Sean McCoy, creator of Mothership, tells us why Hearts is his favourite game


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28 April 2023
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The creator of indie dying-in-space darling Mothership proposes a chest burstingly good classic, Hearts

A little over a year ago, my wife, toddler, and I were on vacation in Florida with my parents. We had rented a little condo near the beach so we could walk down everyday (we thought) and relax by the waves. The weather had other plans. For about three and a half days out of our week-long trip it rained in sheets. The timing was in a way, perfect, because we had already spent two days on the beach and the “work” of getting my son ready, fighting to put sunscreen on, getting him dressed, fed, and then loading up and carrying all the toys, towels and snacks down to the beach, only to pack him back up in an hour so I could get him down for his nap, was not the relaxing fall asleep-under-an-umbrella-with-a-beach-read vacation I had initially pictured. Go figure. The rain forced us to take a break, to really relax. We caught up on Endeavor and Line of Duty episodes on the Firestick and looked around the rental for games to play. All we found was a deck of dolphin themed cards.

Perfect. We could play Hearts.

If you don’t know, Hearts is a classic trick taking game with a twist: you don’t want to take the tricks. If this is the first trick taking game you learn (like it was for me) it can start you down a very weird path as you learn that in almost every other trick taking game, you want the tricks. In Hearts, tricks are usually irrelevant, unless they contain a heart. Hearts are bad. You want a low score and you usually play until someone gets to a hundred, then the person with the lowest score wins. There’s other rules like how the Queen of Spades is worth 13 points, and also how if you manage to get ALL the hearts AND the Queen of Spades you “shoot the moon” and get zero points while everyone else gets 26. It’s a neat trick if you can pull it off without anyone noticing what you’re doing.

Hearts is a game built for socializing. It takes place over several games, which creates a sense of institutional memory at the table. People remember your moves from previous games, talk smack, pay you back for particularly dirty hands you played previously. You can put as much or little thought into the game as you want and it’s not so demanding that you can’t keep up a conversation the entire time. It’s the perfect game for a rainy-day vacation in a lot ways.

We’ve been playing Hearts as a family since I was a kid, long before game design was ever a twinkle in my eye. At my house we only had a few time-tested classic games like Monopoly, Clue, Scrabble, Chess, a deck of cards, and X-Men: Under Siege. You know, stuff every family has. Hearts was a game where my dad usually won, but anyone at the table could make a run and beat him for a hand or two. That’s the other thing, Hearts is a game where you can win battles, but lose the war, which is perfect for a social game where you don’t want to get totally wrecked by the pro at the table every hand. Even now I keep a note on my phone of the Hearts game we’re “currently” in the middle of. As soon as one game ends, another begins and the score starts over. It’s the perfect game for me, social, easy to run, cheap to acquire, and never ending. 

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