Saturday, 8 September 2012


Plays: 5Px1.

The Game

Hawaii is a shopping game. It's a medium to heavy weight Eurogame with multiple ways of scoring. And it's a shopping game. Throughout five rounds, you use your village chief to buy all sorts of tiles from a central island, and you use most of these tiles to build villages in your private island. Tiles have various abilities, e.g. gaining resources during the game, scoring points during the game, and scoring points at game end. The central island and the locations to buy specific tiles are set up randomly at the start of every game, which provides variability. Every round, the prices of tiles and the number of tiles available are semi-randomly determined too.

The central island has ten location tiles which are randomly set up at the start of a game. Turtle shells are price tags and also determine how many tiles can be bought from a location. The number of turtle shells at a location is determined semi-randomly at the start of every round.

There are three currencies in the game - clams, feet and fruits. Clams is roughly equivalent to money, you use them to buy stuff. Feet is mobility. You use it to move your chief to the various locations to buy stuff. You use it to visit small islands to gain certain benefits and to score points. You also use it for fishing (to be elaborated further down). Fruits is a joker currency. It can be used as clams or feet, but it cannot be used in combination with them.

The central island. There's a tiny fishing bay in the lower right with four fishes chips (not to be confused with fish and chips). The quantity is semi-random and differs from round to round. It's first come first served. The four small islands at the bottom provide special bonuses and victory points. You need to pay feet to get there.

Every round you get some clams and feet, but the amount you get decreases from round to round, which means you probably want to build up your own infrastructure to produce your own clams / feet / fruits. When you buy something, you collect the price tag (which is a turtle shell with a number on it). These turtle shells are important. At the end of every round, if your turtle shell total value meets a certain minimum requirement, you score points. Players with the highest and second highest totals score a quite-decent number of points, while the rest score less. This round-end scoring can be quite significant, and quite a few aspects of the game are linked to it. Naturally, if you have more money to spend, you will be able to buy more stuff and claim more turtle shells. However one complication is most tiles are two-sided, and you can choose to use the upgraded side by paying double. The catch is if you do this, you still only get one turtle shell. So, this is more powerful tiles vs turtle shell scoring. The last action you must do in a round is passing, and when you do that, you select a spot on the turn order track for the next round. The first position gives no turtle shell, but the rest does. The later you are willing to go, the higher valued the turtle shell. So, this is next round turn order vs turtle shell scoring. Then there's fishing. Fishes are treated like turtle shells, but the number of fishes every round is limited. Do you want to grab the tiles you are desperate for, or go for the fishes first before they are taken? Yet another decision to consider.

The top row is the player order for the current round. The middle row is for players to pick turn order for the next round. I (green) have picked to be first player, but that position doesn't award any turtle tile. The other positions do. The rectangular tile at the bottom is very important. The 11 in the big turtle shell is the minimum requirement for this round. If you reach 11, you'll score points. The 9, 6 and 3 underneath means the 1st and 2nd positioned players in turtle shell value will score 9 and 6 points respectively, and anyone else meeting the minimum requirement scores 3 points. The 8 clams and 5 feet icons on the right means that's what you get before the start of the next round.

When building villages, the default and easier way is to build-few-and-build-long. Villages are built in a straight line, and must be long enough to reach a tiki at game end. Villages that aren't long enough are discarded. A village must not have duplicate buildings, so fewer villages means you are a little restricted. However there are ways to go for a build-more-and-build-short approach. You need to buy tikis. As you line up the tikis on your island, you adjust the goal post for your villages, thus allowing shorter villages. If you get enough tikis, you even get extra feet. If you have more villages, you will want to buy kahunas, which score points and also award clams. Few-and-long vs more-and-short is another area to think about.

The game ends after five rounds. Highest scorer wins.

My private island, work-in-progress. My first village has reached the tiki, but the second one still needs further expansion. The spaces along the top are for placing additional purchased tikis, which will lower the length requirement for your villages. The spaces along the left are for placing purchased kahunas, which will score points and clams, but you need to have a village before you can have a kahuna.

The Play

Money (i.e. clams, feet and fruits) is tight. You can't really afford that many items every round, and competition is fierce (maybe especially so because we played a 5-player game). Many locations quickly run out of turtle shells, i.e. shop closed. At game start, on a whim, I decided to go for fruits and the hut that scored points based on fruit variety. Fruits are the joker currency, so it's good to be printing money right? It turned out that this wasn't such a great idea. In our particular game the fruit plantations and the fruit hut were quite far, and thus expensive to travel to. In contrast, Allen picked a hut that score 1pt every time he collected a turtle shell with spears. The location to buy this hut was near the beach and thus it was easy to get to. 1pt per turtle shell with spears didn't sound like much at first, but throughout the whole game it quietly added up. Later Allen got himself a second such hut, which meant even more points.

One area I underestimated was the importance of the round-end turtle shell scoring. I also on a whim decided not to compete in this, because it seemed like a rather brutal competition. Is hindsight, that was not wise, because the points from this area were significant. I bought many upgraded tiles, which did help, but at the cost of not competing in the turtle shell scoring.

The start of every round was painful, because there were always a number of tiles I wanted to buy, and I knew I had to choose one or two types and be prepared to have other players grab the other ones I wanted. Turn order was quite important. Certain combinations of tiles work well together, so I have a feeling that there are some general areas among which you can choose to compete in. If few people compete in an area, life will be easier for them. However this may attract others to come. On the other hand, areas that appear to be quite lucrative and thus are expected to have fierce competition may frighten some away. It's a tricky balance trying to decide which areas to compete in. Some decisions in the game are quite tactical, e.g. denying an opponent a tile he is desperate although getting it is only second priority to you, or quickly grabbing a tile before an opponent can do the same to you. I feel in the long run you still need to have some coherent grand strategy, which require some commitment and consistency in your purchases.

5-player game in progress. Very competitive!

The Thoughts

I didn't really enjoy Hawaii. I don't see any problems in game mechanism or balance. What I don't like is it feels like a very generic point-scoring heavy Eurogame. It feels like a problem-solving exercise in managing the levers in the game as effectively as possible. I feel like I'm learning to master a complex piece of machinery rather than playing a game. Yes, that can be satisfying, but I find that I couldn't put my heart to it. There definitely is player interaction. Competition can actually be quite fierce, despite not being directly confrontational.

Vikings has a similar mechanism as the village-building in Hawaii, and the theme is just as thin, but I like Vikings. I think it's because the rules are simpler and more straight-forward, so I easily accept that it is just an abstract game. Hawaii is more complex and has many more moving parts, and I feel that everywhere I see how the theme is being forced upon the game mechanisms. It rubs me the wrong way. Why do tikis allow villages to be smaller? Why is there a minimal requirement for village size in the first place? Why do some turtle shells have spears that allow another way of scoring? I think I can answer all of these questions from the game mechanism and balance perspective, but from the thematic perspective, I am at a loss.


__ Eric Martin said...

That's funny because we played Vikings a couple of times and then got rid of it. Too complicated for us for the limited play value.

But we freaking love Hawaii and every player we've introduced it to has also thoroughly enjoyed it. I haven't heard a negative from the 20 or so people I've played it with. I find it deliciously agonizing and every new option the game offers makes every decision tougher.

But to each his own. If you didn't like it, you didn't like it. Just keep in mind a 5-player game is just brutal. With 3 it's a more relaxed affair where you can explore your options. 4-player is the sweet spot for nasty player interaction, we found.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Hi Eric! I'm a follower of your blog.

To be fair, I've only played Vikings once too, same as Hawaii. If I play both games more, my opinions of them may change. I thought Vikings was definitely simpler than Hawaii though. For Hawaii, I don't have a problem with the brutal competition of a 5P game (I recently played Vanuatu and the unforgiving player interaction was delicious!). And definitely not any problem with any design flaw. It's just that to me it felt like I was trying to game a complex system.