A Review of Hour of Need

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Hour of Need is a cooperative superhero adventure game for 1-4 players (5-6 with expansions). It was the #1 entry on our Top 10 Anticipated Cooperative Games of 2021! That should also tell you how late this game is: it just arrived earlier this week (Wednesday, May 18th, 2002) after promising delivery November 2020! So, this is pretty late: about a year and a half! It’s still better than the 5 year delay on Sentinels of Earth Prime (which we reviewed here), but we were very happy to finally get this!

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All-in for Hour of Need!

Long term readers of this blog know I love cooperative Superhero games (Marvel United has been grabbing our attention a lot lately: the Days of Future Past and Fantastic Four expansions in particular), so when Hour of Need came up on Kickstarter, I went all in and got everything. We’re mostly just going to look at the base game, but we will show (in the Appendix) some of what came in the other boxes.

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Hour of Need is a game by the Sadler brothers, who did Warhammer Quest Adventure card and Heroes of Terrinoth! Those two games topped our Top 10 Cooperative Fantasy Flight Games so we were very excited to get another one of the Sadler Brothers games (Hour of Need) to the table.

Unboxing

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There base box is pretty big.  See above with reference Can of Coke.

As we unbox, we see the two books on top: the Rulebook and Issue Guide.

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There’s quite a bit of content here:

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Let’s take a look at some of this up close!  It all looks pretty cool!

Rulebook

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This Rulebook is … okay.  I was able to learn the rules from this book, but there were some problems.

The first 8 pages were exemplary: It started with a tiny overview and with a list of components and pictures correlating those components:

The next two pages have a nice overview/anatomy of most cards: I would have preferred this later, but this still worked here:

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Next comes a Set-Up picture: That’s great!  A two page spread with set-up on one side and picture on the other.  I wish they have labelled the picture with letters/numbers corresponding to the steps, but that didn’t get in the way of me getting everything set-up.

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Next comes a discussion of the board, annotated with some great descriptive text.

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The first 8 pages were great: it was exactly what I wanted and needed to get going.  The rest of the rulebook makes some fundamental errors, unfortunately.

Take a look at further pages above: there is a lot of text!  There aren’t many pictures or annotations that could really be used to spruce up the explanations.

Another problem was the use of Comic Book font for some rules:

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I think Comic Book font is thematic and good for cards (it helps solidify the theme during gameplay), but in a rulebook, I think it’s a mistake.  The rulebook for Oblivaeon made this same mistake.  What’s even weirder is that Hour of Need MIXES the fonts!  Some rules are are in a more traditional font (see right page above) while some rules are in the Comic Book Font (page left above).

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Another mistake was putting critical rules in the parenthetical boxes. See above: it lists the rule for flipping the Scheme cards which we didn’t see our first couple of playthroughs! Generally, parenthetical boxes are outside the “main flow “of reading, so you might “skip” it thinking it’s just a further elaboration.  Nope!  This was a critical rule!  I understand wanting to “emphasize” a rule, but the boxes (like above) are kind of outside the flow.  Unicornus Knights had this rulebook problem (putting critical rules in parenthetical boxes) in their first edition rulebook (see discussion here), but they fixed that in their second edition rulebook  (see discussion  here)  by incorporating the critical rules into the main text flow.

My final complaint, and this is the biggest, is the lack of an index.  I had so many questions as I played, and I had no way to look up rules without having to search the whole rulebook.

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I want to be clear: I learned the game from the rulebook, so it was ok.  But it was harder than it should have been.  Some of my complaints (like the font and parenthetical boxes) are minor issues that are perhaps more personal opinion.  But the lack of annotated pictures and lack of a complete index really did make the game harder to learn.

Miniatures

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Some of the minis

The minis for this game are pretty good.  These minis are a little smaller than some games (like Tainted Grail which has bigger minis), and they aren’t quite as detailed, but they are pretty good.  Above are the good guys and bad guys.  Below are some Lackeys for the Bad Guys.  

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The Lackeys of Dowager are on the top row, and Lackeys for Curtains on the bottom row.

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You can see the scale of the miniatures: that’s the good guy Guerrilla (above) with the Coke Can just behind it for reference.

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The minis for the Good Guys

You can see the Good Guy minis a little more close up … (above) and the Bad Guy minis (below).

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The minis for the Bad Guys

I’ll have to admit that I had a little trouble correlating the minis to the good guys and bad guys: I had to use the first pages of the rulebook to make sure I got them right:

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The only problem I have with the minis is that they are smaller, so it’s harder to see the features across the table! Frequently, I would mess up which character was which. I really wanted some way to help distinguish them.

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If you look behind Guerrilla, you’ll see some colored disks for the bottoms of the minis! But those aren’t for the main Heroes or Villains! Those are ONLY for the Lackeys, which come out much less frequently! An old principle of computer design is to “optimize for the common case”. In this case, Heroes and Villains are on the board more MUCH MORE than Lackeys, so maybe we should be using those for the main characters instead. If I were to redo this game, I would use the colored disks for the Heroes and Villains and some minor mechanism for the Lackeys! Something like …

  • Each hero gets a different color.  Maybe the hero cards should be somehow keyed to those colors?  I understand that the primary colors are used for other things in the game (peril spaces), so maybe a different palette for the heroes (pink, cyan, purple, orange).  Something that is visually distinct so I can make them out across the board!  (EDIT: After some scrutiny, I am thinking Majesty gets some flavor of orange for her Orange hair, Guerilla gets metallic green for his green/Army motif, Micro Man gets cyan/light blue as it matches his costume, and Slide gets either silver or dark red for her costume?):
  • The Villain gets black.
  • The Lackeys keep their primary colors (since the cards are already keyed to those colors).
  • The Minions get grey (if you have the Kickstarter extras): grey for bad, but not totally bad.
  • The Bystanders get white (if you have the Kickstarter extras): white for innocent

Although I liked the miniatures, the game board looked like a sea of grey with the minis on it. I frequently got confused as to which mini was which. See below.

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Admittedly, some of the problem here is that I used the Kickstarter extra: minis for bystanders and minions: (You might say they put the mini into Minions … hahaha. I’ll see myself out).

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This Kickstarter extra adds more grey figures. So, there are some solutions to distinguish the minis:

  • Paint the minis. Some people love doing this: it’s not for me.
  • Go on Etsy and find 25mm colored miniature bases (I found one site that would fulfill the order and get 30 bases of the colors I mentioned, but it would be about $27)

Out of the box, it can be hard to distinguish the characters. It caused me consternation when playing: I am strongly considering the Etsy solution to get some bases!

Hybrid: “Best of Breed”

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Hour of Need is a modern cooperative Superhero game, taking elements from many Superhero games (cooperative and non-cooperative) that came before it: Marvel Champions, Sentinels of the Multiverse, Sidekick Saga, Batman The Animated Series: Shadow of the Bat, and even the older Heroes Wanted game!

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Hour of Need and some of its “influences”
  • Individual Threat Area: Each player having his own Threat Area is straight out of Marvel Champions
  • Modular Deck System (MDS): The MDS is essentially the cardplay from Sentinels of the Multiverse: the cardplay and basic structure of the game mirrors Sentinels of the Multiverse closely
  • Hex-Based Movement: Not that hex-based movement is anything new, but I remember the board, with all the peril tokens and problems, being reminiscent of Heroes Wanted.  The board also had some overlap with Batman The Animated Series: Shadow of the Bat
  • Attack and/or Solve: On your turn, you can Attack or Solve much like Attacking or eliminating Threat Tokens from Marvel Champions.
  • Story: Much like Sidekick Saga and Batman The Animated Series: Shadow of the Bat, there is a story that helps guide the play.  Marvel Champions has also attempted with their expansions (such as the Rise of Red Skull expansion which we reviewed here) with limited success
  • Dual-Use Clue cards: Much like Sidekick Saga’s Lead cards are dual-use, the Clue cards in Hour of Need are dual-use.
  • Exploding Dice: The Sadler Brother’s also used exploding dice in Altar Quest
  • Dice for Combat:  Interestingly, a lot of modern super hero games don’t use dice for combat: Sidekick Saga, Sentinels of the Multiverse, Marvel Champions all use deterministic combat based on cardplay. Batman The Animated Series: Shadow of the Bat does use dice for combat, as does Hour of Need.
  • Hidden Villain: The Villain remains “hidden” until the players reveal him somehow.  In Sidekick Saga, you have to work through the Protection Hierarchy: Hour of Need has a simpler mechanism combining with the SOLVE mechanism.
  • Types of Cards: Sentinels of the Multiverse and Sidekick Saga have Ongoing and One-Shot hero cards, Hour of Need has (resp.) Constant and Instant hero cards.

Overall, I think Hour of Need represents a hybrid “best-of-breed” approach, incorporating some of the best mechanisms from modern superhero games.  The question is: how well does it do amalgamating all these different systems?

Steep Learning Curve

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As you might guess from the previous Hybrid: “Best of Breed” section (which lists many of the mechanisms and influences of the game), this game is hard to learn because there’s a lot to it! The learning curve for this is very steep! I had to play Hour of Need three times (twice solo and once in a group) before I got all the rules right! There are so many rules, so many conditions, so many little devices, that this game is very daunting to learn. To be clear: I have previously played and loved all the games Hour of Need is based on! And I still had all sorts of issues getting through this!

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One of the major problems is that the flow is interrupted in a lot of places. The game embraces Player Selected Turn Order (PTSO) (which we love: see our post on PSTO here), but that can mean it’s little harder to see “who’s next” and the flow isn’t necessarily clear. (To help mitigate that, Hour of Need does have 2 Action tokens per player). Also, when a player finishes his second Action, he immediately have to deal with his Threat Area, regardless of the fact that other people still need to go. The flow of control gets interrupted frequently: once you get used to it, it’s not so bad. Unfortunately, as you are learning the game, the context switching overhead of all the flow control changes just really throws players for a loop! Frequently they ask “Wait, what? What’s next? What are you doing?” That jump really affects people learning the game because it throws them out of the flow.

Another major blocker for learning the game is the rulebook.  While this rulebook is not bad, it’s not great.  Never have I ever seen a rulebook as in need of an Index as Hour of Need (The obvious joke, which I chose not to make, was “It should be called Hour of Need of an Index!“.  But I like the game, so I don’t want to make some stupid joke like that.) There are so many things I wanted to look up as we were playing (“Wait, what’s a cunning ploy icon?”  “Where is showdown described?”), but without a good index, I have to search the rulebook linearly for terms!!! (And didn’t find them sometimes …)  There seem to be a lot of terms that are consistently used, (which is good: the nomenclature does seem consistent), but those terms really need to be defined in a Glossary or cross-referenced in an index … or both??  Why not a Glindex  in the Rulebook: A cross between a Glossary and an Index which defines the terms and indexes further elaborations of those terms in the rulebook???  That would really go very far in making this game easier to learn.

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Between quite a number of rules and mechanisms, many jumps in control flow, and the lack of a good index, this game is very hard to learn. That doesn’t mean you can’t learn it, (as I was able to), but you might find yourself very frustrated. After my second game (where I still hadn’t gotten everything learned), one of my friends said “Ya, I don’t need to play this again. Too any rules.” That was an ARGH moment.

I think this game really needs a First Play Starter Guide much like Tainted Grail’s exceptional First Play guide (which we discussed here) or Sleeping Gods First Play Guide (which we discussed here). I mean, the game does suggest a first scenario::

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But given the complexity of this game, that little blurb above is not enough!! A First Play Starter Guide would help you learn the game, guiding you though the rough edges and more confusing rules! It would have gone a long way towards making the learning experience more palatable. I mean, it took me three games to get it. Most people probably won’t be that patient to learn the game.

Gameplay

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Hour of Need shares quite a bit of DNA with Sentinels of the Multiverse (which we reviewed here).  The basic gameplay structure is just like Sentinels of the Multiverse:

  1. The Villain plays first: it plays card(s) from its deck
  2. Heroes each play a card(s), perform some actions, draw a card
  3. Environment (or Issue) plays card(s) from its deck

And each hero deck feels very much like a Sentinels of the Multiverse hero deck: you get a deck, and start with 4 cards.  Each player has a certain number of hit points (as indicated on their hero).  If you “blinked”, you might think you were playing Sentinels.  See Majesty’s first set-up of her deck below.

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There are even Instant and Constant types of cards (much like One-Shot and Ongoing cards)!  

And this is where the game diverges.

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Each Hero gets two actions: some actions are used when you play a card:

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The little action token in the bottom right tells you it costs an action to play this card

Otherwise, you can also use actions to DRAW 1 CARD, MOVE, PLAY 1 ACTION CARDS, ATTACK, or SOLVE. Every hero gets two actions.

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There’s a MOVE action because you must move around a board! See above.

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There’s a straight up ATTACK option you can do if a Bad Guys is nearby and has hit points: See Dowager above with 15 hit points, and I’ve already done 10 damage!

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To deal with this Bad Guy, you need to SOLVE (rather than ATTACK)

The WidowMaker above has to be dealt with using “brains and finesse”, and using your SOLVE ability.

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Each Hero has Hit Points (in red circle ), ATTACK power (in yellow explosion) and SOLVE ability (in pink bubble): See Majesty’s abilities above. Majesty is good at ATTACK(3), but not so good with the SOLVE (1).

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Those numbers (3 for ATTACK, 1 for SOLVE) refer to how many dice you get for a roll! Now, these dice are very interesting, because every die gives you a success of some sort: The plain explosion gives you one SUCCESS, the mask gives you one FOCUS (which you can spend in a future dice roll to turn a mask into SUCCESS), both (SUCCESS and FOCUS) and a BURST! The BURST is really cool because it gives you a success, but then allows you to keep re-rolling that die! You can keep re-rolling that die as long as you roll more BURSTS! It’s theoretically possible to roll 100 SUCCESSES with one die … it’s not likely, but it could happen. These are called Exploding Dice. (Important safety tip: the dice do not actually explode)

To defeat the WidownMaker, you need 4 SUCCESSES (SUCCESSES persist, so it can take more than one turn to defeat him) as you SOLVE. To defeat Dowager, she’s down 10 hit points, so you only need 5 SUCCESSES.

This Exploding Dice is the main mechanism for resolving the two main activities in the game: ATTACK and SOLVE.

There’s a lot of other interesting ideas in the game: Heroic Feat Icons, Scheme Spaces vs. Scheme Panels, Showdown combats, Bystander Rescuing, Ally Cards, Clue Cards, Crisis Cards, Issue cards, Focus Tokens, Revealing the Villain, Issue tokens, and more! There’s just not enough space to go over all the ideas in here!

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The basic idea: move around the map, ATTACK bad guys and SOLVE problems with Exploding Dice on your way to cooperatively taking out the VILLAIN! If you defeat the VILLAIN, you win!

Storytelling Optional

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The game really does enforce the idea of story more than most Superhero games: there are Issue Cards (see below) and an Issue Guide (see above) which together presents a story. At the end of each round, an Issue Card (below) comes out which advances said story: these cards are typically more for in-game effects.  The Issue Guide (above) typically augments the story with more flavor text.

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Issue card area

While most of the issue conditions and story come out on the cards (see the issue area above), the Issue Guide also helps in two ways: (1) giving clarifications and (2) Story Moments.

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See the Issue Guide (above) open to the current issue: The right hand side of the Issue Guide presents text that the players may “optionally read” called Story Moments. The left hand side (in yellow) offers clarifications to rules on the cards (most of the issue’s rules are on the cards that come out: See below for some more Issue cards).

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Hour of Need was interesting because it offers these Story Moments as “things you MAY read, but don’t have to!”.

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Some gamers love the storytelling elements in games, and some gamers hate those elements. My game groups tend to prefer “extra exposition” of the storytelling game, but I thought it was interesting that Hour of Need gave players a choice!

Solo Play

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Solo play works well in the game: Thank you for following Saunders’ Law! See above for a solo game set-up. You can play just one Hero and that solo experience is simple and works well: There’s no need to play multiple Heroes (unless you want to, but that’s more for experienced players). So your first play can be simple as you only have to learn one hero.

There’s a three mechanisms for scaling the game to the proper number of players:

  1. Some decks (like the Villain deck) need cards removed that say “1P” on them.  You’ll have to go through the deck at Set-Up time and get rid of certain cards
  2. The number of “Villain Cards” that gets drawn during the Villain turn is the number of players:  Each player has to take a villain card. So, at the start of a 3-Player round, the Villain gets 3 chances to act. In a solo game, there’s only one Villain card per round.
  3. If there’s ever a little “Player Icon” on a card, you have to multiply that attribute by the number of players. See Dowager example below.

For example, Notice Dowager’s Villain card below.

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It has a 5P for the SOLVE: this means it takes 5 SUCCESS per player to SOLVE this problem. In the solo game, that just means 5 * 1 = 5 Total. (This is very reminiscent of the HERO Icon on Sentinel of the Multiverse cards for scaling).

I’ve played several games solo and had a great time. The solo rules are “easy” to integrate into your solo play, as they are just part of the main flow! Once the game is set-up and the 1P cards are eliminated, the game just plays normally. And it’s fun! Playing only one Hero works great: You aren’t overwhelmed by having to run multiple Heroes!

Cooperative Play

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Cooperative play works: but only if someone really knows the rules well, especially when teaching. This game can bog down too much if you don’t know the rules. I hate to say this, but I lost Sara after we played a cooperative game. The game just appeared to be too much: too many rules, too many mechanisms, too much.

All I can think was that I did a poor job explaining it to her and lost her, but I thought I knew the rules well enough to explain them. Apparently I didn’t.

Teresa, on the other hand, had fun.

Why I like This Game

There’s a lot of complexity in the game: so much, that I almost stopped learning the rules once. It took me three plays to get the rules right, and along the way I lost a player who said she doesn’t really want to play the game again.

But once I internalized the rules, once I understood all the choices I had along the way, I was in! There’s so many ways to be heroic: Do you save the Bystanders? Do you solve the mystery? Do you beat up a Minion or Lackey? And every choice seems to have some kind of reward on the form of Clue cards:

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Succeeding at a task in game (vanquishing a bad guy or solving a riddle) gets you a clue card: these little rewards are multi-use cards to use later: do you want the ability on the card? Or do you just want more dice later? This just allowed me to be more heroic later: I got to choose when I needed to be heroic! I liked that I had that choice.

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The exploding dice were a bit of surprise to me as well: I’m surprised how much I liked them given that I prefer deterministic combat of games like Sentinels, Marvel Champions, and Sidekick Saga. I loved that these dice were designed to always gave you some kind of success, even if it’s just a “future” success (in the form of a FOCUS token)! I also loved the BURST which could allow you to keep rolling! Every so often you get on a roll (pardon the pun) and just really roll well!

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I like a lot of choice in trying to get stuff done. I realize that some people will find “all-the-ways-to-get-stuff-done” overwhelming! And to be fair, I was overwhelmed by my first few games. But I was able to get to a point where I had internalized the rules so I could enjoy the game. I felt like a Superhero, exploring the map, attacking bad guys, solving problems, saving Bystanders, and having to make those hard decisions that Superheroes make.

Sentinels Replacement?

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Has Hour of Need replaced Sentinels of the Multiverse for me? No, Sentinels is a lighter game (I never though I’d call Sentinels “light”) and Hour of Need is a more of a complex experience with a story and more strategic choices. When I want lighter game, I’ll play Sentinels. When I want a longer experience, I’ll play Hour of Need.

Replayability

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Once major problem is that Hour of Need only comes with 4 Issues to play through, 4 Heroes, and 2 Villains: this can limit replayability. Luckily, there are a number of expansions already available. See Appendix A at the end for more elaboration on expansions.

Conclusion

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Hour of Need is a modern cooperative superhero game, representing a hybrid: “Best of Breed” approach, incorporating mechanisms and ideas from a lot of cooperative superhero games. But this approach has created a very complex game with a steep learning curve. The rulebook needs some reworking (and it really needs an Index), but it can teach the rules: it will just take you a while to get through them. Once you have the rules internalized, the game flows really well. And the gameplay offers a myriad of choices: it really makes you feel like a superhero!

After all is said and done, Hour of Need is a contender for my Top 10 Cooperative Games of the Year! But probably only for me. This is a game which I really can’t recommend to everyone. If you think you’ll like Hour of Need, even after all my discussion of complexity and modern cross-breed mechanisms, give the game a try. Realize that some of the people I played this with don’t really want to play Hour of Need again (because of the complexity), but others in my group seemed to really like it.

If you are looking for a game that takes Sentinels of Multiverse (SOTM) and expands on it in story, strategy, and choices, all while keeping SOTM base flow, Hour of Need is a great pick. But if you find Sentinels of the Multiverse to be fiddly (like some of my friends), there’s no way you will like this: Hour of Need turns the fiddliness and complexity of SOTM up a notch.

The base game of Hour of Need doesn’t have a ton of replayability (there’s only 4 Heroes, 4 Issues, and 2 Villains), but if you do like the game, there are several expansions: See the Appendix below.

Appendix A:  Kickstarter Expansions

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All-in for Hour of Need!

There’s quite a number of boxes of extra content.  Let’s take a look below.

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Gem and Ice (above) is a standalone expansion (yes, you don’t need the base game).  It comes with 2 new Heroes, 2 New Issues, and 1 New Villain.  With this expansion, you can play the base game at 5-6 Players.  This includes a new board, new minis and a new issue guide.

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Judge and Jury (above) is a standalone expansion. It comes with two new Heroes, 2 New Issues, and 1 New Villains.  This includes a new board, new minis, and a new issue guide.

The Jade Kid (above) is a new Hero.  She comes with 2 minis.  I believe she’s a Kickstarter extra.

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Redemption takes some of those Villains (One Liner from Judge and Jury, and Curtains and Dowager from the base game)  and turns them in Heroes.  There’s 3 decks and 3 new minis.

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The Stretch Goals Box includes a new Villain (Acrid) and a new Hero (Fault) plus some minis and cards.  The minis are cool because they are clear and clear green! 

Altogether, that’s 4 + 3 + 2 + 2 + 1 + 1 = 13 Heroes, 4 + 2+ 2 =10 Issues, and 2 + 1 + 1 + 1 = 5 Villains. That’s enough content to keep going for a while!

One thought on “A Review of Hour of Need

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