Review: Holding On The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr – bittersweet days at the hospital

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They had to bring him in sometimes at night. The elderly man, who will sleep most of the time, his breath is shallow and everything looks exactly as the doctors say. Only days and hours of his life are left. I only know one thing about him. His name is Billy.

An entirely unique and original theme was chosen for their new game by designers and Rory O’Connor, authors of stunning Story Cubes and Untold games. Rory also took care of the story, that will accompany the player throughout the whole box. Similarly to the games mentioned above, the news for the year comes under the logo. Bryn G. Jones took care of the amazing illustrations. Distribution is done by .

The whole game suggests already on the lid with its sober, serious look, that this will not be fun. On the back of the box is even a warning for the player saying, that the game deals with themes of dying and remorse. It offers a total of ten interconnected scenarios, in which players will take care of the main hero: Billy Kerr.

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And although setup across the stories will be slightly different, players will always initially prepare a board to the center of the table. He puts the patient’s deck on it and prepares nurse and assistant miniatures in the lower right corner of the hospital. But most importantly, patient’s health status scale is set to 28 at the beginning. Decks of memories (partial and clear), piles of stress tokens, warnings and care tokens are set near. Each scenario has its own cards, that players read and learn their goals for that part of the story. All participants themselves take the role of nurses, but only one gets a shift manager board for each round.

The whole match is divided into individual days in the hospital, each split into three shifts. At the beginning of each one, they reveal one random patient card, that shows the unexpected development of Billy’s health. Sometimes it can be a quiet part of the day without any drama, sometimes hectic moments can occur with fighting for his life. Players must send their nursery pawns or assistant figures and send them to action.

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However, there may be situations, where there is not enough staff on the shift to match the card requirements (dots to be covered). Sometimes, however, cards also contain other spaces, that need to be covered for example with a care token. At the same time, players will have to decide from time to time, what they prefer and what can be neglected. It’s not about getting Billy’s health back. No one will recover after such a heavy heart attack.

So players try to treat him in emergency situations, but whenever a little quiet moments arrive, they try to communicate with the patient to make him feel better. This is done by split patient cards, that give the team a choice. To provide palliative careby which it is possible to obtain a partial memory card, which players gradually place in time lines. They get hazy memories, that they can later ask about to find out more and more about Billy and his life. But only in the sunny days, when his memory is clear.

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A complete team of nurses gradually builds their patient’s trust and at the end of the shift, they can try to talk even more and get more information about his life. Instead of blurred, unclear memories, they can get clear memories with some luck. And these are often one of the scenario’s tasks, because getting to know Billy and his story is the purpose of the game.

Holding On is a truly narrative game. This time, however, this is not the players, who will do the talking, but his story is told through the game and the title hero Billy Kerr. When collecting memories, players will read them to themselves and only at the end of the round, they can share them with the team. It’s not easy to learn about Billy, because his stories are such a cherry on your everyday cake. Conversion of this concept is very successful.

Unfortunately, the fight with cards and their pitfalls is no longer as interesting. This is the classic management of the figures and resources, that the players try divide the best they can. Each of them is in charge of one shift, but no one prevents them from consulting and speaking with others, when hospital runs under their responsibility.

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But the necessity of sending nurses to overtime and watching their stress is amazing and tense. The players feel they are constantly on their heels and the game does not let them rest. Occasionally there are more calmer cards, but it always depends on coincidence. Sometimes you can just buckle one leak after the other and you simpl are not able to do anything about it.

And here it is to be stressed, that it is not a shame to lose in this game. If Billy Kerr’s status drops to zero, his heart stopped beating. Fortunately, players can return all components to their original state and try again. Unlike real hospital staff. And this game is definitely nothing simple.

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Player involvement is fair, because the players are consulting and talking together, even when not in charge. In three, this is the ideal number, since everyone gets to be the manager. But it can be lowered without any real problems. Individual scenarios take just over an hour. Scenarios are linked to each other, but players never destroy any components, and it is always possible to return to the beginning of Billy’s story.

However, because the staff is a very limited number, it is not as easy as the rule description may seem. For players, stresses work is hard all the time. Sometimes they have to send someone overtime and such sisters get a token of stress on their pawn. And when there is too much stress, they are forced to leave on vacation. Such situations tend to clutter and create difficult situations for players.

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Inside the box is a game, but also a story. But even in later scenarios, you often see the same things again, which feels repetitive. It is a pity, that the game does not move forward much more on the basis of player decisions, but returns to its (almost) original state before each game. We are trying not to spoil any surprises the upcoming scenarios bring, so you should be a little more cautious about this claim.

The board game from the oncology environment is something truly unique. And maybe that’s why Holding On: The hit us so much with its story. If you are an empathic person, then this will be a really intense and demanding ride. The task of the players is not to cure the person, because it is impossible. Instead, they try to help him deal with the demons of the past. Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr is more of an experience, than playing, with all the pros and cons, that come with it.

DesignerMichael Fox (II), Rory O'Connor
ArtistBryn Jones
PublisherHub Games, Asmodee, Rebel Sp. z o.o.
Year Published2018
# of Players2 - 4
User Suggested # of Players Best with 4 players
Recommended with 1, 2, 3, 4 players
(18 voters)
Playing Time60
Mfg Suggested Ages14 and up
User Suggested Ages10 and up
(5 voters)
Language DependenceExtensive use of text - massive conversion needed to be playable
(4 voters)
CategoryCard Game, Medical, Memory, Murder/Mystery, Puzzle
MechanicCooperative Game, Set Collection, Storytelling, Worker Placement
FamilyMisc: LongPack Games
Primary NameHolding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr
Alternate NamesHolding On: Das bewegte Leben des Billy Kerr, Holding On: La Vie Trouble de Billy Kerr, Ostatnie Chwile: Burzliwe Życie Billy`ego Kerra, Terminal: La Atormentada Vida de Billy Kerr

Infos courtesy of boardgamegeek.com. More Infos.

Review: Holding On The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr – bittersweet days at the hospital
Final word
Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr is a half game, hal fstory. Rather, it's an experiment and an attempt at being really original and different. In these tasks, authors succeeded absolutely fantastically. Unfortunately, as you begin to discover the game and its scenarios, you will find that a large part of the game repeat itself again and again. Variability is ensured only by other scenario conditions, changes to mechanisms and especially randomly revealed cards. But at the same time, they mean, that players are at the mercy of luck. But it does not prevent this game from being an amazing experience, if you open up your empathy center. Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr is far from perfect, but it is still a really interesting game.
Reader Rating0 Votes
Pros
originality
true experience
great exploration of memories
division of labor and stress
strong story
Cons
big influence of luck
individual scenarios are quite similar
not for everyone (sad theme)
It's not quite a game
0
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