Winners and Losers: This is certainly a tricky customer when it comes to the solo game. Not only do we have our own hat progress to contend with, but also the difficult decisions regarding the movement of all the other hats. There are definitely many tricky decisions to make, when to lose a trick-taking hand and when to win one
- Rules is Rules is Rules: The rules and the rule book are quite a simple affair, all in all. The 8 page A5 rule booklet I had (and I assume the final rule book will be of similar length and size) clearly and simply explains how the game works, including numerous pictorial game-play examples
- Lucky Bugger Buggers: There is some luck in which cards we and the AI draws for the trick-taking segment, but all other decisions are ours to make… unwisely and we pay the price, wisely and we speed on out cyber-highway to victory
- Lows and Highs: For what is essentially an abstract game, there is constant tension in the solo game (the multiplayer game comes with its own pressures) never gives us time to consider highs or lows… there is only the truth…
- Footprints All Over My Table: The gameboard, including score tracker, is well within a 25 x 50cm area, and as players hold their cards in hand (in multiplayer games) very little additional space is required. The solo game requires a little more space to lay out the AI hand of cards in a row, but even then we are only talking space to accommodate half a dozen cards or so.
- Set It Up Just To tear It All Down Again: Depending on how many alternative location tokens get added to the basic board (and the board I had to play with was double sided with what was essentially two levels of challenge), we need only shuffle the card draw deck, deal players a starting hand of cards and populate the start space with hats. Setup can be comfortably achieved within a minute or two
Me, Myself and I:
Did I mention before that I am not especially enamoured by trick taking games? I am sure I did, but as this mechanic is only a small part of a player’s overall strategy, a small cog in a much more complex machine, it actually lends itself nicely to the section of gameplay concerned with establishing who has a right to move ‘hats’. I like the idea that in multiplayer games, we can chose to advance our own hats, or move those of our opponents. Great strategy can be drawn upon here, as we can push our opponents into some pretty tricky situations.
As for the solo game, the trick-taking has been devised well for the AI. If we win, we can move any of the available hats… if we lose and the AI wins the trick, specific cards dictate which coloured hat ‘must’ be moved. As we are controlling all hats, and the lowest scoring hat at the game end is our final score, we have a mammoth juggling act to contend with in order to advance all hats at suitable pace (and select locations wisely to score as high as possible at the end of each round). As the sneaky little Tracker is also in play, this can significantly hinder our progress, as the ‘authorities’ attempt to shut down our operation. At the end of the day, the solo game is a beat your own score situation, but as we have such a tricky puzzle solving journey to reach this final score, the game continues to hold our attention, regardless of outcome
Yay or Nay?
Black Hat/White hat hackers have breached the BsoMT 1d8 die security firewalls and set the roll data free. Now the world can see a (7)
I wonder if wearing an FBI baseball cap will fool their server?… only one way to find out. Hack-hack-hacking away I go. I am adamant there is information in there that we all should know…
Something For The Weekend, Sir?
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Dragon dawn Website: https://www.ddpgames.com/
White Hat crowdfunding at gamefound: https://gamefound.com/projects/draft/8cx6uuuqswr8412quxs7h1qux2r