Thursday, December 29, 2016
Hoot Owl Hoot is a kid's board game I played for the first time this holiday. My three year old nephew can play, though his grasp of strategy is still questionable at best. It is a good game for really young kids though, since strategy does play a serious role and it is a big step up from such trash as Candyland and Monopoly.
I have to give credit where credit is due. The game is simple, cute, and actually has enough thinking that kids can grow into playing better. The variable difficulty means they can go from trivial games to challenging ones.
The adults I played with were convinced the game was utterly trivial but I wasn't so sure. Winning isn't hard, but finding the optimal move can be a challenge. People didn't believe me, but then they mostly made terrible moves so it was clear there was a lot more to the game than they thought. Sometimes people mistake complexity for challenge and I think this is one of those cases.
However, HOH has some problems. The first one is that all cards are face up, leading to the alpha player problem. One player (*cough* me *cough*) sees the correct move and tells other players what to do, which leaves them the unpalatable options of doing what I say or playing badly. That is a poor situation.
The way the game is played is that each player has 3 cards in their hand, all of which are visible to all players. This is fine for kids, but for adults who don't want the alpha player to make the game suck we need a better solution. My idea was to have each player place one card face up, and after they play that card they can choose one other card to put in their face up slot. This makes it impossible to alpha the table and means that players can try to figure out how to cooperate with one another. Signalling seems tricky, but it should be possible to get better at it and have interesting choices.
The other problem is that each turn you play one card and draw one card. If you draw a sun card, you must play the sun card on your next turn and you make no choices on your turn. The sun card makes you progress towards losing, so it is just terrible. It isn't fun to play a sun card and it sucks to draw one. It is entirely possible to end up not being able to play for most of the game when you draw sun cards and that is a sad game indeed. I would do things differently. One option is just to play the sun card automatically when you draw it, rather than skipping your turn. This does change play slightly though because you can plan many turns ahead, but for the kids version that doesn't matter. It just means that everyone gets to play each turn and I like that a lot better.
For the adult game where some cards are hidden this it is less of a big deal that you don't randomly skip turns sometimes. However, if you really want randomness in turn order then you could simply have anyone who draws a sun play it immediately and then take yet another turn right after. This throws off planning but doesn't cause specific people to end up not getting to play.
Somehow other people who play simple kids games just play them with the kids and then move on. They don't analyze them and come up with alternate rulesets to extend them to other situations. Other people are strange.