Hadara (with expansions)

Benjamin Schwer

Publisher: Hans Im Gluck / Z-man games

When is the last time you saw a cheerful pharaoh paying coin? (Photo credits: Z-mangames@BGG)

Hadara is the latest design from the resurgent Benjamin Schwer formerly of Crown of Emara and before that Livingstone. CoE was widely received as an excellent resource conversion Euro with lots of pathways to victory. The game is being reprinted and sold in the US. Hadara is a 2019 release and is a follow up to CoE. However, the games are quite different though they are both prototypical HiG releases.

In Hadara, a CiV lite game that lasts for 3 epochs, players draft cards to push cubes on 4 different tracks: military, economy, culture and agriculture. Cards cost money, but also provide victory points and also allows advancement in single or double tracks. Each track confers specific advantages: Economy to earn income, military to plunder or integrate colonies and culture to carve statues. Each track allow players to earn big chunks of VP in their respective sphere. In addition, the agriculture track is necessary to provide food for the recruited citizens (drafted cards). In all, this is a basic Euro resource conversion game where cards are drafted to improve VP engines. The most unique aspect of the game comes from the way cards are drafted on the central wheel in two phases: in phase A of each epoch, each players simultaneously chooses one of two cards from a different colored piles. One is selected for purchase while the other is discarded in their respective stack face up. The wheel is then rotated as players then go around and draft cards from each of the 5 colored piles. In phase B, players then draft from among the discarded cards to build in their tableau. In that way, phase A allows players to gain one card from each color while in phase B, players can specialize as each players can draft cards from any of the face-up cards in the discarded stacks.In between and in the end of each phase, players gain income and carry out VP scoring transactions. This is repeated for each epoch. Hadara works. It is a simple and straightforward multi-category VP-engine game with a score pad style scoring in the end. At first blush, there appears to be multiple ways to specialize. I suspect while that is true, some diversity is also required to balance out the scoring and to remain competitive in the end.

For a medium-light Euro, Hadara succeeds in engaging players for an hour. It is snappy, intuitive and rewarding. I would say that Hadara is more comparable to 7 Wonders than CoE. Most obvious is that Hadara is a simultaneous card drafting civilization-lite multi-scoring type of game which is what 7 Wonders is. Is it better than 7 Wonders? I am not sure. It does have the same feel and likely scratches the same itch. The downside to Hadara, and to a certain extent, 7 Wonders is that you never have a sense of how well you are doing relative to other players. There is no score track and the interaction is so minimal that you have no idea if you are ahead or trailing by 20 points. Overall, Hadara is a solid game from the HiG stable but not one I would expect to out compete 7 Wonders in popularity.

I have noticed a common element from Schwer’s designs. In both CoE and Hadara and a lesser extent, Livingstone, Schwer is gunning for multiple ways to earn points for victory. It is slightly different from Stefan Feld point salad scoring mechanisms as players gather points from different domains. Here, players must specialize to win but also must somewhat diversify to cover the spread. You can win by different methods as points are generously spread out across different scoring platforms yet it is most efficiently done when you choose to partially focus on one sphere/track while not completely ignoring others. It feels like you need a major and a minor VP engine. After executing the plan, you often feel accomplished and give yourself a pat on the back when you gain 25 points in one fell swoop. I think this is quite evident in both Hadara and CoE, Schwer is not stingy with doling out points where players get maximum points for scoring in shared space (Livingstone) and also points are rounded up (Hadara). Now how often does that happen? That said, end game scores are competitively close which is not easy to design and require some extensive balancing and play testing. I like that Schwer has developed a unique signature and I wonder if this will be his calling.

Initial impression: Good

Marketplaces and Monuments Expansion

I always suspected that Hadara might benefit from a small expansion or two. I worried that the game felt repetitive after several plays. The route to victory seem to always boil down to integrating colonies via the military track (red) or by carving statues with the culture track (blue). Money (yellow income track) is important, especially in the first epoch for card purchases, but after sufficient discounts gained from collecting cards from specific tracks, money become less of an issue. The agriculture track (green) was also a side note in that you need to have enough to feed the masses, but beyond that, I saw no point in ramping up that track as it provided no further benefits.

This expansion partially addresses the problem. In the marketplace expansion, players automatically gain a market stall if there is surplus food on your green track after feeding the people and if a minimum amount is achieved on the income track. During income phase, you gain either a small market stall (6 income, +2 food) which can be converted into a large market stall (18 income, +6 food) if the minimum requirements are met. A marketplace comes with each stall where you can gain 1 or 2 additional coin each income phase for the small and large markets respectively. These coins can be added to your treasury for general use or can be allocated to the marketplace to increase your specific colored-tracks or for end game victory points (2 VP/coin). With this expansion, Schwer now adds a complementary way for the income/agriculture tracks to gain victory points. Each of the 4 colored tracks now has a unique way to earn VPs. If you get the large market stall by end of epoch I or early epoch II, you can earn an additional 12-16 extra VPs. Not too bad.

Initially, I griped that victory usually went through either blue or red tracks, with yellow and green tracks being complementary. However, subsequent plays show that the yellow track itself can be quite potent if coupled with the correct strategy of buying medals. This expansion greatly upgraded the potency of the yellow track since you can now gain permanent (15VP for large market stall) and optional (adding coins to marketplace) VPs’. To balance this swing, I thought it was clever that Schwer added the food surplus requirements to get the market stalls. Since you need to advance both tracks, getting the market stalls, especially the large market stall does not come easy unless you specialize. Furthermore, to balance things up with the red/blue tracks, you can now also purchase a monument. This is a high value structure which requires at least a 24 on BOTH the red and blue tracks. It is again not easy to achieve, but it rewards a player who is committed on advancing both tracks.

This small expansion has clearly enhanced Hadara. In previous games, there is this strong pull to focus on either the culture or military tracks with getting just enough cash to purchase cards and medals. The marketplace expansion expands the possibilities of chasing after alternate VPs’ via the agriculture and income tracks. I do not know if introducing the marketplace expansion swings the favor dominantly toward the income track. Some folks already feel that income or big money is already a dominant way for winning games. I suspect it is not as easy to get the market stalls until later epochs, which then blunts the potency of the marketplace. Building monuments also opens up an additional avenue for countering the effects of the marketplace.

Nobles and Inventions expansion

This expansion introduces new red/blue/yellow/green cards to each epoch. There are no additional cards for the purple deck. Rather than just generic flavor cards, each deck will now have cards with special powers. This somewhat dilutes the uniqueness of the purple deck, but greatly expands the possibilities for the game. Some of the cards alter the rules in special ways and are quite clever, but none are specifically overpowered. For example, the green deck features a power which allows you to add one or two cards from the game box to any track just for set collection purposes. This will certainly boost the folks gunning for the gold medal scoring. There is also a red power card which gets you additional colored-track movement when you integrate colonies. Finally, there are powerful cheap cards that lets you leap forward on specific tracks, at the cost of losing the card purchase discounts. To be clear, this expansion added more special cards but I think the purple deck still holds cards that are way more valuable and powerful. I think this is a good distinction.

I highly recommend both expansions. I feel the marketplace and monuments expansion is the one that alters the trajectory of the game and has a greater impact on how you approach the game. The nobles and inventions expansion also enhances the game by allowing more diversity in card selection since not all cards will be used and you will only see a subset each game. The cards are clever, but not so overpowering that it steers your game.

Overall, the two expansions elevates Hadara from an average game to a good one.

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