It’s safe to say that I am not the biggest fan in the world of abstract strategy. I like theme in a game! I like complicated stuff and millions of bits! However, one thing I’ve always wanted to do here on littlemetaldog.com is give everything a try at least once, so if a game is put in front of me It Will Get Played. Them’s the rules! I’d like to think that I can put aside my meh-ness towards a genre of games and see good stuff in everything I play – after all, who knows, I might find something that I enjoy! And goodness me, what’s this? A game that’s made me think that not all abstracts are terrible? Blimey.
Hydra is a two player game built around simple rules with a single objective – to create a single continuous line across the playing surface with your tiles. Each player is given twenty eight tiles in their colour – three Heads, four Tails and twenty-one Bones – which you’ll use to wend your way over the play surface. One will work their way from North to South, the other will go from East to West, but (as you’ve probably worked out) there’s an issue. At one point, the players’ lines will have to cross over somewhere – and it’s here where the game gets really quite tricky and mean.
You see, the three different tile types allow for different placements, and it’s getting to grips with these that will see you ending up the winner. Heads are the most versatile, allowing your next placement in any of the four orthagonal spaces next to it. Tails are useful should you need to turn a corner. Bones, meanwhile, are the simplest of the tiles, only allowing for the creation of straight lines.
Each turn will normally see you placing a single tile on the board, either at one of the edges you’re trying to link or off a piece that is already on the board. You also have the option of flipping an already placed tile which can be retrieved at the end of your next turn, or not placing anything and flipping two instead. The playing area, a seven by seven square, quickly gets very busy and the two lines will quickly collide but only a Bone tile can be crossed. Heads and Tails tiles are ideal for blocking your opponent’s plans then, but there’s a literal price to pay: using then will require you to discard tiles from your pile which will quickly limit your options. For every Tail used, you’ll discard three tiles; for every Head, it’s four, and you’ll only be able to reclaim these spent tiles by flipping and removing the played pieces from the board. It’s an ingenious idea that really balances the game out – sure, you could put a load of the more powerful tiles on the board, but you’ll go broke quickly, and it’s in fact impossible to traverse the board using only Heads and Tails.
For such a small game with simple rules, there’s an awful lot of opportunity for cruelty in Hydra – which is probably what makes it appeal to me despite my normal lack of affection for abstracts. Having played it a fair few times now (and lost every single match) I’m developing an appreciation for the game, recognising where I went wrong and what I could have done to fix errors I have made during play. Actually figuring out how to win hasn’t quite clicked yet but I feel that will come with time in this game that rewards considered thought and multiple plays. The more experience you have with Hydra, the better you’ll become at recognising openings and options and the more pleasurable your gameplay will be.
While it’s not converted me entirely into the fold of full-on loving abstract strategy, I’ve come to realise that I’ll happily go back again and again to the genre if I’ve got the right game in front of me. Hydra is a well developed little affair that has some neat ideas – plus did I mention that the wooden box collapses down to create the playing surface? It’s these little touches that make me want to put copies of the game in front of others and demand they play with me, if only because I could possibly beat a total newbie…
Hydra is a self produced design by Simon Dangerfield. The game will be launched officially at this year’s UK Games Expo in Birmingham over the weekend of May 25th to 27th. For more information, contact Simon via email: email@example.com