Thursday, February 13, 2014

Aloha, Gamers

Though I actually received the game as a gift quite some time ago, it's only recently that I was finally able to crack open the board game Hawaii and give it a try.

From designer Greg Daigle, Hawaii is at its core an action point game where players take turns moving across an island gathering tokens. The game uses two currencies: one for movement of the player marker, the other for purchasing the tokens in each location. (A third "wild" currency can be used as -- but not mixed with -- either of the two.) Tokens expand a series of villages that the players maintain, providing extra benefits during play or points for end game scoring.

The configuration of the island is randomly determined for each game. Because players must start each round at the "coast" and travel inland (paying for each step taken), different playthroughs can be very different -- it's the resources positioned farthest inland that wind up being the most scarce and difficult to acquire.

The real meat of the game is in how tokens are acquired. A series of price chips are randomly distributed each round, and there are no less than four twists they put on the game. First, the chips not only change the cost of tokens each round, but the number of times that players may acquire tokens of a particular type. Second, virtually every token in the game is double sided; whenever you acquire one, you can pay double its purchase price to flip it over to a second side that is twice as powerful.

But the biggest wrinkle of all is that you might not always want to pay the cheapest price you can. Whatever price you pay, you take that price chip and place it in front of you, contributing to a cumulative total for that round. Each player who reaches a certain threshold before the round is over is eligible to score points, with the first and second place players getting a significant bonus. (When you pay double, you only get the "single" value toward your total for the round -- a very challenging consideration to balance.)

Still not enough for you? Well, price chips come in two colors, and the chips of one of those colors will score you here-and-there victory points for particular tokens you might have acquired earlier for your village.

The game plays over five rounds, and most of those are a bit daunting for your first playthrough. But this is definitely one of those games that isn't actually as complicated as it sounds. By the end of the game, you realize all you've done wrong. By the second game, the game is running so smoothly that four players can complete it in about an hour.

I've played it a bit, and I really like all the strange gears and cogs in play here. But I'm a little hesitant about that price chip scoring mechanic I mentioned. So far, in each game I've played, the winning player has been the one who invested most heavily in that. Other strategies have been in the running -- trying to capitalize on the best round end bonus every time, trying to acquire tiles that generate lots of that third "wild" currency. But they've always fallen a few points short of the "nickle-and-diming at every step along the way" strategy. Still, I'm not yet ready to declare this a core imbalance of the game. And even if it were, the fickle nature of the price chips and the randomized island setup might render that strategy untenable in any given play of the game.

In short, this is quite an interesting little creation from a designer I didn't know before. It plays out very differently with different numbers of players. And it moves rather swiftly for its myriad of possibilities. I give it a B.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Another game I haven't tried.
Well done! :)