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GC ’14: Hyperborea

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Invade or research, the choice is yours.
Invade or research, the choice is yours.

I didn’t know much about Hyperborea until Andrew pointed it out to me and suggested I try it. I watched a demo table start to play but as time in the dealer hall was winding down I decided to get in line for Star Wars: Armada instead. Fortunately, Andrew nabbed a copy and taught us all how to play later that evening.

Hyperborea is a strange game to be sure – it’s sort of a thematic, civ-building, 4X game but with a lot of euro elements. I compared it to Nexus Ops, but with a lot more Euro in its blood.

The board is a hex grid made up of tiles, and players control armies represented by plastic minis that can explore the map, attack other players, and collect certain resources from the board. However, the crux of the game is a combination of a player board and a baggie filled with colored cubes for each player.

Each turn you draw 3 cubes from your bag.  The different cube colors represent different sorts of actions – purple is for placing new dudes, red is for attacking, green is for movement. You’ve also got orange for advancing what we termed “logistics” – to get more cubes into your bag – yellow for producing extra points, and blue for researching technology.

Fear the wrath of the token female race of magic-users
Fear the wrath of the token female race of magic-users

The trick is, each action you take requires filling up a slot on your player board with specific colors of cubes, and you don’t take the action until you fill up the slot.  So you need a green/red cube combo to move and attack, or yellow/orange to score a point and advance one of your “logistics” tracks.  (I can’t remember what it was actually called, so sue me. Andrew has the rulebook, he’ll tell you.)

Another catch is that you can’t clear off your cubes until your bag is empty, which means you have to manage which actions you take and when – and you also try to go through your bag as quickly as possible, so you can “reset” your board, clear your cubes, re-fill your bag, and unlock any units which were locked down exploring cities or ruins.  The bag served as a randomizer, limiting your action choices.

The result was a rather intriguing and unique euro/thematic mix.  Andrew, a fairly hardcore euroist spent a lot of time off the grid, instead focusing on accruing yellow point tokens and researching new awesome technologies (which he then used to score even more points).  He intentionally advanced his yellow and blue logistics tracks to give him more of those color cubes to help him get to those actions more quickly.  In the meantime, I in my thematic-gaming ways focused on building my armies, expanding my control, and attacking everyone on the board, only taking technology when it seemed to serve those needs. Both of these strategies seemed completely viable, and I won by a mere 4 points or so. And despite the fact that I could put the hurt on Andrew’s troops, my attacks didn’t really stop him since he was focused off the board and the game encourages attacking everyone not just one person.

The cubes-in-a-bag mechanism is really clever and works really well for this game. It’s an inventive way to add randomness without total chaos, and has ways for players to help control the outcome of the game.

Is this a game that “ameritrash” players like myself and euro gamers like Andrew and Lenny can play together, do what they like best, and have a lot of fun? It certainly seems that way.  I know I had a lot of fun playing it, and Andrew loves it.  It’s just too bad the pricetag is so steep.

I think we have a full review coming down the road shortly.

Gen Con 2014 Andrew - Hyperborea Box

Portrait - Andrew

Andrew’s Thoughts

I am without a doubt a snobby euro gamer.  But hidden deep down I have a soft spot for civilization building because of my love for the Civilization computer games.  I’ve tried all sorts of games in my quest for a civ game that I will like and tend more towards ones that end up looking less like you’re building a civilization and more like your optimizing a puzzle (with the possible exception of Sid Meier’s Civilization).  Hyperborea leans more heavily on the euro side and abstracts quite a few concepts by representing actions with cube assignment but there’s still a sense of developing your civilization and vying for control of the land.  It might just be that perfect game that I’ve been searching for.

You may hear the term “bag-building” when talking about Hyperborea and at the risk of sounding gimmicky it is actually an apt description of what you will be doing to drive your actions.  In fact I was blown away by the sheer simplicity of this design (that is, once you’ve learned it).  Draw some cubes, assign them to actions, and then execute those actions.  You only get three cubes per turn (most actions take 2 cubes) so things move along at a brisk pace.  It’s incredibly innovative, modular, attractive, and my pick for best game from Gen Con 2014.  Yes, it’s expensive but let’s try to look past that for a minute and explore the sheer brilliance of this game (and since I’m the one with the rules it’s called the development track).

Players are given the option to focus very specifically on certain actions (by adding more of those colors to their bag) or diversify with several of each color and remain flexible.  Specializing makes your draws more reliable but diversifying means that you’ll have better access to a variety of actions between each reset.  The option to use multi-color spots to take less effective actions helps players that are specialized to retain some flexibility.  At first I thought that adding more cubes to your bag would be a good thing but it actually means you’ll have longer between resets and less consistency between draws.  Is it still worth it to add more cubes or would it be viable to ignore development altogether?  The main up side to adding cubes is that you’ll be scoring points for each cube that you have at the game end along with the benefits of specializing.  In fact, there are many ways to score points in Hyperborea and there is a fine balance between the two sides of your player board, one focusing on controlling the board and the other on advancing your civilization.  This elevates Hyperborea from being just another (to borrow a term I’ve been hearing) dudes-on-a-map game.  As Wolfie mentioned, in the game that we played he focused more on the board control half and I focused more on advancing my civilization half and we ended up very close.

I’ll reiterate my glowing support for Hyperborea.  In the crop of absolutely excellent titles that came out of Gen Con, Hyperborea holds it’s own and is well worth checking out for fans of all types of games.

Futurewolfie loves epic games, space, and epic games set in space. You'll find him rolling fistfuls of dice, reveling in thematic goodness, and giving Farmerlenny a hard time for liking boring stuff.

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