Last night I was treated to my first game of High School Drama! by Shifting Skies. It was quite a treat. I can see why it was nominated for the Origens Award. I’m surprised it didn’t get it.
High School Drama! is a competitive card game for 2-5 players. When you open the box you find a series of different card decks, a score board, and a variety of colored tokens. The art on the cards is bright and fun. The quotes on each character card range from entertaining to laugh-out-loud funny. Overall the designers have captured the mystique of every American High School cliche and distilled it into a highly amusing little game.
To play High School Drama! each player chooses a character card to represent themselves. Each card has certain stats, but I recommend you choose a role you would find enjoyable to play rather than the character with the biggest advantage. Your goal in representing this character will be to collect the most Yearbook Signatures by the end of Senior Year. You do this by hooking up with other students and organizations in the High School and building bonds with them which you can trade in later for signatures. Meanwhile everyone else is trying to build bonds faster and better than you and going around stabbing each other in the back, spreading rumors, and making fellow student’s lives hell. Winning is a combination of strategy, luck of the draw, and not becoming a target of other player’s wrath.
The stats each student has deserve a little mention because they are very clever. Each student has a rating in “Cool”, “Cruel”, and “Heart”. These represent exactly what they sound like. In addition, each student has a background color which tells you what category they belong to: Athlete, Popular, Geek, or Artsy. Some students and organizations are divided meaning they belong to two of these categories and relate well to either. In order to hook up with another student or organization you must have a “Cool” rating at least equal to the target. If you are both the same color (ie: both athletes or both geeks) your “Cool” rating is considered double. You can build on that bond adding tokens to represent how strongly those two students are connected up to the sum of both card’s “Heart” ratings. Increasing bonds is important because the other players will be trying to break up your relationships. You can only negatively impact a relationship that has a bond strength equal to or less than your “Cruel” rating. So the higher the “Cool” the easier it is to make friends. The higher the “Heart” the stronger those relationships will be. The higher the “Cruel” the more ability you have to break other people up. As you can imagine some people are cool, but shallow. Others are sensitive and vicious. Others are a balance of all three.
The mechanics of this game are extremely simple. It takes no time to learn and the gameplay itself is straightforward. This is both a strength and a weakness. It means that HSD is a great game for mixed groups and non-serious gamers, but it also means that the novelty of the game might wear thin after repeated sessions. The game could be improved by the addition of a slightly more complex, more in-depth strategy ruleset for advanced gamers.
However, the real fun of this game is not in the rules. The most fun will be had by people who get into playing their characters and are willing to narrate their actions turning the whole game into one long string of he’s going out with her, but she’s secretly lusting after him, and that clique is ostracizing this person because they hang out with that guy and so on. Memorable moments from our game last night include Emo Boy discovering that it is fun to sell out and joining a pretty successful pop band; a Japanese exchange student ping pong champion getting involved in a threesome with the Head Cheerleader and the Quarterback; the head of the Yearbook Committee wielding sinister influence to ostracize L33t Haxor from her friends…
Overall I give this game a 3.5 out of 5 stars. It’s solid and it offers up lots of laughs. It would be even better if it was a tad crunchier, but Shifting Skies has hit upon a great concept here. Afterall, among gamers, who wouldn’t love to go back and redo high school, but this time as the one wrecking lives instead of as the one getting wrecked.