Theme and What is It?
*Note* Copy of the game provided by the publisher for review purposes.
According to the rules Haru Ichiban means, “First wind of spring.” It is an abstract game where players take on the role of apprentice gardeners who are attempting to use the wind to show off their skills in order to achieve the position of Imperial Gardener.
Haru Ichiban is a tile placement and area control game. Play takes place around a small frog pond filled with lily pads. Using a series of tiles numbered 1 to 8, players choose one that becomes their initiative for the round. The higher number must place their flower on a dark lily pad but at the end of the round they get to choose the lily pad that moves thus adjusting the field of play and possibly setting up a scoring pattern. The lower number may freely place their flower and they get to choose what the dark tile is for the next round. There are also two frogs in the field; if players tie for initiative, then they place their flowers on the frog tiles and move the frogs. At the end of the round if one or both of the players have managed to complete one of the patterns they score points and reset for the next match. Play continues until one player has reached 5 points, the game is over and the new Imperial gardener is chosen.
There is one additional rule. If the initiatives are tied then the first player to make a realistic frog croak receives an advantage; more on this in the conclusion.
I don’t play a lot of abstract games. I wasn’t sure what to think of this going in. It seemed nice, and I thought it had some pretty components, but was unsure of how the rules would play out over time.
Quality of Components and Insert
Everything in this game is quite nice. The cardboard tiles are sturdy and big enough to be handled easily even when stacked on top of one another. The board has player aides on both sides so each player has a clear indication of the turn sequence, the scoring patterns, and their point values.
The art is fine. It has a pretty aesthetic and is visually clear and easy to see at a glance what is going on.
I enjoyed this game. While it doesn’t wow like some games with a clearer story, it’s a good time investment. I like how the strategy fits the game and the puzzely nature of the interactions.
Difficulty and Age Range Suggestion
The Box says 8+ and for complexity I think that might be about right. However, this is going to be a case of rules difficulty vs strategic difficulty. Rules wise, 8+ is easily correct. The rules are simple and intuitive. Strategic difficulty is a bit higher. The need to know when to be first to set the dark lily pad vs when to be second and move the field is important in this game. You can easily win the initiative and lose the game because you missed how the tiles were set on the field. That said this is easily a game where children could grow into the strategy, I know I played checkers and chess at an early age, I played them badly but I grew into the games as I aged.
I like this game and would easily recommend it to anyone who wants to give it a try. The strategy of when to play and where to push things is challenging and gives you a feeling of accomplishment when moving forward. I like that there is a challenge to the game beyond just scoring a pattern. It’s possible to score multiple patterns in a single turn. It’s even possible for both players to score in a turn and I like that. It gives a more immediate feel to the strategy.
With regards to the croaking that I mentioned earlier. It feels incredibly out of place in this game. It feels tacked on in the worst way. It’s like someone in development said, “We need something a bit more thematic here.” This game lends itself to a quiet night at home, with a nice drink, and some pleasant company. Then right in the middle of all of this, someone has to croak like a frog. It breaks the atmosphere. Honestly, we stopped playing with the rule.
It’s a good game and at the very least it’s worth a try.