Hokkaido

Designer: Kalle Malmioja

Artist: Ossi Hiekkala and Jere Kasanen

Publisher: Lautapeli.fi and Renegade Games Studio

Does the woman in the drawing have a mustache? (Photo credits: Tony Niittymaki@BGG)

I used to own this Hans im Gluck game called The Hanging Gardens published by Din Li. It was a pretty simple tile drafting game with set collection from arranging overlapping cards to form clusters of buildings. It was simple, uncomplicated and also very approachable – all features I failed to appreciate back then. I promptly sold it after a single play. These days, I am working hard to find copies of games that are German classics and these include games I culled from my collection before. I still haven’t found Hanging Gardens but thought Hokkaido may fill that niche. While the game does somewhat resemble Hanging Gardens, I found the gameplay to be slightly less inspiring after a couple of play.s

In the game, players draft terrain cards to complete their own corner of the world. These terrain cards are split into six equal quadrants with each quadrant having a single type of terrain. The terrains can come in different flavors. You have your woods, lakes, plains, hills, desert and a snowcapped mountain range. On top of that, you have urban structures that comprise of village squares or factories. As you would expect, each types of terrain (except mountains and deserts) produces a resource that is processed by a corresponding factory. Now each round, players will draft cards by a variety of methods either by 7-wonders type simultaneous drafting or by picking from a static row of cards based on turn order. Regardless of how cards are drafted, players then place their cards in their own space, trying to assemble the perfect region for maximum scoring. One rule that makes Hokkaido stand out is that cards must either be tucked underneath or overlapping at least one other card in the assembly. Oh, and if your card features a mountain range, they cannot be ignored and the mountain range squares must be continuous with the preexisting mountain range that you have built. Beyond that, players are free to rotate or orient their drafted cards however they wish to score points.

Points are scored via several methods. The most potent in my mind are the resource-factory pairings. If one can have a resource paired with the right factory, the scoring is quite potent. This is a one to one exchange. So if you have one green cube, you need a green factory. In addition, players will find different scoring matrices for different terrain features. For example, the total connected village squares on both sides of the mountain range are calculated with the accepted score being the smaller of the two villages. In a similar manner, forests, lakes, mountains are all scored slightly differently during end of game scoring. Besides that, there is also in-game, first-come-first-serve type scoring. Whoever achieves the desired milestones on these bonus cards will get to claim them first and get bonus points. That’s it. Players then total up all these scoring elements to see who gets the most points.

The game is light but I also found it lacking anything novel or excitement. The entire game is a very individual effort. Yes, even though the game shares elements with HiG’s Hanging Gardens, Hokkaido is not a replacement. I wasn’t particularly eager to replay after my first few tries. The game moves at a slow pace and the constant tucking or overlapping of cards really disrupted my interlocking card assembly. It is disruptive since the cards once shifted around, are kinda hard to reorganize because they are interconnected. There just is no way around this and while minor, I found it sufficiently annoying. I also did not think the color scheme was pleasant and looked garish and a bit odd. Now aesthetics aside, the game mechanics just weren’t strong enough to hold my attention and it was a bland exercise of drafting and placing cards. That said, folks who enjoy a non-confrontational tableau arrangement kind of game may like Hokkaido. Suffice to say, I am still hunting for Hanging Gardens.

Initial impression: Not for me

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