Game at a Glance
- Underdog Games
- Players: 2-5
- Age: 8+
- Time: 30-60
- Availability: Retail and online
A review copy of this game was provided by the publisher; however, my opinions are my own
Alice Ball was an African American chemist who discovered a breakthrough treatment for Leprosy in 1916. After her untimely death, the head of her department attempted to take credit for her work, even going so far as to publish her method under his own name. Her name would have been lost to history if it wasn’t for her courageous colleague who spoke up to correct the record.
Alice’s story is not unique. Women have brought about many changes in our society, but sometimes it seems those contributions get minimized, ignored, and in some cases, stolen. There have been many efforts to rectify this and make room for the celebration of important contributions women have made – Women’s History Month is one example. Underdog Games has invited us to take this celebration into our own homes and create “books” about these women in a game all about celebrating women in history.
In HerStory, you are an acclaimed author tasked with writing a book about iconic historical women. Your book might include trailblazers in science and mathematics, brave abolitionists, bold voices in the arts, and much more. With 120 real women in the deck, there are plenty of subjects to write about. Alice Ball is just one of many stories that can be found within the game.
Skip to Review; Skip to Final Thoughts
Players will take turns researching and committing chapters to their books to score points. Chapters and research tokens are drafted from a shared Idea Board in the center of the table. Each player has their own player mat that represents their writing desk. This desk has room for two draft chapters, seven research tokens, and eight completed chapters. Research tokens contain two or three symbols that can be used to complete a chapter. On your turn you may choose one of three actions: take one research token from the idea board, draft a chapter from the idea board, or spend research tokens to complete a chapter from either your drafts or the Idea Board.
The endgame is triggered once a player has committed eight chapters to their book. The player with the highest-scoring book wins, after which players are encouraged to share a chapter from their book with the table.
HerStory is a drafting game, in which you will spend most of your actions collecting Research Tokens and Chapter Cards from the Idea Board. The goal is to add chapters to your book as quickly and efficiently as possible while outscoring your competition.
Chapter Cards may give special powers once added to your book. There are three categories of Chapter Cards depending on what kind of bonus they offer. The first add permanent research symbols to your engine, allowing you to play additional Chapter Cards with fewer Research Tokens to collect/spend. These cards are fantastic for building up an engine and adding efficiency to your game and work very well early on. These cards tend to offer very few if any, Victory Points. The second type of Chapter Card offers text powers that may activate either in- or endgame bonuses. These cards can be very helpful when synergized with complimentary Chapter Cards. Finally, there are cards with no Chapter Card Powers. These cards make up for their lack of ability with a hefty Victory Point bonus.
These different categories of cards can be mixed and matched to create a wide variety of strategies. I have seen players go for high-point cards with very few powers, some that spend their early game building up an engine to rush a quick endgame by playing their last few chapters in rapid succession, and others that build a book around a text power that can synergize with other cards.
There is an efficiency puzzle to work out as well. Drafting a Chapter Card or playing one with the exact required symbols will grant additional victory points – not an insignificant amount if you can do both for each chapter played. But these will cost you actions and might slow your writing down – other players could take advantage of this and rush the endgame, leaving you with an incomplete book. Finding a balance between when to take these inefficient actions for points versus keeping up with the table is crucial in the game.
HerStory is a light game suitable for families with kids who can read. It strikes a good balance as an educational game that teaches players at their own pace.
The rulebook has a nice layout that teaches the game in a few short pages with plenty of visual aids. I appreciate that it starts out with the game setup, which is very quick and easy and immediately moves into the gameplay rules. It’s simple enough to teach new players in a matter of minutes.
There are 120 cards to write your book with. Each game should allow you to discover card abilities that can combine in new ways. This is an appropriate level of variability for a family-weight game – it keeps the gameplay interesting without overwhelming the younger audience.
Theme / Aesthetics
HerStory arrives in an attractive box with a nice insert. The box is a standard size and has a lot of extra room. The box could have been made smaller, but as it stands there is room for expansion content if the publisher ever decides to release more. The components themselves are fantastic – lovely wooden pin markers, a small neoprene mat, and gorgeously illustrated linen finish cards. The game has premium components that integrate well with the theme.
The theme of writing a book is unique and inoffensive. On the other hand, some women in the game are controversial. There are bound to be women featured (or omitted) that will upset some consumers – it’s almost impossible to avoid that when discussing people from real life. Humans are imperfect, and upon close examination, you will discover that some of these women had/have worldviews in conflict with yours. Still, each subject in the game has defied the odds and made a significant impact on our world, and I would argue that their accomplishments are worthy of study. Any historical figure should be examined from multiple perspectives to give a “warts and all” view that allows the history student to form their own informed opinion. This game can serve as a good launching pad for delving in deeper and learning about some of these women’s deeds – both great and despicable.
Underdog Game wisely consulted a panel of educators when selecting their subjects. Ultimately the game’s theme is important – historical women are too often overlooked, and I applaud the game for shining a spotlight on that.
Interaction / Fun
There is light player interaction in the game. For example, some card powers activate when another player accomplishes something, such as drafting a chapter. There is also competition on the Idea Board for tokens and powerful Chapter Cards. It gets especially tough when multiple players are after the same icons. Although that competition adds a lot of tension, I have not come across any directly mean, “take that” style powers. Hate drafting is possible, but the efficiency cost is pretty steep. The interaction is crucial to the game, and I feel this one is better with three or more players than with two.
Simple actions mean turns move incredibly quickly. Downtime isn’t much of an issue but if the turns slow down for some reason, players can always read their chapter cards to pass the time.
My family enjoyed sharing the stories at the end of the game. Although one player wins, it is a nice touch that everybody still gets to choose and share their favorite chapter with the entire table.
HerStory is easy to learn, but there’s a surprising amount of depth. The game presents me with enough interesting choices to keep me entertained while playing with my children. Finding the right balance between ease-of-play and strategic depth is difficult – many family games miss the mark. The game is lighter than something I’d reach for during an adults-only game night, but I think it’s a fantastic one to share with kids.
When I opened the box I was greeted with a bonus envelope full of postcards, stickers, and bookmarks featuring some of the women found in the game. Marie Curie, Frida Kahlo, Jane Goodall, Anne Frank… I was completely shocked when my emotions bubbled out in the form of tears. I’m not very sentimental but seeing all these iconic women honored together in one package resonated deeply. This tells me a lot about the need for this type of art.
What I appreciate most about HerStory are the conversations it has sparked for my family. When I first received this game, my animal-loving daughter immediately plunged into the cards looking for one of her heroes, Jane Goodall. She spent time with me on the couch, flipping through cards, reading stories, and asking questions about women in science, art, politics, etc. This game has been a conversation catalyst between my son and me, too. I think it’s important for little girls to see content like this, but there are lessons for everyone here.
The production quality is fantastic with premium components and beautiful art. And the theme is beautiful and important. No matter your political or philosophical leanings, there is probably a card or two in here you will not appreciate, but hopefully, many more that you do. I encourage consumers to not assume that this is a game full of 120 role models – that is a very personal choice. Instead, I look at it as a game of 120 real, human (note: not infallible) women with different life experiences and different perspectives. There are women in here that are heroes to me, and others… not so much. Even when I disagree with the person’s philosophies and methods, I can still appreciate the monumental difficulties they faced to change the world and I do not begrudge their inclusion in the game. Most significantly: there are many women featured that I have never heard of. Some of their stories captured my kids and me, leading us to the internet for further knowledge. If a game sparks that desire to educate yourself further, that is incredibly valuable.
I would recommend this game to families with children ages eight and up. This is a great selection for gameschooling and could possibly be used as a resource in certain classroom settings.