Fanfor Verlag, £20
Designed by Valentin Herman
3-6 players, about 90 minutes
Reviewed by Mike Clifford

I am told that Hacker proved as popular with German critics as a Barbara Cartland novel in Soho. For my own part, I thought this one of the better games at Essen, circa 1991. However, the fact that this review has taken over a year to compile is probably symptomatic of the game's low profile. Happily, I can now report that Mark 'DM' Green has put a chunk of dosh on the line, and that his esteemed emporium Just Games is now the central source of this underrated frolic.

There are several reasons why Hacker can stand pat with the best that Germany has given us in the past couple of years. Firstly, it is superbly produced - mounted gameboard, wooden components and top quality laminated card sets; it rates a 9 on the Sigter Scale. Secondly, 'Fritz' Webley 'did' the rules, and, as usual, they are 99% glitch-free. Thirdly, the game has a rigid but fast-moving order of play which ensures that all participants (3- 6) are continually involved.

The game's basic premise is to discover a number of codes via a password system. The passwords are, in fact, no more than the central squares on a 5x5 grid (Hacker-Block) a la Battleships. Three of the 25 squares are randomly blacked out, and the hacking attempt fails if the player stumbles upon one of these obstructions. If the declared co-ordinates (say A-1, B-2) are clear and the central square (C-3) is reached, the code is cracked. Depending on the number of players, attaining a total of either 4 or 5 codes wins the game. This was the only area in the rules which caused problems, confusion arising over the terms 'code' and 'password'. It would appear that they interchangeable, because when the password is ascertained, so the code is established.

Successfully reaching the terminal, and thereby having a chance to identify a code, requires movement along a track until the uppermost (fourth) space is reached. Apart from other players, 'dummy' users may also be present in the queue. These are displaced by a player with higher PRIO (priority) than the 'dummy'. If the PRIO totals are the same, it's Lotus 1-2-3 manuals at 10 paces. The winner of the duel (actually a roll each of 1d6, with a bonus for 'real' participants)) gives his opponent the elbow.

PRIO is increased by sitting in the firm's cafeteria and hoping the boss doesn't catch you scrounging. He appears every game turn (via a random card draw) at either a terminal (there are six), or in coffee heaven. Penalties vary, but the boss only affects a player's PRIO.

Electing where to operate is a simple matter of choosing from a set of seven place cards, which are marked 1-6 (for terminals) or C (cafe). This is the second of 12 variable functions per round, all of which require the thinking cap but none that cannot be grasped fairly quickly. You could, literally, play this game 'out of the box' without undue attention to the rulebook. There are a also a myriad of action cards which adjust Time (needed to remain at a terminal) and the ubiquitous PRIO, allow instant access to the code, cause malfunctions at selected terminals or permit a player to 'copy' a password. Those cards with a black dot may only be used by a player sitting at a terminal or someone who has cracked the code, but as the game position can change dramatically, this is never an insurmountable advantage.

At the end of each round, cards are replenished, PRIO increased (for those enjoying tea and a doughnut), and the frenetic action can be once more enjoined.

If the game appears a little odd, that's because it is. Nonetheless, Hacker's idiosyncrasies should be quickly absorbed and enjoyed, and please don't be turned-off by the computer theme, however anti-techno you might be.

At this year's Essen show, I was interested to see Hacker designer Valentin Herman's new offering Waldes Frust, which also utilises the grid concept. Although an integral part of both games, they are merely the launchpad for a series of uncommon but entertaining gaming concepts.

mike clifford

On to the review of Insider or back to the review of Hacker.

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