2-5 players, 30-40 minutes, Ages 8+.
Do you have what it takes to become the top family in feudal Japan? If you think so, then welcome to Honshū, a card game of tricks and maps. You play the role of nobility, trying to expand your lands and resources in the best possible way. Your rivals seek to do the same, and you must outwit them. What lands will you try to acquire? How will you build your towns and arrange your properties? What will you sacrifice in pursuit of fame and fortune?
Honshū is a Finnish game designed by Kalle Malmioja, a Ph.D. student, designer, and avid gamer. Inspired by “patching” games, where players build their boards, he explored new ways to add complexity and strategy to his favorites. Malmioja adapted trick-taking (bidding of resources to take the best) to figure out card distribution and turn order. He then added a variety of ways to score, refining his work into a game with simple rules but many strategies.
When I first learned the game and tried to explain it to others, I said it was like Spades meets Keyflower. To be fair, there is little those games share with Honshū, but the core ideas are similar: You bid map cards out of your hands to win each round’s “trick,” allowing you to choose what card you’ll get that turn (as well as who’ll be bidding first next time). Afterward, you use whatever you received to build your lands in a manner that nets you the best scores. After twelve rounds, everyone scores their maps (which earn points in a variety of ways), and see who’s won.
While the idea appears somewhat simple, the rules add several twists that make Honshū a “thinking” game. For one, the map cards’ bidding worth varies from what’s on it; players might risk bidding decent cards hoping they’ll win an even better one. Also, players can spend end-game resources on winning tricks, choosing to forgo possible points to steal a map card that could net them more. Not enough complexity? The game also forces players to trade hands twice (while only allowing new cards to be drawn once) and there are four different ways to score (plus optional end-game goals). The number of routes to winning, and the ways they can be thrown off, appear infinite.
The game itself is simple in its physical design and aesthetics. The small box contains only a sealed pack of cards and a packet of colored, wooden cubes for resources. The deck itself is primarily the map cards, but also consists of two-sided starting maps (depending on how complicated you want your game), turn markers, scoring sheets, and optional rules for winning. Maps are modest, yet pleasing, in their appearance, with floral backs and Japanese-style graphics. Like many indie Euro titles, a humble design for an intricate game.
Honshū is best for more serious gamers, rather than families or parties. Although older children might be able to learn, the complexities of the game favor advanced strategies. Similarly, as a “thinking” game, it doesn’t lend itself to raucous gatherings. Still, it can be enjoyable both in its 2-player and 3- to 5-player forms, so it’s perfect for friends or couples. Once learned, a game can easily be played in a half-hour, so it’s also great for those quick sessions (or even a few).
Honshū is currently available only as a limited import in the United States; please check your local stores to see if they have it on the shelf. An American print run will be available in March 2017 from Renegade Game Studios. Until then, you can also order it through overseas publishers, including Lautapelit.fi.
I give Honshū an intriguing 4 tricks out of 5
(We’d like to thank the staff of Games and Stuff in Glen Burnie for allowing us to demo the game. They were one of several regional stores to have a limited supply of the original International printing. Please stop by and see if they have any remaining copies!)