Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr is a co-operative game where players work as nursing staff tasked with providing care for the terminally ill. Your latest patient has been rushed in following a massive heart attack on a flight from Sydney to London. When the game begins, all you know is this - his name is Billy Kerr, he is sixty years old, and he has been given days to live.
Players must work together to provide Billy with appropriate care, responding to medical emergencies while gaining his trust. Over ten fully replay able Scenarios, players will need to piece together a lifetime of memories while being drawn deeper into his troubled past.
Dealing with themes of dying and regret, Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr invites players to experience the extraordinary life of an ordinary person in his final days.
Due to the maturity of the theme we always find that it is important to explain the nature of the game with the group we are going to play with before we start. We understand that this kind of theme isn't for everyone.
Holding on is played over a number of rounds, each round consisting of a morning, day and night shift. Players will need to ensure that there are enough nurses available to cover each shift to provide adequate care for Billy.
During each shift a card is drawn which determines Billy’s condition for that shift. The head nurse for this day will have to decide which nurses are assigned to each shift and how care will be provided.
If needs be nurses can be pulled across from one shift to another, doing so however will cause them to gain a stress token. If a nurse gets too many of these, they are removed from play to go home and de-stress for the rest of that turn putting more strain on the rest of the team.
Generally, each card will present a moral decision; to provide Billy with medical care using one or more of the care tokens provided to each player which will prevent Billy’s health from worsening. Or to provide palliative care and talk to Billy about his life.
If you choose to go down the route of palliative care you will usually be given the option to gain further care tokens to be used in future turns or to gather partial memories which you can later attempt to convert to clear memories.
When drawing memory cards of both types, you will sometimes pull out event cards. Event cards will determine whether or not Billy wants to continue talking to you depending on his health condition at the time.
Some cards are purely emergencies and the only option will be to provide medical care.
It is important to note that medical care must be provided in at least one of the shifts during the day, if not, players will be issued with a hospital warning for neglect of the patient. If two warnings are ever received, players will lose that scenario and have to start over.
On the bottom of some of the cards there will be an option to talk to Billy further and attempt get more information in order to convert a partial memory into a clear memory.
Play continues until either Billy’s health hits zero, the players receive two warnings, the patient deck runs out, or the scenario task is completed.
We find that it is important to bear in mind that Holding On isn’t about saving Billy but about caring for him in his final days. Your task is to help him to find peace before he passes whilst making his final days as comfortable as possible both physically and emotionally.
So what do we think of Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr?
We were lucky enough to demo Holding on at UK Games Expo 2018 and grabbed one of the last slots available to play it over the weekend (they were filled out by about half way through the day on Saturday!)
It was the game of the Expo for us and we were talking about it and our experience playing it for weeks/ even months after the event.
Holding on has got to be the most unique and thought-provoking co-operative game we’ve ever come across. At first glance the theme seems quite dark, and while Holding on isn’t the type of game you play just for laughs Hub Games have managed to translate a very mature topic into a really interesting and gripping game. They have dealt with a potentially dark theme in a very thoughtful and benevolent way.
A game based around this kind of topic is something that is rarely seen in the board gaming world. This is one of the things that makes Holding On: The troubled Life of Billy Kerr so exciting for us. It is exploring a whole new area for board games and shows that the hobby is developing and touching on more adult themes than they ever have before.
The artwork in Holding On is very evocative and beautiful, the contrast between the faded and murky partial memory cards against the striking detail of the artwork in the clear memories is stunning. (The clear memory cards are being kept top secret in order to avoid spoilers, so we haven’t included any here that aren’t already being used in publicity shots by Hub Games themselves!) The colour palette and design of the board and cards is also very nicely done and reflect the clinical theming well.
We find that the difficulty level in this game is quite high and you may find that you have to run through a scenario a few times before you are able to complete it. This doesn't detract from the game at all and in fact makes it feel very rewarding and satisfying once you do complete a scenario and are able to move on to the next scenario in the game.
If you are a lover of co-operative games and don’t have an issue with the maturity of the theme, We think Holding on is a must have! It has interesting and engaging gameplay with a deeply immersive story. Certainly, with our gaming group we always find that we are eager to play again and progress further in the story and find out more about Billy and his troubled life.