Board in the Stacks: Hatsuden

In Hatsuden, the new two-player game from Japanese games publisher Itten, you are competing energy companies jockeying for control of five renewable resources: Solar, Geothermal, Wind, Hydro, and Biomass. While competing you maintain your cities’ optimum amount of power. Too much power and you may control a specific resource but won’t provide the optimal amount of power to your cities. Too little power you lose control of a resource and may under-power your cities .

At the end of the game, players earn one point for each renewable energy they control and one point for each of the cities they supply with 10 units of power (after subtracting one point for any city receiving 8 or less units of power). The player with the most points wins. 

image1 (3).JPG
Competing on the deck for control over hydopower.

Each player starts their turn with a hand of five cards (each card is suited to one of the five resources, and numbered 1-4 with two of each card) and can do one of the following options:

  1. Construct a power plant by placing a card on any open space of the card’s corresponding renewable resource.  
  2. Upgrade a power plant by placing a corresponding power plant card over an already existing plant of a previous generation (lower number). When you upgrade a plant to a generation of 4, you get to draw a special technology card.
  3. Construct a pylon by placing a card face down on any empty space.
  4. Place nothing and trash one card face-up to the discard pile.

After a card is played, they choose a card either from the draw or discard pile and play moves to the opponent. This continues until one player is able to fill all ten of the spaces in their tableau.

image3
Hold those heavy cards until the end of the game. I see pylons happening here.

After one play of the game it will be obvious that Hatsuden has taken inspiration from a pair of very successful 2-player Knizia designs – Lost Cities and Battleline (cf. Schotten Toten). Hatsuden removes the instant win conditions from Battleline, replacing them with a traditional point system. Gaining control of the each of the power sources is based upon the sum of the cards placed in the column rather than poker hands. This simplifies the game game-play significantly. I mean, sure, sums are easier than poker hands but I mean it really makes a difference.

As a result, Hatsuden almost seems too straightforward: you play a card and draw a card. However, the snappy gameplay does not negate that there is an enjoyable depth of play for a 30 minute simple tableau building game. There is also an added complication of a two tiered scoring system that balances out the gameplay. It isn’t simply a matter of going higher than your opponent. You need to balance between a head to head battle to gain control over each renewable energy source with providing the optimum amount of power to your two cities. Battleline was always a bit to confrontational for me and Hatsuden rounds those edges just enough for me. Be gentle with me, I’m sensitive.

I also enjoyed the ability to place pylons (basically placeholders) which negates the ability to count cards and mitigates the analysis paralysis that is so often an issue in Battleline. I can stare at a hand of Battleline for whole *minutes* trying to do the mental calculus to gauge my best move while in Hatsuden 2-4 placed pylons pretty much knocks the math right out of my head. This leads to a more subtle game of finesse and bluffing where the stronger cards are held back and players slowly inch forward in gaining control. The Special Technology Cards are similar to the Tactics Cards in Battleline. They add some small amount of flexibility but are much simpler.

image2
The Special Technology Cards

Bottom Line: If you love Oink Games, Battleline, and prefer stark, minimalist iconography and artwork, then Hatsuden a great fit. The point system is layered providing some depth but is still extremely easy to teach. It is tiny and takes up very little space making it a perfect pub game.

Kickstarter Preview: Tesla vs. Edison: Duel

In Tesla vs. Edison: Duel, now up on Kickstarter, you take the role of a notable inventor of the era battling for control over three regions – New England, New York, and Out West. These regions are controlled collecting stock shares, complete projects for each area, and racking up your propaganda. The game is played in three rounds. At the end of each round bonuses are gained for control of each region and at the end of the third round you tally up your points and the player to control the majority (2 out of three 3) of the regions, wins.

regions
The three regions in the correct order. Order is important.

At the beginning of each round players draft a hand of three Assistant cards. Depending on your inventor’s instant win condition and your own strategy, you choose a card and pass the remainder to your opponent. You continue picking and passing until you have a completely new hand. These assistants are historical figures has two abilities that can take when you play the card. They can allow you to claim projects, acquire stocks (or sell one for a free action),  advance a technology (you steal a tech from your opponent), increase PR, or limit a region to AC or DC (which limits which projects can be claimed to an area).

assistants
Quick comments: The icons were much simplified in the version I previewed to great and wondrous effect.

On their turn, each player takes a turn and plays a card in front of them. That card has two actions. You can take those actions plus any free actions in whatever order you wish. Free actions are earn by selling stock or hitting certain PR achievements. Once all cards are played, you tally up points for each region in a specific order (New England, New York, Out West), the player with the point majority in each region gets a bonus which can affect the majorities in the following regions. Then check to see if the instant win for either player was achieved.

inventors
You always play one AC versus a DC. I love how Edison bucked the whole “crazy mustache” craze.

I’ve been on a roll lately with two-player games and am nearly at the point of saturation. But since Tesla vs. Edison: war of the Currents was one of my best games of 2015 I was excited to try their two player version. Artana Games (formerly Conquistador Games) always excites me with their innovation and JR Honeycutt (who I still think should design a M.A.S.H. game) is amazing, so I’m game.

First off, if you expecting something as deep or intricate at the original Tesla vs. Edison: War of Currents, you will be disappointed.  Just like another popular “duel” game {ahem, 7 Wonders} it is a very different game from it’s progenitor. It is very much the younger sibling — shorter, simpler, and adorable. While War of Currents can be slow and ponderous, Duel is quick and whip-fast. The decisions space is limited in comparison but that limitation makes those choices tense and meaningful. There is a nice push and pull as you can you vie for ownership of the three regions, associated technologies and much needed stock shares, and the no AC/DC are vicious. I particularly like the ability to quickly snag technology. This can be devastating to your opponent if you pay close attention to which stocks they are collecting and a good memory of the cards drafted.

duel

In the review prototype I played, I only had Edison or Tesla to choose from but I really liked the addition of their individual instant victories. Without these, you get a simple set collection, area majority game but by adding these requirements, you need to be acutely aware of exactly what your opponent is doing and work accordingly. Interestingly, this came out mostly in the card drafting element at the beginning of each round. Know your opponent, know your skills and draft accordingly. It added most of the strategic bulk to the game.

Iconography is simple and the card design is wonderfully easy to parse with new players. It sets up faster than 7 Wonders Duel or Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small and plays quicker. I do think that some individual player powers would have been a nice addition or variant to the game and is a missed opportunity. That said, I have enjoyed seeing some of the development of this game where mechanisms and iconography have been streamlined while maintaining the same level of strategic depth.

Tesla Vs. Edison: Duel is already funded so get on board now.

Board in the Stacks: Holmes: Sherlock and Mycroft

In Holmes: Sherlock & Mycroft (BGG, Amazon), the famously super-smart brothers Sherlock and Mycroft are investigating an explosion in Parliament. But like most siblings, they couldn’t possibly work together and are competing against each to be the first to crack the case. Time is limited and they have one week to search and find clues, talk to contacts and solve the mystery.

The board had eight spaces for cards plus the ever-present Doctor Watson, Mrs. Hudson and Inspector Lestrade. Eight character cards are placed face-down on the board and as the days of the weeks drift by on an opioid-induced haze new characters are drawn and placed onto the board. The clue cards are shuffled and placed next to the board with four clues face up to form a market. Clue cards consist of numbered clues, wild cards, and map fragments. The numbered clues are a pyramid deck (I adore a pyramid deck) where there are three cards ranked a three, four cards ranked a four on up to nine cards ranked a nine. Lastly, each player gets three meeples and five magnifying glass tokens. The tokens are used to purchase clues, and the meeples are placed onto the board to complete actions.

The game is played in seven rounds. At the beginning of the round a new character card (two are added on day one) is added to the board. If you are familiar with the round cards in Agricola, this will sound familiar. Take the top card from the deck and place it in the spot appointed for the current day. Any meeples placed on the board from the previous round are stood up. One day one, each player has all their meeples so this can be ignored.

During a player’s turn, they will select a character card, move and place their meeple *flat* on it, and then take the card’s action. They can move any upright meeple to any card which currently does not have one of their own on it. Once a meeple is moved it is laid down to show it have been moved this round and can’t be moved again until the next round. Play then moves to the opposing player and this continues until all meeples have been moved and placed and three actions taken.

At the end of the round, any character card with two meeples are flipped over and unavailable for the following round. Any cards flipped the previous round are flipped back over and available the next round. Think about how exhausted you would be if *both* Holmes siblings grilled you in one day. The only ones immune to this are Watson, Mrs. Hudson, and Lestrade who due to their constant interactions with the brothers have, no doubt, built up some amount of resistance.

I’ll spare you a description of all the cards. Dr Watson lets you spend one magnifying glass token to take one clue card from the market and place it in front of you. Mrs Hudson allows you to draw three magnifying glass tokens from the supply. And Inspector Lestrade lets you spend three magnifying glass tokens to pick any two clue cards from the market. When a clue card from the market it pulled, it is placed face-up for everyone to see. However, cards pulled face down from the deck remain secret and are placed face-down.

At the end of the game players can assign any wild cards (one wild card per clue type) and each of the number ranked clues are scored. The player with the most cards of a rank will get points equal to the rank of the card minus the number of cards the opposing player has. So if Sherlock had two of the three ranked cards and Mycroft had one, Sherlock would score two points for that rank. Bonuses are scored for having all of one type of clue. Map fragments are scored -1/1/3/6/10 points for 1/2/3/4/5 fragments.

Holmes: Sherlock & Mycroft is a very simple worker placement, set collection game. It feels like a step up from Lost Cities or Shotentoten. While most games like this will limit the amount of choices as the game progresses, the decision space increases as the game moves towards the end. The variability of the character cards makes it more difficult to form a consistently winning strategy and requires more tactical actions. The order of your actions is just as important as the actions you are taking especially with the flipping of character cards as they get exhausted.  

There are some additional cards that can be included in the game if you wish to increase the difficulty. Sherlock/Mycroft cards allow clues to be reserved from the market and the villain cards cause players to lose clue cards or magnifying glass tokens or decrease the number of actions that can be taken. Personally, I preferred the game without these additions. In fact, the way the game randomizes which characters will be added to the tableau and in which order provides enough variability. This prevents a stable strategy from emerging early in the game and forces players to be more fluid.

Endgame: There is always room in my collection for simple worker placement games and Holmes: Sherlock & Mycroft, for what it lacks in theme, makes it up in simple game-play and enjoyment. This is not the immersive experience that is present in Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective but more a head to head abstracted game of push and pull as you attempt to deduct what clues your competitor are collecting. New gamers will have an easy time getting into this game and it is a perfect introduction to worker-placement style games. For experienced gamers, there are slight but pleasant notes of Ticket to Ride and Agricola that fit into a much briefer time frame.