Hadara (Game Review by Brandon Kempf)

  • Designers: Benjamin Schwer
  • Artists: Dominik Mayer
  • Publisher: Hans im Glück, Z-Man Games(Gen Con Release)
  • Players: 2-5
  • Time: 45-60
  • Times Played: 4

“This is all in German, so it will truly be like building a civilization from scratch.” -Me

Hadara is the newest, light civilization building game from publisher Hans im Gluck and designer Benjamin Schwer, he of Crown of Emara fame. In Hadara, you tasked with finding the best path for your civilization and hoping to score the most victory points, which if we are all honest with ourselves, is how all civilizations should be judged. 

A game of Hadara is played over three epochs, and each epoch is separated into two phases. The first phase consists of players drawing two cards and keeping one, or selling it, and discarding the other card to the appropriate discard pile. The game board in the middle of the table is separated into five different colors. The board also has a wheel in the middle, and that wheel has five spots which have the different player icons. When your icon is pointed to a specific color, you will draft cards from that area. Everyone will draft once from each of the five areas in the first phase of each epoch.

The five colors represent different parts of your civilization, your income, culture, military or food. The fifth color is a bit different and we’ll talk about it a bit later. When drafting cards, you are going to be increasing your civilization values of the corresponding tracks. You will keep track of all of this on your player board. Increasing Military and Culture will allow you to gain benefits later, gaining food will allow you to keep more cards, and gaining income will allow you to pay for more cards and medals; more on the medals a bit later. 

Each of the two phases of an epoch will have a round of drafting cards, these two phases of drafting operate a bit differently from each other. The first phase players are taking two cards from the face down stack that is matching where their player icon is at that point. Players take two cards and will discard one to a face up pile of the right color; the other card can be used in one of two ways. Firstly, you can pay the cost and place it in your tableau and gain the benefits. Secondly, you can discard it from the game and gain coins, based on which epoch you are in. After players do that, the spinner on the main board will rotate clockwise one space and everyone will draft the same way from the next color that their icon appears at, doing the same routine until they have drafted from all five spots. 

One thing to note is the cost of the cards you play into your tableau. On each card there is a set price, but you do get discounts on those cards based on how many cards of the same color that you have already played to your tableau. So if Military card costs you five gold, and you have two Military cards already in your tableau, you will only pay three gold. This is a good thing, as the cost of cards escalates at a pretty steep pace in comparison to income. 

Speaking of income, after your first round of drafting is done, there is an income phase where they players will collect gold equal to their income on their player board. After collecting income players, in turn order, if their Military is at the appropriate level, they may select one colony to bring into their player board. The colonies require your Military be at specific levels or higher, the first only requires you to be at three on the Military track, but the biggest one requires you to be at thirty. When you select a colony, you may select one of the ones that you qualify for: you do not have to take them in increasing order. After taking a colony the player then has a choice: do they keep the colony as is, and simply collect some coins for it, or do they flip it and pay the coins shown on it, and then gain the resources on the other side instead of coins. Note that you do not get to look at the opposite side prior to deciding this. 

Next up, the players can carve a statue if their culture track is at the appropriate levels. When carving a statue, it’s just like taking a colony. You can only carve one statue, but you can carve any statue, out of the four on your player board, that you qualify for. When you carve a statue you will take one of your eight bonus tiles and place it in the appropriate spot. Players start with eight bonus tiles, two of each commodity. When you place a bonus tile next to a statue that you have carved, you will gain the commodity in the number that is notated to the left of where you place it. Another option would be to flip the bonus tile and strictly gain that number of victory points at the end of the game instead. 

After carving statues, the players will head to the second phase of the epoch and draft more cards. This time, in turn order, players will select the top card from a stack of cards; there will be five stacks of them on the main board, face up to choose from that the players created during the first phase. The player is free to choose from any stack that they wish, but they cannot look at the cards underneath, they are only drafting the top card. In the same way as the first phase, the player will now choose whether to keep the card and pay for it to go in their tableau, or they can sell it and discard the card out of the game. This continues until all the cards are removed from the main board. 

After this phase of drafting, there is another income phase, a colony phase and a statue phase. But in the second phase of each epoch, there are a couple new things that you can do. First thing after the statue phase, you have to be able to feed your people. This means that your food supply must be greater than or equal to the number of cards that are currently in your tableau. If you cannot feed your people, you will have to remove cards until you can. You have the choice as to which cards to discard, but while discarding you will also lose any benefit that card has given you, meaning you will most likely be losing some number of commodities. 

Next up, you can buy medals. There are two different kinds of medals, silver and gold, and their cost increases as the game progresses through the epochs. Players can buy up to two silver medals the entire game. The silver medals will score you bonus points at the end of the game. When you choose to buy a silver medal, you take one of your bonus tiles and place it commodity side up in one of the two silver medal spots. This notates that you will now score points equal to half the commodity chosen at the end of the game, rounded up, based on where you are on that commodity track. So if you are at twenty-one the Military track at the end of the game, and you placed a Military bonus token in that Silver Medal, you will gain eleven points at the end of the game. Players may also buy gold medals, two of them total for the game. The gold medals will give you a diversity bonus of sorts at the end of the game. For each gold medal, the players will score seven bonus points per set of five different colored cards in their tableau. Meaning, if you have two gold medals, you will score fourteen points per set of five different colored cards in your tableau. 

After the medal buying concludes, set up the cards for the next epoch and repeat the process until the finish of the third epoch, then score points. Players will score points based on colonies and statues, as noted by laurels. Players will score their medals, both silver and gold as described above. Next up, score all the victory points that are on the cards in your tableau, some may have no points on them, but most will, and then give each player one victory point per five gold they have left over and the player with the most points has built the greatest civilization. 

At a blushing glance, the knee jerk comparison that folks are going to make is to 7 Wonders. Both are games involve card drafting, and they are abstractly themed, lighter weight civilization building games, but I think that may be where the comparison ends. I’d need to play it again, but I think this one feels to me more like Hans im Glück’s older title, St. Petersburg, but a little bit lighter and more family weighted. 

The first thing you are going to notice with everything set up and on the table ready to play is just the sheer color of it all. It’s vibrant and it’s bold, which is kind of odd for a game like this. It’s a very welcoming production. That isn’t to say that it is without fault in the production aspect. While the game itself is well put together and everything is quality, the fact that the player boards aren’t recessed for the tracks is a bit baffling. It falls prey to the bumping of the boards and markers moving around. Now, this is all pretty easily trackable, just count up the number of commodities on your cards and you can verify it, but it is a nuisance to have to do that now and then. Even the box and insert are properly used to separate the cards into different epochs, notably with enough space for another five or so, but that may just be me being hopeful, as they probably just made the insert symmetrical after all. 

A big problem in 7 Wonders is if everyone at the table allows someone to gather all of the science, right? After a couple plays you may start to think that the same type of thing may be happening here, maybe Culture is really strong. The difference here of course is that using this different style of draft, everyone gets the same chance at those blue Culture cards. Each player will see two of them the first phase of an epoch and have the opportunity to draft one, and place the other back in the pile for the second phase. So if this happens, and you allow someone to say, gain eight or so culture cards, and you ignore it for the most part, that’s your own fault, each individual at the table has the same chance. 

On top of the fact that everyone has the same opportunities, the cards are viciously balanced, in a good way. Cards that give a lot of commodities tend to cost a lot of gold and will score less victory points than the cards of the same epoch that have fewer commodities, but yet cost the same. A lot of work, and math, went into achieving this kind of balance in the cards. Yet, I have seen scores be pretty lopsided at times. Our last play had a 40 point differential between first and second place, but I think that’s an anomaly, I think that Hadara is balanced finely on that edge of a knife. It’s balanced and it’s streamlined for easy play, but not so balanced and streamlined that you could play it against your two year old and have them still have a chance, there are some notable strategies to be picked up on and choices to be made. 

There are some really swingy type cards in the mix though, those aforementioned purple cards can really hurt your opponents’ chances if you get the right ones and they chose to ignore them, or forget about them. There are a couple in particular that can swing huge late in the game by adjusting what you need in order to gain certain levels of Statues and Colonies, or they make those medals cheaper and easier to obtain. Because money is tight in Hadara, you need to pinch pennies as best you can. That money issue is further toughened by the colonies rewarding larger lumps of up front gold, versus flipping them and getting seemingly smaller commodity rewards. It’s all just so damn well balanced. 

It may have been someone here on the OG that said, it seemed very Hans im Glück-y, and I think that is a pretty solid statement. It fits in wonderfully in their catalog. It’s a rules light, player forward game that anyone can play and have a really good time doing so, while feeling like they are playing and making some meaningful decisions. Majesty: For the Realm was another previous title from HiG that we have also adored, and Hadara has some of that same feel, except in a bigger production. It really makes me anxious to play Lift Off when it eventually lands here in the North American market. 

Designer Benjamin Schwer has really stepped up with his last two releases. The wonderful Crown of Emara and now this, the charming, and exceptional Hadara. I’m going to have to go back and see if I can try Livingstone and see if I can find any similarities between what he is doing now, and what he was designing in 2008 or so, and I am anxious to see what he has up his sleeve next. But not too soon though, I want to enjoy Hadara for awhile. I doubt that Hadara ever gets played as much as Majesty: For the Realm has been around here (36 plays currently), but it could very easily become a family staple, a wonderful addition to our gaming shelves that we hope contains fewer ‘okay’ games, and far more wonderful games like Hadara. Do yourself a favor, if you are at Gen Con in a couple weeks, make your way to the Z-Man Games booth and give this one a try. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed, I surely haven’t been. 

Thoughts from the Opinionated Gamers

Joe Huber (3 plays): I enjoy Hadara – it works well, and seems to be amenable to a variety of approaches.  But my third play convinced me – it’s not a game I need to own. I’ll happily play it – though, as none of the folks I regularly game with have been more enthusiastic about the game than I am, this hasn’t actually happened since I reached my conclusion.  So why haven’t I been more taken by the game? Part of it, undoubtedly, is my mixed feelings on drafting – it’s just not my favorite mechanism, though I do appreciate how it’s handled here more than in most games. Part of it is the theme, which doesn’t really draw me in; while I do enjoy games where the theme and mechanisms don’t connect, that tends to be most effective when the mechanisms feel particularly fresh and innovative to me, and that’s not the case here.  I tend to favor games where something works spectacularly well for me – even if there are other drawbacks – and Hadara more just consistently works. There are far worse problems…

Dan Blum (4 plays): I like drafting more than Joe does but agree with both him and Brandon that it’s handled particularly well here. It’s also interestingly different from many other engine-builders (such as Saint Petersburg) in that you generally don’t want to focus on resources early, points later – you need to be doing everything all the time. Overall it’s a very good design. 

What keeps me from loving it is that after four games it started to feel a bit too much the same from game to game. The only cards that really have interesting variance are the purple ones, but not all of them do interesting things, so you may go an entire game without seeing any that really benefit you. Optimizing the other cards is fine… for a while. I’d certainly play the game again but I don’t mind the several months’ gap between previous plays and the next one, whenever it is.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

I love it. Brandon Kempf

I like it. Joe H., Dan Blum

Neutral. 

Not for me… 

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1 Response to Hadara (Game Review by Brandon Kempf)

  1. Pingback: Hadara (Game Review by Brandon Kempf) – Herman Watts

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