Tripwire’s contributing writer Simon Kennedy takes a look at VR Distribution’s Hellapagos…
By Laurence Gamelin, Philippe Gamelin
3 – 12 Players
Age 8 and over
Released by Gigamic. Distributed by VR Distribution
It is rare that you could link John Nash, world famous economist and subject of best picture winner A BEAUTIFUL MIND, a desert island, and a game from Gigamic. But here we are. Being trapped on a desert island might be a nightmare to many, with Coronavirus isolation some of us are almost there to be honest. In HELLAPAGOS, the sandy beaches are the fence to your island prison. You and a team (from 3 to 12 with 6 being the best) of players co operating to build a raft with wood, collected from a snake filled jungle. That is one each by the way, not even one for all. Western Privilege? Or maybe some other reason? Then of course you have the need for water and food. You can search the nearby plane wreckage and hope that this contains something useful but then that leaves you unable to collect other things. What happens if you end up with rubbish (literally)?
Right this rather tepid synopsis fails to really evaluate the brilliance of HELLAPAGOS. I have come off reviewing EVOLUTION, the card game about visually showing the theory of all of us. That captured the theory in a succinct way. HELLAPAGOS captures Game theory in much the same way. I would say perfectly. You are island stranded and must choose each turn to do an action as outlined above. The eyes must be on your dwindling supply of food and water. Wait. That craft will not build itself. Something always goes wrong and if you push your luck to far, then a snake bites and a round is lost. You become a burden and people do not like burdens. Do they? The concept in play here is Tit for Tat. Economists, sociologists, biologists and anthropologists will understand the mechanics in the game easily. Then they will understand how we start with cooperation. One for all and all for one. Once water is tight and food depleted, everything changes. Exploitation and manipulation surface. Self-interest creeps steadily in. People want to get safely off the island together but they also want to eat. If you become a burden, then a vote can be called. Or someone could shoot you. Yes, that happens here. This is Game Theory and the reason I loved HELLAPAGOS.
In the past, the Prisoners dilemma was used as a tool for understanding Tit for tat. You could go down for life if you said nothing and the other person spoke up and fingered you for the crime. That had some issues. HELLAPAGOS perfectly exposes the way we are as animals. When the chips are down, some of us are mean and will choose life (not Trainspotting) over others. You can be rewarded for playing together (I did four test plays and saw this). But HELLAPAGOS relies on people leaning too far and failing. Then everyone must choose. The group or me….