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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Thursday 3 October 2019

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Hadara

Game: Hadara

Publisher: Z-Man Games

Designer: Benjamin Schwer

Year: 2019

It’s not 100% clear to me what caused the early buzz around Hadara. It released from publisher Hans Im Gluck much earlier than the English language edition from Z-Man, and after seeing it on the table at the UK Games Expo, we liked what we saw. Hadara has a pretty standard euro game theme, of either ‘nothing’ or civilisation, depending on your perspective, but its colourful cards and jigsaw puzzle board with rotating centre, certainly help to grab your attention.

Hadara is a competitive game for 2-5 players, where each player is adding people, statues and colonies to their civilisation. Each of the three eras has two phases. In the first phase, you use the rotating central wheel to assign each player with a coloured card pile on the central board. You take two face-down cards from the corresponding pile, pick one to either buy or sell and one to discard. Red, yellow, green and blue cards typically add that resource to your civilisation tracks, whilst the purple cards mainly have special abilities. Once all of the card piles are depleted, you gain income and the opportunity to buy statues and colonies. The second phase is the same, except you’re making a more informed choice from the face-up discard piles. Additionally, at the end of the second phase you need to feed your people, comparing your food resource track to the number of cards in you tableau, and then you have the opportunities to buy medals to contribute to your end game scoring. At the end of three rounds you’ll score victory points for medals, statues, colonies and the cards in your tableau and highest points wins.

One of the best things in drafting games is the chance to play simultaneously - everyone around the table is engaged 100% of the time. In Hadara this is definitely true in the first phase of each round, although it does slow down a little in Phase B because turn order really starts to matter as you take the face up cards one by one. Hopefully Hadara doesn't induce too much analysis paralysis, but the slow down is a bit disappointing to me after Phase A. On the other hand, in Phase B, it's nice to see that turn order finally matters. Being first player and setting the position of the board's central dial feels really arbitrary, particularly in round one. In later round you might make a choice to position it on a colour you don't want to buy if you just want to sell a card, but it's a really minor decision in the whole game. Similarly, choosing which card to sell and which to discard is another decision where I feel like I am not making a very informed choice. There's no guarantees you'll be the one who gets to buy the discarded card later, so should you just sell the 'best' card to make sure no-one gets a chance to buy it? And what's the best card anyway? Many cards are just a balance between goods production or end game victory points in various different ratios.

There's a few different strategies you can try to follow in Hadara - Colonies, Status or Medals, but I always find myself trying to combine all three, which perhaps isn't the best. I certainly like the gold medal strategy the best, which lends itself to balanced play, since you're collecting a balanced number of each card colour. It's definitely the strategy that I've seen used most often both by myself and other players, and I'm a little worried that the frequency that it's getting used means that all of ours games are going to get pretty repetitive from now on with close end game scores. It was definitely more interesting in early games when someone went down the silver medal route and then focused either on Colonies or on Statues to see if they could really max out. I don't think there's necessarily a dominant strategy (we've not played enough to find out) but there seems to be a leading obvious strategy and that leads to games that perhaps aren't as exciting as they could be.

Playing the game itself is a really satisfying experience. Every card you take is a critical decision about how much you can afford and whether you can make it to the next milestone you need in order to build a statue at the end of the turn, or feed your people at the end of phase B. Every discard, and every card selection is key and money, in particular is an extremely tight resource. If you want to buy medals, then you'll have to sacrifice some cards that you really, really wanted. With medals cheapest in the first round you might starve yourself of money early and then the game can become a bit of a grind, even though you can go on to win because you set yourself up so well.

I think that ultimately I was a little underwhelmed by Hadara. I had high expectations going in, and to look at the board it really looks like a larger game that it actually is. Hadara is a simple and interesting card drafting game that's easy to teach and probably more accessible to new players than 7 Wonders or some other mid-weight drafting games. However, for me, it's just fine - a good 30 minute game, but one that I think I might have already played as many times as I'm ever going to need to. Hadara has a classic feel, almost as if it could've fallen into step with Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride on the gateway game shelf, had it been released 10 years ago, but I think in this case it has missed the boat and won't make a mark. For the Yellow Meeple, Hadara is a 6.5/10.

Hadara was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available at your friendly local game store for an RRP of £57.99 or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk

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