Deck building – it’s a genre that every gamer knows about and when we think of deck-building we naturally picture a bunch of cards, endless shuffling, and for the most part, the same old style of play! Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the genre (Legendary, Arctic Scavengers, Dominion, Mythotopia to name a few), but it’s losing its innovation and it needs a fresh kicking to bring something new to the playing field.
Needs a Fresh Kicking??? Enter Hyperborea!!!
Some games have done this by changing the “deck” that is being built to a different medium such as dice and so far it’s proving effective, what with the original success of Quarriors and now the very entertaining Marvel Dice Masters. The change of components from cards to dice allows for some interesting mechanics. In Hyperborea we see another twist as we build our bags of cubes! Each colour represents a different type of action that you use throughout the game. Very few games, to my knowledge, use this and now we’ll see whether it fills a niche while offering a fun experience.
Designer: Andrea Chiarvesio / Pierluca Zizzi (2014)
# of Players: 2-6
Play Time: 90-120 Minutes
The Cover Looks Awesome!!! Does The Inside Look Just As Good???
Asmodee produce this game and they’re staying on form when it comes to the components. You get nicely sculpted plastic miniatures, unique to each civilization. Quality artwork for the tech cards, chunky map tiles – also with colourful artwork – and a colourful, yet functional, player board with a nice portrait of your civilization’s leader. Oh yeah – and a bunch of cubes!
You might have already known about the cubes, but you might not have known that you get a nice large cloth bag for the cubes and not some horrible looking airport sick bag (oh yeah, you know who you are!)
You’re definitely getting your money’s worth here, with the only fiddly component being the tokens for the ruins which take a little time to sort out, but it’s a minor nitpick.
So It’s A Civilization Game… But Is It A True 4X Experience???
Each player takes control of a tribe that exists on Hyperborea. During the game you explore the world, encounter cities and ruins while fighting off other players and developing your tribe. Your turn is based on the cubes that you draw out of your bag. There are six colours, each one pertaining to a type of action (movement, combat, growth, progress, trade and science). As you progress through the game you can develop your tribe’s capabilities in each type of action, eventually turning these developments into cubes which you add to your bag, much like how you add cards to your deck in say, Dominion.
Your board has a selection of technologies on it which you activate by placing the relevant colour cubes on them. You can also purchase advanced technologies which give further special abilities and bonuses when activated in the same manner.
There are three end-game conditions – to acquire 12 gems (victory points), purchase 5 technologies or place every one of your 10 miniatures on the board (via growth). You can set the game length to short, medium or long by stating how many of these end-game conditions need to be met before the game ends in one final round of play. So in essence, I think that it does satisfy the criteria for being a 4X game because it contains elements of – Explore, Exploit, Exterminate and Expand (even if the first two are dealt with fairly lightly).
It’s Smarter Than You Think!!! Let Me Show You!!!
The cube building mechanic is the main focus of Hyperborea and it’s a good twist on deck building. You want to obtain more cubes focusing on the actions you’re aiming for, but there is also a reward for diversity. Each technology on your board has two ways to activate it. One requires a specific set of colour cubes and is stronger than the other which allows for any colour. So even though you may want lots of red cubes so you can fight more, you will also ideally need some other colours to combo with so that your attacks are more powerful. You can even place cubes on technologies without completing them, with the intention of activating them on a subsequent turn if you can pull out the right cubes.
Combat is present in the game, but even though it’s deterministic, there is a fair amount of it so Hyperborea should be considered a hybrid, there’s obviously a Euro element here, but there’s an Amerithrash side present too. There’s a nice twist in the game which rewards you more for attacking all players as you can only obtain more points once you’ve killed at least one of each other tribe’s miniatures. So it stops one person constantly ganging up on one player! Controlling the central hexes on the map yield greater rewards, but naturally they will also become heavily contested.
It’s little clever nudges like this that permeate this game, for example, the variable end-game trigger is a welcome addition. It’s such a shame when games have a fixed trigger as in many Euro games where the last turn is essentially “wrapping up” affairs you planned ahead of time. In this game the trigger is made by the players, so you have to be aware of how close to the trigger you are when planning your strategy and it’s not always the best idea to end the game as quickly as possible! But it is fun to taunt other players with the threat of ending it all!
How Do I Win The Game??? You Decide!!!
There are plenty of paths to victory with regards to collecting points. Do you go on a killing rampage and go after opponents miniatures? Perhaps stick to trading for gems or tech your way to victory by knowledge? You can even simply stay in the shadows and spread your army across the map to control the hexes and clear out the ruins? There really are a lot of choice here allowing for good replayability.
In a lot of games, the civilization you pick tries to pick a subtle linear path for you whether by their special ability or their beginning location. The best thing about Hyperborea is that you don’t have that problem! Yes, each of the civilization choices has special abilities that are usually tied to their original colour, but the abilities aren’t overpowering. The development tracks also mean that you really can choose any path you like1 Just because you’re playing the Red Duchy, who are tied to the militaristic colour, doesn’t mean you have to go all out on combat to do well. Cue a bonus point for variety and longevity in the game.
To top it off, a game of Hyperborea tends to finish quite close in terms of point spread. A 3 player game ended with a 7 point difference between first and last. A subsequent 5 player game also ended with a 7 point difference but 1st to 4th were only two points apart. In all cases, each player followed a different style of play – so don’t think your style is lacklustre just because you’re new to the game!
That being said, Hyperborea contains a a fair amount of iconography so expect a bit of a learning curve in your first game. We’re not talking the near vertical wall that Race for the Galaxy puts in front of you when you start, but it’s probably going to take a big longer than say 7 Wonders to really get to grips with how to plan your turns out.
So What’s The Verdict??? Is Hyperborea a Winner???
I’ve really been impressed with this game. It’s a hybrid mix of styles and genres with a ton of choices and variation. Clever little rules improve the experience and even with the full count of players, providing you keep the analysis paralysis in check, it scales pretty well and doesn’t take an entire game night to play.
The theme isn’t as strong as some may be expecting. It’s a hybrid game and you do have the freedom to develop your civilization in a unique way with techs and cubes, but you have to guide it along somewhat.
With quality components to boot and a setup that feels just ripe for expansion (more tech cards, race abilities, hexes, etc), this is a hidden gem from GenCon that is seriously worth a look the next time it’s offered on the table.
You Will Like This Game If:
- Deck building is a genre you enjoy, but you’re bored of cards and like handling cubes.
- You like multiple paths to victory that aren’t constrained by the civilisation or race you choose.
- You’re looking for a 4X style game that’s a lot lighter than the typical civilization fare.
You Will Not Like This Game If:
- You were expecting an Amerithrash themed combat fest – there’s no dice and is a hybrid at best.
- AP players are playing – You have a lot of choices and combos that can be pulled off here.
- You prefer Civilization games that are based on world history rather than invented types.
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I'm known as The Broken Meeple, a blog, podcast and YouTube channel devoted to board and card games. I live in Portsmouth, UK, working as a Chartered Tax Advisor and I enjoy playing games of many genres and varieties with as many people as possible.