A Gnome's Ponderings

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The value and limit of In Hand games

Lowell Kempf
United States
Tucson
Arizona
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Lately, I’ve been playing a lot of In Hand games. And by that, I mean even more than usual. For one reason or another, I just haven’t had a table handy.

(And yes, I can play a vast number of games, solitaire and otherwise, on devices. But it is a different experiences and I am convinced that manually playing an analog game brings other parts of the brain on deck)

This has led me to the twin revelations of 1) There’s a lot you can do with the In Hand format and 2) Wow, is it limited.

The Zed Deck is a zombie horror survival game that even has a rudimentary combat system. Flipword is a honestly solid word/party game. Palm Island is a good resource management game. Elevenses for One, um, is sorting cards but it’s good.

That’s just the first four In Hand games that came to my mind and each one is a pretty distinct experience. And I will argue each is a genuine game experience, not just an exercising in fidgeting. (I enjoy Down and Labyrinth Runner but I also think they are fidgeting activities)

But, while the Zed Deck does have a combat system, most zombie horror games have more developed, frankly better combat systems. And much more developed and immersive exploration systems. If I had the time and space and other players and a copy, I’d rather play Last Night On Earth, just as one example.

Palm Island is actually an impressively full Euro Game experience. You need to manage resources and improve your infrastructure to do even marginally well. But it pales in comparison to larger games that require a table.

One more example, just because it’s so crazy. The 2022 In Hand Contest has a tile-laying game called Little Dingy. But, apart from novelty, you can’t compare it to Carcassonne or Isle of Skye. Even if I am more fair and compare it to other micro tile laying games, Orchard or Sprawlopolis blow Little Dingy out of the water.

On the one hand, In Hand games have been developing a surprising range of gaming experiences. On the other hand, In Hand games are definitively not a replacement or substitute for games that use surfaces.

Post Script: While this doesn’t change the ultimate conclusion, if I used a clip board, pencil and some way of rolling dice, I could greatly increase the range of my table-free gaming. However, playing an In Hand game of Elevenses for One is a lot more discrete than playing a game of Yahtzee
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