Full disclosure: A review copy of Hadara was provided by Z-Man Games.
I was actually pretty excited about this review. Heard a lot of good things about Hadara, had some chances to play it virtually, and now, here we are. I wrote this as part of a major 2020 year-end push on reviews, and while I’m starting to burn out a bit I’ve gotten so much done. So far I’m at 8 reviews written in four days, as of finishing this one? It’s wild. Oh well, always more games to play, so, let’s get to them! Let’s dive into Hadara and see what’s going on.
In Hadara, you did it! You created a settlement. But you have grander ambitions; you want to be a culture, something that will inspire generations and leave a legacy of art and civic reason upon the world. Unfortunately, as is often the case with up-and-coming civilizations, you’ve found others who seek to do the same, and there’s not always enough innovation to go around. So you’ll have to figure out a way to make something work if you want to make … anything work, really. Structurally, Hadara is a drafting game that takes place over three rounds, called epochs. Each round, players build up their civilizations by drawing two cards from their assigned pile. They discard one and they buy or sell the other. After doing that, they have an opportunity to go through all the discarded cards and buy or sell those, as well. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure, after all. As the epochs go on, players will start earning enough resources to gain bonuses, including medals that reward you for having enough of certain resources or medals that reward you for having a variety of cards. You’ll have to balance going deep in one resource against going wide if you want to win. Will you be able to stand tall as a cultural monolith? Or will you and your civilization end up as a footnote in history?
Player Count Differences
Not a ton, honestly. The biggest thing is that there are technically more cards of each type in play as player counts increase, but there are more players in play, as well, so assuming players take cards randomly your odds of getting multiple cards of the same color hold about the same across player counts. That said, players rarely behave perfectly according to probability, so you’ll see more chances to get cards of one color at higher player counts, generally speaking. Beyond that, more cards being in play does give you slightly higher odds of a card that you need being in play, but, it may also … just not be in play, or one of your increased number of opponents may discard it to spite you. Largely, I think the game balances itself nicely across player counts, and as a result I don’t really have a particular player count I’d recommend for Hadara.
- Remember my greatest failing: cards of a certain color have their cost decreased by the number of other cards of that color you own. This is something that I struggled with multiple times, when I played. I know it’s a rule; I just kept forgetting. This is pretty key to remember, however, as it determines downstream strategic decisions for you taking cards. Are you going to take more expensive cards so that you can try and get a gold medal bonus? Or are you going to invest and go deep in one color and hope you can use the benefits from that depth to overcome your shallower options elsewhere? Furthermore, you going deep in one color may be stymied by opponents going after those colors, too; will you even be able to take the cards you want?
- I like investing heavily in income early, as it tends to pay dividends (literally) later in the game. Money makes the world go ’round, and that largely still seems to be the case in Hadara, as that can influence what cards you can get (and, with the right purple card, it can even influence what statues you can buy or colonies you can gain). Having a steady income is good, just make sure that you can back up those cards with enough food.
- Try to get purple cards that align with your existing strategies. There are plenty of Generically Good Purple Cards, but the more specific effects may require you thinking a bit more about the direction you want to go in. I focused on income pretty heavily in one game, so I picked up cards that gave me extra income for yellow cards, reduced the cost of medals, and allowed me to buy my way to better colonies and statues. That … worked out pretty well; it was a solid synergy. It worked, though, because I identified that having extra income benefits would lead to long-term positive outcomes. Try to align your purple cards with your overarching strategy, if you can.
- Remember that you can only colonize and build statues up to 6 times in the game (each), so if you miss too many opportunities you’re going to have to skip some. I ended up skipping colonies three times, for instance, so even though I hit 21 military by the end of a game, I missed out on the third-tier colony because I hadn’t gotten it sooner. Try to make sure that you’re keeping your options open, but also keep in mind that you have a limited number of turns to get everything you want to get done, done.
- It’s very hard to do everything, so try to focus on doing a few things well. This isn’t Skyrim; you may have to specialize a bit. Naturally, if you can thread the needle of the Perfect Generalist, then, sure, you’ll win easily, but picking a focus area and building out the rest of your strategy isn’t too bad, especially because falling a bit behind in the first Epoch isn’t necessarily going to drag you completely under. It may make the second Epoch harder if you’re broke, though!
- That said, it’s hard to win if you don’t do at least a little bit of everything; the game’s system is built on a lot of synergy. Yeah, don’t take my previous advice as a reason to ignore certain aspects; the game heavily rewards synergy (gold medals, for instance), so you do kind of need to invest in having at least a card or two of every color. You may be able to pull it off without that, but you’re going to need to make some deep synergies work.
- Feed your people. Losing cards is a bad idea, since it costs you points and advancement on your tracks. Make sure you have enough cards to keep your people fed, even if it means foregoing That Card You Really Wanted.
- If you don’t feed your people, do not get rid of food cards. Even the rulebook recommends against this, but I’ll echo it here. If you get rid of food cards, that consequently lowers your food threshold, so you’ll have to get rid of more cards in the future. So don’t do it.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Including a guide on how to put the game away is a kingly thing to do, frankly. It helps so much, especially if you’re just punching the game and then immediately putting it away because you don’t live with anyone you can play board games with. Hopefully by the time you’re reading this, that problem is rectified, but yeah it’s very nice to have a good sense of where everything goes, even if you don’t have a good sense of the game, yet.
- I really like how everything kind of depends on everything else. It feels highly integrated and your choices feel like they matter. It’s a really nice chain of gradual development that ends up producing some really cool results, if you can make everything work. It feels super satisfying to be able to chain together some great results every round as you slowly build up your civilization.
- I appreciate that making a mistake or a misstep is still very recoverable, as well. I think this can happen with a number of things, like misjudging how much money you need or being one short of a colony or statue advancement (and it will happen). Those aren’t game-ending. I wouldn’t recommend being too behind on your food, but beyond that I think you can make a few missteps here and there as part of growing into the game. It makes it a bit more fun, as well; I’ve played some titles where a big whoops will doom you to obscurity, but I think this design is more fault-tolerant than that.
- In general, the design of the game feels tightly integrated, like there’s nothing unnecessary, here. That’s a pretty impressive feat, honestly. Every system can combo with every other system, provided you get the right cards, and going wide or going deep can both win you the game (within reason), provided you can accurately gauge when the right time to do either route is. The complex web of dependencies makes the game more interesting, yes, but it also makes every decision feel like it matters. That works in favor of satisfying gameplay, and it really works for me.
- Food could have been an underwhelming part of the game, but adding the medals makes every track matter a lot more, which is good. There are also purple cards that reward you for going a bit deep on food, but if you put a silver medal onto food, you can convert that insulation into end-game points, which is also good! This is another good example of how the game’s integration works, in my opinion. Everything can be important. A lesser game would have just made food an annoying thing you also had to get, but here it still works in your favor and helps advance your potential victory.
- It’s a colorful game, which I appreciate, as well. I just like games with a bunch of color; they look better on the table.
- I appreciate that this is a civilization-building drafting game but doesn’t have a needlessly complex tech tree. Dominations I will give a pass to, as it is like, a 2+ hour game, and if you’re gonna be that long of a game you’re allowed to have a tech tree. But this only has money as its dependency, and that helps make things a lot simpler, to the game’s benefit.
- The different cards all having fairly substantial different effects within their sphere is great. There are definitely some cards that are “better” or “worse” instances of each other (depending on what you mean, at the time, it might be cheaper / worth fewer points / gives fewer resources of that color), but they all can vary pretty substantially. It may be worth going through and getting a sense of what the cards are before the game starts, but it’s definitely cool to see a card and realize you didn’t know that a card like that could exist. And then buying it, of course.
- At no point does the game feel like it’s overstayed its welcome. It’s not exactly a “quick” game, but it plays as long as it feels like it needs to. Some games can feel like they’re over a bit too soon, and others can drag on a bit, but thankfully Hadara is in neither camp. If players are all familiar with the game, the simultaneous part of every round can be snappy, and the in-turn-order second half of the round is crucial for strategizing and planning.
- Allowing the start player to choose which deck they start from is interesting, as well. It lets them attempt to prioritize and strategize a bit, and I really like how that turns out. I’ve had some rounds where I tried to plan for exactly what I needed Right Now, and other rounds where I put myself in position so I could burn a card and then get what I wanted.
- The random flip on colonies upon integration can be disappointing. It’s just a tiny bit of a swing in an otherwise tight game, as it might be enough to give someone a massive boost right before the end of the game, or it might be … nothing. This doesn’t necessarily make colonies “bad” (beyond the idea that colonization, as a game mechanic, gently sucks), but it does keep them somewhere between “good” and “extremely good”, so keep that in mind. You just can’t necessarily grab one expecting to get a bonus to certain tracks; they appear to be random.
- I do wish the cards had … names or something. It’s mostly a world-building thing, but it was really nice in 7 Wonders to get a sense that the cards were actual distinct entities, practices, or technologies. I liked that about Civ, as well (and Dominations does this with Mastery Cards). The cards here are a bit more subject to interpretation, but I wish they were more explicit so I could pull my civilization together in my mind a bit better.
- The whole “plunder” or “integrate” with regards to colonies … sucks? I’m getting increasingly anti-colonization in my gaming spaces, and this one is pretty explicitly pro-colonization, which is a bummer since you really need to do that in order to win. It’s not the best look, and I wish they had gone a different thematic route for this military option, but, alas. I think I’m just over the theme and it’s difficult to win without doing some colonization, so I wish the game’s overall theme had gone a different direction.
- Whew, I’m glad I have the version with the new box art. The previous version is not my cup of tea.
Overall: 8.75 / 10
Overall, yeah, I’m a pretty big fan of Hadara. I would have loved if it had been about something that didn’t require colonization, thematically, but what can you do? Honestly, a lot of my complaints about the game are thematic / part of the world-building, being real. But that may be good for you, if that doesn’t particularly bother you, because I think the gameplay is fun. It does a lot of good things in the drafting genre without just being the same, old “take some cards and pass them”. You can keep an eye on the discard pile to see if any good cards are discarded, you can try and sabotage your opponents by removing cards from the game, and you can even get multiple cards of the same color towards the end of the round if you need them, rather than having to hope that you get passed them. It means there aren’t “bad hands” in Hadara, which is very nice. The game also just feels like it’s tightly designed. Each of the five systems in the game are essential, and relying on all of them in conjunction will help you win! Relying on only one, on the other hand, is a recipe for disaster. You can still specialize a bit, but I’d caution against specializing too much. It feels like a lot of care was put into making sure the entire game works well together, and there are plenty of quality-of-life things, like a guide to help you put the game away, that make the game feel even better. I could do with larger chits and cards, but, every game’s got to have something that mildly frustrates me, I suppose. If you’re looking for games that hit that just-under-an-hour mark, I do think that Hadara does a great job, here, or if you’re looking for a rock-solid drafting title, I’d definitely recommend checking Hadara out! I’ve really enjoyed my plays of it.