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Hyperborea

Reviewed by: Herb Levy

(Yemaia/Asterion Press/Asmodee, 2 to 6 players, ages 14 and up, about 20 minutes per player, $99.99)

hyperborea1Mythic realms offer myriad possibilities and, as such, often act as the springboard for games of depth. Such is the case with the new game from Andrea Chiarvesio and Pierluca Zizzi: Hyperborea.

According to the game’s mythology, Hyperborea was a realm once ruled by an ancient civilization that used magic crystals as its main source of energy. But one thing led to another (and the rules provide an interesting and full background on this) and that civilization was destroyed! Fast forward to “now” and six sets of surviving races are seeking to become the dominant power of the realm. Players, as the leaders of one of these factions, must rise to the challenge.

Each player chooses (or is randomly assigned) one of the six races in the game receiving a three hex “Homeland” with one of those hexes containing their “Capital City”. In addition, everyone receive a Player Board matching his chosen race which displays six “base” technologies, 10 miniatures in his color, a matching colored bag, one cube in each of six colors (red, green, purple, blue, orange and yellow) and Development markers matching those cube colors which begin on their specified tracks on their Player Board. With Homelands distributed, the rest of the board is constructed with one special Center Hexagon (randomly picked) surrounded by a specified amount (the amount determined by the number of players) of Borderland Hexagons (also randomly picked) which connect the center Hex with all the Homelands. Three of a player’s miniatures begin on the hex with their Capital City.

The colored cubes of the game represent a certain degree of “strength” or “knowledge” in various fields: science (blue), yellow (trade), progress (orange), growth (purple), warfare (red) and exploration (green). Players choose which field they wish to stress by taking ONE extra cube of any of these colors and placing all seven cubes into their bag. They also move three of their Development markers on their Player board: one of their choice to level 3, one to level 2 and one to level 1. Remaining markers stay at zero. Finally, Advanced Technologies are revealed.

hyperborea3There are four sets of Advanced Technology cards. No set is more “advanced” than the others, it’s just that each requires different sets of resources to make them work. There are always two cards from each set available and each card comes with a grey cube. When a card is chosen, those grey cubes get added to a player’s supply.

On a turn, a player draws three cubes from his bag. These cubes may be placed on that player’s Player Board OR on an acquired Advanced Technology provided that there is a matching colored space for them or a “rainbow” space which will accept any color except grey. (Grey cubes are “waste” and have no role in base technologies but may be useful with certain Advanced Technologies.) Each player board has two rows of “base” technologies that allow a player, upon completing the required row, to move, attack, defend (by constructing a fortress), advance Development markers, get gems (worth Victory Points) and/or buy an Advanced Technology from the display. Once a row has been started in a base technology, the second row in that particular section may NOT be used until or unless the started row has been completed or abandoned. Once completed, the player may take the action.

Actions are straightforward. A movement point allows a player to advance one of his miniatures to an adjacent hex. (Some hexes require additional movement points due to terrain considerations). There is a “fog of war” here as hexes outside the Homelands begin the game face down and are only revealed when a miniature moves into an adjacent hex. Attacks are very streamlined. Being in the same hex as an enemy piece (be it that of another player OR a “Ghost” – and more on those later) only requires an attack point to be successful. In general, killed pieces are placed on the Player Board and will be worth Victory Points at game’s end. (A built fortress, however, will defend against an attack, absorbing one attack point. So, to remove an enemy piece with a fortress, you will need an additional attack point. Fortresses, however, are not permanent and are removed from the board when it is the owning player’s next turn.)

As they journey from tile to tile, players will encounter ruins and abandoned cities. Players do not require movement points to enter a city or ruin on a hex they occupy and entering is always a good idea as those places will bestow benefits. The city benefit (extra movement or development, for example) is available to see. Ruins, on the other hand, are seeded with two (three if found in the center hex) ruin tokens (bronze, silver or gold, depending on the ruin’s icon) which are hidden until entering the ruin. The problem here is that these locations are guarded by “Ghosts”.

hyperborea2Ghosts, in game terms, are the magical remnants of the lost civilization, determined to protect the cities and ruins. In actuality, they serve as obstacles to exploring cities and ruins as you can’t do any exploring if a ghost is present. Although benign (they won’t attack you), you can attack them by using attack points and removed Ghosts are also worth Victory Points. However, once entering a ruin or city, a miniature may not move again UNTIL a player performs a game “reset”.

A reset occurs once a player has no more cubes to draw from his bag. At that point, all played or unused cubes are returned to the bag. This INCLUDES ALL cubes on still incomplete technologies. (This is a big change from the first edition rulebook so be aware.). Cubes on “continuous” technologies (those marked by an “infinity” symbol) however, may remain in place if so desired. Also, any miniatures of that player “locked” in a ruin or city are moved out, still in the same hex. Then the player randomly draws three cubes from the bag, poised for his next turn.

With cubes being so important, it is critical that you manage to slant your cube holdings to more of the colors you need to implement your strategies. You get additional cubes through development.

When a Development marker moves to level 4 on the Player Board, a player may reduce the marker value to zero and add one cube of the matching color to his bag. Alternatively, a player may wait until the marker moves to level 6 and then, by reducing the marker to zero, add TWO cubes of that color to his bag.

There are three possible objectives and play continues until either one (or two or three for a longer game) is met. The three objectives are having 12 (or 15 in a two player game) Victory Points in their Victory Point area (where gems are stored), obtaining a fifth Advanced Technology card and/or placing all of your miniatures onto the board. Reaching an objective rewards the player with an Objective tile worth 2 VPs in and of itself. Obtaining the last needed Objective tile triggers the game’s end with all other players getting one more turn. Then we score.

In addition to any Objective tiles earned, players receive 1 VP for each gem in their holdings, VPs for Ghosts killed (1 VP for 1 Ghost, 3 for 2 Ghosts, 6 for 3 Ghosts and then only 1 VP for each additional Ghost), VPs for opposing miniatures eliminated, 1 VP for each colored cube owned (not counting the grey ones), VPs for Advanced Technologies (as stipulated on their cards) and finally, VPs for territorial control (1 VP for each Homeland hex, 2 VPs for each Borderland hex and 4 VPs for control of the Center hex.) Control is defined by having more of your miniatures there than any other player. High score wins! (There is a whole roster of tie-breakers including most hexes controlled and most cubes owned [less the grey]. Finally, if needed, ties are broken in favor of the player who went last in turn order.).

Those ubiquitous cubes, a favorite component of Euro games, are the cornerstone of the action here. (But be sure to play in “good light” as those red and purple cubes can appear suspiciously similar.) The deck building mechanic, initiated by Dominion and widely copied and adopted elsewhere since, has morphed into “bag building” as players forgo cards and deal with configuring a cube “pool” to meet their needs. You want to draw the full complement of three cubes to give the most possibilities each turn so be thoughtful in deciding when to cash in your Development markers. Not only that. As long as a player can draw a cube from his bag (even if it is only one), a reset cannot be done leaving any miniatures on ruins or cities immovable.

The value of Advanced Technologies can be substantial. Not only do they provide more spots to place your cubes and derive important benefits (similar to buildings constructed in Belfort – Spring 2012 GA Report) but they are also worth VPs. Their power is somewhat mitigated though by those grey cubes accompanying them as those greys can “get in the way”, useless in powering most actions. However, some Advanced Technologies REQUIRE grey cubes to make them work which makes for an interesting balancing act. Board construction is used to good effect insuring that exploration challenges will be different each game. There are also some American style gaming aspects incorporated here with stylized warfare and terrain effects (game attributes not often seen in Euro style gaming). And let’s not forget to mention the wonderful miniatures that come with the game that are actually different molded figures for each faction. An excellent graphic design decision reminiscent of such American releases as Axis & Allies and Heroquest.

The learning curve for Hyperborea is significant due to so many things going on. And, because so many things are going on, the number of players in a game is an important consideration. Although presented as for up to six players, four or LESS seems to be the way to go. With more than four, the resulting downtime (from analysis paralysis as well as a “domino effect” as one action can trigger another which can trigger another etc.) can be too much to overcome. While the rules seem to cover everything, there have been some changes between the published rules and the errata (e.g. eliminating the option of keeping cubes on incomplete technologies during a reset). For those who thrive on challenge, you can add another layer to play by giving each faction individual attributes.

Each faction comes with two “race effect” cards which gives each race a unique ability to bend (or break) a rule. These abilities range from simply starting with 2 extra VPs, to using grey cubes on orange (and only orange) spaces, to ignoring terrain restrictions and more. If you want to use these cards, you may either choose one or have one randomly assigned. When playing with races, you also flip the Homeland hexes to their other side to provide different starting areas with different benefits.

Much had been discussed when Hyperborea made its debut and for good reason. Hyperborea is an big, bold, ambitious undertaking. Because the game incorporates so many varied game mechanisms, the mix may not appeal to everyone (too much “wargame” for some, too much “Euro” for others). But, by combining those various elements from different gaming styles (deck building, area control and exploration, for example) with some touches of its own (“bag building”), the game presents a dynamic playing experience for the right number and mix of players. Add to the equation its beautiful production and Hyperborea more than lives up to the hype.


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