This review was originally posted on the website of the Perfect Information podcast. It has been reposted here for archival purposes.
It’s not always easy to review a game. Sometimes it’s because you’re too dense to figure it out, even after reading the rulebook twenty times. Sometimes it’s because putting the undeniable strengths and the blatantly apparent weaknesses of a game into words seems to cause more confusion than clarity. Or sometimes it’s even because your opinion runs so hilariously counter to everybody else’s, that the task of carefully and clearly laying out the reasons why a game fails, and gearing up to defend and argue your position just isn’t really worth the bother.
Hein? (or Huh?) fits none of these categories. This is a game that is hard to review, because its design seems so minimalistic that it is barely perceptible. Hein? is basically spoken Charades using a Dixit-like scoring method.
There. That’s it. Review over. If you know Charades and Dixit, you should know whether this game is for you. Or not.
No seriously, there’s little to say here. It’s like reviewing a re-themed version of Monopoly. Although, admittedly that comparison is a little off, since Monopoly is actually awful. (And I don’t care if people have fun with it or not. Arguing that Monopoly is in fact a good game, is like arguing that McDonald’s food is in fact healthy for you. It just isn’t. Stop deluding yourself. It really doesn’t matter how much you love any of their burgers.)
Admittedly, if there is one thing that can be said about Hein?… it is that it may not be ambitious enough in putting a new twist on an established idea. Yes, the scoring mechanism works very well. It gives players a challenge – vaguely reminiscent of Codenames – to tackle: reduce your hint to the absolute minimum and do it as subtly and cleverly as you can to make sure that as few people as possible actually catch on.
By doing so, your attention is drawn to the game portion of Charades as opposed to the activity of prancing about urging your team to say “fish” instead of regurgitating the same three ways of calling Prince by name. You are trying to get into people’s heads, your mining your shared knowledge of pop culture (as this edition of Hein? deals exclusively with movies, celebrities and TV) and choose your words very, very carefully.
Of course, it goes without saying, that this only works if you care about scoring points at all. Something that a great many games of Charades quickly dispense with as the evening drags on, because yelling at each other is just so much gosh-darn fun.
But fun is something that Hein? actually does fairly competently. It’s not a game to revolutionise the outer fringes of board gaming, where aunts, uncles and grand-parents converge to indulge their “playful” side. Yet it is a decidedly non-painful way of playing a game with people who feel intimidated or uneasy in the presence of more than one die, actual artwork on a board or cards with more than one game-function to them.
Still, Hein? lacks the one special ingredient to make people sit up and take notice. The je-ne-sais-quoi of game design. Like suggesting to play Twister in mixed company. (Or if I were still in puberty: non-mixed company.)
As it is, Hein? is a perfectly servicable, arguably superiour alternative to a basic parlor or trivia game. It’s not a ground-breaking, must-have addition to people’s collection. It’s a great gift to bring to your in-laws, even if it won’t get them excited or interested in some of the more unique pleasures of board gaming. And maybe that’s ok. Not every game that is good, needs to be ground-breaking and redefine its genre. Sometimes good is good enough.