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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Wednesday 9 June 2021

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Hadrian's Wall

Game: Hadrian's Wall

Publisher: Garphill Games and Renegade Games Studios

Designer: Bobby Hill

Year: 2021
Hadrian's Wall initially caught our attention because it comes from Garphill Games, publisher of the North Sea Trilogy and The West Kingdom Trilogy, which both have a huge following in the gaming community. Hadrian's Wall stands alone as a whole new 'roll and write' style game set in the Roman period of history.

However, if, when I say roll and write, you're thinking of abstract games like Qwixx or Ganz Schon Clever where it's a game all about the numbers you roll on the dice, then Hadrian's Wall is a whole different beast. There's no rolling, and it's not really a 'Flip and Fill' game (like Welcome To or Kokoro) either, but there is a random input generated each round that will be the same for every player, and you are writing on a sheet of paper and filling in boxes.

If you've enjoyed Fleet Dice, or are looking forward to Three Sisters, both from Matt Riddle and Ben Pinchback, or you've played and (unlike us) enjoyed Rome and Roll, another heavy take on roll and writes in the same setting, then here are some thoughts on Hadrian's Wall.
Hadrian's Wall starts each player off with two player sheets and a board that helps contain your pieces and mark the six years (rounds) of the game. At the start of each year the top card of the invaders deck is drawn, which grants every player a number of the four different roman meeple types, along with some stone resource pieces. On top of that each player will draw the top two cards of their player deck. One is chosen to mark the year and grant them an end game scoring bonus, while the other grants a couple of extra meeples in addition to in-round functions. On top of this players may have additional stone/meeple income based on their built buildings.

Once everyone has their meeples for the round players can simultaneously start placing them. Trying to explain each potential space on the board is would be rather lengthy, but as a general rule your left player sheet uses soldiers and stone to shore up your defences and workers to improve your resource gathering. The right player board uses civilians to improve the five social aspects of your hold and unlock the ability to build associated buildings. It's here that players will really diverge because each of these aspects can be focused on to provide a different benefit and playstyle, there's time to do one or two well in a game, but not enough time to do them all! Some players might become illustrious traders, while others set up temples or gladiatorial arenas.

Many of the actions you take will reward you with more meeples/bricks which you can them immediately use this turn on further actions. While this does grant you the ability to make big combos, it's rare that spending one meeple with reward you with more than one meeple in return, over the course of the round you'll eventually run out of workers to use. Once everyone has run out of pieces to place and invasion occurs. You will draw a number of invasion cards from the top of the deck depending on the difficulty and the current year. These will indicate whether the invaders attack on the left, centre, or right. You simply compare your defences to the invasion, if you come out on top you'll gain some valor points, if not then you will earn disdain, which grants negative points at the end of the game.

Throughout the game major actions will earn you points in the four scoring tracks: Renown, Piety, Valor and Discipline. At the end of the sixth year you'll add up the total of all these tracks to the bonuses gained from your chosen end game cards before subtracting points based on the amount of disdain you have to find your final points.

Amy’s Final Thoughts
Hadrian's Wall is an intimidating beast, the player pads are festooned with little white boxes just waiting to be filled. So many that the idea of actually achieving anything can seem near impossible. Even at the  end of year one as you manage to just about build some desperate defences and get your workers to bring back an extra bit of stone to build the wall with. But the glory of Hadrian's Wall is how many combos are possible. The yellow civilians for example are used almost exclusively to increase your five 'social' tracks and nearly always reward you with a meeple or stone in return. Meanwhile building the fort and the wall, your major defensive structures, will consume those meeple/stone, but regularly reward you with yellow meeples. This turns into a self-fulfilling loop that lets you keep powering up both your social and military areas until you hit a completely blank square that ends the combo.
As you progress through the game your various constructions will likely be granting you more and more meeple to play with, which in return results in bigger turns and wilder combos. This feels fantastic and gives a great sense of progression as you play. However there is a fatal flaw with this style of gameplay. While all players might play simultaneously, they wont necessarily play at the same speed. With so many options available to them, players can get lost in the choices. This is especially true when trying to think ahead as to what you need to do to achieve a certain goal (typically shoring up your defences, or getting a new building). When players are playing at different speeds this can cause a touch of frustration as the slower players feel hurried by the faster players getting frustrated.

Hadrian's Wall is not the first 'heavy' roll and write (ok, technically flip and fill) that we've come across, nor is it the first game that involves the kind of huge combos that you might be able to set up in games like Ganz Schon Clever. With the complexity you'd think it'd be easy to lose yourself and accidently not give yourself a hard earned bonus, but to this problem Hadrian's Wall has a fantastic solution. As most of your actions relate to the use of, and gain of, meeples they handily track your actions for you. When a reward isn't in meeple form there is typically a large, spaced out box to fill in that you can fill piece by piece as you gain the rewards. Not once did I feel like I didn't get all the rewards I had earned, though even on 'easy' mode I often felt they weren't enough. The game has three difficulties, with all that they affect being how many attacks come each round, from invading Picts. The attacks are random between three areas (left, middle and right) so this can cause players to get some bad luck depending on where they chose to defend, though at higher difficulties you'll probably be letting some barbarians through whatever you do!

Hadrian's Wall is a fantastic roll and write style game with a plethora of choices to sink your teeth into. These choices are always meaningful as there's not time to do everything, so you'll have something new to explore on future games! Focusing on the gladiatorial arena and the theatre plays very differently to focusing on the markets or the church, but each option feels powerful in its own right. Sure the game can look scary when it first comes out and may cause a touch of analysis paralysis with so much to do. The secret is there's never a wrong choice, everything you do helps you out, which keeps that dopamine rush coming.

Fi’s Final Thoughts
I love roll and write games and I use them extensively for gaming by Skype with friends and family across the world. The beauty of roll and writes is sometimes in their accessibility and ease of play. However, I do think there is a huge gaming space to explore where roll and writes have room to grow bigger, become cooperative games and so all sorts of fun stuff. Hadrian's Wall certainly grows bigger. It's not a roll and write game I'd introduce to new players, but for me it really feeds me a dumper truck load of those fun combo experiences that really shine in roll and write games.
This is a big-box roll and write game, but the vast majority of the box is taken up with two huge pads of paper. I usually laminate my roll and write sheets to avoid running out of sheets in the future, but I don't plan to do so, at least for a couple of years, with Hadrian's Wall because I'd rather try and reduce the weight of this exceedingly heavy box! There are also far more components than a typical roll and write with all of the wooden tokens and a variety of card decks, but the tokens are small and really don't use a lot of the box's real estate. 
Adding the extra components is a huge utility to this game. One of the challenges we've found with these larger roll and writes is that combos sometimes get out of control.  Making one move might trigger two other things and it can be easy to loose track. Hadrian's Wall goes a long way to solving this because you are taking physical components as a result of most bonuses you trigger meaning that you can track your actions. On the other hand, the game also divides into only six rounds where you're given a supply of components in each round. This is a lot to work with and quite different to most roll and write games, where a single round is just one input eg. one dice roll or a card that lets you do just one thing. You have so many options when you receive your supply of components at the start of each turn, that some players might spend a lot longer than others assessing options and using components, and even a quick player might have a turn that just grows and grows as different combos feed in the resources to just keep playing. The difference in how log each player takes to take a turn can be a cause of considerable downtime, and for that reason I'm keen to mainly play Hadrian's Wall as a two-player game. Besides minor player interaction it's a pretty solo experience anyway, so adding extra players doesn't seem like a necessity to me.

I have really enjoyed every play of Hadrian's Wall and found new strategies to explore every time we have played. There's so much to do, and although you can't do it all in every game, you can do A LOT - far more than it seems after the first round. If you love to trigger combos, explore strategies and enjoy a quite solitaire game experience, then Hadrian's Wall might be a great pick for you.

You Might Like...
  • Turns can become an almost never-ending cascade of combos, so every turn feels like you achieve so much, even in the early stages of the game.
  • There are so many strategies to explore and we're yet to pick favourites, even after multiple games.
  • This is perhaps the most generous roll and write in terms of number of sheets you're given - it weighs a ton!
You Might Not Like...
  • This game is so different to smaller roll and writes, that it might not be a hit for all roll and write fans.
  • There can be an element of bad luck in whether you get attacked, which can be a game-changer.
  • Play is simultaneous, but there's a lot to do each round and players may play at very different paces, causing downtime for fast players.

The Verdict
8/10 There's certainly some that might say that roll and writes should not be super-sized into a bigger game experience like Hadrian's Wall and I held a similar point of view until I played it. By adding components to track your resources and using cards as a source of randomisation with a higher degree of complexity than most roll and writes, Hadrian's Wall is a full board game experience that adds in all the fun of roll and write combos. 
Hadrian's Wall was a review copy kindly provided to us by Renegade Games Studios.

1 comment:

  1. I plan to teach the game to my wife as a cooperative. No down time at all.