For pride, power, natural resources, and / or strategic sheepherding purposes, land disputes have been a long and storied part of our history. Countless regions have been gained, lost, split, merged, reforged, and fought over time and again. From Alsace-Lorraine to Kashmir, Israel to Cyprus, the Falkland Islands to Transylvania (no, really), there have been – and still are – some incredibly famous territorial feuds. In many cases, they involved long periods with all sides existing in an uneasy truce…until something changed and fighting began anew.
Well, something’s changed in Hyperborea, and their centuries-old stalemate is about to end.
Centuries ago, the powerful Hyperborean civilization collapsed due to a magical explosion, their lands sealed off to prevent a worldwide cataclysm. In time, survivors forged six realms and a fragile truce was established. Until now. With the barrier around Hyperborea suddenly disappearing, players each lead an opportunistic clan into these lost lands in hopes of finding the resources to become the dominant realm.
As a Resource Management game simulating a war between clashing cultures, Hyperborea requires both moderate setup and decent table space. The game comes with several stacks of tokens, minis, tiles, and decks of cards, although it mainly revolves around the collection and spending of numerous resource cubes.
At the beginning of the game the center board is created depending on the number of players and whether players will be using racial abilities. In general, a center tile is surrounded by secondary tiles, followed by each player’s Homeland tile. Every tile contains spaces activated by a player’s unit moving into them. These are either Ruins, which offer one-time use tokens, or Cities, which have a recurring ability.
In addition, the initial Advanced Technology cards are arranged. These are divided into four decks, based on the type of tech they contain, with two from each deck always revealed.
Finally, each player receives a cube bag with starting resource cubes, ten miniatures, and a player board. This board contains the six Development tracks (Exploration, Warfare, Growth, Progress, Trade, and Science), their Base Technologies, and spaces for tracking available resources and VP. Everyone begins the game with three figures on their Capital City, three starting Development bonuses of their choice, and randomly draws three starting resource cubes. The starting player is determined randomly.
Turns in Hyperborea are very fluid. First, the player removes any of their defensive tokens and ensures they have at least three figures on the board. Some Advanced Technologies provide beginning-of-turn actions; these are also resolved at this point.
After that, the cube shuffling begins. The player takes their drawn cubes and allocates them to available Technologies. All Technologies require between one and three cubes of various colors, and once all of a Technology’s spots are fulfilled, that ability can be activated.
Actions and activations may be used in whatever orders a player wishes, but any unallocated cubes or unused activations are lost at the end of the turn. Moreover, used activations are locked until a Reset occurs.
Activations provide a host of abilities, including advancing Development tracks, gaining VP, moving units, attacking other players or neutral units (Ghosts), and acquiring Advanced Technologies. However, new Technologies come with a grey cube, representing Waste, which will be added to the player’s resource bag. Similarly, once a Development track reaches at least step four, it can be reset to add a resource cube of that color to their bag.
At the end of their turn, the player draws up to three new cubes. If their bag is empty though, they must first Reset their board by freeing their units from City or Ruin spaces, and with the exception of some Advanced Technologies, return all of their resources cubes to their bag.
Players take turns until they collectively reach 1-3 of Hyperborea’s endgame triggers (12 VP, 5 Advanced Technologies, or deploying all 10 units), depending on the length of game desired. At that point, everyone else takes a turn before final scoring is tabulated, with just about everything providing points in some fashion. The clan with the highest score is the winner, having demonstrated to be the rightful heirs and will be revered for generations to come.
Everyone else better get used to being subservient…at least until the uprising is ready.
All Roads Lead To Rome
Considering no one faction is quite sure what secrets the land of Hyperborea holds, it’s only fitting that just about anything goes when it comes to trying to reclaim those secrets. With its cornucopia-like final scoring and more than enough center tiles and Technology cards, Hyperborea offers a high degree of both game variety and available play styles. Want to run around the board claiming Ghosts and player pieces like trophies? You can. Prefer building up lots of Technologies instead? You can do that too. How about being defensive and maximizing a VP engine? Go for it. Hyperborea offers a plethora of choices when it comes to how you want to spend your resources, which in turn fuel a whole host of strategic options.
What’s more, gameplay scales particularly well with regards to player size. Whether you’re playing with two players or six, Hyperborea offers the same experience of letting you build up your faction’s influence over the others however you see fit without getting bogged down with extra complexity. While certain strategies will be more beneficial depending on the number of players, such as trying to collect a set of captured enemy figures, every victory path remains viable.
Unsurprisingly, this is an ideal game for both Architects and Tacticians. Hyperborea is fundamentally a game about acquiring items for your civilization (resources, Technologies, territory, etc.) and then leveraging them into a winning strategy. The only caveat is the random nature of which cubes you draw each turn, and there are ways to alleviate even that such as getting cube draw abilities.
Daredevils, on the other hand, will have slightly a more tempered reaction to this adventure through Cubeland. Hyperborea is fairly amenable to letting you change tactics during the game and try a different approach, but it may be a little more structured than they’ll enjoy. Besides the unpredictability of cube drawing and which Technologies become available, there isn’t a ton of luck in this game.
All of this flexibility to carve your own victory path is not without drawbacks, and two of them bear mentioning. The first is that Hyperborea is not terribly interactive. Part of the game’s appeal is the impressive variety of viable decisions you can make. Yet aside from claiming a City / Ruin space in another player’s territory, very little you do on your turn directly involves other players. Even outright attacking doesn’t require any effort on the defending player’s part: if the attacker has the necessary attack points, they win. Hyperborea encourages you to pay attention to the relative progress of each of your opponents, but aside from minor turf wars on the main board, there isn’t much direct involvement with other players.
Tied directly into the first, the second byproduct of Hyperborea’s tableau style gameplay is the moderate amount of downtime between turns. Some turns are incredibly quick, especially early in the game or near a Reset. Other turns are more like a little logic puzzle to be deciphered as you balance which actions you’ll want to take immediately and which to set up for later. While this process is individually rewarding, you are often left waiting while everyone else figures out their plan of attack.
Hyperborea also has a tendency to bring out Analysis Paralysis in players prone to indecision or overthinking. This tends to slow the tempo of Hyperborea down, though the game itself attempts to offset this by having you draw resource cubes for your next turn ahead of time, thus encouraging you to plan ahead while others are taking their turn. This doesn’t remove downtime in the game entirely, but if taken advantage of, it certainly helps.
That said, don’t expect Socializers to have any interest in reclaiming Hyperborea’s lost lands. Between its bevvy of strategic options, lack of interactivity, and 1-2 hour play time, this simply isn’t their fight. Strikers will also have a tough time getting into the game. While they may enjoy seeing if their strategic approach can best another player, the randomness of cube pulling coupled with largely being unable to disrupt your opponents will leave them bored and / or frustrated. Probably both.
Hyperborean Race Relations
Interplay aside, the truly notable strike against the game’s worth lies squarely with its lackluster rulebook. Hyperborea isn’t an incredibly complicated game – it’s actually fairly intuitive – but the way the rules are laid out doesn’t reinforce this. At best, there are numerous important rules that are ambiguous or very easily missed by players. At worst, there are several rules that are in need of important clarification or are outright omitted.
Then there’s the case of a rule that shouldn’t even be there.
Part of the confusion over gameplay involves a last minute rules inclusion (being able to leave unactivated resource cubes on your board during a Reset) that was done without proper playtesting. This created such a problem that the rule was removed almost immediately after the game was published. Hyperborea has enough of a learning curve for new players with its diverse array of strategies and iconography. These rules issues only compound it.
Hyperborea’s racial abilities also come across as unfinished. The game gives you the option to play with one of two racial abilities that add an extra layer of strategy and inject asynchronous gameplay to the equation. They don’t evoke much in the way of flavor, but the real problem is that these twelve abilities don’t all feel equal. Each realm has one choice that is clearly favorable to the other.
The idea is that different abilities will be better depending on player size and how long of a game you choose to run, and while the concept is laudable, some abilities themselves feel underdeveloped. That being the case, Hyperborea is a more dynamic game with their inclusion, and even with these hiccups they still add to the game’s replayability.
A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing
One of Hyperborea’s most notable attributes is its hex-based landscape giving off an appealing gameplay setting. Aside from the player boards, which can be susceptible to warping, Hyperborea has a very inviting look.
From an easy to follow color-coded resource cube system, to the photogenic presence of players dashing around the central board, to the various Cities and thwarting both Ghosts and each other, it’s evident that a lot of effort went into the game’s layout. And it paid off. Most notably of this are the player figures. Each realm has a unique set of miniatures to represent them on the battlefield, giving you the feeling of playing a faction distinctly different from the rest.
Alas, that’s as deep as the flavor gets. Much of the game’s visuals amount to window dressing, however impressive. Beneath Hyperborea’s surface lies a pretty standard resource management Euro game. While mechanically very sound, the game is dry from a flavor perspective. As nice looking as it is, it’s surprising that this is not an Immersionist-friendly game. Although the rulebook offers some light back stories of the different factions, none of that translates into the game aside from the player figures and their racial abilities – and even that’s only done loosely.
That aside, Hyperborea does convey its theme through cube manipulation. It makes the game slightly more abstract than it first appears, but the theme can be felt.
For centuries, six factions coveted the lands of Hyperborea, and it doesn’t take many playthroughs to understand why. The game does an admirable job mixing a solid resource management system with a high degree of variability, giving Hyperborea a great deal of replayability while maintaining a concise (though somewhat dry) economically-driven fight. Hyperborea’s diverse strategies – mixed with a little luck – provide players with the freedom to chart their own path to victory. However, this freedom comes at the cost of a moderate learning curve. The game’s muddled rules don’t help either, often tripping up new players with a series of avoidable mistakes. Once past those barriers, though, Hyperborea asserts itself to be both substantive and challenging, enticing players with its aesthetic appeal, cube-drawing charm, and tableau-building puzzles.
Hyperborea is a product of Asmodee.
Cardboard Republic Snapshot Scoring (Based on scale of 5):
Rules Clarity: 2.5
Replay Value: 4
Physical Quality: 4
Overall Score: 4