Head to Head Golf
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Experience all the excitement, strategy, and competition of Match Play Golf with this innovative two-player card game. Use the cards in your hand to carefully plan your shots on every hole -- or to gently push your opponent's shot into a sand trap! Three and four player variants are included as well.
Golf has been a theme for games for many years. Head to Head Golf, OGP's third release and the first published game by Larry Levy, uses the theme nicely to create a two-player card management game with interesting decision making and good replayability.
Golf in this game is truly abstract, in that there is no nice green fairway to view or anything physical, la Golf Masters. The game is played with a deck of cards representing clubs at the macro level -- woods, irons, chippers, and putters. Each card shows the "result" when using that card. As you'd expect, there are weaker and stronger versions of each club type. Playing a card results in moving the ball forward by the value on the card; you start at "0" on a point track, and when you "tee off" with an eight-value Wood card you move your pawn to space eight on the track. If this shot is followed with a six-value iron, your pawn goes to the 14 spot on the track.
Based on this, holes are defined as a series of distance ranges. On a given hole, for example, the fairway is considered the point values from five to eleven, the green from 13-16, and the hole is at 17 (or anything higher). What about 12? That is a sand trap, and if you play cards that put you at the 12 spot you will be moved backwards as a result. Obviously many different holes can be constructed in this fashion, and the game includes two complete 18-hole courses and it is easy to come up with new hole ideas.
Using this fundamental structure, Head to Head Golf adds a series of tweaks that all add to the realism, interaction, and the strategy. Your opponent can force certain shots (cards) to hook or slice, pushing the result onto a different range table than expected and thus fouling things up. Certain values in the hole's range will result in penalties (such as water), or force shots backward in relative or defined ranges.
All of this is managed with an interesting card mechanic that defines what each player's options will be and helps to determine the right strategy for each hole. Using a well-designed card selection mechanic, players begin each hole with a nine-card hand chosen from a broader set of cards. In addition to the club cards, there are "miscue" cards. On your shots, you always play a club card, but your opponent can play a "miscue" which forces that shot left or right. This mechanic works well, but the theme clearly suffers since it is the individual in golf who hits a poor shot, not his opponent who forces it. This could be more liberally interpreted as distraction from crowd noise, but this is golf, after all. The gaming license taken is justified, however, since this creates the main interaction in the game (the other being the card selection itself) and also forces key decisions about which cards to hold in a limited size hand.
As the holes are played, the game uses rigid club selection rules that again compromise mechanic with realism. On a Par 4 hole, for example, the first shot must be a wood, the second an iron, and then only chips until the green in reached. Obviously, in real golf an iron may be the logical play following an errant second shot, but Head to Head does not allow this. This mandates keeping a well-balanced hand of all four club types. In addition to the club type and value, the cards can contain three other variables. One shows if the shot can be altered, meaning that a miscue card can be played against it (and which type of miscue). The second is an "*", which means that this is an exceptional shot, like a particularly long drive. These cards can be used only a limited number of times, measured with counter that the game buyer supplies, without a penalty. Both of these two variables are significant in the card selection and hand management process. The third variable is a notation that shows the card is a "specialist" shot, and this is used only in a variant rule that allows chosen specialization of players.
The card mechanic is the heart of this game, and this begins directly with the selection of the hand. Choosing which cards to take and what to leave for your opponent is an important issue, along with balancing club type and miscue cards as mentioned. Having a plan for each hole is essential, so it is necessary to have at least the next hole or two available for review during each card selection process. It is possible to be left without a card to play through inadequate selection options, poor play, or impact from an unplanned errant shot. In these cases, "duffer" cards are available for either player to use, and as expected they represent minimal performance for each club. It is hard to win using duffers unless both players are forced into it.
Head to Head works best when played in Match Play format, meaning that each hole is won or lost and the hole ends immediately once one player has no chance to win it. This structure optimizes the card selection and use mechanic. The game can also be played in medal Play (or total Par) format, which also works but puts a bit more randomness into the game since more cards will be replaced after each hole. The game also includes several variants, even allowing "divine intervention", and rules for three or four player matches.
Head to Head clearly captures some of the ideas in golf, but this is a well-themed mechanic rather than a well-mechaniced theme. The card management issues will be intriguing to those who enjoy Babel, Shotten Totten, or other two-player games where how you play your hand determines your success or failure. The production is Cheapass-style, but uses decent quality stock for the laser-printed cards and the cards are the game. Head to Head Golf is a nice addition to the two-player game library and represents good value given its low price tag.