Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Tuesday, 23 July 2019

This little light of mine, it no-longer shines:- Blackout: Hong Kong

Game: Blackout: Hong Kong

Publisher: Eggertspiele

Designer: Alexander Pfister

Year: 2018

Blackout Hong Kong is a 1-4 player deck-building and resource management game in which you seek to restore order in Hong Kong after it has been hit with a massive, total blackout. You'll need to manage your worker cards in order to gather gather the resources you need to enact your emergency plan. You'll be looking for the essentials, food, water, fuel, tools, medicine and books, along with the ever-useful batteries. Those resources can be used to hire new people, or complete tasks for the public good. Do well and you will restore order to a rioting city, making districts safe and bringing a sense of normality back to the city.

Each turn a set of 3 dice will be rolled and added to the rondel. These assign which resource each colour of worker will be able to collect this round. Players will then have a chance to add 1 worker card to each of their 3 (later in the game 4) slots. Workers come in each of the 3 colours, which simply harvest resources, and in purple which have more specialised actions, such as recovering your workers from hospital, or generating GPS tokens. After adding these 3 cards players take turns to activate their columns. Each column may contain multiple cards and they will all activate at once so you'll need to plan your workers to ensure you have the right resources for special abilities as you go. Any resources gained are marked by placing cubes on the Rondel.

Next up each player will get the chance to achieve objectives. Objective cards come in two main types - worker cards which go to your hand when done, and general objectives which give you a checkmark ability once completed. They typically require an amount of resources and/or money, but may also require you to have a certain combination of cards in one of your worker slots. In addition each player starts with one emergency plan with unique objectives to complete over the game. Some objectives have multiple requirements, in these cases you can complete 1 of the requirements in order to complete the card card quickly, or complete all of them to earn a bonus. Every completed objective will let you place a new cube on the map to mark areas you have made safe.

How the dice fall determines which resources are available this round.
Next each player will have a chance to scout, scouting can reward you valuable resource, but one of the cards you use to scout with will be hospitalised, needing the use of your medic card to recover it. After scouting players will get a chance to buy objectives, there are 3 rows of objectives each with between 1 and 3 cards. Players will pay money equal to the number of cards in a row +1 in order to take a new objective card. These rows will refill when they run out and the game end trigger is caused by the supply deck running dry. Next players will secure district, every section of the board that is fully surrounded by 1 players tokens will score, rewarding points for that player, and any other player who had partially built around that district. You also unlock a checkmark ability by doing this. Finally, players have a chance to refresh their hand, so long as their hand is empty enough, doing this will allow you to trigger all of the checkmark abilities you have unlocked, however you also take back one of your rows of workers, reducing your income. At the end of the game players add the points of all non hospitalised workers, and score some bonus points for remaining money and for their exploration tokens.

Each player board holds your objectives, currently assigned workers and hospitalised workers, along with having a list of the game's phases.
Phew, explanation over. Blackout Hong Kong is not, you may have noticed, a simple game. But it's  structured turns make it very easy to play. While a greater strategy is always important, the strict turn order lets you focus largely on one thing at a time. What workers do you need of what colour (and how many trucks do you need to manipulate which resources they bring home) will determine how you put out your worker rows, but all of this is done so that you may achieve your current objectives. Buying the right objectives is crucial too, you don't want to have them lingering longer than you have to, make a bad mistake and you can end up with a slot filled for 3 turns before fixing it! One persons trash may be another's treasure, but also consider what they can achieve for your when they are done. Getting a large hand of advanced workers will get you lots of resources, but also fills your deck. A smaller deck will let you activate your checkmarks more often so going for the objectives that earn you more checkmarks might be a good plan. Both are viable strategies.

There is so much to love about this game! The deck-building is done well, but you can also make a valid strategy where you don't really do it. The area control actively rewards close ties or nipping into opponents areas to piggyback some points. Scouting is a little random for my taste, but it rewards taking risks and some of the rewards are really rather huge, making it another way to get a good amount of points (also you can use it to trim your deck of those starter workers). It's hard to overstate how good it feels to play this game. The flaw then comes in the theme. Which is a real shame, because it really shouldn't. Surviving a blackout in an urban sprawl is a great theme. The problem is you don't feel like you are doing it. It isn't a line chef to feed the homeless, it's a blue card.  You aren't making the streets safer, you're putting cubes on a map, preferably in a loop. The theme is there in the card art, but while you are playing you are too focused on the mechanics to notice it.

One of the great things is that you rarely feel completely stuck. There is dice luck on what resources are available each round, but you can always spend trucks (which can be purchased with victory points at any time) to change what is available to you. Some objectives might limit what areas of the city you can claim, but there enough that are a wild card that you shouldn't struggle too much, and once again those precious trucks can help you spread if you make a mistake. It's not that playing bad doesn't cost you, but it doesn't remove you from the game. Honestly even when I feel like I've completely messed up the final scores have been surprisingly close. Overall Blackout Hong Kong is a fantastic game which ties together a lot of different elements, I just wish the theme was a little more pronounced.

8/10



Blackout: Hong Kong was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available at your friendly local game store for an RRP of £43.99 or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk

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