Aphenphosmphobia. Don’t ask me to pronounce it – I wasn’t even able to type it! But if you’ve got it, don’t play this game. You see, aphenphosmphobia is the fear of touching, and so is naturally associated with clinical hugging anxieties. In the game of Hugs, you’ll be putting the squeeze on so many friends and family that your face will turn blue and your extremities will go numb. Yeah, the term “personal bubble?” Doesn’t exist, here!
How it Plays
Hugs is a children’s game with a smattering of mechanics blended well at a rudimentary level. Mainly, there is a prominent memory and matching element, but the title also incorporates very basic or partial constructs of deduction, bluffing, push-your-luck, and spite – even if only in their most elementary forms. Your goal is to get various family members, friends, and even a pet or two in some warm, lovable, rib-cracking body grips. Just like at any family gathering, some members are more loved than others, so you want to match up the people worth the most points by getting them to the board and claiming them with your Hug tokens.
The game board consists of alternating red/white squares in a checkerboard fashion. Twenty-eight character tokens are placed face-down and mixed up to the side to create a common pool. Then each player takes the five Hug tokens of their color.
On your turn, you may initiate one of four actions. First, you can take a character at random from the pool and place it face down on a red, character square. You cannot reveal or view the character at that time. Or you can place one of your Hug counters on the board next to or between character tiles. Each Hug token has a straight, double-arrowed line which ideally points to a pair of character tokens on opposing sides – either from left to right, or up and down, depending on how you orient your Hug counter. The two characters pointed to in this fashion will hug each other for end-game scoring. Be careful, though! Some of the characters are not lovable family members, but instead heartless appliances (grey) or creepy animals (black) and will cost you points. Once positioned, you may not rotate your Hug counters – so make sure it points to the characters you want!
Of course, you’re lacking a great deal of information by which to make decisions at this point. So instead of placing character or Hug tiles, you may choose to peek at a character already on the board. Place it back face down after looking and don’t tell any family secrets. Finally, you may instead want to enhance your own situation a little – or mess with your opponents – by replacing a character token on the board with a random one from the common supply. However, you cannot perform this action on a character that is adjacent to more than one Hug token.
If all of the character spaces become occupied, then the only action allowed to players is to place their Hug counters. The game ends when either everyone runs out of Hug tokens or when all board spaces are occupied. At that point, all of the character tokens are flipped over and scored based on how the Hug counters pair them together. Individual characters can be scored by multiple players. The player with the highest points is declared the most annoyingly lovable and won’t be invited back to next year’s reunion. Beats a trophy any day of the week, if you ask me.
Wrap Your Arms Around This One?
Do you have a crazy, old, great aunt that smells like her cats, always has cold skin, and pinches your cheeks. Or how about a brawny brother-in-law with an embrace like a vice grip and smacks your shoulder like he’s trying to shake chestnuts from a tree? Well, run from them no longer. Now, you can earn points with those irritating hugs! Okay, so the theme is a bit silly, but certainly on a child’s level, which is the point. Of brighter note is that Hugs actually empowers kids in a manner that few titles in the genre do. The action allowance mechanic gives them real choices, instead of simply rolling and moving or drawing a card. Pulling a face down character chit to place on the board is definitely as random as it comes. But after that, players can control much of what information they gain through peeking, before placing their Hug counters in the field.
There is a bit of risk-taking, as well. One, you could try and quickly fill all of the character spaces, which leaves placing Hug tokens as the only possible action. Then things are somewhat more random. Also, you understandably will want to claim the high pointcharacters right away as you peek at them, but if oriented in the wrong direction and/or placed on the wrong side, that prime family member may end up paired with a gray or black token. You can always remove bad characters, of course, but this uses up actions in which you can be doing something else.
The memory and deduction elements are strong and kind of tied together. After determining a character’s value by peeking, you’ll certainly want to remember it as that may prove beneficial later. That can be harder than it sounds, since you’ll be peeking at and replacing multiple ones. Children always seem to perform better at these memory elements than adults. Or maybe it’s just that I’m worse at it than my own kids!
You can also make some relatively good inferences as to the value of some other tokens based upon where your opponents place their Hug counters. If they lay one next to a character that they just peeked at on the previous turn, you might assume it’s a good value. In that case, plopping down your own Hug token on another side of that same character, without even looking at it first, is a neat little push-your-luck facet.
Another intriguing aspect to Hugs which few children’s games have is interaction. With the option to replace tokens, you can get rid of a high point character which another player has already tried to match. Now in our experience, we have used this action way more often to improve our own situation by removing unfavorable characters near our personal Hug tokens. But on occasion, we’ve been known to spoil one another’s efforts with a gleeful twinkle in our eyes. It’s never too terrible or very frequent, yet enough to teach young ones that premeditated spite is common to many hobby games, and should be implemented for game reasons, rather than personal.
The components in this boxed version are, once again, an improvement from VP’s polybag games. Due to the laser cutting process, be aware that there is black soot left behind on the counters’ edges after punching them out. However, since there are few of them in Hugs, it’s an easy chore to clean them. I’m not a fan of the puzzle-cut board, because the pieces do not fit seamlessly, but at least it is mounted. The paper board does not lay flat.
The only quirky game play experience that I noted with my youngest kids (ages 5 and 6) was a propensity to concentrate on peeking, which is not too surprising. There tends to be a large phase in the game in which I place character tokens on the board and then they promptly peek at them; rinse and repeat. After some coaching, they grew more assertive in getting their Hug tokens out sooner to take advantage of discovering prime characters.
Hugs is a fantastic little title for transitioning kids into the more refined aspects of the hobby. It works well with two, three, or four players and never feels like it’s dragging. Despite the theme’s meekness, the game eschews random movement and resolution associated with so many dumbed-down kids’ games; nor does it rely on frivolous, dexterity trappings to level the field. Instead, the action allowance mechanic offers a smart mixture of ways in which children can gradually reveal their situation and then manipulate the board to maximize points or mess with others, all while taking a chance that they can arrange things before some one else forces the endgame. Of course, as children they necessarily won’t be thinking in those terms as they’re learning them, which makes it all the better.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Victory Point Games for providing a review copy of Hugs.