Had to update some stuff here; it’s been a while since I opened up this specific review. I meant to publish it a while ago… and I didn’t! Hooray, me. Really crushed it. Anyways, my Hokkaido review is coming out this week, so it makes sense to hit both parts of the Nippon series at the same time (probably), given that I did Decrypto and NewSpeak two weeks ago (and Strange Vending Machine and JIDOHANBAIKI last week; maybe it’s a January thing). Anyways, here’s Honshu.
In Honshu, you play as lords and ladies of feudal Japan trying to settle new lands. It’s a pseudo-trick-taking game with some map-building elements, so if you like either of those things you’re going to likely find something you like in Honshu. Will your budding city manage to outshine the others?
Give each player a starting card, A or B side:
The A sides are all functionally the same, whereas the B sides are more focused on specific things and lead to variable starting setups. Set out the resource cubes, as well:
Two of those will go on your starting card, if you’re using the A side. Shuffle the goal cards and reveal one, if you want to play with them:
These are end-of-game goals that will (hopefully) give players some extra points. Now, shuffle the Map Cards:
Give each player 6. Finally, deal the Player Order Cards out clockwise, giving 1 to the starting player:
You should be ready to go!
So, the game is played over 12 rounds, each round having a Card Selection Phase and a Map Phase. Let’s talk about both.
Card Selection Phase
During the Card Selection Phase, players will play cards from their hands to determine their turn order for the remainder of the round. Starting with the player holding the 1 card, each player in card order plays a card from their hand, face-up, to the center of the table so that the number on the card is visible. If you’d like, you can also add a resource cube from your map to increase its value by 60. If you do, any subsequent players who would like to boost their card’s value must use a resource cube of the same color.
The player with the highest value takes the 1, second-highest takes the 2, and so on until all cards are distributed.
If you’re playing with two players, instead play as follows:
- Each player chooses a card and adds them to the center. These form a pair.
- Reveal two cards from the top of the deck. These form another pair.
- The player who played the higher card chooses which pair they want. The player who played the lower card may remove two of the resources from their map from the game in order to take the other pair, instead.
- Each player then discards one card from their chosen pair.
Once each player has chosen a card, move on to the Map Phase.
During the Map Phase, you add the card you chose to your burgeoning city. Unlike Sprawlopolis, you can actually tuck your cards below other cards. No matter what, at least one square of your card must cover or be covered by another card; no placing them adjacent to each other. There are a couple other caveats:
- If you cover a resource token, it gets removed. Better spend it first!
- You cannot cover a lake. This 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 burying a card to spite an opponent!
If your newly-placed card has one or more resource production squares on it, add a resource cube to it from the general supply.
Once everyone’s placed their card, the round ends.
End of Round
Depending on the round, a few things happen:
- End of 3rd Round: Pass your remaining three cards to the left.
- End of 6th Round: Every player draws six new cards.
- End of 9th Round: Pass your remaining three cards to the right.
- End of 12th Round: The game ends.
End of Game
When the game ends, tally up scores! Players score as follows:
- Any points from Goal Cards.
- Each forest is worth 2 points.
- Score 1 point for each City square in your largest city.
- 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 (between 2 and 4, inclusive).
- 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.
The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
Note that for two-player games, you have to modify the card selection phase by forming a pair with your opponent (and revealing a pair of cards from the deck), choosing a pair based on who played the higher card (or who is willing to remove two resources from their map) and then discarding one card and playing the other.
At higher player counts if you get caught at the back of a trick, you might get a really bad card (or a really good one, if nobody wants the card that’s useful for you). Either way, the variance of cards is really not your ally, in this one. Also, it’ll be harder for you to boost your cards if you’re last to play, as you have to use the same color cube to boost your cards, and it’s more likely that any one player will play a cube of some color, which means you’ll need to be more flexible.
That said, I don’t think those things negatively impact my enjoyment of the game; just that it might be occasionally more difficult for you, when you’re playing. I’d happily play Honshu at any player count.
- Just make one big city. It’s worth the most points, that way. Though, likely, your opponents will notice you trying to amass city cards and start trying to keep them away from you. If that happens, fine; just focus on something else until they get complacent.
- Sometimes it might not matter what card you take. Even then, try to throw high cards early. It’s a power move to leave your opponent with three cards < 10, if you can. This means playing big early and hoping you get passed better cards than you’re passing. It forces them to use up potentially valuable resources, which might give you an edge (or cost them valuable points from factories)
- Using resources the turn you would have covered them with a card is a solid play. I mean, it’s essentially a zero-cost 60-value boost to your card, since you were going to cover the spot regardless, so, that’s always nice. Just make sure you don’t screw yourself over for factories down the line.
- Keep track of your factories. You really want to make a pretty penny or two from factories, here, and if you’re not paying attention you can give away a lot of resources (and solid factories) to your opponents if you’re just focusing on cities or forests.
- Keep track of what your opponents are playing. It may behoove you to occasionally pick up a few cards that your opponents put down. I’ve seen entire games where nobody takes anyone else’s card, and generally then it just comes down to “who is better at city-building”, which, if you want to get into it, is still a pretty fun game, being real.
- If you’re going first and you want your card, boost it with a resource that none of your opponents have. It’s cruel, but very effective. They can’t boost their cards because none of them have that resource, so you’re guaranteed to get the card that you played. Pretty simple.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art is very pleasant. It’s very serene, like you’re just kind of going about your business in a cute little village. I’m a big fan of it. It’s also not just the same tile on every card, which I appreciate. The extra pop of pink in the overall color scheme is also nice; makes the entire game seem a bit more springy / summery and upbeat. It’s a nice vibe for a game to have.
- This is the exact kind of city-building game that I like. Sprawlopolis is one of my all-time favorite games, too, so it makes sense. This has some things I like more (with tucking and the six-square cards), but I will give points to Sprawlopolis for its ease of play and quick gameplay. I just generally like the free-form sprawl of each player’s city as they grow; they look wildly different, yet organic, and it’s always such a cool result.
- Plays pretty quickly. It’s only about a 30-minute game. You can bust it out pretty quickly.
- Very easy to transport. Both Honshu and Hokkaido fit in my Quiver. It’s a solid design metric to shoot for, in that I can kind of play them anywhere I have a flat surface.
- The two-player draw rules are interesting. It’s pseudo-drafting with a bit of high card play / bidding, which I think is neat. It just doesn’t feel like trick-taking, to me, but none of it does.
- Deserts are just kind of … there. Hokkaido makes more use of them, at least, so that’s nice.
- The “trick-taking” aspect of this game seems a bit oversold. I can understand how someone could call it trick-taking; all players play a card to the center and then the player who plays the highest card wins it. The problem is, it lacks a lot of the things I like about trick-taking games like Skull King or Trickster. There’s no tension about winning or losing the trick, there’s no real circumstance where you’re forced to play a card (you’re forced to use a certain resource to boost a card, but that hardly counts). If anything, it almost seems like you’re bidding for player order with your cards, rather than trick-taking, but that seems like a pretty semantic point. I think I’d just be excited to see a variant of this game which was much more about the trick-taking aspect.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, though, I think Honshu is a lot of fun! I’m not terribly wild about whatever the trick-taking component of the game is supposed to be, but it’s a card-based city-building game, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pretty into that (I mean, I talk about Sprawlopolis basically all the time). The game is bright and colorful, too, which definitely helps it for me, and plus you get to make all these weirdly-shaped cities that are wildly different from game to game. For a fast, fun, and variable game experience, I don’t think you can do a whole lot better than games like these, to be honest, and I respect that. Hokkaido does enjoy the benefit of coming later, so we’ll see what lessons it’s picked up from Honshu. Either way, if you’re looking for a game that purports to be trick-taking but essentially allows you to bid for the cards you’ll add to your city with the cards you’d like to add (if that interests you at all), Honshu is a lot of fun! I’d recommend taking it for a spin.