Hiroba Review

06 October 2022
Competitive zen gardening for sudoku fans

In a hectic, stressful world, Hiroba attempts to inject a little chilled-out contemplation. Taking the number puzzles of Sudoku as its inspiration, it challenges players to place numbered pebbles across a modular board of tiny Zen gardens. Your pebbles are numbered 1 to 9, and, as in traditional Sudoku, the same number can’t appear more than once in a row or column.

But here it gets a bit more complex: each 9x9 tile is divided into two ‘gardens’, bordered by stones, which are scored separately at the end of the game. Unlike traditional Sudoku, the same number can appear in the same 9x9 square, just not in the same garden. At the end of the game, whoever has the highest total number on their pebbles in a garden scores that garden, receiving one point for every square comprising its size.

But wait! Scattered round the board – one per tile – are little ponds. If at least one player has a pebble next to it, whoever has the lowest combined pebble total gets a ‘koi token’ – a little fish you can place in any empty space that makes the surrounding garden score double. This means you could score fewest gardens overall and still win by bagging koi tokens and doubling your score.

Add to this the fact that your pebbles are double-sided, with different numbers on the top and bottom, the ability to place stones to block your opponents, and a player count of 2-4, and you’ve got a thinky, puzzly, not entirely stress-free game on your hands. As with lots of positional games, Hiroba starts out loose and open and rapidly becomes a living nightmare. Yes, you might want to put a 7 there and claim that garden but someone else put a 7 on that line last turn and you used your 8s earlier.

This is not a title that gives itself up on your first playthrough. Your first few moves will feel like complete guesses, players semi-aware that they’re probably stitching themselves up for later on but not yet sure why. After a few games, you have a better idea of how to branch out from the starting spaces, and what you’ll want to hold back.

At four players, Hiroba tickles the chaotic end of tactical – three pebbles hit the board between each one you place, so you can’t make plans so much as respond to the board state when it reaches you. At two players, with a smaller board, it’s a bit more manageable to keep track of what numbers your opponent might have and potentially lock them out of a garden without using up your best pebble.

If folks you play with are prone to analysis paralysis, this is a title that – despite its theoretically quick play time – can get bogged down at the higher player counts. As play progresses, your pool of pebbles reduces so you’re choosing from a narrower range of options, which helps, but if you or your friends have a tendency to overthink moves, a single round can easily stretch out as players go ‘here… no wait. Here? Uh, because you’ve still got 9, 7, 6’ etc.

Despite the mathsy-looking puzzle, this is a game that rewards a robust, intuitive appraisal of board states rather than planning three turns ahead. The Sudoku mechanics and relatively simple rules mean it’s accessible to newer players who struggle to get their heads round weirder themes. The modular board helps to mix things up between games, though the fact each is self-contained (aside from the koi ponds, which can border adjacent tiles) means after a few goes the puzzle starts to feel familiar.

If you want a gateway game that plays relatively quick and might appeal to puzzle fans, this is an unintimidating title. What it lacks in depth, it partly compensates for in accessibility and its short play time. If you love positional number puzzles, you’ll probably enjoy this – no need to be koi.

Tim Clare



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Read our feature on Sagrada here

Buy a copy here

Obviously Sudoku fans are the prime candidates for this, but if you’ve enjoyed positional games like Sagrada, or the tricky decisions of roll/flip n’ write games Welcome To and Railroad Ink it’s possible that this, while being a lot more straightforward, might find a home in your collection.

Designer: John Benvenuto, Alexandre Droit, Bertrand Roux

Publisher: Funnyfox

Time: 25 minutes

Players: 2-4

Ages: 10+

Price: £22

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