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Introducing Hot Potato



Glory to Rome has almost single-handedly put publisher Cambridge Games Factory on the gaming map. The packaging didn't always get a lot of love, and the artwork was the subject of criticism from some quarters, but boy, was the game ever good! The good news is that Cambridge is putting out several new titles out in 2011 (I think their new strategy card game Barons is especially one to watch for!). The bad news - at least in the minds of some - is that this new series of game comes in the same packaging, and features similar quality components. But there are those who appreciated the almost juvenile artwork of Glory to Rome, and I here to tell you that this style really really works for their brand new family-style card game called Hot Potato.

Here's the concept: you're passing "hot potato" cards around the table, and if you get a "hot potato", you'll need action cards to pass it left or right. You'll want to do this, because if you're caught holding the hot potato and can't pass it on, you suffer a "burn". Player with the least burns wins! You can also add seasonings which increase the burns and do other crazy stuff. It's a really cool theme, and my kids were dying to play it when they saw the package and heard about the concept! And I have to admit that they were right, and the game really did live up to their expectations.

So let's find out more about this new light card game from Cambridge Games Factory.


Three deck boxes - that means lots of cards!

COMPONENTS

Game box

Yes I've said it already: It's the same kind of box that we saw with Glory to Rome. And let's be honest, it wasn't that bad was it? If Glory to Rome has done anything, maybe it's just helped us get used to this kind of thing! There has to be some way to get games into our hands cheaply, and if cheap packaging is the worst characteristic of a game, I can live with that - it's the gameplay that really counts!


Typical packaging from Cambridge Games Factory

So here's what's inside, when we get our first look after opening up the plastic container.


A first look inside the box

Component list

So what do you get inside the box? Here's a complete list:
● scoreboard
● 12 hot potatoes
● 132 brown action cards
● 24 duplicate seasoning cards
● 9 player pawns & chips
● golden potato chip & stand
● expansion
● rulebook


All the components

Hot Potatoes

Let's start with the awesome Hot Potato cards! There are 12 of these, and they're over-sized cards featuring ... hot potatoes! There are three different styles of artwork, which have no effect on gameplay, but they do add to the amusement factor of the game. Don't miss the delightful Princess Potato, which was originally an in-house joke, but ended up making the final cut in the published game!


Yellow Hot Potatoes in three styles

The cards have yellow on one side and red on the other - when they're passed on to another player they're flipped over from yellow to red, and vice versa, which is just a handy game mechanic for keeping track of which potatoes have been passed on.


The reverse side of the Hot Potato cards

Scoreboard

Now remember, you don't want to be caught holding that hot potato! So what happens if you can't pass it on? The potato explodes and you suffer a burn. That's where the score track comes in - it's used to keep track of the amount of `burns' each player suffers, and goes all the way up to 20.


The score track

Player pawns and chips

The game can handle up to nine players, and so there are nine player tokens in different colours, which will be used on the scoreboard for keeping track of `burns'.


Player pawns in nine colours

Corresponding to each player colour is a matching chip - this is placed in front of players to help keep track of which pawn belongs to which player.


Player chips in nine colours

Action cards

So how do you get to pass on those hot potatoes? Here's where the action cards come in - and there's a massive deck of 132 of them.


The deck of Action cards

These are what players will be drawing and playing to keep the game flowing. The action cards come in two types:

Pass Action cards (brown)

If you have a potato in front of you at the start of a turn, you'll be able to play a "Pass Action" card on it - in fact you'll want to do this in order to move this life-threatening object on to another player! There are several different types of Pass Action cards, and although they do different things, effectively they all get the job done of moving that hot potato away from you - which is all you really care about isn't it?!

Pass Left and Pass Right cards speak for themselves, while the Pass Left or Right gives you a choice as to which direction you'll be sending that hot potato. Straight forward stuff - just read the text on the cards and follow the instructions!


Pass action cards that send a hot potato to your neighbour

Skip cards let you skip a player when sending the hot potato left or right. The Toss card lets you throw a hot potato to any player - usually you'll pick someone who is winning the game, or who is as far away from you as possible so that they can't send it back!


More pass action cards

And then there are ways of multiplying those hot potatoes! If you Chop your hot potato, you make an extra copy of it (we'll explain how that works in a moment) - so now you'll have two hot potatoes on your hands, and you'll send one to the player on your left and one to the player on your right. Split Left and Split Right work in the same way, but both potatoes go in the same direction. Why play with one hot potato when you can increase the danger factor and play with more?! Brilliant I say!


Pass action cards that create new potatoes

Seasoning cards (blue)

But the excitement is long not over. Because if you thought that playing with dangerous hot potatoes was exciting, just wait until we add seasonings. There are five different types of "Seasoning" cards in the deck - these are clearly identified by their bright blue colour. Whenever you play one of these on a hot potato before passing it on, you'll get to draw a card, but more importantly they'll make the hot potatoes more nasty for the other players you'll be giving them to!


Five types of `seasoning' cards

A Huge hot potato will cause an extra burn if you're caught holding it when it explodes - there are twice as many of these cards as the other seasonings. A Flaming hot potato will inflict a burn to everyone who touches it - even if they pass it on. A Popping hot potato will `pop' when it explodes, so that neighbouring players will also suffer a burn and not just the poor soul who is caught holding it. Normally you get to draw a card if you do suffer the misfortune of having a potato explode on you, but if your potato is Mashed you don't even get that honour. Meanwhile a Ban Pass Left card will help cause chaos with potato movement, since there are more Pass Left action cards than Pass Right action cards in the deck.

Duplicate Seasoning cards

When you Chop or Split a hot potato and create a new one, you just take a new Hot Potato card. But you must match the seasonings of the original potato exactly - makes sense, doesn't it?! Rather than just dig through the deck for the same seasonings, you must take "duplicate" seasoning cards, which are clearly marked with a red/orange/yellow border to distinguish them from the regular seasoning cards, and are kept separate from the rest of the deck. There are 4 of each (8 of the Huge ones), meaning that supplies are limited - and if you don't have enough duplicate seasoning available to Chop or Split your potato, then your Chopping and Splitting exercise goes horribly wrong, and the potato explodes in your hands instead - and you get burnt! Serves you right for wishing multiple burns on your opponents!


The `duplicate seasoning' cards have coloured borders

Golden Potato Chip

You were looking forward to this part weren't you?! The Golden Potato Chip - it almost sounds like the coveted Golden Ticket that Charlie needed to get into Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory! Well, here this deep-fried remnant of a hot potato is just used as a way of remembering the starting player - and also serves as a tie-breaker in certain instances.


The starting player Golden Potato Chip

Rulebook

The rules aren't long, and are effectively several letter sized pages folded and stapled length-ways. The eight pages consist of very pleasant sized large print, clear headings, and are accompanied by several colour illustrations, so a quick read will have you mastering the game in no time, and with very few if any questions. It's the kind of game you can explain to someone in just a few minutes, and have them enjoying themselves quickly and easily.


Rulebook cover and sample contents

Expansion

A few additional expansion cards are included as the Director's Cut.


The included Director's Cut expansion

We'll get to and explain these later.


All the expansion cards

GAME-PLAY

Setup

After our guided tour of the components, you almost already know everything there is to know about the gameplay, so learning this is going to be a cinch!

Player Pawns & Chips: Everyone takes a pawn in their chosen colour, which they put on the "0" on the scoreboard, and places a matching coloured chip in front of them.

Golden Potato Chip: Assign the Golden Potato Chip to the oldest potato - errr, oldest player. Note that a complete game consists of three rounds, so this lucky fellow will get to give the Golden Potato Chip to another player at the start of the second round, who'll give it to yet another player at the start of the third round.

Hot Potatoes: The first round starts with just one Hot Potato in play, but the pressure will heat up from round to round: start with 1 Hot Potato in Round 1, 2 Hot Potatoes in Round 2, 3 Hot Potatoes in Round 3. The Golden Potato Chip player always gets a Hot Potato to start the game, and if there are more Hot Potatoes at the start of a round they're given to the player(s) on his left. In games with 6 or more players you add in one extra Hot Potato at the start of each round, which is given to a player chosen by our Golden Potato Chip hero.

Action deck & cards: Shuffle the Action deck and give everyone five cards. The Duplicate Seasoning cards should be placed where they are readily available as well.


Setup for a four player game

Let's get those potatoes moving - they are hot after all!

Flow of play

Each of the three rounds consists of passing around the hot potatoes until they've all exploded, and at the end of three rounds it's the player with the least burns who is the winner. Each turn consists of the following five steps:



1. Place Cards

All players who have hot potatoes in front of them may play one brown pass action card face-down on each potato in front of them. If you played a brown pass action card on a potato, you may also play one blue seasoning card on that potato.


A nice hand of action cards to choose from - but no seasoning cards!

2. Reveal Seasonings

Now, simultaneously, all players reveal the (blue) seasonings they've added to their hot potatoes. These will permanently modify those potatoes, and move along with them. Potatoes can have multiple seasonings at once, even several of the same kind - which can sometimes make them very potent indeed! And you thought that potatoes couldn't terrify you? - just you wait!


Cards have been placed on potatoes and are ready to be revealed

3. Chop & Split

Now all the players may reveal their brown pass action cards. This can be done simultaneously, to keep the game moving (the rules aren't entirely as clear on this point as they could be, as discussed here). But there are instances where the order in which this is resolved can matter (e.g. if there are not enough duplicate seasoning cards available when multiple players chop and split potatoes). When this happens, resolve the cards clockwise from the player with the golden potato chip.

Chop and Split cards will create duplicate potatoes, which happens as follows: take a new Hot Potato card, along with matching duplicate seasoning cards to match the ones on the original potato, and then pass both potatoes in the directions indicated by the Chop or Split card. As mentioned before, if there aren't enough duplicate seasoning cards to successfully perform a Chop or Split, then the potato explodes instead, and you cop a burn! Note that whenever you do pass a Hot Potato to another player, you flip the card (from red to yellow or yellow to red); this is to help players keep track of which potatoes have been passed on and which ones haven't.


How to chop a Hot Potato into two

4. Pass Potatoes

Keep those potatoes moving! After the Chop and Split cards have been resolved, you resolve the Pass Left/Right cards and the Skip/Toss cards. In most cases you can do all this simultaneously, even at the same time as when you resolve the Chop & Split cards. As already noted, when you do pass a potato to another player, remember to flip it from red to yellow, or vice versa.


Passing on a really nasty potato

5. Explode Potatoes!

So now are there any potatoes that did not get passed on this turn? These are the potatoes that a player was not able to play a brown action card on at the start of this turn, and as a result they will be the only potatoes that haven't been flipped to a different colour. These explode and cause one burn each to the poor player caught holding them. As compensation - unless the potato is Mashed - they do get to draw another card. That's handy, because as a round progresses you'll find yourself running out of action cards - the only way to draw new ones is if you play a Seasoning card, or if a hot potato explodes on you!


A poor player trying to prevent four potatoes from exploding at once!

End of Round & Game

This process is repeated until all potatoes have exploded. After three rounds (with each round beginning with one extra hot potato at the start), the game ends, and the player with the least burns is the winner. What if there's a tie? Then out of sympathy the player with the most burns is the winner! I love this rule, because it means that even the player who is dead last can try to find a way to orchestrate a tie, and manage a surprising win - and this has happened to us more than once, as was the case in the game below where the often-burned Orange player was the surprise winner!


Red and yellow are tied... so Orange wins!

If two players are tied for this position also, the player with the Golden Potato Chip is the winner.

Expansion

The game comes with a few extra cards, packaged separately as the "Directors Cut", and marked as suitable only after first mastering the basic game.


Instructions for the Directors Cut expansion

These expansion cards include a new Vampiric Seasoning card, which sucks all seasonings from other potatoes in front of you to the Vampire potato.


The new Vampiric seasoning cards

There are also two new pass action cards: a Tin Foil, which allows you to pass a potato to yourself without it exploding and heal one burn for each potato in front of you at the end of that turn; and an Oven Mitt, which also allows you to hold on to a potato for a turn without it exploding, and lets you draw cards for each potato in front of you at the end of that turn.


The new Oven Mitt and Tin Foil action cards

These cards inject some new interest and twists to the regular game.

CONCLUSIONS

What do I think?

The theme of this game goes over amazingly with children. When my kids first saw this game, the artwork on the cover and the theme alone had them begging me to go play it, and they were super eager to get it to the table. When it finally did get played, they were constantly saying things like "This game is so much fun!" "I'm liking this game already!". One of the reasons for this is that kids can readily identify with the idea of passing a hot potato - not that they do this regularly at dinner time, but there are well-known children's songs like "Hot Potato, pass it on; Pass it on; Pass it on; Hot Potato, pass it on.... " It's silly, sure, but it's very different from any other game I've played, and that's why it works. We've seen the idea of playing action cards many times before, but can you think of a game that combines it with passing around hot potatoes? That's why it feels novel here, and the mechanic of passing around really fits the theme - and this is really going to be the chief selling point for this family game. Even the fairly simple and almost childish artwork - which would be a liability for most games - is just right for this particular game, given the target audience and style.

Granted, there's a lot of luck in the game, and the only real decisions you make are about which pass-action or seasoning cards you can play - from the very limited selection of options available to you have in your hand. But that's why it's a family game and not a strategy game. Hot Potato is more about the fun and tension of the game-play - will you get burned? Will the person on your left or right send their hot potato your way? Will you draw another action card so you can get rid of the Hot Potato before it explodes? Because the action is happening simultaneously, fast and furious, there's a strong sense of suspense and tension about what will happen next - and it's this that makes the game work. Players will be eager to send a hot potato the way of a player who has the least `burns', so there's a good sense of competition and rivalry that inevitably will occur: "Send a hot potato to the green player, because he's winning!" The amount of players will also change the feel of the game, but one strength of the game is that it can handle up to 9 players, and everyone is involved in the game throughout.

Are there any minuses? Well there is a small sense in which the game is a bit fiddly, as players are attaching seasonings, playing action cards, and flipping and moving potatoes - although players will quickly get accustomed to this and it flows quickly and smoothly with some experience. If you don't have a potato in front of you, you don't get to do anything of this - although as the rules point out, this probably means you are winning, so you should take the time to gloat! But this does mean that for the game to be best enjoyed, it should be played quickly and casually. Ideally it would even seem be best to do some of the steps simultaneously, to keep the game from dragging, but there are the odd times when the order in which things are resolved can be important, and waiting while all players resolve their actions in clockwise order can slow things down a little, especially when everyone is keen to move on to the next step. As for the luck element - certainly it's there, but I wouldn't consider it a minus point for this game, since it's light and fun and snack-like, just like potato chips!

Overall, the ingredients are just right to make it an ideal family game. There aren't layers of strategy to explore and chew over - but then again, isn't that true of crispy potato chips as well? This is a snack style game that is best enjoyed quickly and casually from time to time, and isn't intended to become a staple diet for gamers. Having said that, children who enjoy it are likely to ask for it a lot. That to me is an indication of it being a hit with its target audience.


Some of the Hot Potatoes

What do kids think?

Let's hear directly from some kids. I've had the opportunity to play Hot Potato with at least six different children across a spectrum of ages, so I asked them what they thought of this new game. Here's what they had to say, in their own words:

What do you like about Hot Potato?

7 year old: "That it has got different potatoes, and it's fun. Because you can pass potatoes around, and you put different seasonings on. I like the potato chip and the chips." Rating: 7/10
9 year old: "That if you don't have enough action cards, the potato will explode in your face!" Rating: 8.5/10
10 year old: "I liked it because it was just a crazy game. You're constantly passing potatoes and everything." Rating: 7.5/10
13 year old #1: "I like the theme. It's interesting how you can season the potatoes to do different things. I like how you can pass them on to people, and when it explodes in their face!" Rating: 8.5/10
13 year old #2: "It was very different, it was exciting, it was just fun. It was pretty cool passing around a potato, because it ties in with the song. It's even more fun with more players." Rating: 7.5/10
14 year old: "Good game! - just the idea of constantly passing these potatoes around." Rating: 8.5/10



Recommendation

So is Hot Potato a game for you? If you don't like potato chip games and prefer only heavy dinner gaming, then this might not be for you. But the rest of us can count on having some good times and laughter with it. It's especially great if you're looking for something that's fun to play with kids. I love the theme and the idea of passing around a hot potato - and it's simple enough that it works. While it's quite luck based, that doesn't matter because it's short and fun, and the rules are simple and straight-forward. I'm glad that Cambridge Games Factory doesn't just provide heavier card games, but potato-chip type gaming snacks as well!


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mb The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596

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Andy Andersen
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Maybe a cottage industry should spring up to make cardboard boxes for Cambridge Games. Outstanding review as always.thumbsupthumbsup
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Andrew Tullsen
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So you can only get more cards either if you are playing seasoning cards (which you drew) or if potatoes explode on you? So it's the luck of the draw to have drawn cards which give you more cards?
 
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Howitzer_120mm wrote:
So you can only get more cards either if you are playing seasoning cards (which you drew) or if potatoes explode on you? So it's the luck of the draw to have drawn cards which give you more cards?

In most rounds players will each get to play a maximum of five pass-action cards, which is the size of your starting hand. Sometimes you won't even be able to play them all, e.g. if you only have a Pass Left card, and you get a potato with a Ban Pass Left. Having a potato explode on you (and hence drawing an extra card) is really the only way to possibly get more than five pass-action cards in a round - but it also likely means you've taken some burns, and could use a break!

Seasoning cards don't increase this - because if you have a seasoning in hand it really means you have one less pass-action card to begin with. So being able to draw a card by playing a seasoning really is just a way to replace the seasoning card (hopefully with a pass-action card). Effectively seasoning cards thus just add spice to the game, and don't really mean you'll get more pass-action cards than other players that round. So the luck element isn't so much in whether or not you get to draw lots of pass-action cards in a round - it's more about the luck of what kind and how many potatoes come in your direction and what you can do about them.

The only way to actually increase your net card draw of pass-action cards is with the help of the Oven Mitt card from the expansion that's included.

So yes, choices are limited, and there is a good dollop of luck - but it really doesn't matter because rounds are played quickly. With this kind of game in a family or casual setting it's all about the fun of passing those potatoes and trying to avoid getting burned - and some laughs all-round if you do!
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Howitzer_120mm wrote:
So you can only get more cards either if you are playing seasoning cards (which you drew) or if potatoes explode on you? So it's the luck of the draw to have drawn cards which give you more cards?


Ender is correct in his response. Each player will get 5 options to get rid of potatoes each round. If you have only action cards, those are your 5 options. If you have some seasonings, then once you play them you'll draw into actions, for the same total of 5 options. If seasonings didn't draw you cards, they would be really bad to draw! So, is it better or worse to have seasonings in hand?

(a) Better: You can control when you add the seasonings, potentially holding off until you have a better idea of who will get stuck with them.

(b) Worse: You won't have as big array of actions early in the round (before drawing replacements), so you might be able to, for example, toss away a really dangerous potato. Drawing cards sooner is better than later, so you can plan out your turn.

Mostly the seasonings are just air in your hand, and it doesn't matter all that much who played them. Rather, the mechanic is a way of injecting variety into play (so that not all potatoes are the same) in a semi-controlled fashion.

For those players of Magic the Gathering, think "Is Urza's Bauble broken?" (and say it ten times fast!). It's pretty much neutral, and can be slightly good or slightly bad depending on the context.
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