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Bling bling in a box: Get your game on with Playas & Haters

Hartford Courant

Get a gun; collect 3 points.

Quit your job. That’s 2 more points.

Go to jail and earn 6 big points.

Reading a book? Bad move. That shaves 3 points off your score.

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Such deviant strategy may seem skewed, but that’s what it takes to come out on top in the game of Playas & Haters. Like a thugged-out pinochle or Magic cards for wannabe gangstas, Playas & Haters puts a hip-hop twist on a category of games usually exiled to the hobby shop.

Created, designed and marketed by cousins Robert Hotaling and Prince Hoff Jr., the card game spoofs the street life celebrated by the likes of 50 Cent.

Armed with a deck of 50 cards, each player accumulates points for luxury cars, platinum jewelry and other gear fit for a playa. They can also “hate on” opposing players by stealing their women or cars or handing them a diploma -- a blow to the street cred of any true thug.

Hoping to tap into the force of marketing and pop culture that is rap music, Hotaling and Hoff have come up with what they call a “hip-hop accessory.” By trying to stock their game in record stores, the two are hustling for an industrial offshoot of their own. Imagine Playas & Haters doing for cards what Grand Theft Auto did for video games.

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Securing even a small corner of that lucrative business is the goal for two guys straddling the world their game depicts and the buttoned-down life of college and white-collar jobs.

“All those things in the game are real to us. We’ve been in those experiences ourselves, or we know somebody that’s been there,” says Hotaling, 27, who lives in Manchester, Conn., and hasn’t given up his day job as an engineer. A University of Connecticut graduate, both he and his cousin were born in Liberia and immigrated to Rhode Island in 1980. Hoff, 33, now a freelance computer programmer, grew up in what he describes as the projects of Providence.

The cousins had always been like brothers, but they found a new bond in 2001 -- unemployment. To build a business, they devised a card game, laughing as they sketched out rules and caricatures as their standards of decency would allow. They recruited artists to illustrate the cards, legal counsel to ward off lawsuits and a “silent partner” to provide the financial backing.

The initial product comes with a parental advisory on the box. A PG-13 Playas & Haters is due by summer, they say.

The point of the game is to poke fun at the world portrayed in hip-hop music videos.

“Our message for the game is to show how twisted and weird the world is right now,” Hotaling says. “Only in America can somebody like Jay-Z and 50 Cent come from selling crack to having people love them. We’re trying to focus on the funniness of this. But at the same time, we want to say, ‘Take a look at this; this is real.’ ”


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