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Tom Vasel
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I write this review as I come back from a game day at the school where I am a teacher. We played quite a few games, but one of the most popular – and a game I use at almost any gathering of children – was tug of war. There’s just something about having 20 children on each side of a rope, pulling with all their might, straining and heaving. What’s even more fun is when the children match up against the teachers, and drag them across the floor. Heave Ho! is a game that simulates the wonderful game of Tug of War, in a Scottish setting.

So is this two-player game in the Kosmos series (designed by Richard Borg in 2002) worth your time? My answer is that while not overly strategic, I have found it to be a remarkably fun and funny experience. Let’s explain a bit more…

First, a synopsis of game play…

A long, thin board is placed between the players. There are six spaces on the board, three facing each player. The three spaces are different colors (red, blue, and green), and show a Scotsman pulling a rope, with a value of “2”. There is also a scoring track on the board, made up of 12 spaces. Five whisky barrels are placed next to the board, and a deck of 55 cards is shuffled. Twenty cards are dealt to each player, and the rest of the cards are set aside, not to be used in this round of the game.

Each round is made up of two phases – building the teams, and the tug-of-war. Building the teams is a contest of speed. Each player takes their stack of twenty cards and places it in front of them, face down. At a signal, the players draw the top two cards, and place each in a different stack – one for their own use, and one for the opponent’s. They then take the next two cards, etc., etc. When one player finishes with his twenty cards, they shout, “Stop!” At this point, they get three rewards. First, they can separate the remaining cards of their opponents stack. Secondly, they take one of the barrels and place it one of the middle two spaces of the scoring track (the one closer to their side). Thirdly, they are the first player for this round. Each player takes the cards for them (the stack they built for themselves, and the stack their opponent built for them) and shuffles it together, forming a draw pile for themselves. Each player draws six cards from their stack, and the tug-of war commences.

On their turn, a player plays a card from their hand on the board, then draws one. There are three different types of cards. The first are action cards. These cards are discarded, but allow the player to take a special action that will benefit his team. (They can discard the card and not take the action.) “Tuggers” are cards that are played onto the board. Each tugger has a value of “0”, “1”, “2”, or “3”, and must be placed on the board in one of the two spaces that match the color on the card. (Therefore, if I have a “0” blue tugger, it usually makes sense for me to play it in the opponent’s slot, and if I have “3”, it’s usually better to play it in mine). A tugger replaces the one that is already there in that slot. “Robust dames” are played similar to “tuggers” except that their values range from “0” to “6”, and their color is white. This makes them neutral, and allows them to be played on top of any color of either side.

Some cards are the words “Heave, ho!” on them. Whenever one of these cards is played, players immediately total up the strength of each side. This is done by adding the numbers of the top cards on each player’s side and comparing them. The player with the higher number moves the barrel on the scoring track spaces equal to the difference in the amounts. If the barrel moves to or past the goal (end space on the track) for one of the players, that player wins that barrel. If a round ends (both players run out of cards) without either player moving the barrel to their goal, then whoever has the barrel closer to their side wins it. A new round is then played, and continues until one player wins three barrels – making them the winner!

Some comments on the game…

1). Components: All the components, including the box, have a Scottish flair to theme – although it is extremely on the humorous side. In general, the artwork is rather hilarious (by Franz Vohwinkel) and is exceptionally well done. When the cards are laid on the board, it certainly does look like a tug-of-war is occurring, and the game is rather visually appealing. The cards are of good quality, and have a flannel backing. The barrels are nice for a visual effect, and are good wooden bits. Everything fits well into the box, which is decorated and illustrated both inside and out. Kosmos (Rio Grande) has put together a fabulous little selection of components here.

2). Rules: The rules are printed on 3 pages, with a few small colored illustrations. They are easily divided into sections for understanding of the game. On a fourth page is a complete explanation of the action cards – an invaluable help to playing them correctly. I’ve found the game very easy to teach (although skipping team building may help.)

3). Team Building: The rules recommend playing without “team building” for the first game, but I wouldn’t recommend skipping it every time after that – as it is a crucial part to playing. It adds a speed element to the game, as you quickly decide what cards you get, and what cards to pass off onto your opponent. It’s an excellent way to determine who goes first – and speeds up the game. There is no analysis paralysis here! Not only that, however, but you know half of your deck, and half of your opponent’s – which can always come in handy. Some people naturally do better with this part – as they can read quickly and move faster. However, this isn’t as big a problem as it sounds. If you really want to go first, you can just randomly sort out your half the deck as fast as you can – giving you the starting advantages (although you’ll have no idea what cards you have.) Your opponent might follow suit, but you can take comfort in the thought that they are just putting down random cards then.

4). Action cards: The action cards make the game fairly interesting. Knowing which action cards you or your opponent is helpful, so I think the game flows smoothly after a game or two, when both players realize what cards are possible. For example, one action card acts as a “Heave Ho!”, but the weaker player wins. If players know this card is in the deck, it helps how they play tremendously. I recommend when teaching the game, to quickly run over an explanation of what each special card does – it will really help out beginning players.

5). Strategy and Luck: There is a great deal of luck in the game, but the team building helps iron a bit of that out. Usually it’s pretty obvious where to play each card – if it’s a high number, put it on your side, otherwise put it on the opponent’s side. However, a few choices do present themselves in the game, and it’s fun to make these fairly easy decisions.

6). Fun Factor and Theme: The game is brimming with theme. Yes, it’s an exercise in numbers, but it really feels like you are tugging the rope against your opponent. Playing the hefty dames and the Loch Ness Monster add to both the theme and the fun. The humorous drawings, the yelling that occurs as each player puts low numbers on the opponent’s side, and the general atmosphere that the game incurs all make this game a rollicking time.

There are some better two-player games in the Kosmos Line – Hera and Zeus, Balloon Cup, Odin’s Ravens, and Lost Cities. But Heave Ho! is a quick, very fun game, and sometimes just seems to fit the mood better. When I want to play a very fun, fast game with minimal strategy, a good bit of luck, and a lot of theme – I’ll pick Heave Ho! Some of the ideas are also used in Balloon Cup, with better implementation, but Heave Ho! is quicker. So while this may not be my first choice for a two-player game to buy, it’s a top pick after you’ve gotten the classics. When you’re feeling tired, and don’t want to use your brain too much, try it out, and have a bit of fun!

Tom Vasel
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