Board GamesReviews

HerStory Review

HerStory Book Cover HerStory
Underdog Games
Nick Bentley, Emerson Matsuuchi, Danielle Reynolds
Eunice Adeyi, Cristina Aguirre
2–5 Players
Open Drafting & Set Collection

HerStory is a game that celebrates the amazing women of history who have helped shape our world. It’s aim is to bring more recognition to women like civil rights activist Ruby Bridges and Nobel Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu, through fun gameplay that will pique your curiosity while keeping you entertained. The question is: Does HerStory succeed?

Well, in my honest opinion, not really.  But let’s take a closer look at this laudably-themed game and see what works and what doesn’t.

The rules of HerStory are fairly easy to learn. You’re playing as a writer who is compiling a book about these amazing women. Over the course of the game, you’ll be doing research in order to add chapters to your book. The end of the game is triggered once one person has filled their book and, once all turns are finished, everyone will add up their scores to see who’s book is the most successful, thus winning the game.

On your turn, you must take one of three available actions. The first action is to take a research token. These research tokens will be placed on your player board and can be used to pay for chapter cards. You only have seven slots available, so you need to plan ahead to make sure you do not clutter your space (though not really, since you can always discard a token to make room for a new one).

The second action is drafting a chapter card. There will be five available cards to choose from and each depicts a different woman. These chapter cards provide points if they end up in your book and can offer powers, permanent research tokens, or even endgame scoring conditions. When you draft a chapter card, you’re reserving it by placing it in one of two slots on your player board. No one else will be able to claim the card and you get 2 points just for reserving, so this is pretty ideal if you are confident you will be able to pay for the card eventually, especially since, unlike research tokens, you can’t discard a reserved card to make room for a new one.  Plan accordingly!

The research cards are the real heart of the game. They are beautifully illustrated and provide facts about the woman to tell you why she was so important.

I definitely learned a lot while playing. There were a bunch of women whose names I recognized but who I didn’t really know anything about, and it was great to learn more about them.

The last action you may take is completing a chapter. This entails using research tokens to pay the cost of the chapter card (either one on the board or one you’ve previously reserved) and then moving the card to the next chapter in your book. The tokens you use are returned to the bag and you will score the points for the card. You also gain any powers the card offers. Some powers will allow you to gain new tokens, score extra points if certain conditions are met each round, or even provide end game scoring opportunities.

Players will take one action per turn, going around and around until someone completes their book, and then everyone will finish the round some that all players have had the same number of turns. You’ll add any points earned from end game scoring bonuses and then whoever has the most points wins! As a bonus, players are encouraged to flip their books over and reach the notes on the backs of the cards to learn about the women in their book.

All in all, the thought behind HerStory is a commendable one and it’s obvious that care was taken to make the game beautiful and include high quality components – the artwork is great, the neoprene mat does a great job replacing a traditional cardboard gameboard, and the color palette is friendly and inviting.  Unfortunately, despite the fantastic theme and presentation, our experience with HerStory was ultimately unsatisfying, for a variety of reasons.

The only interaction between players is the inevitability of someone else grabbing the research token or chapter card you wanted before you’re able to.  And that’s the heart of the ‘challenge’ of HerStory – the game is really an efficiency race.  To score maximum points for a card, you want to reserve it (to get the points from doing so) and then add it to your book by paying exactly the right combination of research symbols without going over, which also nets you a bonus.  But the problem is the other players will very likely interfere, even without meaning to, by taking the things you wanted before you could manage it.  And this only gets worse the more players there are – at 4-5 players, you may as well walk away from the game during other players’ (admittedly quick) turns because it is extremely unlikely that the token you need is going to survive 4 other people’s turns.  And while a lower player count reduces the chaos, it introduces stagnation – while players can wipe the token pile twice each per game (which will drive you mad every time someone flushes that perfect research token you needed down the drain), nothing resets the available chapter cards, and fewer players mean fewer people reserving and completing cards, which mean fewer options if you can’t or don’t want to pay for the chapters on offer.

So HerStory ends up being a game of a lot of missed chances to do things perfectly, and instead you’ll constantly be deciding how willing you are to settle for ‘lesser’ points, which feels like a punishment where there really shouldn’t be any.

Another problem we had with HerStory is the fact that, while certain cards give you free research symbols and therefor make getting more-expensive-but-higher-value chapter cards easier, there’s simply no guarantee that those cards, so useful in the early game, will come out before the very cards you might need their help in purchasing.  HerStory invites a lot of comparison to Splendor, another game about gathering up tokens to pay for cards, but what Splendor does significantly better than HerStory is that there is not just 1 row of available cards but 3 – the cheaper ones are worth fewer (or no) points, but help build up your engine, which then lets you buy the outrageously-overpriced but highly-valuable cards.  It creates a natural arc that still feels like a tight race.  In HerStory, all the chapter cards are just shuffled together, meaning you might open the game with a row of incredibly pricy cards and no way of wiping them, and so everyone just settles into endless rounds of grabbing research tokens in the hopes that they manage to get the magically perfect combo before someone else scoops it out from under them, which will also inevitably happen.

Ultimately though, HerStory’s biggest failing is that it was just a bit boring. There wasn’t enough to the game to keep us engaged. From the first turn to the last, HerStory provides the same experience throughout the entire time you are playing and doesn’t offer much in variety or player interaction. By the time we all reached our fifth chapter, the entire group felt as if they had played enough and weren’t excited to continue. The repetitive sequence of play did encourage us to read trough our cards, but only to compensate for the lack of engagement with the game itself.

I think HerStory could serve as an educational tool in the classroom, but to increase it’s effectiveness I would cut down the number of turns so that the game doesn’t overstay its welcome. I am sure there will be folks that really love the game and enjoy level of complexity for what it is, and to them I’d say that it’s truly fantastic that you’re having fun with a game that has a fantastic theme that is totally worth celebrating – for the right audience, HerStory might serve as a fantastic teaching tool and introductory game.  But ultimately, HerStory was just not a story for us. You can pick up a copy from the Underdog Games website here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.