8.5 …and then, we held hands.

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Emotions run high while playing games all the time; the thrill of victory, the disappointment of defeat, the tension of a die roll, and the frustration of a “take that!” from an opponent. Sometime’s game designer’s rely on those emotions to drive the gameplay and take the fun to another level. In …and then, we held hands, the emotions ARE the gameplay. Confused? Don’t worry, that’s just another emotional hurdle we’ll have to get passed.

…and then, we held hands is a cooperative game about two people navigating the complexity of their emotions and their relationship while trying to find balance. I know that sounds like the opposite of fun—a game that simulates an argument with your significant other, but bear with me.

The game itself is considered abstract. The theme is not physically represented beyond artwork on the cards. The mere concept of the theme being based on emotions is also steeped in abstraction but still heavily influences the gameplay.

The goal of the game is to complete a series of objectives, each of them achieved by ending your turn on a specific colored node on the game board. The basic gameplay involves using emotion cards (colored and corresponding to the 4 different node types) to move to the matching space on the board. Each hand of cards has 2 “perspectives”. Each card is divided vertically and has a color on either side. You display the cards in a row in front of a player with each card covering half of the next card in the row. A player’s “perspective” changes if at the end of a turn, the player’s token is on a different side of the board then they started their turn on. Changing your “perspective” can drastically effect the available moves your team has on future turns.

Each card used represents a different emotion that affects the player’s overall emotional balance. Red and black emotions are negative while green and blue emotions are positive. A player’s emotional balance has 5 levels (-2, -1, 0 , 1, 2) and as cards are played the balance shifts. For example, starting at 0 and moving to a green (+1), green (+1), black (-1), blue (+1), would leave a player with a +2 emotional balance. A player is not able to move if they would go past +2 or -2. If a player ends their turn with their emotional balance scale at 0, then the player has “the stability to weigh all options ahead”, and refills their hand back up to the draw limit. Players will lose the game if they can’t make a valid move at the beginning of their turn or if the emotional card deck is depleted and there are no remaining cards in their hand.

As you make your way around the rings on the board you’ll be able to progress towards the center of the board when you complete objectives. To win, the players must enter the center space, one after the other, on consecutive turns while having a balanced emotional state (both player’s balance tokens must be at 0 at the end of the turn that they enter the center space. “If this was achieved, the players have managed to communicate despite all odds and can rejoice at an impressive feat of coordination”.

Oh, did I mention there is a wrinkle in the difficulty? You play the game non-verbally. The genius is that you are forced to make your choices based on the consideration of your partner’s perspective; their available cards and potential moves. The better you can read your teammates intentions the less likely you are to get stuck and lose the game.

…and then, we held hands is unique. Half of the fun I’ve had with this game is just thinking about the metaphors it presents. The game plays like I’m reading a self-help book about relationships.

I have a hard time fitting this game in a genre. I know it is officially labeled an abstract—and I think it’s because the theme itself is about intangible things. This game is so cerebral and yet so simple—the more I think about it the deeper I go.

The artwork is evocative, which is no surprise coming from Marie Cardouat (known for Dixit). The components are good but nothing to brag about. The player markers are translucent gems that are quality materials but are too dark to allow you to see through them to your spot on the board (which would be helpful during gameplay). The game board has two sides, identical gameplay wise; one side adding icons for players that are colorblind. The game itself is quite compact and perfect for a coffee shop session.

I really enjoy this game on many levels. The gameplay itself is challenging and at times feels like a cooperative puzzle. The charm of the art is mirrored in the charm of the concept—I’ve literally felt like I was navigating a difficult situation with my partner and practicing patience and empathy while playing. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to use this game as a tool for working out a rough patch in a relationship, but I wouldn’t hesitate to say that this game is great practice for the challenges of sharing your life with someone.

…and then, we held hands is what modern tabletop gaming is all about; unique concepts, innovative gameplay, and challenging player dynamics.

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