You know, with a little tweaking I could totally see Healthy Heart Hospital – 1 to 5 players from designers Anna-Marie and Scott Nelson, and publisher Victory Point Games – working as a Scrubs TV series themed board game. Even without J.D. and the gang it still sort of fits, as it’s a relatively tongue in cheek depiction of hospital management that calls to mind other “oh god it just keeps getting worse” games like Pandemic.
All you hapless and hopeful folks have taken charge of an ailing hospital (no pun intended) with the hopes of turning it into a state-of-the-art medical facility. And maybe make some fat cash along the way. Starting out with the bare minimum wont be easy, of course. You’re likely to get more patients coming in than you can handle, and it’ll take some time and a lot of focus to get them healthy again. Well, at least you have a few places to hide the bodies if things go wrong, right?
Each game of Healthy Heart Hospital requires using five characters: four doctors and one administrator. Depending on how many people are in your group, a few folks might have to pull double or even triple duty – quintuple if you’re going solo. All of the doctors are able to perform the same actions, such as relocating and treating patients, but each of them also has a unique specialty that can give them an advantage in certain situations. Administrators are similar in that they can all perform the same basic administrative actions, but they also have their own unique (and far more game-changing) skills. Some of these can be pretty funny, too, such as the mad scientist’s knack for shifting symptom severity between patients.
What all of this translates to is wrangling patients. Pretty much all of Healthy Heart Hospital is moving them from one area to another, attempting to treat them, and then sometimes performing hospital management type things like building new facilities or hiring more staff. The problem is that this central mechanic feels somewhat limited, and doesn’t ever expand in new/interesting/challenging ways.
That is to say, if you play through a single round you’ve got a solid idea of what the rest of the game is going to be – no real curveballs to speak of, and nothing standing between you and success other than maybe some bad coordination between doctors and some unlucky cube draws. What I mean is, the cycle never really changes at all. You start the round by bringing in new patients (i.e. drawing cubes), then try to shuffle them around the hospital and cure them. The only variable is how many and how bad. I feel like some sort of “everything’s on fire” randomness would really go a long way here.
The rules themselves are another problem. Now I’m no stranger to games that are fiddly – I tend to love games that are fiddly and arguably over-complicated – but Healthy Heart Hospital feels a bit too fussy at times. Remembering to “make the rounds” (i.e. draw cubes for admitted patients to see if they get worse) was definitely a sticking point for us, and was made worse by the fact that a couple of the wards had their own rules that we’d have to account for. Remembering to adjust the money and prestige tracks also become bothersome as there are more than a few situations where you’ll need to move those tokens around. It just doesn’t feel as streamlined as it could’ve been, you know?
Finally, there’s the rulebook. I wouldn’t say it’s poorly written, really, but it’s missing a lot of key elements that would make playing a bit smoother. For example, there’s a semi-handy round breakdown list on the back of the rulebook, which is theoretically great for remembering all those additional actions, but it lacks a lot of descriptions of those actions. So if you can’t remember what “make the rounds” or how to “update the job line,” you’re still going to have to look stuff up. Again, not a deal-breaker, but it took us forever to figure out how the Chaplain’s Miracle power worked, for instance, and that’s not cool.
Healthy Heart Hospital is a decent cooperative board game overall, but I can’t really recommend it when there are so many other games like it on the market, especially since other games do what it does just as well if not better. If it sounds like your kind of thing then by all means give it a look, you’ll probably enjoy it, but if you’ve already played and had fun with similar titles it may come up short.
(Gameosity was provided a copy of this title for review. We were not otherwise compensated.)