It’s one of those years. One in which we, as board gamers, are downright spoiled for great games, all being released seemingly right on top of one another. In just the last few weeks we’ve seen Five Tribes, Abyss, Lords of Xidit and The Battle of Five Armies.
Next week, Asmodee is releasing a game called Hyperborea. And while I’m pretty sure it sold out at Gen Con, it’s not generating nearly the buzz of a few other titles this season. But I’m calling it now, Hyperborea is gonna be the sleeper hit of the season.
At first glance, it appears to be a big fantasy wargame like Runewars or War of the Ring. It’s not, not really. It’s closer to something like Cyclades, which is to say some weird wargame/Eurogame hybrid. You may have heard the phrase “cube-building” used to describe it, and yeah, that’s kinda accurate, though there’s much more to it. What Hyperborea really is is an answer to the question “What kind of game do you get when you cross one part deck-builder with two parts light civilization game and one part area-control and then give it a scoring round like a Euro?”
No, really. That’s what it is.
And remarkably, it all works really well, teaches in minutes and has a variable play time of about 45-120 minutes. Oh yeah, and it plays for up to six players.
In a post- magical apocalypse world of Hyperborea, six realms risen from the ashes of the destroyed civilization stand on the frontier of the land their ancestors abandoned centuries earlier, now once again accessible following the fall of a magical barrier. The players each control one of these realms (which can be mechanically identical, or with unique powers) as they spread out to claim dominance over Hyperborea.
The heart of the mechanics is the “cube building.” Think of it like deck-building but with a bag instead of a deck, not entirely unlike the various dice-building games from Wizkids. The difference here is that the cubes are simply one of seven different colors, which in different combinations allows you to complete various actions each round, or at least work towards completing actions since you only draw three every turn.
Basically, you’ll be moving, expanding and attacking across the board, or doing things like generating new cubes for your bag, building fortresses, exploring ruins and cities and defeating the ghosts therein. Most interestingly, you’ll also be purchasing Advanced Technology Cards, which are as you might imagine, the cultural upgrades that make this game so much like a traditional civ-builder. These cards, while feeling very familiar, are actually in practice the things that enable you to synergize the build of your dice bag with various powers and really give the feel of building an “engine” like how you would with a deck-builder.
This peculiar mix of mechanics results in a game that feels very familiar and is incredibly easy to teach, thanks in no small part to the very functional player boards. But while the mechanics themselves may feel familiar, the game feels very very fresh.
The board by the way, starts in an unrevealed state, which only shows itself as you move into unexplored territory. The game comes with 36 board tiles, and you’ll only ever use 7-9 of them in any given game, so there’s lots of replay-ability in this regard. There is also a hefty supply of 64 Advanced Technology Cards, and in most of my games, even the most “advanced” realms had about five or six of these, so you’ll never see remotely the same mix twice.
With three different game lengths, each which may be played with either symmetrical or asymmetrial Realms, you can really tailor your experience to your own preferences. Even the unique powers for the six different Realms come in two versions each, so even your experiences playing the same Realm more than once may be quite different.
If you’re interested in a more detailed breakdown, there’s a massive preview article and interview with designer Andrea Chiarvesio which you can find over at Opinionated Gamers, which I heartily recommend.
This game was my surprise of the year. Not on my radar so much before it released, but after one play, I realized it was something special. My highest recommendation.
-Paul Alexander Butler is the Store Manager of Games and Stuff. He’s currently in the middle of frantically trying to play as many games as he can to ensure that he can intelligently create his year end “Best Of” list in another month or two. [Card.Board.Box.] is his column for this website, which long ago lost any editorial focus. Now he basically talks about whatever he feels like talking about.