Melodramatic Science Fiction Adventure
Hearts Blazing is a card-based storytelling game where 3-5 players recap the events of a science fiction television series of their own making. Players work together to develop the setting, technology and major influences in the series, with each player acting as a caretaker who has final say on a particular subject. Players also take the role of one the primary characters in the series according to assigned archetypes and then describe the actions of that character in a shared storytelling experience.
Designed by Glenn Given, Meg McGinley and Daniel Brian, Hearts Blazing was published by Games by Play Date and will set you back a couple of sawbucks retail for a nice looking box of 126 cards and a small but comprehensive rule book. The box is about the size of a Sony Walkman, so it will easily fit into your backpack but not into your pocket, unless you have freakishly big pockets. If you are under 40, then you may not know what a Sony Walkman is. It’s the cassette player like Starlord had in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.
Playing Hearts Blazing
First, convince some friends to sit down with you at a table or some kind of flat surface that will act as a table, like a refrigerator that’s turned on its side or a sleeping grizzly bear. Then decide what kind of television show you want to create. We decided that our show would be an appropriate for all ages production about a band of space smugglers set in the world of the Galaxy Trucker board game. Our ship, the Star of Destiny, was constantly threatening to fly apart at the seams, even though our artificially intelligent computer system, “Shipie”, was always quite optimistic and enthusiastic. We didn’t come up with a title for the series, which seems like a must. Let’s go with Star Trucker for now.
Now decide who will be the caretaker of important aspects of the game. You do this so that if there’s an argument about the color of the sky on the planet Fristapoon Beta, then someone can say, “It’s pink, Darryl. Get over it and move on.”
Next, assign the character archetypes. The five available character archetypes are as follows:
- The Ace – Basically any highly skilled character
- The Leader – Somebody in charge
- The Rookie – Inexperienced but full of potential and spirit
- The Engineer – The person with all of the answers
- The Veteran – Experienced and dependable in a conflict
I ended up with the role of the Veteran. I chose the name Horner Amundsen and described him as an experienced crewman who had survived years of military service and space exploration. He had a bad temper and used foul language, but because the show was made for all ages, I had to make up fake swear words like “What the glark?” and my personal favorite “Fragadoobie!”
Each role archetype receives a set of 12 cliche cards. These cards provide players with suggestions for their characters based on common tropes. Additionally, the cards have a bidding value from -1 to 4 that is used to determine which player will handle the episode wrap up and who will be awarded the key words listed on the episode card. The entire season consists of a pilot episode, six mid-season episodes, and a finale. These are chosen randomly from the episode deck. Each episode has three parts:
- The Launch – This is where one of the main characters as determined by the episode card sets the scene and establishes the initial action.
- The Bridge – All of the players may participate in building the action during the bridge, working together to advance the story until it reaches a critical event.
- The Wrap – At the height of the action, the player or players who bid the most points on their cliche cards guides the episode to a conclusion.
Additionally, each player will get a motive card that will remain secret. This is what your character hopes to achieve by the end of the season. On the motive card, there will be keywords that match the words that appear on the episode cards. If you get the most keywords, then you have more say in how the season ends. Grab some paper and pencils so that you can take notes and jot down ideas, and you are ready to play! What? My excessive use of bold text and oversimplification of rules didn’t teach you to play? I suppose you could just watch this video then.
Okay, what did I think of Hearts Blazing?
We were limited to two hours of playtime and it clearly wasn’t enough for us. Our biggest problem with time was us wanting to add in little details or character moments. The rules suggest that you try and keep each episode recap to about ten minutes and we were running 15-20 minutes on average. I think that if we had spent a bit more time establishing the setting and the antagonist, we would have had an easier time moving through the episodes. Honestly, I didn’t have an issue with how long the game was taking because I was really enjoying myself.
Because we were pressed for time, we didn’t get to conclude our series in the way the rules suggest, but it speaks to the flexibility of the game that we were still able to have a good time and walk away feeling like we had told our story. We recovered our beloved crew-member that had been captured, but at a great cost. We learned a lot on the way. Does the show have to be science fiction? Probably not, many of the tropes and cliches are appropriate for many genres, but science fiction is definitely the sweet spot the Hearts Blazing.
I like that the game is meant to be played in one sitting. I’m not sure if it says that in the rules, but if it doesn’t, it should. There are lots of multi-session storytelling games or there. Hearts Blazing is special because it can be played on a few hours. If you want a more comprehensive storytelling experience within the parameters of a television show then try Primetime Adventures. In fact, my friend Patrick described Hearts Blazing as playing a whole season of Primetime Adventures in one sitting.
If you are lucky enough to have a Friendly Local Game Store like the Crazy Squirrel in your town, then you should get it from them; otherwise, you can get it on the Games by Play Date website. Have fun with it. I’m looking forward to playing it again soon.