You know that bit in Avengers: Endgame where Captain America pretends to be Hydra to steal Loki’s sceptre from agents who are actually Hydra and you distractedly think, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if Captain America actually was Hydra and had played the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe?’ That’s Hail Hydra. And this is how it plays.
Choose Your Fighter
In Hail Hydra, you and at least five friends will choose an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. to control. There are a generous fourteen to pick from including Black Panther, Elektra, Hulk, Quake, Spiderman and Wasp*. Your character comes with a card which doubles as a strategy and player aid, and a one-use-per-game special ability. For example, Hulk can inflict lots of damage but damages New York City in the process.
So, this is a co-operative, 5 Minute Marvel type affair, right? Wrong! At the start of the game, players are secretly handed a cardboard disc informing them of their loyalty. In a full 8-player game, five heroes will be straight-up agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. but (plot twist!) three will form a secret sleeper cell of Hydra double agents. To make things more difficult, each Hydra agent will know from the start who their co-saboteurs are, while the S.H.I.E.L.D. players begin from a place of trusting no-one and suspecting everyone.
*50/50 gender split in a superhero game with so many playable characters shows an effort to be inclusive of female players and I welcome it.
Mama Said To Knock You Out
The secret identities create two games running one under the other. In the main game, heroes secretly play action cards in an effort to defeat five progressively difficult baddies, culminating in a final battle with uber-villain, The Red Skull. S.H.I.E.L.D. agents will be hoping to have positive blue cards to play and Hydra agents will be hoping to slip in enough red damage cards to thwart attacks. In recognition of Hydra’s numerical disadvantage, the negative cards are slightly more powerful. Beat The Red Skull, S.H.I.E.L.D. win. Destroy the city, Hydra are victorious.
The real game goes on underneath all that, though. With Hydra working together to undermine the efforts of S.H.I.E.L.D., it is down to the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to root them out and increase their chances of success. Each time a villain is defeated, heroes get an opportunity to ‘knock out’ one, two or three of their compadres from the next mission via a timed debate and vote.
Getting the vote right or wrong will have a dramatic impact on which team wins. If Hydra can successfully manipulate group paranoia onto an innocent target or targets, they might cripple S.H.I.E.L.D. enough on the next mission to be able to run on to victory. This is the true locus of the game. Accusations fly fast and free. Aspersions are cast. Trash is talked. Oh, the shade of it all! Buckle up, because if you don’t like mean games, it might be best to sit this out.
Sometimes, however, you just want to stand up for what you believe in and be an openly proud supervillain. Now is the time to stop pretending you care about the petty, boring lives of inferior New York citizens and shout, ‘HAIL HYDRA!’
At any point in the game, Hydra agents can declare their true loyalty. This is often done if they have been rumbled and knocked out for consecutive missions, or while on a mission if they feel they will be eliminated in the voting round anyway. Declaring causes extra damage to the city, but means they can no longer use their special power and are likely to be knocked out every round from here on in. On the other hand, sacrificing yourself in this way can be a good distraction to take the heat off your fellow Hydra miscreants.
What? Captain America is Hydra?!?!?!
Hail Hydra is fast-paced, raucous and great fun. I would recommend trying to get the full 8-player count for a better experience and would say at least six to make it balanced. For a party game, there are some intricacies to rules that might take some explaining to people not used to modern games. As with all social deduction/hidden identity games, this is problematic because people can’t ask for clarification once the game has started without revealing their identity. In Hail Hydra, this is exacerbated if the inexperienced or unsure player is Hydra.
What I’d say to this is: stop stressing about it. Even if someone plays ‘wrong’ there are guaranteed laughs in the meta-game. The player cards (with stunning, bold artwork, I might add!) have sufficient information to make a good enough stab at it no matter how clueless you feel. And remember: it’s supposed to be fun! The pleasure in Hail Hydra isn’t gained from victory or defeat, but in how you arrived at either. It’s the joint experience of mud-slinging, misdirecting, finger-pointing mayhem. The brazen lying. The ‘ah, I got you’ of revealing Captain America actually was Hydra all along. HAIL HYDRA!