Unlike Abyss and Cyclades: Titans, I'd never even heard of Hyperborea before GenCon. I saw these large $100 boxes being unpacked and I asked one of the teammates for a quick overview.
"It's a fantasy-flavored 4x game with a deckbuilding element."
And that's ... that's actually a pretty good description.
Let me break that down a bit for you:
The game has its own setting. I'd argue that it's "sufficiently advanced" rather than Fantasy - it's certainly post-Apocalyptic. Players take the role of one of six different factions who are exploring territory that used to belong to an ancient civilization that "used magical crystals as their main source of energy," before it collapsed, locking its land away from the rest of the world. Only now that barrier has collapsed, and you are trying to seize power for your faction.
I'm not a player for whom the theme is usually a make-or-break, but it's nice to have a 4x game that isn't set in deep space.
For those of you who don't know, 4x stands for eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate. It's a game where you are exploring a map, expanding your territory, using the resources found in the territories you control, and exterminating your foes. Most 4x games on the board game end of things are crazy-detailed and crunchy. It's not a category of game I tend to enjoy because there is often a great deal of record-keeping.
4x games tend to be very hit-or-miss for me. I really enjoyed Twilight Imperium at first, but as time has gone by, I've grown less fond of it. Space Empires 4x was too crunchy and detailed for me. Eclipse was amazing. This is much more on the Eclipse scale - I get the full 4x experience in a fraction of the time.
This has become a big thing of late. It's been around since Magic: the Gathering, but in recent years it's become part of gameplay rather than something you do between games. Dominion is the first (and still the best) example of how to do a deckbuilding game. In short, you start with a limited pool of resources of which a number are drawn every turn. You use those resources to alter the mix of available resources.
In Hyperborea, the deckbuilding element has to do with cubes in an opaque bag. Each turn, you have three cubes with which to program your actions. You can see part of the player board in the foreground, here:
So how does it work?
At the start of the game, each player gets a faction. Either chosen or assigned - it doesn't matter. Each faction has two available special abilities. Players should choose one of these special abilities (which are unique to this faction). I've played most of the factions, and they feel balanced - but we're not hugely experienced at the game, yet. I've only played seven games so far.
Each turn, you will start with one or more cubes to assign to slots on your player board. Those slots make actions available to you - movement, combat, technology, and victory points are all things you can get. You then use those actions to move around the board. When you reveal an empty hex (by moving to an adjacent hex), it'll have cities and/or ruins on it. The ruins will have tokens which grant additional rewards while the cities can give you actions. Ruins and cities are haunted by the remnants of the Hyperborean civilization which fell, so you need to slay the ghosts before using the space.
When you move a unit into a ruin or a city, they are stuck there until you perform a "reset" - which happens when you go to draw cubes from your bag and find it empty. During a reset, all of your cubes are returned to your bag and your units on the board are moved back outside of cities and ruins.
Your player board has two actions in each category, with spaces for cubes that are color-specific - you can only have cubes on one action at a time. In general, the top action is less-powerful, but has a multicolored space that will accept any non-grey cube. Advanced technologies give you more actions on which to spend your cubes - some of them are better versions of the board actions, some of the modify the effects of the board actions, and some of them are practically identical to the board actions (but they allow you to take that action again without needing to reset first). Of course, advanced technologies also add grey cubes to your mix, and they're not exactly useful.
There are three ways to trigger the end of the game:
- Get all of your available pieces in play
- Gain a twelfth victory point marker
- Gain a fifth advanced technology
Once this happens, everyone else gets a last turn, and you move on to scoring. Points are scored for victory point markers, combat victories, cubes in your bag, bonus tiles, advanced techs, and territory control.
It - for me - scratches a similar itch to Eclipse, but it's different enough that I don't think I'm wasting space by owning both. And this plays much more quickly - I've gotten through two games in an evening. And it always leaves me wanting more.
The game was available at GenCon and will be at Essen, and then it has its broader release next week. I heartily suggest you take a peek.