Designer: David Chircop & Yannick Massa
Artists: Marie Cardouat
Playing Time: 15 – 30 minutes
Random Interference: low
(For general information on my ratings systems, CLICK HERE.)
It’s an elegant little abstract ballet of a game, whose movement reminds me of Nine Men’s Morris, except where Morris is competitive, you might think of …and then, we held hands as “co-operative Two Men’s Morris.”
Some Background Info You Probably Don’t Care About:
My wife has a sleeping disorder called Delayed Circadian Rhythm, which basically means her body’s natural tendency to fall asleep and wake up is several hours later than the average diurnal human, and she suffers severe fatigue trying to conform to society’s early-morning schedule. Since we’re both educators, this makes summer doubly good for us, as she and I can easily stay up until the wee hours, as per her needs, and not only is she freed of the stress of having to force herself awake in the morning, but she is adequately rested and rejuvenated throughout the day.
So summer is a great time for us to play 2-player games late into the night after the kids go to bed—much preferable to moonbathing in the light of television re-runs, which is sometimes the most her addled and sleep-deprived brain can handle during the regular season. We’ve gotten some measurable play time in recent months with the 2-player variant of Agricola, but since the summer began, she’s been asking to turn off the TV again and get more things to the table. Excited, I decided to expand our library (yet again) with this little bauble I’ve had my eye on for awhile: …and then, we held hands. (I mean, that’s the name of the game. We did hold hands afterwards, but only because we thought we should.)
Play commences on a point-to-point movement board, comprised of three concentric circles and a center space, with each player beginning with their stone at opposite points of the outer ring. The goal is for both players to gradually move their stones towards the center and arrive in the center space within consecutive turns of each other.
Your movement choices are limited by a hand of cards (called your “emotion row”) whose colors/shapes coordinate with spaces (“nodes”) on the board. You spend one card each time you move to the matching, adjacent node on the board, and both players share hands and may draw from one another’s “emotion row.” There is also a bit of a timing mechanism created by the availability of cards in the draw deck and by a separate deck of “objective” cards, which mandate target nodes on which you must land in order to deplete the objective deck and gain access to the inner circles. Each player has a second stone on a separate, horizontal axis (called the “balance scale”) at their edge of the board. The scale ranges in whole numbers from -2 to +2, and the balance stone is moved either left or right according to each movement of the stone on the board (different colors yield different “balance shifts”). The balance stone may not be pushed beyond the extreme positive or negative, and may therefore further limit the movement options for the center stone. Landing the balance stone at “0” rewards the player by replenishing their hand.
Finally, one of the most challenging features of the game is the rule against table talk. Players are expressly prohibited from discussing strategy and tactics with one another, which means your partner’s choices may accidentally impede your own.
The game is won when both players arrive in the center space, with their balance stone at 0, within consecutive turns, and before all the emotion cards in the draw pile and their hands are discarded. The game ends early in a loss if either player is stuck with no legal moves. Once you get the swing of the movement mechanics, a single game will play in about 15 minutes, unless one or both players are particularly contemplative in their moves.
What Doesn’t Work So Much for Me:
- Board spacing. The glass stones are good and plump: 7/8″ diameter, in fact, which is nice. And the board is compact: 8-1/2″ square, in fact, which is also nice. Unfortunately, what is not nice is that these two niceties don’t play nicely with each other. The play area is therefore a little bit cramped at times. This is most pronounced on the outermost circle, which has the greatest number of nodes along its circumference, and on the balance track, whose five points are just barely over half-an-inch apart. From a design and manufacturing perspective, the cramping on the outermost circle is not too bad, and probably couldn’t be fixed without increasing the board size, production cost, and retail price. (But slightly smaller stones might have been okay.) Meanwhile, the balance track has a good three inches of blank space to either side of it. It could have easily been stretched a little wider to make sure the stone didn’t accidentally cover two spaces at once.
- Title. Let’s be honest: It’s just a mouthful. Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue when you say, “Hey, honey, do you wanna play ‘and then we held hands’?” And of course it lends itself to all sorts of puns and ridicule. This is a petty complaint, I know, so let me also say that there’s more to my point than simply, “it sounds funny.” It has really to do with the game’s tone, which I’ll discuss more in my final remarks, and the game’s theme, or lack thereof, which I’ll discuss next…
…and then, we held hands. is a non-verbal, cooperative game about two people and their failing relationship…The players’ perspectives change as they dance around each other, trying to fix what is broken.
- Disconnected theme. The quote above is directly from the rulebook. Um. Yeah. No. Saying this game is “about a failing relationship” is like saying chess is “about war” or Candy Land is “about candy.” The “emotional balance” feature is just a skin—a beautiful skin, to be sure, but it is not a theme. The players’ choices have nothing to do with mitigating, reading, sensing, or dealing with emotions. The game is one of almost pure tactical movement. In fact, in our first two learning sessions (when we were still openly discussing strategy), my wife and I almost immediately took to referring to every node and card simply by color and shape, paying no regard whatsoever to the emotion named on each. Even more bizarre was the fact that in one game, I actually had to play an “anger” card to win, simply because “anger” is -1 to balance, and evidently, I was just a little bit too positive in my outlook coming into the center space. It doesn’t really make sense.
What Really Works for Me:
- Artwork. The artwork by Marie Cardouat is definitely beautiful and certainly captures the etheral tone the designers were going for. I’m not up-to-snuff on my formal art education, but there is a very surrealist quality at work here, and it’s very pleasing to the eye to have the game on display.
- True cooperation. When it comes to cooperative games, I always appreciate mechanics that prohibit “quarterbacking” and somehow ensure that the game cannot simply be played solo. This was something that was lacking in Side Quest, which I articulated in that review. True cooperative play allows some limit to the communication between the players, and a chance for one player to somehow impede the other, even if they share the overall goal. This is something that is done well in The Grizzled, as well as in Hanabi (although the latter tends to frustrate and anger my wife and me more than it does entertain). Thanks to the simple rule forbidding table-talk, …and then, we held hands meets these conditions quite satisfactorily, so that both players feel they have a role and that their decisions, even in the interest of the partnership, are still their own. As an aside, a recent forum thread on BoardGameGeek.com was concerned with this very issue, and one contributor stated plainly that “the only way to actually stop quarterbacking is to prevent communication.” (Davin Nisser) I admit that I would have thought something as simple as a rule that says “don’t do it” wouldn’t be enough to overpower the temptation. And yet, …and then, we held hands ends up proving something a Twitter friend wrote: “Games are rules that we like to follow.”
- Atmosphere/Meditation. Overall, …and then, we held hands accomplishes what it sets out to do, which (at least as I see it) was to create an atmosphere of quiet contemplation and meditation between the two players, whose primary goal is helpfulness rather than subterfuge. As a struggling Buddhist, the game speaks to me very strongly on that level, and it’s one of the few now in my collection whose in-game goals align very well with Buddhist principles. Whether or not we were collaborating during the game, or simply debriefing after the game, the experience with my wife felt entertaining, thought-provoking, and wholesome, like doing a crossword puzzle together.
…and then, we held hands is an enjoyable game for two people who are in the mood for a compact project of tactical thinking. It’s far more interesting than checkers, has an elegant movement pattern like Nine Men’s Morris, and being cooperative rather than competitive, it’s a nice option for variety in one’s gaming library.
What it is NOT is a game “about relationships,” failing or otherwise. This is a game of pure movement coordination. This is not to say that a themeless or purely mechanical game is “bad”—there’s plenty of enthusiasm for pure abstracts. But in the case of …and then, we held hands, the “skin” (and the title) are very misleading and may, in fact, be hurting the game in terms of its sales and general appeal. I know for myself, as much as I enjoyed the tactical interplay with my wife, it was not what I was expecting of this game when I first learned about it. I had imagined something much more psychological or empathetic. Something not so calculating, that involved a much softer approach to reading the other player. I don’t know what a game like that would look like, exactly, but that was what had me curious about this one.
Furthermore, I imagine the highly “sensitive” and even romantic tone of the game is turning away a large segment of players who otherwise enjoy pure abstract games. (One particularly sarcastic Amazon reviewer really underscores my point here.) Since the tone is inconsequential to the strategy of the game, it seems to me an unnecessarily limiting design choice. The game could just as easily have been called “Yin and Yang” or “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter.” Then it could have been painted accordingly, and it would have been the exact same game, without the romantic charge it currently has. Perhaps these are things to consider for future editions or possible re-implementations, if the designers care to head in that direction. As it stands, I think it’s a great abstract game for any two people on earth, which may have sacrificed its own appeal to any who might not want to associate with its romantic undertones.
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