Hokkaido is the direct follow-up to Honshu, the clever 2016 map-building card game with a surprisingly brain-burning central mechanic of sliding cards over or under each another to expand regions and score as many points as possible.
Gone is the trick-taking used to dish out cards, replaced with a faster and more straightforward card-drafting variant: take one, pass the rest on. (The rulebook notes that Honshu can be played using the same rules, if you already own that game.)
Making things a tad more complex as you decide where to place your card are new mountain squares, which must always be placed in an ongoing range dividing your map in two. This feeds into a new scoring system where only the smaller of the two largest towns on either side of the range scores points for each contiguous square, in a neat encouragement of balance Reiner Knizia would be proud of.
While the increased number of rules makes placement a tad trickier, you do get an extra helping hand from the redemption of fallow squares. Previously worth zilch, the empty plots can now be terraformed by spending a pair of matching resource cubes – sacrificing their potential point value in factories at the end of the game, but allowing otherwise worthless regions to help amass points by joining other areas. It’s a small addition that makes for an interesting weighing up of options.
Hokkaido is beautifully compact and the design is impressive on paper, but it’s not often that much fun to actually play. The added stipulations – like lakes, mountains can never be covered, but also must always be placed together and never branch – mean that choosing cards often becomes an exercise in experimentation, as players take minutes to try out every possible combination and simply find out which plays are legal. This means that picking and placing a card never feels as smooth or strategic as it should, there's not much freedom in what you draft and what should be a small, fast game bogs down in overanalysis and fiddly card placement.
The solid design foundation and clever rules additions here are easy to admire from afar. It's just that up close you might find the time and effort is better spent playing something else.
PLAY IT? – MAYBE
Designer: Kalle Malmioja
Artist: Ossi Hiekkala, Jere Kasanen
Time: 30 minutes
This review originally appeared in the February 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.