Cooperative board and card games have come a long way, and the idea of collaboration is almost normal in gaming now. Marvel’s Hail HYDRA Board Game is collaborative, but with a twist — there are traitors in the midst. Everyone is supposed to be on team S.H.I.E.L.D., but one or two of you may be double-agents, and a lot of the game is devoted to figuring out who. In the meantime, the team of agents is defending New York City from various supervillains. Ultimately the team wants to defeat Red Skull, retrieve a cosmic cube, and declare victory. 

One board game review site says the game is “fast-paced, raucous and great fun” Up to eight people can play; these reviewers recommend six. There were five of us playing, which I think was adequate, and I’m not sure how the quantity relates directly to the enjoyment, but I can certainly see how 4 or fewer would be too few. 

All the dynamics of human communication and deception-based game theory were at work when my friends and I played the game. The game was full of fluid and unnecessary paranoia. I played Captain America and everyone accused me of being a fascist and therefore being the HYDRA agent. They could not shake this belief for several turns as the actual agents either accused me or remained evasive. At one point in the game we’re supposed to vote people out of a round if we suspect they are HYDRA. Because Captain America gets an extra vote, I was able to force a tie and nobody got thrown out. Despite this altruistic act, everyone continued to suspect I was HYDRA. And, because I was voted out of the final round, I was unable to help fight the two HYDRA agents, one of whom I had consistently and repeatedly identified. It was frustrating, but then vindicating when everyone learned it wasn’t me. 

On the good side, the game is pretty accessible and the processes easy to learn. On the other hand, this accessibility is partly a result of the game being very mechanical and somewhat predictable, even as a deception game. At least when we played it, there was very little strategy involved. We all played attack cards and if the positive point value of our cumulative card total outnumbered that of the villains we faced, we won, which was almost all the time even with only five players. The superheroes have one or two unique traits that augment things like voting power, but there’s not a lot of incentive to get to know your character. 

For genuine collaboration, there are probably better games. I recommend the cooperative games of the TESA Collective, including Strike! and Space Cats Fight Fascism. These games are more difficult to win, require cooperative communication and mutual planning, and don’t double-burden the players with beating the bad guys and sniffing out internal traitors. But for those who dig the latter, Hail HYDRA has a fun, superhero-oriented flavor and lots of pretty evil villains to fight.  

image by Flickr user Patrik Kristian