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Hyperborea the board game was released late in 2014. It comes from Andrea Chiarvesio, who previously designed Kingsburg. Hyperborea is a game of exploration, discovery, combat, and advancement. It fits into the field of so-called ‘4x’ board games, where the x stands for eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate. Many of these 4x games are some of the more lengthy and complex board games available. Hyperborea manages to be accessible and fairly fast to play, thanks to clear mechanics, logical progression, and their ‘cube-building’ take on the 4x type.
In this game, the land of Hyperborea has suddenly become accessible after centuries of being hidden behind a magical barrier. Ancient treasures are thought to lie in these deserted lands, and six factions each send their best explorers in to grab as much as they can of this wealth and knowledge.
Hyperborea is a game for 2-6 players, and is advertised at taking 25 minutes per player. In reality it’s more like 40 minutes per player if that player has not played before. After one game 25 minutes is quite realistic, though there are mechanics to allow players to play a longer game if they wish.
The board is made up of hex tiles. Each of the six factions has its own home tile, actually three tiles. The other hex tiles are laid face down in a pattern determined by the number of players. The more players there are, the more hex tiles you will use. The home tiles are then attached to this pattern to give each player their starting position. Each of the six factions comes with two upgrade cards, and you can choose one at the start of the game. Alternatively, you can treat the factions only a colours to differentiate the players and discard the upgrade cards from the game.
Your options in each turn are determined by the combination of cubes you draw. You’ll start the game with three cubes in front of you, and four more in your bag. These cubes are coloured. There are six colours, each corresponding to one of the factions. Each colour is associated with a particular action:
Green = exploration
Red = combat
Purple = expansion
Orange = research
Yellow = victory
Blue = learning
Each faction has an action board showing how the cubes can be combined to access certain actions. For example a green cube and a cube of any colour can be combined to allow for two movements. Sounds bland, but it’s probably the best thing you can do in your first turn. Your bag will start with one cube of each colour, plus one additional cube of the colour of your choice. Research gives you access to more cubes. Once your bag is empty of cubes you ‘reset’ by putting all the used cubes back into your bag.
In some games I have seen players ignore the board and focus instead on upgrading their knowledge for more cubes, and taking on the technology cards through leaning. Each technology card grants you access to an additional action. While each player has the same action options at the start of the game (the boards are not different other than colour and art) technology move players apart as the game progresses.
The cleverest part of the cube system for me is the timing. You drawn your cubes for your next turn at the end of your current turn. This gives you the time of each other player’s turn to determine your best options. Rather than drawn three cubes at the start of your turn and think for five minutes, the gameplay flows from turn to turn as players have generally figured out what they want to do.
As you approach the unknown lands, tiles next to your explorers are turned face up. There are four types of tile; desert, marsh, forest, and mountain. Desert is easily traversed. March can be entered with one move, but costs an additional move to exit. Forests cost an additional move to enter, while mountain tiles cost an additional move to enter or exit. These varying landscapes are only revealed as you are about to move into them. The board game change radically from game to game, with impenetrable forests in one game replaced by open plains in the next. Tiles may contain lost cities or ancient treasures. They will also contain ghosts of the unfortunates who have been trapped in Hyperborea. They cannot harm you, but must be dispatched before you can occupy their cities or loot their treasures. It’s a kindness, really.
Roads to victory
There are several paths to victory in Hyperborea, and you may go for all, some or none of them. The victory conditions are: have all 10 of your figures on the board (growth); gain 12 or more victory crystals (victory); gain five or more technology cards (learning). Once one of these has been reached by the player, there is one final round and then the game ends. You can lengthen your games by requiring two, or event three of these conditions to be met before the game ends. Multiple players can gain the same condition, for example in the last round if a second player gains a fifth technology card, they would also receive the bonus for meeting a victory condition.
Once this final round is over, players add up their points to determine the winner. A 7 Wonders-style scoring pad is included with the game for this purpose, dividing players scores across the sic attributes.
For me, Hyperborea hits all the sweet spots. It’s easily expanded based on the number of players around. I can even play two player with me wife once the girls are asleep, or bring this out with five other gaming friends, and many options in between. The learning curve is fairly shallow even though there is a lot going on in the game. While the game has a number of aspects, they are each fairly simple to understand, experienced board game players will need very little time to get used to the game, and new players can also jump in. The tiles add a higher level of variance, as do the technology cards. Game components are all high quality, with thick card for the hex tiles and action boards, wooden cubes, and detailed plastic miniatures for each faction.
Hyperborea is a game many players will enjoy, especially those who like a bit of fantasy in their board games.