One of the games my kids have already started to play with each other is seeing how long they can hold their breath under the water. There must be something primal about this game of endurance because they came up with it on their own. Today, I will be reviewing a game that brings that pool game to the gaming table in Hold Your Breath. Players will take on the role of pirates trying to see who can swim the deepest and, more importantly, reach the surface before the game ends. Let’s dive into the depths of this review to see if it’s worth adding to your collection.
Hold Your Breath is a push your luck hand management game for 2-4 players to play in about 30 minutes. In my experience, the game plays best at 3-4 players.
In Hold Your Breath, our unlucky pirates find themselves swimming towards land. Fortunately for them, they managed to get close, but an argument broke out about who could swim the deepest and make it back to the surface. They are not the smartest group of pirates. The game is separated into two phases, the Descent and Ascent. Players will need to play cards to allow the pirate to dive and return to the surface. But these are pirates we are talking about, so this won’t be a clean game. The cards can also be used to hinder your opponent’s chances of winning. The person who can dive the deepest and return to the surface before running out of time will win the game.
The art style used in the game is a loose interpretation of reality. It goes with a cartoony art I fully admit that it isn’t the most realistic art work, but with the theme it works for me. The game adds small anchors to represent how deep the player’s meeple reached during the Descent phase. While not a necessary piece, it is a great way to represent this important part of the game. I do have some issues with the iconography used on the cards. Most of the cards have a dual purpose and the issue is that these are not the clearest on what actions they grant. This isn’t game breaking by any means and a quick explanation at the start will eliminate any issues.
How to Play:
As I have mentioned before, Hold Your Breath is separated into two identically played phases. In the Dive Deck, there are 68 cards with most cards having an Air or Swim value. These same cards also have action effect that you can use to calm your pirate down, cause another to panic, draw more cards, or make another person discard a card.
You must decide which of the two options you are using when you play the card. There are also a few sea creatures in the deck that have their own special abilities with a dolphin being a wild card, the shark can cause a player to freak out in the water, or a Kraken that can get rid of the shark or force some players to discard one card.
Each turn will be played the same way with a player playing cards from their hand and resolving each cards chosen effect before playing the next card. A player can play as many cards as they want on their turn, but there are a few rules I want to cover.
A player must play at least one Air card. If they can’t, that pirate becomes flustered by the competition and you must take a card and place it in front of the player as a panic card. If a pirate is panicked, it can’t move until a card is played with a calm action. Also, a player may play as many Air cards as they want, but you can only play Swim cards that total equal or less than the total Air cards you played. After they have finished their turn, all cards besides panic and shark cards are shunned to the discard pile and it is the next player’s turn.
The Descent will continue until a player draws the last card from the Dive Deck and each player gets to take one final turn. Players will then take their anchor tokens and place it where their pirate ended up at the end of the Descent phase. Take the discard deck, reshuffle it, and make sure each player has five cards. Then the Ascent begins with the player who is the closest to the surface taking the first turn.
The Ascent is played exactly the same except players are moving their pirates back up to the surface of the board. The game continues until one of two things happens. Either the player whose anchor is the deepest depth reaches the surface wins the game or the last card is drawn from the Dive Deck and players take one last turn. If the latter condition ends the game, the player who reached the surface after diving the furthest is the winner.
As the third pirate game following Get Bit and Walk the Plank from Mayday games, Hold Your Breath is the first game in this pirate series I have had the chance to play. I have read enough about the other two that they seem like great games to start a game night. Hold Your Breath possesses mechanics that are both light, but still have meaningful decisions for players to make. It’s currently one of the games that always finds its way into my gaming bag because it fits this mold beautifully.
The game, at its core, uses push-your-luck as its primary mechanic of how deeply you want to go before your turn back. But it is the additional elements that make this game one I enjoy. You have to balance the desire with going the deepest with making sure the other players don’t have an easy time swimming.
If you read through the how to play section, an element of this game is how players can force your pirate to become panicked or force you to discard from your hand. For those worried that these would cause a clear gang up situation on the player in the lead, fear not. Because you can only lose a card if you have five cards in your hand and only have one panic card placed on you. This makes it more of a hindrance rather than something that can derail your attempt entirely.
The game finds a nice balance with this element because of the dual purpose for the cards. All players will need these cards for their own Descent or Ascent. Rather than just stopping you, they must also think about their own pirate’s survival. I warn you to not to pile on players too much. They will always remember and seek revenge later in the game.
This creates a difficult balancing act that players must contend with as they play the game. Players must struggle with their own movement, hindering other players and protecting themselves as they play. These are all the things you must think about before you play any card from your hand.
I love this internal debate and struggle. One action that is my personal favorite is discarding a card and drawing another into your hand. Players will need this action just to try to get a card that they need at that moment. It isn’t without consequence because you might need that air or swim value later, but at that moment you are hoping for something else off the top of the deck. It is this feeling of desperation while I play the game that keeps me bringing it to the gaming table. This feeling is also evident to new players quickly at the end of the Descent phase. There is a clear light bulb moments as they progress doing their first play through.
I honestly don’t have many things negative to say about this game. It is a light filler game, which means that there are not deep strategies for you to develop or use. But that doesn’t mean you can sit back, relax and let the game play itself. Players will need to adjust to the randomness of the cards in order to be successful. I personally like this because it will give you a different experience each time you play.
Even though I have played well over 15 games, I’m still not bored with the experience it provides. Regardless on where you end up in terms of depth relative to the other players, you always have a chance to win. The games I have played have all been extremely close, with many being determined by the last turn in the game. I will say that I enjoy the game with the higher player counts. It just leads to more interaction and tense moments as you wait for your next turn to come around. When I played it as a two person game, the game was almost too easy. I got stuck a few times without the cards I needed, but with the number of cards in the deck not changing because of player count I quickly got the ones I needed.
Hold Your Breath is one of my most favorite light games that I have gotten the chance to review on BGQ. It starts with a simple risk/reward mechanic that sprinkles in just the right amount of player interaction. Players will have to weigh each decision they make as they not only attempt to make it down and back, but to stop other players from doing the same. It is this constant internal struggle as you manage the cards in your hand that I enjoy so much about this game.
Hold Your Breath has a deceivingly simple premise that will lead to some very entertaining and tense games to start out your game night. If you are looking for a new light filler game to add to your collection, Hold Your Breath is a great choice.
If you’d like to get a copy of Hold Your Breath, you can pick it up for about $10.
Final Score: 4.5 Stars – A perfect mix of hand management and player interaction that leads to great game to start out your gaming night.
• Iconography slightly confusing