Honshu is a card placement, or map building game with a trick taking element set in Feudal Japan. Well, you have to look very hard to find that theme in this game, but the game looks good and that’s also something. What about the game itself? Trick taking combined with card placement, sounds interesting..
The game has sixty cards, numbered one to sixty. In you play a card, in player order, and the player who played the highest card can choose first from the cards played. During your turn you can add a resource to your card to add 60 points to its values, and whenever anyone else wants to play a resource he or she has to follow suit, which means if you add a yellow resource, and you are the first who adds a resource, other players can only add yellow resources to their card.
Then player order is determined with the player with the highest value becoming the new first player.
This aspect of the game makes no real sense to me. This is just a quirky way of selecting cards. You could easily exchange it with just drafting, which maybe makes more sense too, or just drawing a card from a deck and place it in your map. The last method would not be fun at all, but what I want to say is that the trick taking mechanism, how it is executed here, gives you the illusion of choice, the illusion that winning a trick really matters if you want to score well in the game. However, I get the feeling that it doesn’t. You could easily score well when you are given the last card on the table. Which you could translate into giving a random card to you. You just have to be good at puzzling to do well.
That’s what you do, that’s the core of this game. Puzzling. After the trick taking phase, in player order, players pick one card from the just played cards and we move to the map phase. In this phase you add the just picked card to your map. On every card you find six squares, or city districts, or however you want to call it. And you have to add the new card to your map with at least one of those squares on top or underneath a square of an already placed card.
The game takes twelve turns. You first get a hand of six cards, you play three turns, hand the rest of the cards to the player on the right, play three more turns, deal out six new cards and do the whole thing over again.
After you’ve played your card you check what your score is. Visible forest squares are worth two points. City squares are worth one point, but you only count your biggest conglomerate of city squares. Factories are worth two to four points, but only if you can supply them with the right type of good. Some squares produce a specific type of colour of good. You can use these cubes to strengthen your position in the trick taking phase, but you can also keep them for points. Lakes are special. They may never be covered up, they always have to be visible. At the end of the game you score every lake district, the first lake square in that district is worth zero points, the next squares are worth three points each.
This card placing, points scoring puzzling thing is quite fun. This is where the difference is made. Place your cards in a good way, you score well, screw up, you will be last. Puzzling is key, not winning tricks.
I do have the feeling that this game is going to feel a bit stale after ten plays or so. The card placement is fun and figuring out how to do it best too, but I noticed that even in my second game of Honshu I was less amused by it.
They do have these end game scoring condition cards that add one other way of getting points to every game. Plus, you can all start with a different starting card, instead of the normal starting cards that are all the similar. These two elements only slightly mix things up.
The game is enjoyable. The card placement aspect, the puzzling, the point scoring is still fun. I could do without the trick taking. If you can even call it trick taking. The adding cubes part is the only way this cards play comes close to trick taking, because now you have to follow cube suit, if another player has already placed a cube on his or her card. However, how many times do you really want a card that bad that you need to place a cube on top of your card instead of using that cube to gain points? And how much influence do you really have on the type of cube you place? Is it a game of smart cube play? I do not think so. I feel that you just place that cube that you don’t have a use for, yet. Only if you have more useless cubes, in terms of factory points, you will look at the cubes other players have.
The game is beautifully illustrated and all in all I enjoyed Honshu, like I said, but it was less interesting than I hoped it would be. I liked the idea of the trick taking and city building combination, but it did not turn out as fun as I wanted it to be. The map building was fun, and that’s what sticks.