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Hokkaido Review

Quick Look:

Designer: Kalle Malmioja
Artist: Ossi Hiekkala, Jere Kasanen
Publisher: Renegade Game Studios
Year Published: 2018
No. of Players: 2-5
Ages: 8+
Playing Time: 20-40

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

In Hokkaido, you play the role of a feudal lord acquiring new land and cultivating what you already have. The game is played in 12 rounds. Each round you will slide a new map card into your fief so that it interlocks with what's already there. Map cards each have 6 squares showing some assortment of mountains, farms, factories, deserts, lakes, and cities.

This is the second map-building card game in the Nippon series. It is very similar to Honshu and may be of particular interest to people who loved those mechanics but wished it had a little more complexity.


Rules and Setup:
Setup takes about 2 minutes.

Shuffle the Map cards. Each player is dealt one reference card and one starting Map card. The starting card goes in front of you. Take any cubes provided by the square production spaces on their starting terrain. Deal each player 6 Map cards. Place the Map draw deck, terraforming tiles, and cubes in the center of the table. If you want to play with goals, shuffle them and place 2 more than the number of players near the board face up.

The rules are eight pages long and fairly clear. We stumbled a bit on the mountain restrictions, but they were quick to read and easy to reference.


This is a Map card.

The top right is a grey production space. The bottom right is a green factory. At the end of the game, Factories can turn one cube of a corresponding color into the points (flowers) shown. The top left is a forest. The two below the forest are cities. Middle right is a mountain. There are a few others, as you'll see later.

Game flow is very simple.  Everyone acts simultaneously.
1. Choose a card from your hand.
2. Slide that card into your tableau.
3. Pass your hand to the next player in rotation.

After all six starting cards have been played, deal six more to each player and repeat until you run out of cards again. This triggers end scoring. Your fief should look something like this:

There are a few placement rules. At least one square has to overlap or be covered by a square on a card already in play. At least one of the squares on the new card must be showing.

Mountains: Mountains have to be placed orthogonally adjacent to another mountain. They can't be covered up or placed so that the range branches. If a mountain is ever adjacent to more than 2 others, it's considered a branch. They work more like fences than mountains. Their main function is to divide your kingdom into two so that you have to keep your cities balanced. In scoring cities, mountains are considered to extend infinitely in the directions they are pointed, so there's no way to build one huge city that wraps around. Mountains are worth 2 points each at the end.

Cities: Only one of your cluster of city spaces will be scored at the end. You will look at each area that the mountains divide and find the biggest cluster there. Then compare those clusters and score two points for each city square in the smallest one. Theoretically, there should only be two areas, but I had three in one game because my range zigzagged a lot.

Factories and Farms: There are four types of resources. When you play a Map card with a production space, you place one cube of the corresponding color onto that square.

It stays there until:

1. You Terraform - This requires spending two cubes to place a terrain tile somewhere in your tableau. This is handy for connecting clumps of lakes or cities, and it allows you to do something with those hard to reach desert spaces.

2. You cover that space with another card, in which case it is lost.

3. The end of the game. If you have a factory of the corresponding color, move that cube to the factory and score the points shown. Each factory can only process one cube of one resource, so you need two green factories to score two green cubes. Leftover cubes aren't worth anything.

Forests are worth 2 points each no matter where they are.

This card shows a lake and a desert.

Deserts aren't worth anything.

Lakes can't be covered and are only worth points if they are next to each other. The first lake in a group is worth 0, but each other in that clump is worth 3. (3=6, 4=9, etc.)

Goal Cards:
This is an optional deck that allows you to pick up a few extra points by being the first to meet specific criteria. You can only claim one per round, but they tend to get snapped up pretty fast.

Theme: I don't really understand the thematic logic in this. Why are we building mountains and deserts in feudal Japan? How can you build a mountain at all? Why can't you drain a lake? Why do the mountains divide our cities even if they aren't physically there? I keep telling myself not to overthink it. This is an abstract game. Theme is secondary to mechanics, but that sort of thing bothers me.

Game Play:
Hokkaido sounds simple, but the strategy of drafting and placing these maps runs pretty deep. It's pretty prohibitive having two terrain types that can't be covered and one type that always has to form a line across the board. It helps if you can remember what you passed, particularly where production and factories are concerned. The mechanics are relatively simple, but running through all the transmutations of what could go where legally and how many points you get for each placement takes a surprising amount of brain power.

Artwork and Components:
The components are fine, but not great. The cards are slightly thin. The art gets the point across, but it's not as pretty or detailed as you'd expect after seeing the beautiful cover art. The scoring sheets are double sided and good for about 80 games.

The Good:

  • Setup, learning, and playtimes are all short.
  • Hokkaido packs a lot of strategy into a small box.
  • Offers a more challenging experience than its predecessor.
  • Cards are numbered, so you can revert to the trick-taking Honshu system if you like.
  • Today I learned that Japan does technically have a desert

The Bad:
I feel like they tried too hard to make the mountains a big deal. The implementation of theme and scoring felt clunky and arbitrary. City scoring is more complicated than necessary. It felt unpolished to me, like people wanted a more complex game with Honshu mechanics, so they made one. It felt like there should be a mid-game scoring, but there wasn't.

Final Thoughts:
The reason I keep bringing up Honshu is that it's very nearly the same game by the same designer, and many people will be reading this to decide if they want one, the other, or both. Honshu has more straightforward scoring, less restrictive placement, and drafts using trick-taking. Hokkaido has slightly more depth, but it's less elegant and uses a 7 Wonders style of draft.

Hokkaido is fun in a frustrating, restrictive way. The first few rounds you form a plan. The next few are more about not destroying it. Then you get a bunch more cards, so you can repair the damage a bit before having to shoehorn in a bunch more stuff in.

Everyone I've played with liked it fairly well, but no minds were blown in the making of their fief.

For Players Who Like:
Tableau/city building. Card drafting. Light rules that provide difficult choices.

Check out Hokkaido on:


Stephen Gulik - Reviewer

Stephen Gulik is a trans-dimensional cockroach, doomsday prophet, author, and editor at sausage-press.com. When he’s not manipulating energy fields to alter the space-time continuum, he’s playing or designing board games. He has four cats and drinks too much coffee.

See Stephen's reviews HERE.
Hokkaido Review Hokkaido Review Reviewed by S T Gulik on January 22, 2019 Rating: 5

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