Full disclosure: A preview copy of Hatairo was provided by Nightdreamer. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game. Also, while I don’t charge for Kickstarter previews, the publisher was charged a rush fee due to the tight timeline they needed the review completed in.
One more Nightdreamer title! I was really excited to get two in such close proximity to each other, since, I mean, it’s always cool to see what Princeton is planning. And Animal Inc was such a wild ride that I was interested to see what game was next for his company. Thankfully, this one doesn’t melt my brain like Animal Inc did, but, let’s see what it does do.
In Hatairo, you’re seeking to make some flag … art, I guess? It’s unclear. I never know what to put in this paragraph if the game has no lore and I can’t easily make it up. Either way, you’re a flag painter, and you want to paint some flags. Unfortunately, rival flag painters, which are totally a thing, have shown up to show you up. Compete to create the greatest gallery and earn fame and fortune. Will you achieve success? Or will the only flag you raise be the white one?
Not much here. Give every player a board; they’ll either be using the Long Game side (12 spaces) or the Short Game side (9 spaces):
Then, shuffle up the Flag Cards. Deal each player nine:
Make a Market out of the remainder. It’ll always be four rows, but the number of cards per row depends on your player count:
- 2 players: 4 / 3 / 3 / 2 cards
- 3 players: 5 / 4 / 4 / 3 cards
- 4 players: 6 / 6 / 5 / 4 cards
Shuffle the Motif Cards into a I and a II deck. Reveal two from each deck face-up next to the Market:
Finally, set the Pigment Cards nearby, as well:
Once all players have cards, you may let them assign Style Cards to the columns of their Board:
Those can potentially earn you points. After all that, players must discard six of the nine cards they were dealt, and then must add any number of the remaining three cards to their Atelier or their Palette. Once they’ve done that, you’re ready to get the game started!
A game of Hatairo takes place over multiple rounds, as players try to fill their player board with colorful flags! It’s very pleasant. Once a player fills their board, the game ends, and the player with the most points wins!
On your turn, you have three phases. Let’s go through each one.
The Motif Phase is an optional part of your turn. You may only take it if there is at least one row in the Market that’s completely empty. You may choose to skip it, as well. When that happens, do the following:
- Choose a Motif Card: Every player, starting with you, takes a Motif Card and adds it to one of the Motif slots on their player board. Continue until each player has taken one Motif Card. Each space can only hold one card, and once you’ve placed it, you cannot move it.
- Clear the Market: Discard every card remaining in the Market, and then refill it from the draw pile the same way you did during Setup.
Once you’ve completed the Motif Phase, you may continue to the Action Phase.
On your turn, you must do one of three actions:
- Reserve a Flag Sketch: Take the rightmost card in any Market Row and add it to your Atelier. If you already have three cards in there, you cannot take any additional ones.
- Gain a Pigment: Take the rightmost card in any Market Row and add it to your Palette. You can use it as a Pigment later.
- Complete a Flag Sketch: Take any Flag Sketch from the Market or from your Atelier. Pay the pigments required by the card, and then place it into your Player Board, colorful-side up. When you do, gain the pigment pictured on the top right of every flag adjacent to the one you just placed (including diagonally!). Add the gained Pigments to your Palette.
Only thing that happens now is if you have more than 10 pigments in your Palette, you discard down to 10. Then your turn ends!
End of Game
The game ends once a player completes their player board (12 flags in the long game, 9 in the short). Then, score!
- Points on flags
- Type I Motifs
- Style Bonuses
- Unused Pigments (1 point each)
The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
This one’s kind of nice, honestly. One of the only things you have to worry about as player counts increase is really just players taking flags that you had your eye on. That’s mitigated somewhat by larger markets, so you’ll have more options available to you if that’s what you’re going for, or you might need to Atelier a bit more frequently if you want to be able to lay claim to certain particular flags for particular Motifs. Speaking of Motifs, though, this one is a lot more dangerous at higher player counts. It can be difficult or impossible to get the Motif that you want, if you’re not trying to subtly manipulate the ordering so that the Market row runs out right around your turn. If you’re the last to go, you’re likely not going to get a Motif that gels well with your strategy. If you’re first, you get your pick! So try to be mindful of that. It’s much easier to get what you want at two players, since you either pick first or second. Beyond that, though, I don’t really think it’s a massive deal in terms of gameplay, so I wouldn’t say I have a strong preference for player counts. I maybe lean slightly towards fewer players? But not significantly.
- Really, not many bad options, here. There’s lots to do! You can go for high-value cards and lock down a few, or go for low-value cards and get motifs to boost their value. Either one is going to be lucrative if done well, though I feel like low-value cards will help you get more Pigments to paint more flags down the line (not to mention the Style Bonuses).
- Going for high-value cards later in the game is okay, if you can get the economy for them. I used a bunch of low-value cards to get my initial pigments, and then one high-value card to really elevate my score. Too many high-value cards will cause me to stall out, I worry, even though they’re worth often an order of magnitude more than the cheap cards. They just require so much additional work to get going.
- Letting your opponents choose Motifs first is usually not the best choice, strategically. You’re going to want mostly the scoring ones, otherwise you will have to focus on high-value cards, I feel. Keep an eye on the Motifs that are face-up during the round and try to paint cards that will synergize well with them. The bonus points can really add up!
- Getting a Motif Card that lets you use a color as any other color and then making it so you get a lot of those colors whenever you play cards is an impressive strategy move. It kind of puts all your eggs in one basket, but that might be the move if you want to paint certain cards. Just, if you see another player doing this, maybe try to slow them down a bit? You may not be able to do a ton, though.
- Either way, your Motifs have to synergize. This is, as I mentioned earlier, critical. You either need them to make it easy for you to paint high-value cards, or you need them to make your low-value cards more valuable. Either way will likely lead you to a win.
- Don’t follow your styles blindly. Sometimes (especially with Motifs) it may be more lucrative to paint a flag that doesn’t match the style, if it’ll earn you more points than the Style Bonus would give. That only works for certain styles, though, so be careful.
- Remember to try and place adjacent to other flags as often as possible so that you can gain the benefit of additional pigments for free. There are some advantages to placing the center ones on the later end, but you can only hold 10 Pigments at a time, so you do risk wasting them if you’ve already got some and you gain too many for free.
- Only add to your Atelier if you’re worried someone else is going to take the card you really want. This shouldn’t happen that often, but since you can only pull from the right side, it’s not entirely uncommon. Just remember that you can’t push your Atelier cards into your Palette. Know where you’re placing them!
- Remember leftover pigments are worth a point each at the end of the game. This can be a cheap and easy way to turn a few more points, or it might be a critical tiebreaker. Either way, try to have a few leftover at the end, if you’re able to do so.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Lots of pathways to winning! I really like how the game feels when you’re playing it, since there’re so many different avenues for success. It helps that all the flags are different, which is super engaging.
- I actually really like the theme. Painting flags is super pleasant. I wish I knew why we were painting flags, but there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of Game Lore, for this one.
- The art, too, is nice. Like I said, all the flags are unique, which is pretty awesome. I particularly like that you flip over the flag sketch to get a fully-painted flag when you complete it. It provides a really great sense of accomplishment, as you see your player board start to fill in with these really richly-colored flags. I’m a big fan of it, personally.
- I actually learned some things about flags. It helps when everything is represented. This kinda game would go over great with world history or geography classes, I think.
- The short game plays pretty quickly. You can bust this out in half an hour. It’s a bit heavier than filler-weight, but it doesn’t feel like any turn takes too long since you only have one action and not that many choices. I appreciate the compact design.
- Very portable. It’s a very small box, which I appreciate. I imagine the full-size version will be a bit bigger for card storage reasons, but I appreciate how simple this preview is.
- I don’t really feel much of a need to play the longer game. It just sort of lasts a bit longer. I think it may give you a bit more in the way of engine building, but you’ll likely still hit the Pigment cap at some point. Personally, if there’s ever a choice between short and long game, I pretty much always pick the short game. Keeps the review cycles low.
- It’s very rare to see a player skip out on the Motif action. I understand why it’s available (if a player wants The Perfect Card), but it’s a big penalty if they don’t take the Motif Action (since they take last). It’d be nice if there were a better compromise available.
- Enough cards that it’s kind of a pain to shuffle them. And the cards are tiny, so, double the pain. I think my ongoing feud with small cards is basically going to go on forever. Something to get hyped for.
- The cards are pretty overloaded with information; it can be a lot for new players. The player reference cards are particularly egregious, since they list the complete and total breakdown of every symbol, color, and continent for the various flags. Until you have the full context of what that means, the cards are just way too much for new players. I literally tell them not to look at the cards until I’ve explained the game.
- Red and orange are very similar on the cards. Hopefully that will be averted in the full game, but I’ve seen a lot of players make planning mistakes because of that, and that can really mess you up.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, I think Hatairo is a nifty little game! I think it does its best work in the filler+ space, where it’s still pretty casual but also features some interesting mechanisms around resource collection and spending. Forcing players to only pull from one end of the market is an interesting restriction, though some players will occasionally find it frustrating, for sure. What’s slightly odd to me is that you can complete any card, even though you can’t take any card. It feels the tiniest bit clunky, in that regard, but honestly I mostly just power through it without even noticing. The game does a great job on the artistic side, though; it’s fantastically colorful (and diversely so!), featuring pretty much every country flag currently used, as far as I can tell (and then some!). It’s a very worldly game, in that regard; kind of makes me want to get it for my old Geography and World History teachers. It seems like the kind of game that doesn’t specifically have educational value, but its adjacency means that it might fit in well in a classroom setting anyways. I think that’s pretty cool. Either way, it’s nice that it offers a more in-depth play experience for players looking for a longer game, and that it doesn’t really change that much between short and long game, even at various player counts. Constancy is a good feature in a solid design, and this has got it. Plus, if you like flags, it’s got so many flags. If that appeals to you, or you just want a very light engine-building game (emphasis on the light engine-building), I’ve enjoyed Hatairo! I’d certainly recommend checking it out, when it hits Kickstarter.