Full disclosure: A review copy of Hokkaido was provided by Renegade Game Studios.
Alright, it’s a double-feature this week, as far as the Nippon series goes. We’re headed a bit north of Honshu to mountainous Hokkaido, where the winter landscape (and new terrain) may change up some of your options. Normally I don’t review two games from the same company in a week, but, I mean, whatever. It’s not a hard rule or anything; that’s a weird hard rule to have.
As I said, the nobles of Honshu have done their duty and are turning a careful eye to the north to see what treasures await them in the cold. Thankfully, in the meantime, they’ve learned to terraform the desert (…what year does this game take place in) and turn it into spaces more valuable for their development. Though the mountains will split your land in two, there’s still a lot that you can do to build up your new home; who will most effectively stake their claim?
This is gonna play a bit similar to Honshu. Give every player a Starting Card:
A side is generally the same; B side is a bit more specialized. Take out the Resource Cubes:
You’ll want to put them on your Starting Card if there are square spaces matching their colors.
Set out the Terraforming tiles, next:
More on that in a bit. They’re double-sided, so don’t stress if your tiles don’t look quite like my tiles do. That’s okay. If you’re playing with Goals, flip two more than the number of players:
Once you’ve done that, shuffle up the Map Cards and deal each player 6:
Set aside the score sheet:
And you should be ready to start!
So, if you’re a veteran of Honshu you’ll notice there were no player order cards, which is a big shift. That’s because this isn’t a, uh, “trick-taking” game at all; it’s purely drafting. You’ll draft cards, add them to your city, and grow it in the hopes of scoring the most points. This means we have new phases: the Drafting Phase and the Map Phase. I’ll cover each in turn.
During the Drafting Phase, each player chooses a card that they want to add to their city. This is generally done by taking a card from your hand and passing the remaining cards to the player on your left (in rounds 1 – 6) or your right (in rounds 7 – 12). There’s nothing really fancy to this part.
If you’re playing a two-player game, instead choose a card you’d like to play, then draw a new card into your hand. From the cards in your hand, now, choose a card and discard it, face-down.
In the map phase, you now add the card to your city. Like in Honshu, at least one square must be visible, but otherwise the card may be placed above or tucked below other cards. There are a few rules, however:
- If you cover a resource token, it gets removed. Again, use it or lose it.
- You cannot cover a lake. This, again, only applies to full-square lakes, not the ones on blue resource production squares.
- At least one square on your placed card must be visible. No hate-drafting a card to spite an opponent!
- You must obey Mountain placement rules. These are a bit complicated, so I’ll elaborate.
- Mountains may not be covered. They’re mountains.
- You may only have one mountain range. That means all your mountains must go in the same area.
- Mountains have set rules on how they can be added. For a specific mountain, a new mountain can only go in the three squares above (top-left, top-center, or top-right) or below (bottom-left, bottom-center, bottom-right) of the previous mountain. Mountains can never be to the direct left or right of other mountains. They divide the city you’ve built in half, essentially, which will affect scoring.
- You may terraform before or after placing a card. To terraform, discard two resources of the same type to the supply, and take a tile that matches, adding it to the desert tile of your choice:
- Blue: Lake
- Brown: Town
- Grey: Mountain
- Green: Forest
- You may technically ask for the cards to be added in numerical order. It’s obnoxious, but if you’re going to do that make sure you do that before anyone has a chance to play.
Once you’ve done that, pick up the cards and start the Card Selection Phase again! At the end of Round 6, deal each player six new cards.
End of Round
Generally, if you’re not playing with Goal Cards, nothing happens at the end of the round. If you are, you need to check for completion in increasing numerical order, following these rules:
- At least three cards must contribute to the goal’s completion. There’s a B Starting Card with all four types of Factories on it, for instance, and that is insufficient to complete the goal.
- Players can tie for a Goal. If that happens, check the Goal’s number. If it’s 4 or lower, the player who played the highest card this round claims it. If it’s 5 or higher, the player who played the lowest card this round claims it. The other player(s) get a free Terraforming tile of their choice.
- You can only go for one Goal per round. That’s just the rules. If you successfully complete a goal, you cannot get any more goal cards or Terraforming tiles from goal cards this round.
If you’ve completed Round 12, the game ends.
End of Game
At the end of the game, calculate every player’s score! Players score as follows:
- Any points from Goal Cards. (Worth 3 each.)
- Each forest is worth 2 points.
- Each mountain is worth 2 points.
- Take your two largest cities on each side of the mountain. For each tile in the smaller of the two cities, score 2 points.
- Move each resource cube to a factory matching its color. Each factory can hold one resource cube, and if you place one on a factory score that factory’s points (4, generally, except for on the starting B card).
- The first lake square in a sequence of connected lakes is worth 0. The second and subsequent lake tiles are worth 3 points each.
- Deserts are worth nothing, again.
The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
The major difference is the two-player drafting variant, which is probably my favorite two-player drafting variant I’ve tried. It eliminates lucky flips for the player, and instead forces you to decide if you want to risk giving your opponent a good card or hoping they’ll not notice it and leave it for you. I actually prefer it to, say, Bunny Kingdom, for that reason, even though it’s a very subtle difference.
Beyond that, there’s not much difference in play at higher player counts. You will see the same hand fewer times, sure, but that’s just a function of How Drafting Games Work As Player Counts Increase. I’d happily play Hokkaido at pretty much any player count listed, personally.
- If you’re looking to clown on your co-player, just pass them all the cards that have Mountains and Lakes on them. Again, it’s kind of cruel, but, it’s a super-efficient way to make their lives more challenging. Just … be careful, right? You’re passing them pretty straightforward points if they can place them without messing up their whole plan.
- Don’t necessarily focus entirely on cities. Unlike Honshu, it’s not just straight points. You have to keep your cities balanced in order to score big. That’s made somewhat easier by some ridiculously large city cards (there’s one that’s just six squares, all cities), yes, but you still need to balance it on both sides. The problem is, I’m not convinced that’s always the best use of your time past, say, 10 or 12 points. Hitting 20 means you’re often spending a lot of cards on just city expansion that could be better used elsewhere. Your mileage may vary, but that’s generally my thought.
- Terraforming can help in a pinch. One of my favorite tricks is to use it to place mountains when I need a mountain in order to add another, more convenient mountain, or to connect some lakes or cities together to increase their overall value. Leave the option open, if you can, especially if you’re having trouble making those factories work.
- Make those factories work, though. They’re worth so much more than they were in Honshu; you can’t just pass them up. I try to usually get at least 16 points off of them if I can.
- Collect resources. You’ll need them for factories; you’ll want them for terraforming. There’s really nothing too bad about them, other than the opportunity cost of potentially passing up something better because you wanted them.
- If you’re playing with them, keep an eye on the goals. It’s kind of easy to get caught up in the actual gameplay part of the game and neglect them, but if you’re already playing towards one of the strategies that the goals incentivize, it might be worth passing up a potential card that will get you points now for one that might get you a few fewer points but also give you the goal. Just keep in mind that you can only get one goal per round, so if you try to go too hard in the paint, you’ll trip yourself up.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Still my favorite two-player drafting variant. I think it does a really good job of making the choices matter without rewarding players for making lucky draws. If anything, it penalizes players who make lucky draws for their opponents, which I like.
- I appreciate the wintry theme. I generally like the snow a lot (I miss it, since I live in a place where it never snows, now), and getting to see games with snowy / icy themes are always really gratifying to me. It has a more serene look to it rather than the upbeat / pleasant look of Honshu. This is purely a preference thing, but, that’s mine.
- I still really like this style of city-building game. I mentioned it for both Honshu and Sprawlopolis but I find it very simple to pick up and very satisfying to play, so, it really works rather well for me.
- Also very portable. The terraforming tiles add a bit of a complication to it, but it’s really nothing my Quiver can’t handle (and hasn’t already handled; it’s been in there since the holidays).
- The mountains are a nice addition. They add a neat layer of strategy to the game on top of all the other existing pieces, which I like. Plus, they’re also nice to look at, as most mountains are.
- The cards are better quality than Honshu. Sturdier, it feels like, which is always nice.
- It almost feels like an expansion for Honshu rather than a full new game, at times. It seems to me like Hokkaido kind of outright replaces Honshu, which isn’t terrible, but also might make it a bit less appealing to huge Honshu fans. It’s a bit like Love Letter and Lost Legacy; I assume both versions will have their fans and detractors, I suppose.
- The whole terraforming thing kinda takes me out of the game, being honest. It’s a very minor meh, but, it’s weird that you can turn a desert into a mountain and the game just kind of shrugs it off. If it were a sci-fi game, sure, but this seems to be feudal Japan?
- Something’s up with the cards. Not the cards themselves, physically (see above), but with the actual art on the cards. It looks like the printer got some lower-resolution files or something, because there’s visible like, compression artifacts on the cards I have. They look blurry, especially when compared to the Honshu cards. It’s disappointing, but not a deal-breaker. Hopefully it’s fixed in subsequent reprints, though.
Overall: 8.5 / 10
Yeah, overall, I prefer Hokkaido. I think the removal of the weird pseudo-trick-taking system in lieu of simple drafting was a solid move, and adding mountains with weird placement rules to complicate the draft was a nice piece of smart design, personally speaking. The theme change is something that really resonates with me, just given my general preference for wintry / icy themes (see, my love for ICECOOL), but that’s going to be a per-person-sort-of-thing, so I’m not going to pretend that that’s universal. I think Hokkaido is a bit simpler to learn than Honshu, personally speaking, with only the weird rules about mountain placement being kind of obtuse your first game, and you can prevent that by just having one player check everyone’s town each round until they get a sense of it. It retains all the best things about Honshu, though; it’s a neat city-building game, it’s very portable, and it’s always neat to see how your cities turn out! It gives you a real sense of accomplishment. If you’re looking for a game that can do all that and still fit in a small bag, I’d definitely recommend checking out Hokkaido! I’ve really enjoyed playing it.