Heroes & Tricks Game Review

The Basics:

  • For ages 8 and up
  • For 2 to 6 players
  • Approximately 20 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading
  • Pattern/Color Matching
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Hand/Resource Management
  • Bluffing and Misdirection

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • The tricky business of being a hero…

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek rejected!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek mixed!

Overview

There is no “trick” to being a hero. All one must do is sacrifice, put others first, and act in a way that exemplifies selflessness at the cost of everything that one could possibly hold most dear. Simple, right? No, of course not. That is why we hold those who are heroes in such high regard. In this game, you must attempt to live up to the standards of a hero in hopes of winning their favor. Doing so is mostly guesswork.

Heroes & Tricks (also spelled Heroes and Tricks), designed by Eduardo Baraf, Jonathan Gilmour, and published by Pencil First Games LLC, is comprised of 64 playing cards, 16 Hero cards, and 30 Gear cards. The game box, something I don’t mention often, not only holds the game when it’s not being played, but is also used in game play. As such, the game box is very sturdy and built to last. The game is also highly portable, needing nothing more than the box to be played, although a table top is always nice. The cards are as thick and as durable as your standard playing card. The illustrations by Dustin Foust and Benjamin Shulman are bright and fun.

Game Set Up

To set up the game, first separate the cards into 3 different piles. One pile for the playing cards, one pile for the Hero cards, and one pile for the Gear cards. Each card type has a different colored back making this a quick and easy exercise.

Second, shuffle the Hero card pile and place the deck in the divider space found in the game box. When doing so, make certain the cards are not revealed to any player.

Third, shuffle the Gear pile and deal to each player 3 Gear cards face-down. Any undealt Gear cards should be placed face-down and to one side of the game playing area.

Fourth, shuffle the playing cards and deal out a specific number to each player face-down. The number dealt to each player is based on the total number of players at the table.

Fifth, any undealt playing cards and Gear cards are now put together and placed in the middle portion of the game box (this area is noted as “Discard”).

That’s it for game set up. Let’s begin.

Card Talk

Let’s talk about the three card types, because that’s what I do.

Hero Cards

The Hero cards determine the trick’s suit and color. Suits are “card”, “meeple”, “die”, and “token”. Colors are “green”, “orange”, “blue”, and “red”. There are 2 Hero cards per suit color.

Gear Cards

The Gear cards trigger different effects based on the order in which they were played. The Gear card closest to the Hero card is resolved first, followed by the next closest, and so on. By and large, Gear cards add rules or change rules in the game, adding complexity, strategy, and tactics to every hand…as well as chaos.

Playing Cards

The player cards have a number value, a color, and a suit. They are used, with the Gear cards, to determine who wins the trick.

Trick Taking Like a Hero

Note: Heroes & Tricks has two modes of play. These are “standard” and “extended”. The following summary is for standard play. To learn more about extended play, refer to “Game Variants” below.

Heroes & Tricks is played in hands, rounds (referred to as “tricks”), and turns. A typical game round is summarized here.

Step 1: Pass Those Cards

The first thing each player does is select two cards from their hand two playing cards and 1 Gear card, passing the select cards to their opponent on their immediate left. This only occurs once per hand, making this step unnecessary for the rest of the rest of the hand currently being played.

Step 2: Let’s Get Tricky

In turn order sequence, any player may now play one Gear card that states” Play Before Trick”. This is optional and can be skipped by any player, regardless of what cards they may have in their hand.

The first player of the trick now draws the back-most Hero card from the game box and places it facing forward in the game box so only they can see it. The Hero card sets the trick. The lead player then plays 1 playing card from their hand in front of the Hero card, covering the Hero card. The first player may also add one or more Gear cards at this time, if they so choose, but only for those Gear cards that state “Play in Trick”. Gear cards are played BEFORE the playing cards, meaning they are always covered up.

The first player now passes the game box to the next player in turn order sequence. The next player can only view the playing card that is facing them in the game box (meaning they do not see the Hero card or any Gear cards that were previously played except the very last one). They now repeat the same steps as the first player, adding their cards to the game box.

After the last player adds their cards to the game box, they remove all the cards and hand them to the first player. The first player fans out the cards (the order in which the cards were played matters here) in front of all the players and announces the trick winner.

Step 3: Winning the Trick

Tricks are won in the following sequential order

  1. The player who played the highest  card matching the both the color and suit of the Hero card wins the trick
  2. The player who played the highest card of the Hero card color wins the trick
  3. The player who played the highest card of the matching suit of the Hero card wins the trick
  4. The player who played the highest card wins the trick

Pay special attention to Gear cards when determining the winner. Gear cards change card values and can upset the natural card spread.

Ties are broken by victory going to the player who played last.

Step 4: Continuing the Game

The Hero card is given to the winner and all other cards are discarded. Play now resumes with the player who revealed the trick (i.e. the “last player”) now becoming the first player.

Step 5: Winning the Hand

When all but two of the cards in the player’s hand have been played, the hand is completed. The winner is now determined. Each Hero card earned is worth 1 victory point. Any Gear cards earned will display their own victory point value. The player with the most victory points wins the game.

Game Variants

Fast Game Play

If agreed upon by the group, players can skip the step where they pass cards to their neighbor. While this does reduce some of the game’s depth of play, it does reduce the amount of effort the players need to put into the game (slightly) and the amount of thinking (even slighter), resulting in faster game play.

Extended Play

Play three hands instead of winning, keeping track of the total number of victory points earned per hand.

Two-Player Variant

Like extended play, two-player games are played using three hands; however, four tricks are played for, with the fourth being set aside as a bonus trick.

To learn more about Heroes & Tricks, visit the game’s web page.

Final Word

The Child Geeks enjoyed the game but never really got into it. According to one Child Geek, “I don’t know. It just feels like a card game to me with neat pictures.” None of the Child Geeks had any problems with the rules, but they didn’t like how much guesswork the game required. From their perspective, they were unable to really determine how best to play their cards. The hidden information was – to be blunt – too hidden. One Child Geek put it best when they said, “The game is a little like playing in the dark but there is just enough light to see what you are doing. But everything is still hard to see. That’s what this game feels like.” When the games were over, the Child Geeks gave the game a mixed level of approval. Some of the Child Geeks enjoyed it enough to give it their thumbs up while others gladly put the game away.

The Parent Geeks were a different story. They enjoyed the challenge of piecing together their move using what little information they had on their turn. According to one Parent Geek, “This game reminds me of another game I played as a kid. I think it was called Telephone or Operator. The game was all about using very little information to make your next action. That’s what this game is. You only know what the last player played and you have to use that to make your play.” What the Parent Geek is getting at is that a player only knows what the previous opponent did. Based on that, they must now make a choice. Follow what the opponent did or take a new direction. As one Parent Geek put it, “You need to determine if the player before you knows what they are doing or they are just as lost as you. If they know what they are doing, best follow suit and play a winning card. If you think they are lost, best go in a different direction.” The Parent Geeks voted to approve Heroes & Tricks, finding it to be a new take on a trick taking card game they enjoyed with their groups.

The Gamer Geeks were a lot like the Child Geeks. They quickly learned the game, but then felt like they too were playing in the dark. According to one Gamer Geek, “This game is a random crap shoot. Throw in the Gear cards and you have a game that gives you nothing to work with. Nothing. If I play a card at random from my hand I have the same amount of chance to win than if I really thought about it. That doesn’t make for a good game.” Another Gamer Geek said, “I like the game at its core. Deduction and trick taking go hand in hand. Where I think the game falls on its face is the Gear cards and the way things can get really chaotic. Deduction games only work if there is always a core of truth you can build on. I never felt like I had much to stand on to make my choices in this game.” When all was said and done, the Gamer Geeks decided to reject Heroes & Tricks, finding the game’s idea to be intriguing but it lacked proper execution to make it an impactful and entertaining experience.

Heroes & Tricks is not a game that gives you a lot to go on and that is a fact that was hard for some of our players to accept. Makes sense, too, as trick taking games require players to carefully manage their hand of cards based on the information that is staring them right in the face. You don’t have that luxury in this game. Information is hidden right from the start and every time you have a turn you can only make assumptions based on what you know of the opponents and the few cards you can actually look at. That made our players feel like they were playing blind, or “in the dark” as the Child Geek put it.

But there is an important point to make here. Players are not in the dark. Not really. The challenge of the game is making your own choices based on what you know – or think you know. For those players who didn’t need that “core of truth” to feel comfortable making a decision, what little deduction they could complete was enough to make a choice. These types of players had a lot of fun. The group that didn’t were the ones that felt like they were always guessing or being blatantly mislead. Which is the game’s true core. Truth is out the door when it comes to Heroes & Tricks, replaced by a solid foundation of pure assumption.

The real joy of the game comes with the reveal. When the cards are fanned out, everyone gets to see how their choice influenced the whole. This can be very exciting as you simply don’t know how well you did until all the cards are shown. It’s like unwrapping a really big present to quickly find out if the gift itself is really big or the box is just big with something small inside of it. You don’t know until you look and that made everyone at our tables lean forward to see the results.

Heroes & Tricks is interesting, but I never felt like I wanted to play it more than a few times. Guessing and guessing badly gets old. Still, the game found its audience with our groups and was enjoyed. Like all games, it takes the right group of people to play it to truly enjoy the experience. If you are one of those players who enjoys a bit of chaos thrown in with your deduction, then Heroes & Tricks is for you. Those looking for a card game where deductive diligence will pay off need not play this game. No heroic effort will ever inform  you of the best card to play.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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3 Responses to Heroes & Tricks Game Review

  1. Robert Davis says:

    Out of curiosity, what could have been done, design-wise, to up this game’s replay value?

    • Cyrus says:

      An excellent question…

      What I didn’t enjoy, and ultimately kept me away, was the high level of guessing. Any game that doesn’t allow me to get better at it via time and attention is not a game I can play for long. Heroes & Tricks is a game that is alway different, which is a boon, but does not allow an individual to improve upon its base.

  2. Thanks for the review! H&T is certainly a game that appeals to some more than others.

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