My family loves playing games, but they are not as into hobby games as deeply as I am. ‘They’re just pushing cubes around a board”, I can almost hear them shout at the front window of their car as they hand over a ten dollar bill to the CC’s coffee house barista at the drive thru.
I get it. They are just cubes. And yes, we do occasionally push them across a cardboard rectangle.
But sometimes, every once in a while, the facade of cardboard and plastic fades away. Instead of cubes, they are Japanese samurai marching on Kyoto. Or they are a bouncy, boozy, tired-but-ready-for-a-second-wind crowd on Frenchmen’s Street cheering on their favorite phunk band.
I live for those moments and for those games. And one of those is hitting Kickstarter this week.
Hoop Godz is designed by Omari Akil and Hamu Dennis, and published by their company, appropriately named, Board Game Brothas. I’ve been following them from the start of the social media presence, because I have an internal radar whenever I see a whiff of a Louisiana designer or publisher coming onto the scene. Their first game was Rap Godz, and for a first effort, it was surprisingly fun even amidst its rough edges. The promise that it showed — a promise not of technical prowess, although that was there, but of the core element of a good game, namely making it fun — put most of the board gaming world on notice that Board Game Brothas was a publishing house to watch.
Hoop Godz is a two player game set in the world of street ball that takes about 45 minutes to play. Players will draft three ‘ballers’ from a cast of characters that jump out of the artwork, and take turns playing cards to move their team on a court closer to the hoop. Their goal? Be the first set of ballers to score seven points is what the rulebook says, but if you have ever played any basketball in your backyard or at the street court, you know that it is just as important to win in style as it is to win.
This is a Kickstarter preview, and so I won’t spend a great deal of time on the production since it is never final at this stage. The duo at Board Game Brothas were kind enough to send us a pre-production copy, but the bits and cardboard were not final. Take that as a caveat that the pictures I have will probably not do the final game any justice.
But Hoop Godz seems to be in pretty close to its final format, and artist Hamu Dennis is showing off a lot of the artwork at this stage. What is already put together is eye-popping and gorgeous. I love how each player stands out, and it is easy to tell who is going to be the bruiser and who is going to be the best defender on the team just by looking at the action poses. The court itself could be something right out of a video game – I’m not even sure how Hamu pulled that off, but the card art and graphic design and court design are pitch perfect.
Just keep an eye out on the project pages for more information about what changes may be made during the campaign.
I can promise you one thing — you will be up and running the court in just a few minutes. Omari and Hamu have designed a ‘simulation’ of basketball that is intuitive and very elegant. Players will start the game staring at a line up of sneaker gods, and pick three of them for their team — grabbing a center, forward and point guard is ideal. Each of those characters is represented by a standee with their artwork, so those will be placed on the player’s side of the court, which is represented by a rectangular board that looks like the chalk will fly off in a cloud of dust at any moment.
Players have their own player board, a deck of cards, a “Greatest of All Time (“GOAT”) card, and a ton of dice too. The hoopsters will each take turns playing those cards and moving the players around the board to get in position for a jump shot, three pointer, or the best yet, a splendiferously ferocious and gloriously posterizing dunkface. The representation of the court in terms of hexes that each have different values is a brilliant touch, and makes the game very intuitive. It is every bit as good as the way the line-of-sight works to smooth out the combat in Unmatched.
The ballers will be energized by playing JUICE — each player has some on their board, and they will be moved from the ready zone to the cooling zone by moving, passing and playing those action cards. When the players are in position to shoot or dunk, it’s time to chunk some dice. You can compete with the dice rolling in real time — a la the running mechanic in Bottom of the 9th or the planning mechanic in Steampark — or you can play it roll by roll. And at the opportune moment, players will be throwing down those GOAT cards, which pump up your play with special abilities that you will recognize if you watch any ball on TV.
First one to seven points wins. Finger pointing and verbal taunting is optional at that point.
BUT IS IT ANY FUN?
What I love about Board Game Brothas is that the premise of the company seems to be distilling what could be a complex game into pretty accessible parts. That’s really my sweet spot in gaming — give me a box of goodness that promises one hour of wonderful fun, let me learn the game in five or ten minutes, and then let’s start exploring the game together, figuring out the strategy as we geaux.
But if you can throw something else on top, namely giving me that feeling of not playing a game and instead PLAYING A GAME, then I am as happy as a scoop of rice wedged inside a link of boudin. I don’t know what the secret of their roux is, but Omari and Hamu are designing thematic euros at their core, and Hoop Godz just melted away the cardboard facade within seconds of playing the game. I played this at my office with Jay Bell, a game designer himself, and instead of talking about cubes or points, we were talking trash, planning big moves, cooling our sneaks on the bench while setting up the next top play, or relishing in the victory (or agonizing over the defeat.)
I’ll let Jay tell you about the outcome of our first game next time you see him.
I had Monique and Naveen from Before You Play on the show recently, and was excited to learn that they had also got to try Hoop Godz. I’m gonna steal a line from them for this review because I love it. Hoop Godz is the NBA Jam of board games. I remember being in my first apartment with my bride, and some friends in a nearby place had a copy of NBA Jam on the Nintendo. We used to play that thing with them for hours, reveling in the dunks and moves and uncontested three balls.
Hoop Godz really does feel like basketball on cardboard, not in that boring simulation way, but more in the kinetic energy that we see when the standees are crowding the midcourt and you know that the point guard is going to bounce pass the ball to the big shaker for a rim rattling dunk
I guess I’m supposed to say that this game is not for everyone. The luck in the dice is going to turn off some hard core slide rule hobby game players. The subject might be the wrong sport if your favorite pastime is european football or lacrosse or washerboard. (Remind me to tell you about my experience in the World Championship of Washerboard one day).
But I cannot bring myself to say it.
You don’t like chucking dice at frenetic speeds? Play the turn based variant. You’ve never dribbled a ball before? Doesn’t matter, make the game about the strategic moves of maneuvering your players on the court, or the tactical puzzle of putting together the right combination of ballers with the right combination of special abilities.
Hoop Godz is the real deal and I wish the coronavirus crisis were over so I could play with Jay more or introduce the game to Dustin, who I think would really dig this game. The lunchtime game play I had with Jay was a taste of the game, but I think this could be a regular addition to the “lunchspire” rotation whenever the pandemic is over.
Here’s a link to the Kickstarter if you want to check it out yourself.
Now, if you will excuse me, I have to watch a video of LSU’s Chris-tol Pistol scoring 53 points on Florida circa 1988.
For research, yo….
Our thanks again to Board Game Brothas for providing us with a preview copy.
Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!
— BJ @boardgamegumbo