Early last year indie developers Postindustrial Games announced Human Interface Nakamura Tower, their forthcoming cyberpunk hybrid boardgame. As a casual gamer with a love of the obvious, I had to find out more. Centred on the struggle between two mega corporations and the rogue AI within the titular Nakamura tower, HINT promised a hybrid gaming experience that scratched many of my casual gamer itches. Fusing small scale skirmish combat with RPG and management aspects, it offered a progressive mission-based campaign with unique augmented characters, all of whom could be upgraded with a variety of cybertech and weaponry. Not merely a game between players, the board had an agenda of its own and everything was subject to the consequences of hacking and digital warfare alongside the usual blast, slash and fisticuffs. Plus the models looked really, really good, so I couldn’t resist. They had reeled me in. I immediately sold a kidney to the highest bidder and pledged on Kickstarter.
Fast-forward a year and my excitement had reached it’s zenith; I was drooling in my sleep and shouting about rogue AI and Ubermensch even more so than usual. The game was fully funded and had hit several stretch goals of bonus content in the form of new cards and minis. The updates from Postindustrial Games revealed nuggets of data on what was to come; hardsuits, assassins and police combat units. Despite the usual delays experienced with Kickstarter projects, the production of HINT forged ahead steadily. On receiving an email confirming shipping had commenced I entered a manic state of joy. There were sleepless nights. When the box finally arrived I greeted the postman with wet lips and an open mouth before bolting the doors and drawing the curtains. I told my girlfriend I loved her but that it wasn’t meant to be, then settled down for a new found future of little lead people and card tokens.
Opening the package I was impressed by the quality of the content. Production values were high and the boards, tokens and booklets were beautifully designed and suitably sturdy. The miniatures were as detailed as I had hoped from the preview images, with sculpts that were both intricately rendered and aesthetically stylish, recalling the likes of Deus Ex and GiTS. They ticked all the generic boxes you’d want from a cyberpunk game whilst retaining their own identity. The designs intentionally shy away from the overly bulky sculpts of heroic games and the meaty or sexualised models encountered elsewhere, instead aiming for more realistic proportions. Poses range from static single piece pawns to dynamic action poses and for the most part look fantastic, although there are one or two awkward ‘I’ve just shat myself’ stances. Alongside the game itself, the models and board would also be great for miniature collectors and tabletop gamers looking for more cyberpunk minis for their tables, and they would easily bring more life to your games of Cyberpunk 2020, Shadowrun or Interface Zero. They fit in well with other 28-32mm games and look great alongside Corvus Belli’s Infinity and the sculpts of Kev White at Hasslefree.
HINT is optimised for two players, but teams can easily be split amongst greater numbers. Some scenarios allow for a single player. As there are other teams available and included in the Kickstarter, the game suggests the players tweak missions to include a third team if they want. These teams also have their own scenarios included for Kickstarter backers, although the commercial release may not have this. Play time is anywhere from around one hour to three or more, particularly if you involve additional factions.
The game includes everything needed to play (save the equipment to assemble and paint the minis), and the character cards feature handy slots and markers to make managing your resources that much easier. HINT also opts for what it has termed CanDo cards over dice, which along with a numerical value hold details that impact on gameplay. Whilst the individual rules are straightforward (and mostly work on a basis of addition and subtraction, with the higher number winning), there is plenty of room for tactics meaning committed and experienced gamers will get another level of satisfaction once they have familiarised themselves with the mechanics.
Gameplay takes place over several turns, each split into seven phases that cover the various aspects of the game, from viruses and worms through cyberwarfare, real world actions and AI reactions. Whilst there is much to track the game does a good job of breaking this down into easy to follow chunks. Despite the multi-phase sequencing, it actually allows for speedier gameplay as the player isn’t forced to remember and enact too many things at once. What’s more, all of the major information is included on the cards and boards meaning players don’t have to keep referring back to the rules. It’s incredibly useful, but can be a little overwhelming for new or casual gamers due to the sheer amount of information presented.
Characters have physical and mental skills alongside unique individual and team skills that allow them to activate special moves, gain additional bonuses and so forth. Each character is capable of the usual move and attack actions, but what makes HINT particularly interesting is its use of hacking and technology. It allows for situational mechanics that can hinder opponents and sway the favour of the game by allowing a level of deviance I haven’t encountered in similar games. Whilst it plays much like other dungeon crawl hybrids such as Legend of Drizzt, Arcadia Quest or Star Wars Imperial Assault, the cyberpunk mechanics push in a direction that create something new and interesting. It is not simply surface gloss, HINT embrace its genre of choice and runs with it.
One of the aspects I was most curious about was the use of the board as an active environment. Rather than mere eye-candy, players can control elements of the board to impact on gameplay. Rooms have difficulties and bonuses associated with them based on objects within, the presence of cameras (which can naturally be hacked), and so on. This allows for a type of live board where player actions directly affect surroundings and grant bonuses and penalties as necessary. As players can use cybertechnology to their advantage it is possible to inflict viruses and worms on both the board and other players. This allows for a gaming experience that works on multiple levels and means players must be on their feet at all times. On initial play it was difficult implementing some of the features as we weren’t yet familiar with gameplay, but as we progressed it became far easier to think in game terms. The active board deepens the tactical experience enough to impact on gameplay in interesting ways.
By throwing in further Player vs. Environment aspects in the form of AI drones, the experience gains an additional threat level for all players. Working on an algorithm triggered by player movement and events, the drones will attack both sides. Players are also at the behest of their own mental faculties; augmentation and viruses can lead to a form of cyberpsychosis. Any character that succumbs is lost and becomes a pawn of the AI. It’s a fun feature that forces the players to both think outside the box and to take risks, meaning the stakes are amped up to heart thumping levels. On more that one occasion, I had to have quiet words with myself. Whatever happens, I told myself, it is only a game. That didn’t stop me from praying to the dark ones in hope of the cards I needed to succeed on those tense late-game actions.
Whilst HINT showcases some fantastic ideas, it is not without flaws. The rulebook is rather ambiguous in places, leading to some house-ruling and hand waving. For casual and entry level gamers this might cause a lot of head-scratching. Postindustrial Studios are currently addressing these issues in a soon to be released errata PDF. Assembly of the minis may also be problematic. Despite being designed with easy pinning components, the details are such that it is often hard to determine what is part of the model and what is flash. With no assembly instructions, I struggled to piece together a few models and managed to also break one in the process. The lithe nature of some of the minis means excessive handling may be difficult. Anyone in possession of idiot fingers like myself would do well to be extra cautious.
Overall HINT proves to be a fantastic hybrid dungeon crawl. In a crowded genre, it manages to stand out with more than just an aesthetic; the gameplay itself feels cyberpunk. Having only had an opportunity to test the game briefly I am excited to experience all it has to offer. Whether you are looking to dabble with advanced boardgames or are a tactical tabletop gamer, HINT provides a unique experience that takes the best bits of lots of other games and smushes them together with its own unique ideas. It’s a mostly slick bit of high-tech gaming that delivers on promises, despite the odd setback. There is enough variety in missions to keep dedicated players happy for a long time, and the nature of the game appears that it wouldn’t be too hard for players to create their own new scenarios once they are familiar with the system. With future expansions also planned, HINT doesn’t appear to be fizzling out anytime soon.
Get your mitts on this one ASAP. Check out Human Interface Nakamura Tower here.