Reviewed by Herb Levy
HADARA (Z-Man Games, 2 to 5 players, ages 10 and up, 45-60 minutes; $49.99)
Building a civilization has long been one of the more popular themes in gaming. Although these themes have been explored in games that take hours to play, Benjamin Schwer has traveled a different path. In designing a game that works in 60 minutes, his game takes its name from the Arabic term for civilization and culture: Hadara.
Hadara is played on a randomly built segmented board with a wheel in the center. There are five color “suits”, each suit predominately (but not exclusively) offering benefits in the matching civilization attribute: yellow (income), red (military), blue (culture) and green (food). The fifth suit, purple, can provide benefits across the board and/or grant special powers or advantages. The game is played in three Epochs and cards matching the color of each section equal to twice the number of players are put in each section (I cards for the first Epoch to be followed by II and then III).
Initiative cards (numbered from 1 to 5) are shuffled and randomly dealt to players. These cards determine the starting money, income, military, culture and food for each player. Whoever receives number 1 will go first in the first Epoch, the player holding 2 will go first in the second Epoch etc. As there are only three Epochs in the game, players who will not have the chance to go first in a round, receive 1 gold more.
Each player has their own individual player board (identical except for a unique symbol on it) as well as four colored markers used to chart a player’s progress in income, military, culture and food. They also receive 8 bonus tiles (2 in each basic color). The board also has room for “carving statues” and silver and gold medals to be purchased later on.
Each Epoch consists of a Phase A and Phase B. Phase A consists of Drawing Cards followed by Income, Colonies and Carve a Statue. Phase B consists of taking face up cards, Income, Colonies, Carve a Statue, Feed Your People and, finally, buying silver or gold medals.
In Phase A, the first player moves the board’s wheel so that his/her symbol is facing one of the board’s segments. Then, every player simultaneously draws two cards from the pile situated on the area their symbol is facing. Now the decision making starts.
Of the two cards drawn, one must be returned to that segment’s discard pile. The remaining card may be bought (its cost noted on the bottom right of the card) and added to the bottom of that player’s board under the corresponding color with any boost in positions on their tracks adjusted accordingly. Alternatively, the card may be tossed out of the game in exchange for money. (Each “burnt” card will generate 2 gold in the first Epoch, 3 in the second and 4 in the third.) Once done, the wheel rotates to the next segment and we do it all over again. Once all cards have been taken, players collect income (based on their position on their yellow track). They may then claim a colony.
Colonies require a military (red) level of 3, 9, 15, 21 or 30. For each level, one colony per player is available. Starting with the first player, all who are at that level may claim one colony and again, must make a choice. A colony may be “plundered” and that player will receive money from the bank in addition to that colony’s stated Victory Point value. A colony, however, may be “integrated” into that player’s civilization by paying money. This results in that colony tile being flipped over. The result may be advancement(s) on various tracks or even additional Victory Points. (But no peeking! You must make your decision BEFORE flipping over the colony tile!)
Carving a statue is next. Having enough culture (6, 12, 20 or 30) on your blue track allows you to claim a statue (for 4. 8, 14 and 22 VPs respectively) but there’s more. For each statue, you have a choice. You may place one of your bonus tiles face up (color side showing) and move ahead, depending on the value of the statue, 2, 3, 4 or 6 spaces on that colored track. OR, you may place the tile face down and claim that number of VPs (2, 3, 4 or 6) at the end of the game. Now, Phase B begins.
In Phase B, players, in turn order, choose ANY face up card in the discard pile to add to their display. You can NOT look through the pile; it’s the top card only. Again, you pay the cost and adjust tracks accordingly. (Although cards rapidly escalate in price as the game goes on, these trend can be countered as each card in that color you already have REDUCES the cost of another card in the same suit by one.) But if you’d rather not have the card, you may choose to discard it to get money (as before). When all cards have been taken, colonies may again be claimed and statues carved. (Once a level of colony or statue is claimed, you may not claim it again.) Now your people must be fed.
Each card in your display requires 1 food. If your green track value is equal to or greater than the number of cards in your display, you are safe. Otherwise, you must lose 1 card for each food lacking. (Losing cards can also have a negative impact on values on your other tracks. Cards so removed are out of the game.) Finally, you can buy medals.
Players are allowed to purchase four medals, up to two silver and two gold, throughout the game. Each type does something different.
When buying a silver medal, one of your colored tiles must be assigned, specifying which color track will be counted. At the end of the game, that medal is worth half the value of that specified color track rounded up in Victory Points. Gold medals will award you 7 VPs for each set (1 card in each of the five suits) you have at the end of the game. As you have the potential of buying 2 gold medals, a set can, potentially, be worth 14 Victory Points each!
When the third Epoch is completed, points are totaled. To the VPs won through colonies, players total those gained from statues, cards, silver and gold medals. In addition, each 5 money converts to 1 VP. High score wins! Tie? Then left over money is the tie-breaker!
Hadara is enhanced by easily distinguishable card colors and a tray that not only keeps everything in their own niche but also has slots to sort the cards by Epoch for easy set up and break down.
Although presented as a civilization game, there is not really a strong connection between theme and game play here. Hadara owes more to set collection and engine building as players recruit cards to their display to pump up their power in various attributes. Money is tight. You will have to burn a card from time to time to be able to fund your quest for VPs so knowing when to burn a card is an important timing decision. Although colonies can also provide some money, the potential benefits (of extra VPs and track advancement) from spending a small amount makes taking the gamble worth it. Silver and gold medals can be a powerful source of VPs but their costs soar from Epoch to Epoch so, again, lack of money can be critical. But VPs will come from a variety of directions.
A military strategy can bring you lots of colonies which can generate significant VPs (as well as boosts in your civilization tracks). A cultured civilization will provide lots of VPs from statues which can mean the difference between winning and losing too. What is most remarkable about Hadara is that, despite meaningful decisions to make every turn, there is virtually no analysis paralysis. Choices are in many cases binary, either you plunder or assimilate a colony, either you buy or discard a card, either you carve a statue for bonus VPs at the end of the game or an immediate boost on a chosen track etc. It is very straightforward; just a question of which path you want to follow at that particular time. The game shares some similarities to Schwer’s recent Crown of Emara (Spring 2019 Gamers Alliance Report) where players are also building a civilization but is much more streamlined.
As in most quality games, you will not be able to do everything you want to do but where to focus your attention makes for varied play every time. This makes a “perfect” strategy elusive and something yet to be discovered in our many plays. Because of its easy learning curve, engaging yet accessible game play and the ability to make consequential decisions on virtually every turn, Hadara is both highly rewarding and highly recommended. – – – – Herb Levy
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