Theme and What is it?
You are part of a special nursing unit that provides care for the terminally ill. It is your job to keep your patients stay as comfortable as possible as you help them move on from this life. So far this shift had been like any other. You made your rounds. You helped where you were able, and you made sure everyone was doing the best they could. Then something unexpected happened. A gentleman by the name of Billy Kerr was admitted to your unit. He had suffered a massive heart attack and any day could be his last. You helped Billy get comfortable and made sure he felt safe. You started to leave the room, and that was when you heard a faint mumble. Billy was trying to communicate with you. You turned to ask what he needed, and you saw the look in his eyes. Billy had something he needed to get off his chest. It looked like he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. You have always been an empathetic person, but that look ignited a new fire in you. You knew that you would not be able to rest until you had helped Billy get whatever was bothering him off his chest and help him transition to whatever comes after this life. Today seemed like any other day. Little did you know that you were beginning an extraordinary adventure with an ordinary man.
Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr is a cooperative game where players are tasked with helping Billy Kerr stay comfortable and relieve him of his past decisions before he passes from this life.
Holding On is played over ten scenarios where players learn about Billy’s life and allow him to find peace before he dies. I will not go into any detail about the scenarios. I will provide some basic overview of the game play and allow players to experience this wonderfully thematic game for themselves.
The game is played over a number of rounds. Each round consists of a morning, day and night shift. There have to be enough nurses during each shift to provide the proper care for Billy. For each shift, a card is drawn that determines Billy’s’ health for that shift. The head nurse for that day determines which nurses are assigned to which shift and how care will be provided. Depending on the card, players can provide care, collect care tokens or blurry memory cards (these are used to try and piece together Billy’s scattered thoughts) or talk to Billy and try to get a clear memory card from him. Cards may not have all three options on them, so the head nurse must pick based on what action options are available. Nurses are assigned for each shift and may be used for more than one shift, but this will cause them to gain an exhaustion token. If a nurse gets too many of these, they are removed from the game. You probably don’t want this to happen because sometimes Billy has a very rough day and needs all the help he can get. Each Scenario provides further information about Billy Kerr and his past and also how the team can win the scenario. That is all I will say about those, so players can explore those on their own.
My initial impression was a very surreal experience. I was able to play Holding On for the first time with Michael Fox, the designer of the game. He explained everything and had a few of us set up for scenario 1 in just a couple of minutes. As we played through each round, he explained the rules and gave us suggestions. It was a fantastic experience. He did a great job because, since that time, I have played Holding On with two different groups and have been able to get both groups right up and running with the game. Each group loved the experience, and we played multiple games in a row. Holding On is not an easy co-op game, but it is very rewarding. I have lost more scenarios than I have successfully completed so far, and I am Okay with that. The game play moves at a great pace and, even though the player who is the head nurse for the day assigns nurses to shifts, each shift everyone talks to each other and makes decisions together. Everyone started to really care about what Billy had to tell us, and we were very interested in his story.
Game Build Quality
All the components in Holding On are top notch. No worries about quality. I do have one minor issue with the size of the box. It is large compared to what is inside. It does not bother me too much since the art on it is very eye catching and people always ask questions about this game when they see it. To be honest, I think most boxes are too big for what comes in them. They always eat up valuable shelf space. But don’t let my quirk dissuade you from Holding On. The build is very high quality and meshes with the game play.
Holding On has fantastic artwork. The color scheme reminds me of classic hospital flair and the memories are stunning. The blurry memories hint at events without giving anything away and they all flow into adjacent cards. Once you unlock a clear memory you overlay it on the blurry counterpart and start to see a piece of the story. The art draws you in and makes you invested in the process of helping Billy find peace before he goes. One reason players can get lost in the game is because of the wonderful art.
The engaging part about Holding On is the story. It is so fragmented and frustratingly unrelated at first. But as you move through scenarios it becomes clearer and you see the life of Billy Kerr and experiences that have shaped a man. Although Billy is a fictional character, the events and places that are depicted in Holding On are real. You can even contact the publisher and they will send a list that discuss the places and events in the game. The co-op works very well in this game. At first, I thought it might feel chunky because one person has control over the whole round, but it never felt like that. There was great conversation and discussion on what should be done. It allowed everyone to be part of the experience, which is the highlight of Holding On.
Age Range & Weight
Holding On has an age recommendation of 14+. My ten-year-old has asked to play and I have told her no. The game deals with themes of death and personal regret for things that happened in a person’s life. I think just is too heavy for a kid that age. The game play is not very heavy. It is challenging but there is nothing about it that would keep younger payers from enjoying it. It really comes down to the theme that has me saying that 14+ is an appropriate evaluation.
If you love cooperative games you should definitely add Holding On to your collection. It has fun and engaging game play with an immersive story. It shouldn’t be hard to get a gaming group sucked into the game and want to replay it repeatedly as they learn more and more about Billy’s troubled life. The difficult level is very high, but it is very rewarding. The rounds are fast paced and the game never dragged, which allowed people to continue to be involved in the story line. Resources are limited which makes for excellent discussion on how they should be used. These are just some of the reasons I have really enjoyed Holding On. You will find your own as you play it.
Billy Kerr does not have much time left, but he has so much he needs to say to find peace before he goes. Not only are you tasked with helping him find physical comfort, you also want to help him find emotional and spiritual comfort as well.