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Writer, EFL teacher, web developer, amateur chef, and gamer. When out of the classroom and offline, Jay is eating homemade tacos on his balcony while reading a rulebook. He enjoys his expat life in Taipei. 

#007 Hatsuden (2017)

Designer: Naotaka Shimamoto
Artist: Yoshiaki Tomioka
Publisher: itten games
Player Count: 2
Time: 10-15 minutes

Hatsuden is a tale of two cities locked in a deadly efficiency battle over natural resource management. Who will efficiently generate the most power and dominate the land? Hatsuden (generate power) is a lightning fast two player card game where players fight over five natural resources while at the same time trying to achieve optimal power efficiency in their two cities.


What's in the box?

 Super efficient packaging!

Super efficient packaging!

 All the cards in  one tiny box!

All the cards in  one tiny box!

 Earth! Fire! Wind! Water! Solar Energy!

Earth! Fire! Wind! Water! Solar Energy!

 Build those power plants! Love the cow!

Build those power plants! Love the cow!

 Power your twin cities efficiently for that power bonus!

Power your twin cities efficiently for that power bonus!

 The 4 technology cards!

The 4 technology cards!


Gameplay

On your turn, you will do one of four actions:

  • Build a power station: Place a power station card underneath its corresponding natural resource. Your station may be built in either the top or bottom position.
  • Upgrade a power station: Place a power station go higher value on top of an already built power station card of lower value. The two numbers do not stack or add up. The top card's value becomes the new value. A level 4 power station can never be upgraded past level 4. A level zero power station (a steel tower; the back of any card) can never be upgraded.
  • Build a steel tower: Place a power station card facedown in any card slot, so the steel tower is showing face up. Steel towers do not generate any power. A steel tower does not need to correspond to its natural resource. Steel towers have zero value and can never be upgraded. 
  • Review building plans: Choose one power station card from your hand and place it into the discard area.

At the end of your turn, draw a card to bring your hand back up to 5 cards. When you do this, you may draw a face down card from the draw deck, or you may draw any face up card from the discard area. 

 A perfect tie! Efficient craziness!

A perfect tie! Efficient craziness!

Special rules of note:

  • Technology Cards: If a player places a level 4 power station, they may draw the top face down card from the technology card deck. If there are no more technology cards in the deck, no more can be acquired for the rest of the game. Technology cards do NOT count towards your hand limit, so you could have a hand of 5 power station cards and up to 4 technology cards. There are only 4 technology cards. Playing technology cards does not cost "an action" to play and can be played at anytime during your turn. You may play any number of technology cards during your turn--even immediately after drawing one. 
  • Optimization: Each power station transmits energy to the local city it its corresponding horizontal row. After a player builds a power station, add the value of all power stations in the horizontal row. If at anytime during the game a local city is powered at 12 or higher, the active player MUST flip over one power station card to its steel tower side so that the total value of energy being provided to that city is 11 or below.
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When one player has filled all 10 slots with a card, the opponent may build one more power station from hand. If the opponent still has empty slots in their tableau after playing their last card, all remaining blank spaces are filled with steel towers. Final scoring is calculated. The player that generates the most corresponding energy of that natural resource, wins one point. If a player has optimized their local city's total value to exactly 10, they score one point. If a player generates 7 or less energy to a city, they are penalized and must lose a point. The player with the highest score, wins Hatsuden!


The Elephant in the Room

Okay. Let's talk about the elephant in the room. How does this compare to Reiner Knizia's Battle Line (2000)? Is Hatsuden worth playing or having if you already have Battle Line? Both have very similar mechanics. In both games, you're dealing with hand management and area control bound together in a tight tug of war mechanic. In both games, you have access to technology cards that affect the game state. In both games, you're vying for control of the center "flags" or "natural resources". Battle Line has 9; Hatsuden has a tighter limit of 5. Prior to writing this review, I played Battle Line and Hatsuden with other players and discussed the differences with them. The results leaned in favor of Hatsuden, by a small margin. Here's why:

I think the slight differences in design create a big enough change in gameplay to warrant both in your collection. Most players in BL (Battle Line) initially go for three adjacent flags to win the game outright. This places more importance on the center three flags, while the left and right flank tend to be where players play their unwanted cards and hope for a decent set to pull off a win there if necessary. Even if you decide to forgo the center three flags, you still have to defend them to prevent your opponent from capturing them easily. Each flag's location is important and each flag becomes even more important if a three flag breakthrough victory is impossible.
 

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In HTD (Hatsuden), the location of the flags or "natural resources" is irrelevant (no three flag victory in this game); however each resource battle ground (the two cards on your side) are crucial for calculating the power flow to your two local cities. That 4 plant is powerful yes, but it affects and limits the other four horizontal card slots for that one city. Having two 4 plants is powerful for one city, but it means placing a mandatory zero plant and losing one if not more other natural resources. Everyone I played against admitted that the board in HTD instantly felt a lot tighter and more constricting than BL. The technology cards in HTD aren't as powerful as BL nor as fun to play; however HTD's game length is significantly shorter, so the technolgy cards don't need to be (nor should be) that powerful. 

I would compare HTD and BL to another pair of games--13 Days and Twilight Struggle. TS is the deeper longer game. It rewards experienced play and players are constantly mathing out every possible strategy throughout every minute of gameplay. 13 Days scratches a similar itch but in significantly less time. However, the addition of 13 Day's DEFCON track creates a tight game of only 15-18 decisions and ultimately a great game in its own right. BL is a longer deeper game that slowly becomes tighter and tighter. The technology cards in BL add a dynamic power shifting element in the game and creates a cold war among players over who has more technology cards. HTD is lighter but becomes incredibly tight by turn 3. HTD only has 10-15 decisions total per player (depending on the number of discards and upgraded stations), so each decision carries a lot of weight. For the life of me, I don't know why they labeled HTD as 30 minutes. Every game I have played has come in under 15 minutes.

Hatsuden doesn't have the fan base that Battle Line does; it's almost 20 years old, and to be honest the design, while it has held up over the years, does show its age. BL has seen so many rethemes over the years; my copy, in fact, is a PnP version with aliens fighting over planets. With Hatsuden, you're kind of stuck with the theme of natural resources and power plants.
If you're looking for a longer and deeper game with wild power shifts, Battle Line would be the choice to make. If you're looking for something that scratches the same itch, but in a lighter and faster way, Hatsuden is there for you.


Final Thoughts

It must be said. The graphic design of Hatsuden is outstanding. Its incredibly simple, intuitive, and efficient design allows this to be played by almost anyone. Most of my thoughts on this game are in the above Elephant in the Room section, so I will add that I think this is the best game from itten games so far. For those of you unfamiliar with their line, their games include: Tribe, Ponkotsu Factory, the 2018 release: Here Comes the Dog, and yes, Tokyo Highway. Hatsuden doesn't have the table presence of Tokyo Highway, but it's gameplay is tight and rewarding. It's Battle Line in under 10 minutes and in an even smaller box. Like most Asian board game designs, don't let the size of the box fool you. There's some solid gameplay here waiting to be explored. Kudos to you older players who can play through an entire game without making a Captain Planet joke. HEART!


TL; DR

I really like it. I don't love it--but barely. It's another excellent quick little filler with some rather tough decisions. It's Battle Line in 10 minutes; however Hatsuden's graphic design is light years beyond the 2000 release of Battle Line. It plays so fast, I would almost never turn a game of it down. It's perfect for that quick 10-minute study break. (4 out of 5 = I really like it!)

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