I sat through the media day presentations at SPIEL ‘22 not understanding a single spoken word. That’s because the entire morning of coverage was in German! The one thing I did pick up: the organizers of SPIEL hand out the innoSPIEL prize each year to a game that focuses on quality and innovation.
The 2022 innoSPIEL winner is Hey Yo (released in 2020 by Oink Games), designed by Takashi Saito. I have to say that I’m surprised Hey Yo won this award; it is fun for a spell, but I was hoping for something significantly more innovative.
Hey Yo is a card-laying coop game for 2-10 players, set to the rhythm of a small speaker included in the box. Each time a whistle plays on the speaker, the active player will play a card from their hand in line with other placed cards with one of the game’s four keywords: Hey, Yo, Ah, and Yeah.
You want to play as many of the same word in a line as you can, and when a card shows one of the key words in a bright yellow star, the line reaches a “punchline” (“chorus” makes more sense to me, but let’s play along here). This will score points for each matching word earlier in the line, and that can be extended if the line continues with the same word and reaches another punchline, really spiking the score.
Teamwork is encouraged so you’ll be talking with your neighbors to make sure you know who has punchlines in their hand. In order to win a round, the team needs to score at least 50 points, and each successive round gets a little harder as cards are removed from the deck (suppressing the ability to max punchlines).
Now, maybe we are just good at rhythm games (or maybe I do have a bright future in the rap game), but I’ve had only a couple of opening rounds where we did not score 50 points. There are four levels in a game of Hey Yo, but I think most players will be able to survive two or three of those rounds every time.
Hey Yo isn’t hard, then. Is it fun?
Hey Yo relies heavily on one thing: leaning VERY hard into the silly fun.
If you can find a group who is willing to play Hey Yo by the book and use its suggestions for amping play—placing your card in the line right on the beat of the whistle sound effect, while also saying the words on each card when placing them, dancing while playing, turning up the volume of your preferred bassline—then you will have a better time.
If you add the team battle option (same game, just with two decks instead of one and teams comparing their scores at the end) and go to the max player count of ten people, Hey Yo is also a bit more interesting.
I did most of my plays of Hey Yo with one team filled with exactly two or five players. I did three games of Hey Yo with just my wife; at two players, Hey Yo is kinda boring. Even if you try to spice it up, and stumble all over yourselves trying to play scoring combos, two players is not what nature intended for Hey Yo.
With five players, Hey Yo is certainly a better game but isn’t as innovative as I was expecting, given that it is an international prize winner from a respected tabletop jury. There are cards, combos and a score sheet. It’s a real-time game, which elicited groans from some of the players during our five-player experience, but real-time games are out there and you’ve got a few choices, even in the urban/hip-hop realm with games like 2022’s Wildstyle.
As a hip-hop game, Hey Yo is certainly easier if you’ve got even a shred of rhythm, but that doesn’t really provide any other real advantages during play. (The instructions do suggest using your own music, so spice things up by playing a hip-hop/rap playlist on your music streaming provider of choice.)
But Hey Yo is still fun and since rounds only take a few minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Oink Games delivers again with Hey Yo; it is not the game to end all other games, but as a pleasant diversion with friends (especially after drink #2 on a game night at the house), this is worth a look and copies can be had for cheap on the open market.