As a sad and lonely man, it’s only natural that I would gravitate toward games I can play by myself. This used to mean playing a game meant for 2+ players alone by taking control of all sides. Over the past year or two, however, I’ve discovered that there are great solo games out there, you just have to look. GMT is one company that regularly puts out games that play great when you’re all by your lonesome, and Victory Point Games is another. To be honest, before HexWar brought Infection: Humanity’s Last Gasp to digital, I wasn’t familiar with VPG’s offerings. Since then, I’ve fallen in love with several of their designs, and have Kickstarted several others (including their latest Kickstarter for Chariots of Rome). The latest to draw my attention is one with a unique board game theme, Healthy Heart Hospital.
As you can probably guess by the title, Healthy Heart Hospital is a healthcare simulation in which you’re tasked with running a hospital that’s fallen on hard times and restoring it to its former prestige (and wealth). What you don’t realize is that HHH is apparently located in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, because everyone around the town is sick as all hell. On one hand, that’s good, healing sick people brings in money. On the other hand, you only have so many resources and when someone kicks the bucket you’ll need to pay off the family and hide the body to keep your reputation intact.
While HHH is listed as a cooperative game for up to 5 players, it shines going solo or, maybe, with two. More than that and you’re asking for one of the alpha gamers to take over and start telling everyone what to do which, usually, leads to said alpha gamer getting punched in the face. Regardless of the number of players, however, you’ll always be taking the role of 5 members of the HHH staff, four doctors and one administrator. There are a handful of both, so you’ll have a different lineup each game.
Patients are represented by cubes, with the number of cubes indicating how sick they are. One cube is a guy with a ear infection, 5 cubes is a corpse. The color of the cubes matters as well. Red cubed patients are cardiology patients, gray cubes are for psychiatric issues, etc. Cubes enter the waiting room at the beginning of each turn when ambulances arrive at the hospital (cards are drawn) and fill the chairs in the triage area. Then each doctor and administrator gets actions to try and get those cubes back on the street.
Doctors can use actions to move patients from triage into similarly colored wards, where the cubes turn into numbered beds. Once a patient turns from cubes to a bed, they can never go back, so the only way to remove them from the hospital is to heal them completely or send them out in a body bag. Doctors can use actions to heal or transfer patients around the hospital. They can also research new abilities which can then be added to a doc’s list of personal actions.
Administrators can hire new employees such as lawyers, which help keep costs down when the eventual wrongful death occurs, or a CFO who brings in more money each round. They can also okay the building and upgrading of new rooms in the hospital. Need a morgue to store more stiffs? Build it. How about an operating room to keep those 5-cube patients alive for just a little longer? Build it. There are 10 rooms to build, but only 8 slots on the board to build them. Each one also costs an arm and a leg, and cash is very, very hard to come by.
The trick is that each doc and administrator only has two actions each turn, so HHH plays like a puzzle with a dollop of manageable randomness tossed in. Cubes are randomly drawn from a cup or bag each turn when ambulances show up, but healing is done by also drawing cubes from the bag. You need to draw the same color as the patient you’re trying to heal, so you can make success more likely by managing which cubes get returned to the bag via special abilities. Have a full Infectious Disease ward? You better try to keep as many yellow cubes in the bag so you can get some of those walking germ factories back on their feet. It’s an incredibly simple system, but it works great at giving you a sense of control in what could easily be pure chaos.
Games last 8 turns and, if you make it that far without too many patients dying or going bankrupt, you win! Kind of. You’ll earn (and lose) prestige during the game and can check you’re prestige value against a chart in the rulebook to see how you really did. Sure, you won, but if you only have 10 prestige, you’re still a loser. Hooray!
Healthy Heart Hospital is a hard game. I’ve played several times and have never needed to check that chart in the rulebook, having either run out of money or killed more people than Cecil B. DeMille well before I even started worrying about prestige. It feels like many other cooperative titles where you begin to wonder if you’re playing it wrong because it’s too easy and then, suddenly, everything goes off the rails. That moment, and trying to recover from it, is my favorite thing about cooperative games, and it’s happened in every game of HHH I’ve played.
One word of warning. There are two versions of HHH out there, the original printing and a newer, deluxe edition. Unless you’re buying directly from VPG or picking it up at your FLGS, beware of which version you’re getting. I purchased my copy from an online retailer after being assured it was the deluxe version but, when it arrived, it was the older printing. I’m not usually a bits snob, but the differences seem to be rather striking. The older edition comes with a paper map, cheaper cardstock, and cardboard bits covered in black soot. The newer version has a mounted map, better cardstock, die cut tokens, and fixes a card or two that were wrong in the first edition. Oh, and the rulebook in the first printing is utter garbage. The second edition’s rulebook is much better, but can also be downloaded for free, so it’s not really a problem for 1st edition owners.
That said, I enjoy playing Healthy Heart Hospital enough that I’m thinking of shelling out another $50 for the deluxe version just to get the new bits. It’s that good, at least as a solo game. If you’re game table usually has 3-5 people around it, you can give HHH a pass. If, like me, you enjoy quick and challenging solitaire experiences, Healthy Heart Hospital is one of the good ones.