Hooch is a 1920s Prohibition era themed card game for 3-6 players by Jason Washburn and Mike Wilster of Talon Strikes Studios. Players take the role of a Crime Syndicate that is producing Hooch (illegal alcohol), building up territories and muscling their way gang fighting with other syndicates. The game ends when one player starts their turn with a full pay roll (all 10 characters purchased), the action deck is depleted, or a player has both syndicate storefronts and one of each players’ syndicate storefronts. Then whoever has the most respect points wins the game!
The first thing players will notice upon opening the game is the film noir style artwork. The style seems very unique for a card game and integrates well with the 1920s theme. Some cards are a bit hard to read for colorblind players, but nothing game breaking. There are 7 different types of cards, which include: public character cards, syndicate character cards, crew cards, action cards, storefront cards, event cards and influence cards. There are also order tokens, still tokens, arrested/kidnapped tokens, hooch crates (not included in my KS preview but will be provided in the KS game), and 4 D6 dice (also not included in my copy, but will be in KS game). The card quality is high and easy to shuffle. The tokens are prototypes and card stock for now. There are also reference cards which provide quick information for combat and missions.
One thing to know about Hooch is that it is a fairly complex game. There are many different cards and each turn has 8 phases that each player does on their turn. Players receive their syndicate deck which has 5 event cards, 6 influence cards, and the rest are normal cards used in play phase or as a reaction to another player. There are a few specific cards in each syndicate deck that are different than another syndicate. For example, the Blind Tigers syndicate is attack based and therefore has a few more attack cards in their deck. Having variety from the event/influence cards and different syndicate decks provide great replay value.
In the first phase, players discard down to 5 cards. Players always draw an action card on their turn and resolve the effects. Then players collect Hooch (currency in game), purchase cards, play cards from their hand, combat, refresh their cards, then draw 3 cards! There is definitely a learning curve to Hooch, but after two plays, most players should have a good grasp on it. An average game should take about 2 hours, but expect the first game to go much longer as you learn the game.
Each player can purchase 10 different character cards: 5 public characters and 5 syndicate characters. The public characters provide ongoing effects and go on missions if they draw a specific action card. The syndicate characters can go on missions and have talents/abilities that are used in the play phase. Players can only have one of each character, but if one character is killed, they can purchase it again next turn if they have the hooch.
Once you understand the flow of Hooch, the gameplay is highly interactive and has a definite “take that” type gameplay. There are many opportunities to screw with your opponents, such as arresting their public or syndicate characters, or stealing their Storefront (and their Hooch!). The goal of the game is to build up your syndicate by purchasing Syndicate and Public characters which give you special abilities and talents. For example, without the Mouthpiece Public Character, a player cannot open up a Storefront. As one of the winning conditions involves having a certain amount of Storefronts, the Mouthpiece character can be very important. Other characters provide extra hooch each turn, ability to free arrested/kidnapped characters, or strengthen their missions/combat values. Buying public and syndicate characters are essential to victory, but there is no “right” order to purchase these characters.
Players can also buy “Crew Cards” which up beef up security and allow the player to attack storefronts and characters (with specific event cards). Players can put them under their characters or storefronts for defense, or use them for offense. Whatever you decide, you can always switch around the crew cards every purchase phase. Crew cards is what really makes the combat exciting and risky. As crew cards are placed facedown under a storefront or character, an opponent may not know the value of these cards. Combat is also essential to victory in Hooch, as owning Storefronts is one path to victory. It’s worth noting that syndicate/public characters can only be attacked by using an Event card, which each player has 5 in their deck. Storefronts, however, can be attacked without any special cards.
Another exciting part about Hooch is going on missions! Each syndicate character has specific missions that they can go on. To go on a mission, a player just puts an “order” token on their character (which exhausts them till the next turn) and do the mission details. A player must beat the mission rating before going on a mission, which is roll of a D6 plus mission rating. For example, if a player has the “Capo” they can go on the Promote your Crew mission and promote a crew card by one rank. If a player succeeds in the mission, then that syndicate character gets turned over and promoted. These promoted syndicate characters are stronger, and come with even more abilities and talents, plus an extra mission!
By the end of the game, when each player has many of the syndicate characters purchased, it can be hard to remember all the talents, abilities, and missions each character can go on. Some missions might be missed because a player is so focused on combating that Storefront or using an event card. This may improve with more plays, especially as the players memorize each character’s missions and make sure they use all their orders.
Overall, Hooch is a high quality game that’s fun, exciting, and may cause rivalries among your friends. There are some issues to the rulebook and minor errors on cards, but these will be fixed for the Kickstarter copy. Players will enjoy the 1920s theme and film noir art. The play mat as shown in pictures will be an add-on and recommended for gameplay. If you like highly interactive and thematic games, Hooch is definitely one to pick up.
Check out the Kickstarter Page!
Note: I was provided a prototype copy for the sake of this review. I want to personally thank Jason for the time and effort that he took in order to make review copies unique and special. Here are some photos of the packaging for the review copies.