In his 1944 play No Exit, Jean-Paul Sartre almost said “Hell is other people’s dogs,” and he probably would have been referring to Heckin Hounds, an upcoming board game where players must place bets and take tricks all without knowing what’s in their own hands.
Heckin Hounds is the first published title from Sapphire City Board Game Parlor, an Ohio-based gathering place for tabletop hobbyists that has decided to develop games of their own. Two to seven players must walk the Lord of the Underworld’s menagerie of mutts in an effort to please their employer - and thus save their own soul from damnation.
A couple of wrinkles muddy the otherwise well-traveled trick-taking waters. Players don’t want to do too well or too poorly, as either will eject you from the game. Like any workaday job, the walkers want to aim as close to mediocrity as possible in order to escape the admiration or wrath of Hades. Second, each player’s hand faces out toward the rest of the group and forces them to proceed based on what everyone else is holding instead of the information on their own cards.
A different shift leader will be chosen each round, gaining the ability to see their own cards as well as dole out limited clues regarding their fellow walkers’ herd of dogs. These can certainly be helpful, if they feel like it, but as long as it isn’t explicit lies the shift leader can obfuscate as much as desired. A final responsibility is assigning the trump card Cerberus to one player.
The game ends once every player has taken a turn as shift leader. The score board tracks how many tricks each walker over- or under-bid throughout the game. Zealous employees get promoted right out of the game, while the chronic underachievers become chew toy fodder. The player who managed to score the lowest without going negative will clinch the win.
The demonic dogs include historical homages, such as Marie Antoinette’s pug, Mops, who lost her head in the revolution along with her queen-consort mom. There’s also more contemporarily famous pooches: Evil Molly refers to Molly, aka the Thing of Evil, a Welsh Corgi who lives with horror author Stephen King, and Sudachi is apparently the cousin to Kobasu, the Japanese shiba who became immortalized in the doge meme.
Heckin Hounds is the creation of actual dog-walker (among other professions) Mattie Schraeder, in collaboration with Sapphire City’s owner, James Parsons and illustrator Lauren A. Brown. Brown worked on the 2019 card game Art Decko, as well as animated spy lampoon series Archer.
The Kickstarter campaign for Heckin Hounds runs through July 15th, and backers can secure a physical copy of the game for $26 (£19). Shipping is expected to begin in April 2022 and is available globally.