19 November 2019
A very European approach to world domination
There’s a deep-seated part of the gamer psyche that wants to rule the world. For proof, you only need to look at the shelves of your local game store where titles like Civilization: A New Dawn, Clash of Cultures and through the Ages offer the chance to conquer rivals while endlessly fiddling with tech trees and resource tracks.
Indulging this near-Napoleonic obsession with supreme power can be a lot of fun. And now there’s another release which gives players the chance to make their mark on the world as a benevolent leader/ merciless tyrant.
Hadara – Arabic for ‘civilisation’ – is the latest release from German designer Benjamin Schwer. His 2018 game Crown of Emara was an intricate brainteaser that put players in the shoes of nobles vying for the throne of a fantasy kingdom and prized clever play and careful planning over direct antagonism.
Schwer’s latest offering is calculated to appeal to a similar crowd. It sees players become leaders of rival nations competing to lead their people to glory. Over the course of three epochs, or game rounds, they work to build their economies, strengthen their armies and reach new heights of cultural sophistication.
To do that, you and your opponents build collections of cards representing different types of cultural advances. On each turn you’ll draw two, discarding one before deciding what to do with the other. You can pay some gold to add it to your empire,
where it will boost your standing in some of the four tracks that chart your culture’s development. Or you can sell it, removing it from the game in exchange for some quick cash. After repeating the process four more times with different decks on the rotating central board, you’ll get to draft the cards players discarded earlier in the round, giving you a chance to pick up some potentially useful ones neglected by your opponents – including the most interesting purple cards, which give their owners new special abilities to incorporate into their strategies.
It’s a quick and intuitive process that conceals some of the game’s complexity by breaking it down into a series of pretty simple decisions. It also leaves plenty of room for different tactical approaches, and the almost Feld-esque scoring system throws victory points at players for an array of different achievements, opening up all sorts of potential routes to victory for anyone who can spot them.
It’s a very abstract approach to civilisation-building, though. There are no clashes between armies, no great wonders to erect, no historical figures to recruit to your cause and no real interaction between players beyond occasionally snatching a card your opponent might have in their sights. The option to ‘plunder’ or ‘integrate’ colonies for gold or resources also feels a tad unsettling at a time when games are starting to question their portrayals of imperialism.
If either of these points is a dealbreaker, you’re better off exploring the mountain of other civ-simulators available. If not, Hadara manages to be elegant and intuitive while holding some real hidden depths.
PLAY IT? YES
Designer: Benjamin Schwer
Artist: Dominik Mayer
This review originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.