Updated: Feb 15, 2022
Published by Dragon Dawn Productions, White Hat is a reimplementation of DDP's 2015 title Black Hat, designed by Ren Multamäki and Thomas Klausner. It's a trick-taking card game with a notional theme about hacking and the FBI.
Tho' the cards in the deck are in a variety of colours, these don't represent suits: unusually, this is a trick-taking game without suits. There are some interesting illustrations on the cards by Scot Everts, Jere Kasaden, John Lewis and Juha Salmijarvi. These reference the hacking theme so they are thematic but they aren't actually relevant to the game play. What matters are the numbers on the card: the value (1-13, but with several additional wild cards) and the subsidiary number (0-5) which represents the points you'll add to your score if you're caught with that card in your hand when the round ends (ie: when another player exhausts their hand). And, no, that's not a good thing because in this game, points are bad - the eventual winner will (usually) be the player with the fewest points.
Tricks are won by the highest card played or the most recent card of a particular value (so, if I play a 10 and you follow with another 10, then you are winning the trick). A player can lead tho' with multiples of the same card rather than a singleton. If, say, I lead with two 5s, then you can only win the trick by playing two cards also value 5 or higher. Wild cards can be used to make a multiple. But so can the White Hat card. This is a unique card that is always dealt out in every round. It's double sided so you know who holds it. It is played as a wild to make multiples but it also has the effect of reversing the trick so that it is won by the lowest qualifying cards played rather than the highest. The winner of the trick picks up the White Hat plus all the other cards played or as many non-wild cards as were played by the player who led that trick. Since players are penalised for having cards left in their hand when another player exhausts theirs, having the White Card can therefore be a very mixed blessing. You probably don't want to be caught with it at the end of a round because it alone adds 5 points to your score.
If the trick taking was all there was to White Hat, it would make for an interesting game but one with which you'd soon tire. The twist here tho' is that when you win a trick you move one of your two pawns across a board. There are hacking/FBI-themed references to the spaces on the board but what perhaps matters most are the values on each space - mostly positive (which is bad - remember, you generally want to score as few points as possible) but some with negative values (so spaces you almost certainly want to be on when scoring is done at the end of each hand). Pawns mostly don't share spaces, so they usually leap over spaces that are occupied. Be warned too that some spaces lock pawns so that they cannot move any further... The upshot of all this means that canny players will want to manipulate which tricks they win and which they are better off losing, depending on the relative positions of the pawns on the board.
There are other twists and variants that can be incorporated into the game, including tiles that change up the board layout and, crucially, a 'jail' tile that locks pawns into a punitive value 5 space. And, whichever options you incorporate, the game ends and there's a final round of scoring either when a pawn reaches the end ('Critical Asset') space or when all the pawns are locked and unable to move.
White Hat incorporates all the optional variants that have been added to Black Hat, and it also adds in a solitaire option. Black Hat originally had a separate score board but White Hat incorporates a score track around each side of the double-sided game board. Some of the options really shake up the game play, adding further to White Hat's replayability. For example, the 'Celebrity Status' variant gives each player a secret 'status' card that sets them a target score in the range 10-50. In this variant, the win goes to the player whose final score is closest to their target: so when you play with this variant, it could be in your interest to rack up a high score rather than a low one...
If you've already got Black Hat then this new White Hat edition will probably only be of interest if you've worn out the original game through your many plays over the past six years. For the rest of us, the publication of White Hat is a very welcome opportunity to acquire this clever tactical trick-taking game. It's crowdfunding on Gamefound from 22 January. Click here for the campaign.