Game Preview: Hyperborea

HYPERBOREA_coverDesigner: Andrea Chiarvesio and Pierluca Zizzi
Publisher: Asterion, Yemaia
Players: 2-6
Ages: 12+
Time: 90 minutes
Times played: many plays at different stages of development but this preview is about the final rules of the upcoming release

The game release is planned for this summer

Was almost 2 years ago that I played Hyperborea for the first time and was love at first sight. I really like Andrea Chiarvesio design and I think this one could be his best one.

Hyperborea is a tactical “bag-building” game where players develop a civilization getting new technologies, improving production, conquering new territories and fighting enemies. Everything in simple-to-learn, not-so-easy-to-master for a 2-3 hours gaming experience.

Over centuries, six rival reigns were born from the ashes of the hyperborean civilization: the militarist Red Duchy; the Green Kingdom and its death delivering archers; the Purple Matriarchy fanatically worshipping the goddess of life; the skilled diplomats and merchants of the Golden Barony; the Coral Throne with its efficiently organized society and finally the secluded and enigmatic Celestial Reign.

It is a strongly thematic game, with combats, explorations, developing with well-tested core mechanics: the perfect mix of the best from American and German design school.

[Liga] Theme and materials are typical for an American style game but I know you are more fashinated by german mechanic. What do you think Hyperborea really is ?

[Chiarvesio] An hybrid. It’s a fancy American car with a strong and reliable German engine (and stylish Italian bodywork). It’s likely closer to the American style gameplay (direct interaction with your opponents, fighting, territory control) than to the German style of building stuff and scoring victory points, but it has elements from both worlds. Extremists of both genres won’t like this mixture, but other games have proved there are people out there that like to experiment different gaming styles. It’s a game for people tired of playing so many different games that all will leave you with the same feeling at the end.

In this preview, as you seen, are included also the answers to some questions I have done to Andrea Chiarvesio.

Play the game you want

Thank to the really long play-test Hyperborea has specific set-up rules for different gaming experiences. You can play shorter (60-90 minutes) or longer (2-3 hours) games changing the end-game conditions; you can play a full balanced game or choose a different set-up for each civilization. There are a lot of tiles so the map will be different from game to game with a deep impact on the strategies. There will be also special scenarios available on the official web-site once the game will be released. I’m quite sure not 2 games will be ever the same.


The first core mechanic of Hyperborea is an evolution of deck-building called “bag-building”. I’m not aware of other games using this mechanic I found quite innovative and really fun to play. During the game you put in your bag cubes of different colors. Each color is related to a specific aspect of your civilization: blue for science, yellow for trade, orange for progress, purple for growth, red for warfare and green exploration.
Every turn you use cubes to activate technologies and draw 3 new ones. If your bag is rich of red cubes (warfare) you will be probably better in battles and wars; more green will make your civilization better in exploring and so on.

A really long play-test

[Liga] Andrea, Hyperborea got a real long play-testing. That’s fine because it looks like a game with real different path to victory. Do you think, after this long test, there is something a players really need to do to win or you think all the road have some possibility ?

[Chiarvesio] We tried hard to balance the game so that every path to victory has a fair chance. Of course, there will be some random elements (which kind of terrain tiles will show up, which advanced technologies will be available, which ruins you will find), so one seemingly unstoppable strategy in one game might fail miserably in the next one.
From what we have seen through this indeed long development and playtesting, you can’t usually totally overlook one of the aspects of the game (exploring, conquering, developing, research, wealth through gems) if you’re aiming to winning the game. And, on the other hand, some degree of specialization is required in order to win, so you just have to find the right balance.
Also, the game is made by players, so you should definitely adapt and watch what your opponents are doing… is a player going to kill all the ghosts? Then better you move and grab some for yourself… is another player trying to rush a gem or a technology victory? Better not fall too much beyond in these… has another player gained control over too many tiles? Someone has to steal territories from him, and that someone better be you.
In other words: you can’t simply sit down and work at your own strategy “because is the strongest”, no matter what the other players are doing. It worked last time, it might backfire this time.

The Game

Every player will choose a faction and (in the Race Wars game) a special power. Every faction will start controlling a 3 hex-starting area, than the map will be preapared (according to the number of players) with a center region and a borderland region of face-down hexes.

[Liga] Andrea, In the last version of the rules you have included also different starting positions and powers for the 6 different factions. Do you think this (powers and starting tiles) will influence the strategy or is just a different starting condition … I mean, do you think there is a best strategy for the Red Duchy that is different from the one with the Celestial Reign and so on …

[Andrea] Absolutely. The six factions are truly designed to be more (or less) performing depending on which strategy you choose. That’s why we HIGHLY recommend to NOT use the different powers and different starting tiles for your first game (you probably shouldn’t even in your second game, but that’s up to you). Green powers are about exploring and maybe do some fighting, Red must go ghost-hunting and later to war, Purple should at least control 5-6 tiles at the end of the game, the Orange player should focus on cubes production (and maybe some advanced technology), Blue better focus on technology first (but it’s good at exploring, too), Yellow must build a gem engine and then decide what to do.
There are nuances, of course, depending on which advanced technologies you can discover, and which one of the two starting powers you choose. It’s not that you are forced into a specific path, but of the many possible strategies some will definitely work better with your starting territory and power.
As I said before, it’s really tough to win a game at Hyperborea by overspecializing in one single aspect of the game, but it’s also very difficult to win without focusing on one or two strategies.

Before starting the game each player takes 1 cube of each color and extra civilization cube of the color of their choice (except grey) and places all cubes in their possession inside the bag.


How to put new cubes in the bag is the second core mechanic of this game. You will have 6 markers for the 6 different civilization cubes colors. At any time during their turn, a player may reduce to level 0 one of their development markers which have reached level 4 (or 5). In this case the player immediately puts 1 civilization cube of the corresponding color into their bag, taking it from the reserve.
If the development markers reached level 6 the player immediately puts 2 civilization cubes of the corresponding color inside their bag.

In the beginning you will start with a 1 marker at level 3, 1 marker at level 2, 1 marker at level 1 and 3 markers at level 0.

This, combined with the choice of the extra cube and the faction’s power will offer a really wide range of starting strategies to try.

During your turn you will use your cubes to activate technologies. The 6 basic technologies are printed on the player board. To activate a technology you need to complete it, using the cubes of the appropriate color. You can activate just one of the two technologies in each category so, in the beginning, every faction can just explore once, or warfare once and so on. In each category there is an “easy” technology that usually need a specific cube and a non-specific one (the multi-color space) and a much powerful technology with more specific requests.

To get new technologies you have to get technologies cards using science (blue cubes)


Technologies cards are divided in 4 different decks according to the civilization cubes are going to request and have a deep impact on faction strategies. There will be always 8 face-up cards available (2 from each deck).

[Liga] There are really a lot of civilization cards that will offer a great variability. How do you think the different cards will show during a game will influence the outcoming of the play and how much do you think is important to master the base technologies.

[Chiarvesio] I have seen games focusing on the advanced technologies, and other groups almost ignoring them. So I would say that the answer relies in your gaming group style. If used properly, some advanced technologies can really give you an upper hand, but I have seen many games won by players that acquired maybe just one advanced technology and activated it not that often. Most of the advanced technologies show up anyway in a medium or long game, so the order they appear will be more relevant than the fact if they will appear at all or not. That’s another reason not to play with specific faction powers during your first game. Some factions should really look for the opportunity to acquire a technology that creates a “combo” with their starting power, but if you don’t know the game, you don’t really know which technology you should look for.

The map

The third core mechanic is how players interact with the map. On some tiles there are cities: each city has a power that can be activated moving an unit inside. This is a free action but the unit will be blocked in the city until the refresh phase (something I’ll talk about later). On some tiles there are also ruins, usually infested by ghosts, that will offer player some one-shot powers.

[Liga] The rules for the Ruins appeared in the “final” part of the developing of the game. What do you think about this rules ? How do you think improve the base mechanic.

[Chiarvesio] It makes the game more exciting. It gives you more reasons to send your troops across the board than simply “let’s smash whatever we meet there”. It makes “exploring” a different and viable strategy than “going military”, and the game really needed that.
It was the last major change, indeed, but we tested the ruins for over six months, just to be sure they’re balanced.
Of course, they add some randomness, and so they mitigate the feeling to being playing a very elaborate game of multiplayer chess. On the other hand, there is not a single ruin so strong that will give you a definite edge.
Exploring ruins, as anyone that has watched an Indiana Jones movie should know, is an azardous activity, it can bring rewards, sure, but you can also leave almost empty-handed.
I personally like it a lot (after all, I had the idea to introduce them), I can see some “heavy german style” gamers turning up their noses already, but it’s unlikely that the game would have appealed them anyway.
I feel that war, ruins exploration, cubes production, collecting gems and discovering technologies each one weights for one fifth of your total performance. You need to be the best in one or maybe two of the five and at least decent in the other three in order to win.

To move on the map you need movement actions you can get from technoligies’s activation and/or city activation. Some hexes, like mountains, forests and swamps, are more difficult to enter/leave offering strategic deepness also in the map exploring/conquering.


The combat system is simple: to kill an enemy you need a combat action and an unit. A single unit entering an hex with 3 enemies can kill all of them using 3 combat actions but it is, hear me, not easy at all! you can protect your units fortifying.

[Liga] Which is the weight in Hyperborea of the combats and players interactions ?

[Chiarvesio] It’s something you can’t ignore. You should know if, when and how to strike. Or how to defend yourself, if you’re going for a different strategy. A game like this simply by definition involves diplomacy at the table. There are balancing factors in the rules, however. One of the rules I am most proud of is the little rule that makes it totally useless to keep on attacking the same opponent (this usually makes very clear to the players that two players feuding are very likely going to both lose the game). It allows unexpected recoveries, and sudden strikes. So, no, if you’re a fan of multiplayer solitaire games… Hyperborea is not for you. But I like the fact that you can not focus on combats and territory control and build your game around production, science or gems and have a fair chance of winning. Simply, you can’t totally ignore. If you never ever leave your starting territory you won’t likely win. But you can really limit your interaction with the other players and the board and play a turtling strategy, if you feel so. Of course, it works better with some maps, and worse in others.

Reset phase

What happens during a player turn is really easy:
– use cubes to activate technologies (performing actions on the map)
– draw 3 new cubes
if no more cubes in the bag start the reste phase.

In the reset phase the player move the units out from the cities, put cubes again in the bag (actually making technologies/actions available again).

Every player will go to reset as soon as the last cube is drawn so it will also depend of how much a civilization has developed (how many new cubes added in the bag) and that can have some impact on the game. It is important to program your actions considering when you and your opponents will go to reset.

The end of the game

According to the scenario/conditions used the game will go to the end. Players will score for controlling territories, for civilization cubes, for enemies and ghosts killed, for advanced technologies developed and for victory points gained during the game. Many way to victory and not a single killer strategy.


I’m really well impressed by this game. I have played it several time and no two games were equal. I seen a lot of play-testing aimed to keep the game balanced and fun. You really have the feeling of an expanding civilization and that is great and also you end the game with the willing of playing it again trying different strategies. Yemaia team really make a great work of play-testing and tuning.

[Liga] Apart from the standard random map, have you tested specific scenarios ? Will be included in the box or will be available for download from the web-site ?

[Chiarvesio] Yes we did, although I have to admit not too deeply. Probably both, some suggestion will be already in the rulebook, but many more scenarios will be available online.
I am expecting players come out with their own scenarios sooner or later.

[Liga] This is the second game you design together with Pierluca Zizzi: what do you think about ? Does Luca Iennaco also contributed in the playtest ?

[Chiarvesio] They’re both good friends of mine and I like making games with either of them (but it would be impossible to put them together working at the same game, since they’re so different from each other…).
Luca has diminished his commitment in the board gaming industry so on, he did not playtested the game if not once, and at a really early stage. It’s not really his type of game.

Speaking of co-designers, I should at least mention here the extraordinary work by Maurizio Vergendo, head developer of Yemaia, in playtesting, developing and finetuning the game. He deserves a lot of credit since, without his dedication and professionality, Hyperborea would have surely been not only different, but a worse game. Also, folks at Asterion and Asmodeé have been really helpful with their imputs, suggestions and feedbacks. The final result is a game we all feel so proud about, and it’s such a pleasure to watch players enjoy their first game!

[Liga] Are you happy of the final results or there is something you would like to be included in the standard game that, maybe, wil be available later ?

[Chiarvesio] There is quite too much stuff in the standard game! No, actually, we haven’t left anything behind we were feeling was essential. There are things that can (and maybe will) be added (I miss rivers and lakes in the map, for instance), but to me the game is good as it is in the standard game. There is always room for improvement, of course, and so many ideas that simply did not fit in the standard game. We’ll see how the public will react, if they ask for more Hyperborea we can provide plenty of new factions, territories, technology, even new colors for cubes…

Actually this one is the game I’m anticipating most for this autumn!

About Andrea "Liga" Ligabue

Andrea "Liga" Ligabue is a game expert contributing to many games related international projects including Gamers Alliance Report, WIN, ILSA Magazine and Boardgamenews. Member of the International Gamers Awards Committee is coordinator of Play - The Games Festival and founder of the project Ludoteca Ideale.
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2 Responses to Game Preview: Hyperborea

  1. huzonfirst says:

    Thanks so much for the preview, Liga! I’ve been interested in this one for a long time, so it was great to finally get some details. Looking forward to seeing the final product!

  2. I’m really happy about the final rssult develpoers and testers reached. During the long developing phase there was been a period where the game really wasn’t good.
    I also like how they wprked woth the theme both in the in-game mechanics (powers, startomg tiles) and narrative/arts. I think otmreally will be a great success for gamers looking for themed games with solid core mechanic.

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