Friday, February 3, 2017

How SHH surprised me

I have to admit that I went into SHH with very low expectations. It is part of Pack O Game, a series of micro games that I have been very impressed by. However, it is a cooperative game and a word game, both genres that I am relatively indifferent to. There are games in both categories that I love, like Pandemic, Hanabi, Scrabble or Buy Word. But I don't go out of my way for them.

However, the second series of Pack O Game is coming out and I want to be a completist and play all of the first set. So when we had an out-of-state visitor who really loves cooperative games, I figured that it was the perfect opportunity to play SHH.

(Spoiler: it was very good!)

Like every game in the series, SHH is made up of 30 cards that are at third the width of the normal playing cards. So you end up with the tidy little box the size of a pack of gum. Twenty six of the cards show the letters of the alphabet while the other four are pass cards.

I have to pause a note that these are the prettiest cards in the entire series. Each one, in addition to showing the letter, has a bright and colorful photograph of something that starts with that letter. They really are nice looking.

Gameplay is very simple. The object of the game is to make words, one letter at a time, scoring points for every letter you successfully
use in a word. But, during the entire game, no one is allowed to say anything.

You set aside the vowel cards. They are double-sided and you place the side that has plus one facedown. Then, you do you out all twenty-one consonants to the players. And everyone gets one pass card. Now you are ready to play.

On your turn, you can do one of three things. Add a letter from your hand or one of the vowels. Flip your pass card over and skip your turn. Score the current word and start a new word.

Score a word, you put your thumb up, since you aren't allowed to talk. If everyone else puts their thumb up too, you score the word. The reason why someone would give a thumb down is if they think it isn't a real word. That's when you get the dictionary. If the word is scored, all of the consonants are put to one side has points. The vowels are put back in their row and, if the word was at least five letters long, you flip them over so they are worth a point.

The game ends when either you run out of consonants, hopefully scoring the last word at the same time, or if a word can't be scored because it isn't. A real word.. You get one point for every constant successfully used and one point for every vowel they got flipped. Thus, the highest score you can possibly get is twenty six points.

As I already spoiled, I was surprised at how good SHH was. It doesn't take any time at all to play, particularly if you mess up and can't spell a word early. However, there is a lot of tension in the game. 

The silence is keyed to the game. If you could just talk, there wouldn't be a game. But since you have to be silent, there is a lot of desperation in the game and it is really exciting when you successfully make a word.

And SHH has a very tight economy of letters. There is only one of each letter in the game and you will only use each consonant once. That makes for a brutally tight game.

Don't get me wrong. I knew from just reading the words that SHH would work as a game, as long as people didn't cheat about words being real. What I didn't expect was how much excitement and fun the game will turn out to be.

Pack O Game continues to surprise me and prove to be one of the best purchases I've made in the last couple years. The last game I have to play from the original series is GEM and I have high expectations for that.

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