It’s a big claim. But I’ve played over 30 games of That’s Not a Hat since Christmas, and it’s been wonderful every time. I’ve played it with kids and adults and everyone leaves the table laughing and wanting to play more.
Why is that?
That’s Not a Hat is an unassuming card game that puts your short-term memory to work. At the start of the game, everyone is given a face-up gift card. These have simple objects pictured on them, such as a cactus, fish, paperclip, or even a hat.
On your first turn, you’ll flip your gift card face-down. From now on, until it exits play, this card remains face-down. Now that you’re looking at the back of the card, an arrow tells you which way to pass your gift. When you pass it along, you must proudly proclaim what the gift is (i.e. This is a hat!).
Whoever receives your gift then has the choice. They can accept the gift believing what you proclaim, and then pass on the gift they already had. Or they can decline the gift, saying they don’t believe you (i.e. That’s not a hat!).
When this happens, you flip over the card to see who is right and who is wrong. If you told the player the wrong gift, then you collect the card face-up and draw a new gift. Otherwise, if you spoke true, the other player collects the card, drawing a new gift face-up, before flipping it and passing it on to the next player.
The first player to collect three cards loses the game, making everyone else a winner.
What even is this game?
If you’re currently scratching your head wondering where the game is, that’s normal. Every time I’ve introduced That’s Not a Hat to new players, they always end the rules explanation with: is that it? It seems too easy.
The first round doesn’t help this feeling either. Since all the cards are face up, you’re giving people cards that they just saw. So again it leaves you wondering, where is the game here? It’s not until the third, or fourth rounds that the game comes crashing to a hilarious halt. When one player stops playing and starts staring at the back of their card. Having the sudden realisation they don’t have x-ray vision or an idea what they’ve got.
Up until this point, the group created a consistent rhythm of gift-giving. Yet, as soon as one player stops and interrupts this rhythm, it breaks everyone’s concentration. Throwing the whole group into chaos. Mind you that’s the game’s intention, to make it as hard as possible to remember what gifts are where.
Because in That’s Not a Hat, you’re not just trying to remember your gift, but also everyone else’s and then on top of that, their position. On top of that, these cards don’t all go in the same direction. Some go clockwise, some anti-clockwise, creating a table-wide shell game.
As a result, remembering any card becomes an impossible task. Especially when more are added after a few challenges from around the table.
It’s not long before you start to lose the information you knew for sure at the start of the game and start relying on what other players tell you. This is when things get silly.
I’ve had games where players were passing around obviously wrong items, two of the same item, and even items from a previous game. When everyone realises their mistake, or the card gets revealed at the end of the game, everyone breaks into laughter.
But I think what makes That’s Not a Hat work is that it’s as much a challenge for yourself as it is for everyone else at the table. Every time someone messes up there’s an innate sense of understanding around the table. So much so that in some games, players would help each other out just because we all know the awful position of not being able to remember what’s a hat and what’s not.
Just before we move on, a quick note on player count. I wouldn’t recommend playing with less than four players. At three, it can be too easy to memorise all the cards, thereby causing the game to lose its shine.
Afterthoughts on That’s Not a Hat
For a simple game to be this fun, That’s Not a Hat caught me by surprise. Not for just that though, but because I’ve seen these mechanics before. In 2020, Riot Games released a two-player memory game called Tellstones: King’s Gambit. The premise of that game was the same, you turn tokens face-down and then use your memory as a basis for bluffing.
On its release, Tellstones: King’s Gambit got harpooned by reviewers and players alike. Currently sitting at a brutal 5.7 score on Board Game Geek. Given that these games are so similar this leaves me with the question, why?
I believe it comes down to the atmosphere. Tellstones: King’s Gambit is a two-player game that feels like a competition. Where the outcome of the game is more than just winning and losing, but a show of cunning or intelligence. As a result, it’s a very tense game, requiring your utmost concentration to win.
That’s Not a Hat is the complete opposite, instead of pitting players against one another it almost pits them against the game. Encouraging players to talk, tease and chide one another, as well as help out those who are struggling. With its basic rules and simple artwork of random objects, it encourages you to have fun and not take it too seriously.
That’s where That’s Not a Hat excels. A simple memory game that’s a lot of fun to play, and induces a lot of laughter. Given how much fun I’ve had playing with both my family, as well as my board game group, I don’t see it leaving my bag any time soon.
Designer: Kasper Lapp
See how That’s Not a Hat compares to all of the other board games I’ve reviewed.