25/05/2022

White Hat: Trick-taking game full of hacking attempts [Review]

To be honest, my only cyber activities revolve around checking email and social media, working with MS Office, and writing this blog. Some of these techies’ jargon would leave me dumbfounded without any grasp to the meaning — you guys have to forgive me because even the term White Hat has not yet entered my dictionary. A quick lookup on Google saved the day: unlike their evil twin, black hats, white hats are ethical hackers — they penetrate and breach security without any malicious intent. Every day, I learn something new.

Disclaimer: I am an avid euro gamer and a hardcore Legend of the Five Rings LCG player. I am not a fan of solo game/variant. This statement will give you an overview of what kind of bias I might have while writing.

As an old fan of the discontinued Android: Netrunner IP, missing a game like White Hat that brings up the hacking to the table is perhaps unforgivable. Furthermore, White Hat is not the only from Dragon Dawn Productions standing in our shelf. In fact, we have a high regard for one of their previous games, Dwarf. All of their latest productions were savoured by our crew with cheers. And this game potentially brings the same effect, especially because some of them are infatuated with the trick-taking mechanic.

As usual, let’s not indulge the how-to part here. Let’s skip the first course, since there are many content creators who have already covered this aspect on YouTube.

Overall first impressions

We were playing with White Hat’s prototype copy, and with that being mentioned, it is clear enough that I cannot really comment on their final production quality. However, it wouldn’t hurt to make some remarks from its as-is appearance for now.

Dragon Dawn Productions’ no-nonsense approach may not be everyone’s cup of tea, with its clean, dark blue tone, and simplified dot-and-line illustrating the intricate components of computers or such on the cover. Unfortunately, from the modest box without any supplementary arts and graphics, it did not really drive me to open the Pandora box like what Dwarf did (one of their previous projects).

As we unlatched the humble box lid, a rainbow within greeted us more flamboyantly. In contrast to the external appearance, the cards and the board, and the add-on modular parts for the latter one, are richer and more colourful. Honestly, I am dead curious about what kind of meeples, and markers they will have in White Hat. My box came without any, and I needed to substitute with some generic markers.

After a thorough background check, I let a quick nod to myself, as the game offers promising premises, despite not as futuristic as my initial cyberpunk expectation. To give some context: in Android: Netrunner, each player takes the role of the attacker (hackers) and the defender (corporation). It takes time in a (not so) distant cyber utopian future. Meanwhile, White Hat brings the story of rivalry between the hackers, which is yet closer and easier to relate to our time. Will this different nuance be incorporated properly into the gameplay?

Something to look forward to from White Hat

I still remember how tensed I became when the round ended, and I still had some cards left. I braved myself to look at my hands and shuddered, gaping at those high-profile ranks. These cards bring Trace points at the aforementioned stage, which negatively impact my winning chance — one way to claim the victory is to have the least Trace points at the end of the game. To prevent this possible discontentment I’ve experienced, White Hat actually opens the possibility to play multiple cards in a trick. It is a possible feat, as long as they have the same rank and match the lead. It helps players to burn cards from their hands swiftly while helping them to win that trick.

There is a wild card in this game named White Hat, which not only acts as a joker but can also catch even the most cautious player off-guard — the White Hat card alters the way we win the trick: who has the lowest rank wins it. It is double-sided, making it more obvious to mark whom currently possesses this powerful card. Thanks to this feature, despite the omnipotent effect, any other player can still anticipate for the tide-turning event.

Just like the other cards, this one also brings some Trace points for the victory calculation, too. Those points on the card may make one fidgeting and biting nails when having it in hands when the round is over. Unlike the conventional cards, White Hat does not head to the discard pile after the trick. Instead, it goes to the trick winner’s hands.

This is an interesting and smart implementation, as it stirs a dilemma up. Players have the option between playing that card, letting another player secure the influential effect — and keep it in hands with the risk of not getting the chance to play it until the end of the round.

Speaking of trick and winning them: your heart may always leap when winning the whole game, but it isn’t always the case if we’re talking about winning the trick in White Hat. Winning a trick means advancing your marker on the board, showing the delicate networks and cyber infrastructure we are infiltrating.

Here lies not only the sensitive data you are targetting — there are virtual traps and digital snares set for those who brazenly drift into some particular virtual spaces. The worst part is to get the marker trapped in a limbo, permanently glued in that exact spot marked with high Trace points.

The different setups, thanks to the add-on tiles to cover the default parts on the board, pretty much drive the replay value up. There are multiple frameworks and variants which the hackers can explore to crack and access the critical information within. It brings variability into the equation, making the game different in many possible ways.

A FEW ASPECTS THAT CAN BE BETTER

Besides the underwhelming cover, I didn’t really get the White Hat hacker vibe, with no malicious intentions from White hat. This aspect does not directly affect the gameplay in general, but getting both theme and mechanic to connect well helps if you want to get more immersed into the game. I have read the flavour texts on each card, but they didn’t really illustrate the difference between the bad hackers and good hackers.

Gameplay-wise, and still related to the theme, we didn’t quite catch the hacking part that much despite adequate jargon usage in digital and computer world. Although mentioned a few times before that the player with the least Trace points wins the game, it is not the primary way to steal the victory. From this point-of-view, White Hat is rather a cut-throat racing game fully packed with tactical decision — the first hacker to reach the sensitive information at the end of the board wins the game. Exactly when a hacker puts his/her hand on that confidential piece, the game abruptly ends, too.

Verdict

Despite the setback in the thematic and background story department, I think White Hat can still be a solid purchase if you are really into trick-taking games. It brings a nice touch to some existing aspects from any other game with the same mechanic, while taking a fresh approach within the gameplay, too. Timing your moment to win the trick is an integral part to avoid the pitfall and getting trapped for the rest of the game. Meanwhile, managing the cards to keep your Trace points at minimal cannot be ignored, too.

White Hat is available after their crowdfunding on Gamefound. I suggest you to check on the other products from Dragon Dawn Productions as well.

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