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Honshu is a trick-taking, map building card game for 2-5 players published by Lautapelit.fi and designed by Kalle Malmioja. It takes 30-60 minutes depending on player count. A review copy was provided by Lautapelit.fi for this review.
I also did a video review, which is available on my channel DiceTillDawn, from here : https://youtu.be/oRoQIQ5BgIshere
The box (Image by user nunovix)
Honshu comes in an attractive small box with a cool Japanese artwork on the cover. The box contains 84 high quality cards, 40 cubes of 4 different colors and the rules. The main part of the cards are the 60 cards that have a grid of 2x3 of different kinds of terrain such as city, water, field, resource production and factories. The rest of the cards are for rules reference, player order, starting cards and optional scoring cards.
One nitpick, the rulebook has a picture example of the trick taking round, but I found the picture actually makes the whole thing unclear. Especially if you had never played a trick-taking game you could easily misunderstand the rules, since the picture shows turn order from before the trick yet has the cards played on the picture.
The game is named after the biggest island of Japan and focuses on building a map of a city or a country or something. That’s to say, the game is an abstract with artwork applied to it. The goal of the game is to build the most effective city to gain the most points in the end game scoring.
The setup is extremely simple. In the basic game you give each player a scoring reference card, player order card and a starting card labeled with the letter “A”. Then you shuffle the deck of 60 cards (numbered 1-60) and you deal 6 cards to each player. That’s it for the basic game.
In the optional rules you can use the “B”-sides of the starting cards for more variation and the game comes with 8 end game scoring cards of which you can pick one to use for the game for added variability.
Honshu is divided into 12 rounds of play. Each round starts with the first player (chosen randomly or however you like in the first round, but determined by the trick-taking in later rounds) starting a trick. That is to say, playing a city card from their hand face up on the table and optionally adding a resource cube from their city on it to add +60 to the number on the card. After that, the second player plays a card and so on until each player has played a card. If any player adds a resource cube, only that color of resource cube can be added by later players. After everyone has played their cards on the table, the player order is changed to reflect the values of the cards (plus the possible resources added) so that the player with the highest value gets first player and so on. After this, the new player order is used to take cards from those played on the table one by one. After everyone has picked a card the round moves to the building phase.
Also, after three rounds you give the remaining three cards to the player on your left. After six rounds each player is dealt another hand of six cards and at nine rounds the remaining three cards are given to the player on the right.
In the building phase players add the new card to their city according to a few rules. First of all, the new card must either cover at least one square on the existing city or it must be covered by at least one square. Also, you can never cover water in any way during the game. If you place a production-square, you immediately put the correct color of resource cube on it.
A sample city (Image by user Kuula (the designer))
In the end you score points as follows :
1. Each forest-square uncovered in your city is worth 2 points
2. Each city-square is worth 1 point, but you only count your biggest city of orthogonally adjacent squares for this total.
3. Each factory you have which you can “power” with a correct colored resource cube (only 1 resource/factory) gives you 2 – 4 points depending on the factory.
4. Each lake gives you points as follows : first square of water is worth 0vp, but each orthogonally adjacent water-square to that first square is worth 3 points. So basically a lake of 4 water-squares is worth 9 points.
5. If you use the optional scoring card you might score extra points depending on the card in question
The winner is the player with the most points. In case of a tie, the player with the most visible fields (worthless otherwise) is the winner.
The 2-player game is handled slightly differently. The basics and scoring are the same, but the tricks are handled differently. In a 2-player game two cards are first revealed from the deck to form a pair. Then the players each play a card face down simultaneously to form another pair. Now those cards are revealed and the player that played the higher card wins the trick and gets to pick one of the pairs to choose from unless the loser immediately spends 2 resource cubes. If the loser does, he or she gets to pick first. After the pairs are picked, each player gets to play one of the cards and the other is discarded from the game. Also you don’t need the player order cards, since the player order only matters at the exact point of playing the cards. The map phase stays the same.
I absolutely love this game! It manages to tickle my brain at all the right places, while still being light and quick to play and handling different player counts admirably (even 2-player!). Big thanks to the designer and his wife for the work on the 2-player variant, since I also play mostly with my girlfriend and we both really enjoy the 2-player game!
The layout of the cards is superb, since pretty much every round you are facing a hard decision on what to cover, since you can rarely get all the things you want to stay visible, not to mention the difficulty the water-squares give you. Still, pretty much every card gives you points, so the puzzle is to figure which is best at each point.
This easy to understand and relatively light game gives my girlfriend a real beating every turn when she struggles to choose the best spot for each card. And that’s in a good way. I find myself also thinking a lot in this game although on the surface the game seems very simple and straightforward. I really enjoy this type of spatial building in a game, which reminds me distantly of Among the Stars. I have seen that most of the people I’ve played with have had some moments of analysis paralysis, but nothing serious. Just enough to see that there are real decisions to be made here.
You don’t need to like trick-taking games to like this game, since I’ve only played a few and really have no opinion on them myself. This is a weird game in the sense that I think I could play this with pretty much anyone, yet it still feels it has some weight on it to satisfy even heavy gamers. I also really enjoy the fact that the rules are clear and simple and you can focus on the puzzle rather than the rulebook.
In the end, this game is a gem. I am in the middle of filming my TOP 100 games videos, which you can check on youtube under the channel DiceTillDawn and I have to say that if I had played Honshu before making that list, (spoiler alert!) it would’ve easily made the list!
http://www.lautapeliopas.fi/ - the best Finnish board game resource!
I don't really even count Honshu as a trick-taking game. It doesn't feel like one, and if you come to it expecting a trick-taking game, you'll be disappointed. It's an auction game, really (then again, trick-taking is a subtype of auctions).
I expect Honshu to make it on my top 100 list next year with ease.
I have to agree, but since even the rulebook calls it a trick-taking game, I just decided to use it anyway
Very big thank you for the review.
What I have gathered the biggest gripe about the game is that I called it trick-taking. I'm a fan of trick-taking games and I know that Honshu is not a particularly good pure trick-taking game. However, I never tried to do a pure trick-taking game such as Hearts. It is trick-taking map-making game. The trick-taking could have been any other sorting mechanism out there but it felt good, players could relate to it and there isn't many games mixing these two mechanisms.
My definition of trick-taking might also be broader than usual:
Each player plays a single card on the table and the highest card wins.
The order of play and the what to do with the cards afterwards are not relevant in my mind.
Big thanks to the designer and his wife for the work on the 2-player variant, since I also play mostly with my girlfriend and we both really enjoy the 2-player game!
My wife is my main gaming partner, so I want games to have that possibility. I'll pass on the thanks to her. There were few iterations of the 2-player game as you could imagine. She pushed the idea of how the timing works and while it is little odd, it makes the decision more meaningful, and more take-that.
- Last edited Wed Nov 9, 2016 6:41 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Wed Nov 9, 2016 6:36 am
http://www.lautapeliopas.fi/ - the best Finnish board game resource!
That is a decent definition of trick-taking, yes, and technically Honshu is a trick-taking game, but when you play it, it doesn't feel like one.
Thus I'm not classifying it as a trick-taking game on Lautapeliopas, and I'd be a bit careful in advertising it as one. As a trick-taking game, Honshu isn't particularly excellent. As a bidding and a map-building game, it's brilliant, though, so it's all about expectations.
(To elaborate, I think one of the issues here are that everybody gets a card, so in many cases you don't really care that much whether you win the trick or not.
In order for the trick-taking to be more relevant, I'd expect to see more variables in the cards; just one range of numbers is not enough, I feel. In any case I don't see the decision space in Honshu that I'd expect in a trick-taker.
Also, I think the main focus in the game is in the map-building, or at least that's the part I find the most intriguing. The trick-taking is just a necessity to get the cards to use for map-building.
I think the game might be just as interesting if the cards were distributed by a draft or some other method. In the other hand, if the game had the trick-taking, but replaced the patching with set collection or something like that, I wouldn't care about the game.)
Well, I mostly agree with you on the issues. By definition Honshu can be called a trick-taking game, but while talking about it I want to add the map-making part also in there. So, like I said it is not a pure trick-taking game, it is a trick-taking map-making game.
If, like we have, a player has played a lot of games they know what is a pure trick-taking game and the same feeling might not be here, I understand that. However, new players might not know what to expect in a trick-taking game and this could lead to a new way of thinking and carry on to other future games. Someone might be like; "I liked this (Honshu) trick-taking game so I might like another trick-taking game and will look something similar up".
You're spot in the last paragraph, the patching makes the game. The first part is a way to distribute the cards and could have been done in many ways. If I would replace the patching mechanism then the thing that makes this a good game is gone.
The end result however is that what ever you call Honshu has little meaning to the enjoyment of the game. Honshu is a great power filler or a game to play with your spouse when the kids are asleep. Everyone can enjoy it and that what matters.