Designer: Gregory Daigle
Artist: Dennis Lohausen
Publisher: Rio Grande Games
Hans Im Gluck is the one publisher that puts out games that fit my tastes. To the point that I trust the ability of Bernd Brunhoeffer and his colleagues to playtest, streamline and sell a game that I would purchase sight unseen. Among the catalog of games published by HiG or their collaborators, few if any, disappointed. While I have not played all their games, I have played plenty.
Enter Hawaii, a first (and only?) effort by designer Gregory Daigle. The game attracted some controversy due to a high profile negative review during its launch. The review was contested by the fan base and being a staunch defender of HiG, I took it upon myself to hunt down a copy and play it. As I recall the game worked just fine and I was puzzled by the controversy. Though Hawaii showed all the hallmarks of an HiG Euro, I was clearly not enamored by the design since the game never hit the table again for many years after. Also, Hawaii has long been out of print and unlikely to be reprinted any time soon.
More recently, in my attempts to replay all the “oldies” in my collection, Hawaii managed to make another appearance on the gaming table. I was curious whether my thoughts on the game have changed over time. Unfortunately, my first impression after reading the rules was mainly negative as the setup took a few pages to get through in the rules booklet. There appears to be hundreds of tiles that needed distribution and also a lot of them had to be replenished in between rounds. Moreover, some parts of the rules booklet felt poorly written and I was a little underwhelmed after rereading it. In actuality, Hawaii played just fine and came out on the other end on a positive note. First, the setup wasn’t nearly as bad as I had feared. With two players, there was no scaling of components or change in rules. However, it was also clear not every single cardboard piece had to be displayed on the shared board. So we only took out a subset of the pieces and replenished as needed. This sped up the setup time.
In Hawaii, players move around the central board comprising of different locations that are randomly arrange at the start of each game. The modular arrangement provides some variation between games but it is unclear how much the variety actually impacts game play as players usually end up visiting multiple locations during the entire game. I suppose one can plan around visiting only areas closer to the beach and ignore others as part of the strategy. Just not sure how effective that is. Visits to each location however, is really limited by the number of items that can be purchased from the locales, with only a fixed number of items being offered each round at a price randomly determined by a set of price chits pulled from a bag at the start of each of the 5 rounds.
Speaking of prices, there are actually three different currencies in the game. First, moving around between locations requires “feet” and the more feet tokens you have, the further you can go between locations and the more locations you can visit in your turn. Feet are also required to hop on boats to visit these small islands. Visiting these off-the-coast islands just provide a bunch of perks and victory points. Another type of currency are shells that are used for purchases on each of the tile locations. Lastly, the fruits act as a wild and can be either feet or shells to make payment. Both feet and shells are replenished at the start of each round based on a fixed amount printed on the round tiles. However, the amount replenished declines with each round, so building up an alternate source of income is a must. Fruits however, can only be picked up in-game by buying the appropriate fruit tiles from location tiles. Clearly, a balance must be struck between all income sources, but fruits are superior not only because they can function as both, but they also score points in a village if the village also has a lake tile.
At each of the 10 board locations where a tile is purchased, they are then immediately placed on individual tableau. Perhaps rather familiarly, one must adhere to a series of limitations and restrictions in the placement to score points. For each player tableau, one can “assemble” up to 5 villages starting from the top row. All subsequent tiles that are picked up must be added horizontally to extend the village. Extending the “length” of the village is critical as only villages that reach the requisite length can score points based on the number of tiki tiles purchased and placed in the opposing direction in the top row. Thus, there is an incentive to grow your village horizontally, not only to reach the scoring requirement, but also certain scoring tiles such as lakes and hula dancers depend on adding more tiles to individual villages. Now there are also incentives to construct more villages vertically, but suffice to say, one of the key decisions in the game is how one chooses to assemble the tiles in the personal tableau.
For all the brouhaha that surrounds Hawaii, the game plays fine. It is undoubtedly JASE (Just Another Standard Euro), but a solid JASE at that. There are interesting choices to be made each round, but they are all limited by the amount of currency you have. The random allocation of price chits each round makes certain island locations more attractive than others, but all the island locations provide tiles that will help your cause. So, the tough decisions revolve around whether you want to take advantage of a cheap tile that is available, or whether you want to stick to the game plan. That said, it is very hard to ignore a good bargain and they surely won’t stick around for long as your opponents will snap them up. This makes turn order somewhat important.
To counterbalance the desire to go for all things cheap, there is an end of round scoring that rewards players who pay a premium for their purchases. Price chits that are utilized are collected by the buyer and if the total meets a certain threshold at the end of each round, points are awarded based on rank. So, the pricier the purchases, the more points you can earn. These points are substantial and get progressively higher with each round. So, they really should not be ignored.
Hawaii is a really well-balanced game in that each choice is counterbalanced by an opportunity cost that seems equally desirable. At first blush at least, it seems that to do well, one must do a little bit of everything. It does not seem to me that individual scoring paths are potent enough for you to secure victory, but I could be wrong. For example, focusing on being the front runner for in between round scoring is not a viable path on its own and neither is choosing to focus on only one type of income to continuously activate a subset of selections. The only possibility I can see for specialization is choosing whether to score a few “long” villages or many “short” ones. While there are many ways to score points, many of these strategies are intertwined and it is likely that these scoring categories needs to be bundled in a way that optimizes the expenditure of your resources.
Hawaii doesn’t break any new ground, but what it does, it does pretty well. This may sound cliche, but a lot of Hans im Gluck publications fall into this description. They are often rigorously play-tested and then modified to suit the tastes for gamers that enjoy this genre of Euros. Consequently, these games are often described as mechanical, repetitive or dry but the quality is unmistakable as one rarely find loose ends or rough edges that are frequent in Kickstarter games. Unfortunately, these games are also unlikely to reap big industry awards despite their excellence. If you are hobby gamer that is constantly starving for a novel experience, then Hawaii will likely register as a “meh” experience. However, if you consider a well-designed but familiar Euro as comfort food, then Hawaii is your perfect roast.