Blackout: Hong Kong is an utterly phenomenal game. Let’s get that out the way right from the start. It’s full of crunchy decisions that will affect your opportunities to win throughout. You never feel like there are any dead turns or low points where what you do doesn’t really matter. You need to be switched on from the beginning and focus right away on your short, medium and long term goals. If you like games like this, then you will love Blackout: Hong Kong. If however, this makes you feel like the game is going to be hard work, then read on and let me see if I can encourage you to give this a try anyway. As I feel that Blackout: Hong Kong ss an absolute essential in any collection.
Who switched off the lights?
The premise for Blackout: Hong Kong is simple. There has been a mass power cut. There is no light or electricity anywhere. It’s your job to get the lights back on. And like any good government, the Hong Kong officials have not quite fixed the problems yet, so you take matters into your own hands. Hoping that whoever gets the power on again will be in control in the post blackout world. Sounds like quite an intriguing theme right? Sadly, you don’t feel this during the game.
I am the sort of gamer who will insist on calling all cubes by their proper names. “That’s Saffron, not red!” can be heard from me whenever I am playing Century: Spice road for example. I like to stay within the universe the game is trying to transport me into as best I can. I have done the same for Blackout: Hong Kong, but it’s tough! There is very little to bring you into the theme. The art is very bland and mainly black and white due to the blackout of course! But I feel more could have been done here to enhance the gaming experience.
However, once you start and have played a round or two, the theme, or lack of, will quickly be forgotten. You will instead be engrossed by the sheer beauty and genius of the gameplay and mechanics. The game pulls you in with the solid structure and the promise of cascading turns more than art and story. And for someone like me that will often pick art and story over gameplay, I have to say, I absolutely love this in Blackout: Hong Kong.
For something that appears quite difficult and is ranked as a medium to heavyweight game, this game plays very smoothly. I felt that in solo mode it was quite easy to play. I was initially intimidated by the rule book and my perceived complexity for this, but after ten minutes of playing and correcting a few initial rule errors, I realised this was actually a very simple game. Each player is given a board with the eight stages of each round written on.
What you do is actually very easy. It is more why you would want to make each choice that you need to think about. So, to test the game's complexities, I decided to try and teach my son who is seven. He plays a lot of games so I thought would have a good chance as this but did fear the long-term planning may fail him. How wrong I was! On his first ever game and my third, he absolutely destroyed me!
I sense a twist…
I mention all this, as other than the apparent complexity and lack of theme, I see no reason why this game should not be considered an absolute classic and must have game for any collection. And as you can see, I don’t think either of those negatives are an issue at all!
So, is there any reason why you should not buy this game? Well, I don’t see any. I think it ticks a lot of boxes for most gamers. It works brilliantly in solo as well as in two-player. But can play up to four. It plays within 90 minutes; extra players don’t make a huge difference due to most actions all happening simultaneously. It is full of interesting and rewarding choices that make a difference to the game so will reward strategic players immensely. And it has a brilliant campaign mode that works well in solo or multi-player, offering a lot of replayability and changeable gameplay each time you open this glorious box.
No twist. Sorry! Blackout: Hong Kong is just a solid game that I can highly recommend. But why has a game, that came out in 2018, not perhaps made your radar yet, or ranked higher on the charts. Alright, here is the twist! Designer Alexander Pfister is much loved and has made some amazing games. Including Mombasa, a beloved game from 2015 that shares a lot of similarities to this game. As Mombasa came out first, and became so popular within the community, some feel that Blackout: Hong Kong is just a lesser version of this, and as such, somewhat redundant. And here comes the contradiction. I would agree with that.
But I do prefer the theme to Blackout: Hong Kong despite it feeling a little pasted on! I can understand those who loved Mombasa ranking this lower though, but as I have not played that myself, I can only rank this game against its own merits and I have to say I love it. I had the chance to buy this or Mombasa and I chose this for the theme. Even when I knew it was not going to affect the game that much. But in truth, I know I would love both so I would just choose between the two themes if I were you.
But what about the scores?!
All that is left to say is why have I ranked this so highly overall but given it low scores? Well, for things like artwork and player interaction, it is not great. The components are just ok, it’s a few cubes and boards. And for complexity, I suppose it is a little harder than most games, but as I say, my son destroyed me on his first game! But look at that replayability score. Sometimes the other scores do not give the overall ranking justice and this game is phenomenal.
But it certainly could have done with a different look and feel to score a little higher and suit more players. But I have lots of pretty games I don’t play that often. Whereas this is the game right now I most want to play. I honestly cannot stop thinking about it, and how I can try different strategies next time.
It is an absorbing game that has made me think differently about my collection and the sort of games I want to buy and play. Largely as it has taken away the fear factor for the higher-ranked difficulty games. Mainly in terms of how accessible they will be for me and the people I have around me to play with. But also what I have found is quite the opposite. With my wife for example, whereas previously I was staying away from games like this as I felt it would put her off, the easier games with less strategy were actually doing a pretty good job of turning her away already. She felt a lot of games were a bit simple and vacuous. And when she tried this, she loved the challenge it presented. For the record, she destroyed me too!