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When the Football World Goes Mad…Hat-Trick Comes to the Rescue!!!

Hat-Trick Box and Logo

The Fall of Isengard….The Rise of German Football!!

2014 was a strange year for football fans across the globe. There was a whole bunch of strange and downright odd things that went on, including:

  • In the Premier League, Manchester United and Chelsea went through a major upheaval, leaving Liverpool to throw away the title to Manchester City on the last but one game of the season.
  • Brazil held the World Championships. However, in a country where the game is loved by so many, it was demonstrated and protested against quite violently by the Brazalian population. The opening ceremony was like watching a weird Amazonian impersonation of the fall of Isengard, with Ent-like figures marching through a swirl of water and fishlike creatures. What was happening on the pitch, was mirrored in real-life chaos outside the grounds, and the media had a field day.
  • The favourites, Spain, were destroyed by Holland.
  • England failed, once again, to make it to the knockout stages.
  • Luis Suarez hurt his teeth on an Italian player and was banned for four months.
  • Brazil fell at the semi-final hurdles, leaving Argentina with Lionel Messi to stop the German resurgence – they failed.

Brazil World Cup Opening

Boyhood Football Games!!!…Were They All Luck Based???

After such a travesty of football history, I looked to find some sort of stability in the board gaming world. Fond childhood memories of Striker,  Subbuteo, table, blow or dice football seemed a far-stretch compared to modern board games. Dexterity, finger skill and luck-based games are not what I look for nowadays. On the other hand, a lot of the modern football games are nothing more than trivia-based titles. What I needed, after the World Cup, was a football game that not only simulated the action on the pitch, but involved a good amount of strategy.

Fortunately my malaise was ended when I was passed Hat-Trick from Unplugged. Patryk Kowalski is the talented game designer and co-artist of Hat-Trick, a highly tactical football simulation game for two Managers.  It has taken him twenty years to arrive at a point where he believes Hat-Trick is ready to be unleashed on the ever-growing board game community.

International Game of Hat-Trick

International Game of Hat-Trick

Hat-Trick…Bringing Football Games into Today’s Era!!!

During the game, Managers use the player-cards to create a football pitch. Then each Manager uses two identical sets of action cards to let their players perform various actions: short pass, long ball or dribbling. These are clearly marked on the action cards, with the strength of the action represented by footballs on either or each side of the card. The actions strength also dictates which side of the pitch the action is going to be performed, for example, if it’s marked on the right hand side of the action card, then it happens on the corresponding side of the pitch.

For the short pass, both teams compare their skills (attack vs defence) in a line across the pitch where the ball is being played from, with the added balls on the action cards. If the total of the attacking team wins, they move the ball to the next line of attack, placing the ball on the lowest numbered player. If they lose the ball, it goes to the other team.

Long-ball is similar to short pass, but the points are calculated on the players line where the ball is intended to be played. Finally. dribbling is where the attacking player takes on the player in front, with a win resulting in the players switching places.

This Plays like a Real Football Game…It Really Does!!!

A good proportion of the game, is spent with both Managers manipulating their players to gain the strongest advantage. This is especially true when it comes to attacking or defending against the current state of play and, as with real football, you have to be weary of the breakdown of an attack and the quick counter-play of the opposition.

Once the ball reaches the opposite end of the pitch, an opportunity to shoot at goal occurs. This involves manipulating the action cards in your hand to gain the best position to shoot at goal. There are three small decks, colour coded to the type of shot you are attempting and you choose one of these, which indicates where your player is aiming. At the same time, the defending Manager is going to pick one of the goal keeper cards, to guess where the shot is being aimed. If he guesses right he gains positive or negative bonuses when drawing cards from the action deck, and then attempts to beat the attacking shots strength. Failure results in a goal, success in a goal kick and the game resumes.

Hat-Trick Box

There are rules for fouls, penalties, being sent off, as well as more advanced rules for substitutions and individual players’ skills proposed by Patryk on BGG. The game is tactical and the more you play it, the more tactical it gets, with the ebb and flow of the game meaning Managers forget about the evaporating time limit.

Some of the players are marked with stars and there’s a country list of teams, where players are turned over to reveal the high stats on these star players. This is a very original and unique way of adding this dimension to the game, without actually mentioning who the star players are! Fans of international football will easily identify who they are, be it the current line-up or those of bygone years. You can also create Club teams easily by using the same system.

Hat-Trick at Essen 2014

Hat-Trick…Not Just a Card Game!!!

I enjoyed Hat-trick, it is fun to play, especially if you’re a fan of football. It can get a little intense, but football is a very competitive sport. The game has a very heavy strategic gameplay, there are elements of the game that have been borrowed from wargames and although I have seen the game being described as a card game, it is definitely not a card game. The game uses hand management to complete actions and resolve results, but I would hardly categorize it as a simple card game.

As such the game is not for everyone, there are elements that are lost in translation. Not just Polish to English as Patryk speaks very good English, but obligatory pass! When does one ever hear that term in football? Lay the ball off or a one two pass, yes, but obligatory pass, never. This is because I believe while the game is aimed at football fans, it is also aimed at gamers. Unfortunately most gamers know nothing about football… I believe the rulebook should have been aimed solely at the football fan section of the gaming world.

At its heart, Hat-Trick is a really good strategy game, but only football fans are ever going to play it. Whenever I’ve attempted to bring it to the table with someone who knows nothing about football, I am met with the biggest blank look you could possibly imagine. This is a real shame as Unplugged could easily convert this into a Superhero game or even a fantasy/Sci Fi adventure area control type of game, the mechanics are that good! However, while the theme may not be to everyone’s taste, I will gladly say that this is probably the best two player football board game on the market today!

5 (100%) 2 votes
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Paul Matthews

Paul Matthews is a Sales Manager for Gamesquest Ltd, as well as a part-time Board game Demonstrator and Blogger. After several years playing Yu-gi-oh at Tournament level, his latest passion is all things board gaming. Besides playing board games, Paul is a part time author and enjoys reading and archery. Paul has a Degree in Humanities Psychology/Counselling and several Life-skill Degrees in Parenting, Horse Management and Ecommerce.

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