Designed by Eduardo Baraf and Jonathan Gilmour, Heroes & Tricks is a fantasy themed trick taking card game. I loved the concept of a deduction trick taking game that plays out of a tiny box, but was rather disappointed by Heroes & Tricks. Let’s take a look and let me explain why.
How to Play Heroes & Tricks
The gist of the game is that a hero card is draw secretly by one player, setting the trump suit and color for the trick. They place the hero card and a play card into the box, so subsequent players only see the last card played. After all players have played, the trick is revealed and the best card (highest matching card) is awarded the hero card as a point. This repeats until players only have 2 cards left, then the player who has the most points wins. For detailed instructions, watch the video below from the game designer.
Heroes & Tricks comes in a small box and is played directly out of the box, making it perfect for on-the-go gaming. Portable games are wonderful, not just for transporting between different meetups, but also for being able to play in unconventional locations (such as in convention lines, camping, etc.). Heroes & Tricks certainly lives up to its advertised on-the-go aspect, but I found a few issues with it. Playing cards into the front of the box works fairly well, just leaving the top card exposed. However, players need to be very slick about playing gear cards with their play cards, so they don’t tip off other players. Secondly, only the lead player is supposed to know what hero card is drawn. When placed in the back of the box as illustrated in the rules, it becomes visible to neighboring players as you draw. I am always careful to hide hero cards as I draw them and put them in the trick to avoid informing players what suit or color to play. Other players are more careless and pulled heroes for everyone to see, ruining the deduction aspect of the game. Both the gear cards and play cards are stored in the middle of the box with one divider to separate from the hero cards. At the end of rounds when cards are discarded, they become a mess in the middle of the box. This isn’t an issue for standard play, as you don’t need access to these decks. For the extended play and 2-player variants, this is a nuisance when new cards need to be dealt out for additional rounds. I solved this by facing the tops of the gear and play decks together in the middle, so discards can be added at either end. It was still a bit annoying to remind players to discard gear cards at the back and play cards at the front. I think an additional divider would have improved the box organization.
The 2-player game is completely unbalanced, favoring the first player. In the 2-player variant, the lead player each round draws 2 hero cards instead of 1. One is selected to be the bonus hero and the other faces out to players as in the standard game. Four tricks are played and the bonus hero is awarded to player who played the best card for that hero’s suit and color. The bonus hero is never seen by the opposing player and they get no information to deduce what that hero may be. Whereas, they see a card played on the standard hero and can guess that the hidden hero matches that card’s suit or color (or both). Since there are 3 rounds of 4 tricks, each player will draw and play 6 hero cards in the regular way, but the first player gets to draw 2 bonus heroes and the other only 1. This gives the first player a fairly significant advantage. The only thing that can sway a game another way is unlucky draws or deals, such as the second player getting high numbered cards that happen to match the heroes drawn by the first player. Admittedly, I don’t know if there is anything that can be done to fix this. I tried playing only 2 rounds, but this almost always ended in a tie unless one player had the Jade Statue or Opal Ring gear cards (which give a trick winner an extra point). Additionally, certain gear cards such as Vorpal Dagger guarantee a win in 2-player games (explained on BGG). Heroes & Tricks simply doesn’t work well as a 2-player game.
There were aspects of Heroes & Tricks that I enjoyed, despite being flawed also. Intentionally trying to mislead players about the hero card or deducing what cards a player used is my favorite part of this game. Players pass 2 play cards and 1 gear card before each trick, which can be useful information when determining a player’s intentions. In one game, I passed the Vorpal Dagger (which makes you win if your card is the lowest) and the lead player played a 2. That is a pretty bad move if they aren’t using a gear card to augment the results, so I played a 1 and screwed up their plans. If you play early in the trick (before information is diluted), you may also have a shot at deducing what color and suit the hero card is based on the previously played cards. Unfortunately, for people who don’t have the best deduction skills, the game feels random. You take a guess at what card to play and hope it matches the hero card. Regardless of your deduction skills, this is true for the last couple of players in games of 4 to 6 people. It becomes like a broken telephone, slowly getting worse and when it comes to you at the end of the line, you have little hope of deducing it based on the previously played card by a player who knows nothing about the original hero card. Your only hope is to get one of the 3 gear cards (from a deck of 30) that make players state information about the card they play or the Seer’s Amulet, which let’s you look at the hero card in the trick.
The theme of Heroes & Tricks is excellent, particularly for those with a board game obsession. Set in a fantasy board game world called Gamedor, the heroes are divided into card, meeple, die, and token suits. The flavor text for the hero cards adds an extra bit of fun and are reminiscent of things we’ve all heard from people in our game groups. The artwork, gear cards, and abilities are all strongly fantasy themed, making Heroes & Tricks more interesting then the bland playing card trick taking games like Hearts or Euchre.
The concept of a trick taking game where you only see the most recently played card is a unique idea that unfortunately didn’t work well in practice. Playing with only 3 or 4 players, information is not as diluted for most players and with smart use of gear cards, Heroes & Tricks is actually a fun deduction game. Deduction plays an even larger role in a 2-player game (where at most one card will be played on the hero), but the gameplay format causes the game to be unbalanced. The originality and excellent portability give the game value, but it probably won’t hit a table very often (maybe the occasional airplane folding tray or tent, though).