Theme and What is it?
This is the second game in the Honshu series. In this game players continue the story from the first. The lords looking to expand their lands and influence decide to settle the Hokkaido mountain area. This will involve building towns, lakes, production facilities, and factories. The trick of the land is that the lords will need to balance their area so that they have holdings on either side of the mountain. This is all done through map building and card play.
The mechanisms for this game are fairly simple. Every round begins with players drafting for a card. Basically, you get a hand of cards, take one, and pass the rest to your left.
Once all players have their card they place it into their tableau. You all start with one card and each new card to it. There are several rules to placement. Each card is broken into six unique map sections. When you place a new card it has to cover up at least one square of your existing map or have at least one of its own squares covered. There are a few restrictions: you can’t completely cover a card and you can’t cover up lake spaces. In order to score points you have to have cities represented on both sides of your mountain range.
Mountains are interesting and have a lot of rules tied to their placement. You can’t cover up mountains, you have to play them adjacent to other mountain squares, and mountains have to form a straight line. The line doesn’t have to be straight, but it can’t fork in any way.
There are also production facilities and factories in the game. They’re divided into four colors and are resolved during end games scoring.
One of the last types of map tile are the Fallow tile. These wastelands are worth negative points at the end of the game. You can terraform Fallow spaces by spending two of the same resource from different production buildings. What resources you use informs what type of terrain you will build.
At the end of the game, most points wins.
I was unfamiliar with Hokkaido when I first received it. In the rules they point out fairly quickly that this is the follow up to Honshu. I’ve never played Honshu. I honestly didn’t know what to think of this game. The cover was pretty and the game had hints of Seven Wonders, one of my favorite games. Even with my limited experience with the title I still went in with high hopes.
Game Build Quality
Component quality is pretty good. Cards are sturdy, the tokens are a nice thickness, and the wooden cubes are pretty decent. Though the finish on the cubes was a bit shiny making it difficult to differentiate some of the colors in bright light. This is a minor complaint, but it’s still there.
The art is serviceable. It works for the game and is easy to understand at a glance. I’m not sure I would consider it pretty. The colors are nice but it didn’t jump of the cards at me.
This is a very serene solitaire experience. You’re focused on your build, your plays, and your cards. The only effect you can have on an opponent is hate drafting and it never feels like it pays off in anyway. You get so few cards it always feel better to take a card you need.
Age Range & Weight
The box says 8+ and I think that’s off by quite a bit. The overall rules are simple enough for someone that age to understand. However, the strategy is going to be rough to get a handle on. Like many of these style games it’s not about doing everything, it’s about doing one or two things very well. Younger players will probably get frustrated by not being able to pick on or two options and sticking to them.
I can see why some people will like this game. It’s a calm kingdom building game where you don’t really interact with the other players. You have a laid back game that will allow for conversation and socializing for the right group. Plus, it’s a short experience rolling in around thirty minutes. This of course depends on how prone your players are to analysis paralysis.
The biggest drawback for me with this game is the amount of things you have to pay attention to. Even if you only focus on two things, you still have to pay attention to too many others. I can decide that this game I’m going for a city and production strategy. However, I still have to watch my lakes, mountains, and fallow areas. In addition to that, there are four types of factories and production areas. Which means I have to pick one over the others.
I talked about 7 Wonders earlier, and I realize that in comparison 7 Wonders has far more things to worry about during the game than Hokkaido. However, it doesn’t feel that way because 7 Wonders divides its cards over three decks. They spread out the distribution of resources so that you have a chance of getting what you need right away.
With Hokkaido all of the cards are in one deck. That means the distribution could shuffle one type of card to the bottom. You may get lucky in the first half of the game and get a couple of blue factories out, but if all the production areas are in the bottom of the deck; you don’t know when you’ll see those.
This is further complicated by using less than the full complement of players. It you’re not playing five people you’ll not get twelve of the cards per player missing. That could be a substantial amount of the deck you won’t see.
I realize it won’t mean the same for some people but this meant there are sometimes I felt like I had no real agency in how to build my kingdom. The game has neat ideas, but there are just a couple of little things that kept me from really digging into it.
Like I said, I get why some people will really enjoy this game. I will always try and recommend you give something a try to see if you like it. I hope if you get a chance to try so with this one. It feels like the makings of a great game. If only it had been tweaked just a little bit more.