Hard City Kickstarter Review

Hard City Kickstarter Review

There’s trouble brewing on the neon soaked streets of Hard City. Doctor Zero has unleashed a horde of ravenous mutants on the good people of the city and the only thing that stands between them and total chaos is the diligent officers of the Hard City Police Department. Armed with their wits and weapons and fuelled by a supply of frosted donuts, the thin blue line of the HCPD must head out and combat Doctor Zero’s nefarious schemes.

Hard City is a one-versus-many game of mutants, cops and lots of donuts, all soaked in so much 80’s action movie nostalgia that you can almost hear the synth soundtrack. One player takes on the role of Doctor Zero and his hordes of mutants (don’t call them zombies) while one to four players will control HCPD’s finest.  You’ll play one of a selection of scenarios over a minimalist board that can be adorned with abandoned cars, barrels bursting with toxic ooze, civilians and weapon crates.  For the police, it’s all about spending your precious donut action points to move, shoot and save civilians, whereas Doctor Zero is presented with a selection of action cards that allow him to do some quite frankly terrifying things with his army of mutants.  Each scenario is objective based and the first player to seven victory points is the winner.

Hard City board game review

Hard City is not a complicated game, in fact the mechanics are all very straightforward and one might accuse them of being rather light.  However, this lightness of touch means that game flows smoothly and runs fast and means you can get down to the fun as quickly as possible. Although some of the scenario’s objectives can feel like a bit of a slog at first, the action ramps up quickly and so a full game can easily be played in about an hour.

Don’t think that because Hard City is light on rules that there aren’t plenty of decisions. Player’s options are relatively straightforward and basically boil down to move, shoot or shoot carefully. The clincher here is that, of course, you have very few donuts available and so your action points are precious, and even more precious if a couple of dice rolls don’t go your way. Doctor Zero on the other hand has a plethora of options available each turn from his hand of cards, each of which can be used in a number of ways.

Hard City board game miniatures

The surprising effect of this is that Hard City is a very asymmetric game, both in terms of feel and fundamental mechanics. The police players are very beholden to the dice, needing to roll successes to kill mutants and get themselves out of trouble. Close combat can be an absolute slog as you attempt to beat mutants back—but can’t kill them—and using the dice to shoot allows you the chance of taking down multiple mutants in a single shot but comes at the risk of rolling no hits or worse running out of ammunition. 

However, Hard City never makes the dice necessary, you always have the option of using twice as many action points to guaranty a kill and this nice little gamble makes the game more tense. Similarly, Doctor Zero is beholden to the draw of the cards, but since each card can be used in multiple ways, you never feel as if you’ve drawn a bad hand, only that some hands can produce a great combo.  Doctor Zero however uses no dice, all his actions are prescriptive. The result is that it feels like the police player is playing an ameritrash game, whereas Doctor Zero’s mechanics feel like they are more towards the Eurogame end of the spectrum.

Hard City board game donuts

The result is an extremely well balanced game. In a recent square off against Andy, the result of the entire game came down to a single die roll. If I could kill just one more mutant I would have the required number of kills to take me to the game winning seven points, but if I couldn’t manage that this turn, Doctor Zero could play the most basic of cards to kill a civilian and he would be the victor. Some may eschew the supposed lack of strategy but getting an upper hand was tough and it means you are always in the game.

I've also been told to expect some differences in the full game, including a cut-scene mechanic to make the game more cinematic. Each scenario will have a series of objectives the Officers can aim for, and if they do the meet the objectives they get to activate a 'cut-scene' giving them a one time bonus or event. The interesting aspect is that these goals are sequential, and you can trigger a later cut-scene but then you are denied access to those you skipped.

Hard City miniatures combat board game

It’s easy to say that Hard City was a lot of fun. The rules flow nicely, keeping the gameplay at a good pace and there are enough decisions to be made each turn to keep you interested without bogging you down with information overload. Although the use of dice can be mitigated if you’re not a fan of dice based combat resolution then Hard City probably isn’t for you, but playing as the villain offers more of a perfect information based gameplay, meaning that Hard City’s asymmetric gameplay can cater to different players. Most importantly Hard City just oozes style and theme, from the beautiful minis of the overweight cop, to the neon soaked art style and the donuts as action points, it’s like an 80’s action move and a 90s video game both got together and decided to make a board game. Hard City is full of little features that can’t help but make you smile.

Hard City is on Kickstarter 10th May.

This Kickstarter preview is based on a prototype version of the game provided by the publisher; the final product may look, play or smell different to that used in this preview.
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