Hokkaido: Trade & Intrigue in Shogun Japan – Keep or Cull?

To avoid confusion, this is not about the 2018 game released in the US by Renegade Game Studios. We are taking a look at the 2010 game designed by Steve Jones and released by Blue Panther Games. Back then, I was a fan of Blue Panther’s stuff because their games looked completely different than anything on the market. Their games were 100% made of wood-burned pieces. They even came in wooden boxes. This gave their games a unique look and feel.

Hokkaido was one of their first games that strayed from this formula. Gone was the all wood board and pieces: traded in for a jigsaw-cut full-color board, full-color cards, and shiny plastic gems for player pieces. Hokkaido was sold to me in 2010 as “Ticket to Ride with combat”. Since Ticket to Ride was pretty much the new hotness at the time, this description caught my interest immediately. I have no idea why it took me nine years to play it…

Now that I’ve played it now though, I kind of see why it never hit the table. The basic idea of the game is to score the most points by having completed trade routes all over Japan. A typical turn consists of taking three actions. Most of the actions are the typical sort: Move around the board, grow your influence in a certain area, draw cards, or put influence on trade routes. The trade routes, much like the routes in Ticket to Ride, are the key to the game. There are two types of routes in Hokkaido, there are public and private routes. Public routes are available to all players, but the first player to put influence on them has the opportunity to get the most points for the route at the end of the game. Private routes are only available to you, but there are two different ways to get points for those at the end of the game. Any routes you reveal during the game are also worth points, but the lower amount listed on the card. Cards in your hand that you can’t finish are worth negative points.

The twist to Hokkaido is the addition of “combat”. Combat in Hokkaido is very simple. Whenever there are more pieces of a region than the population limit allows (which varies on the number of players) then whoever has the fewest pieces removes one. Then the player with the next fewest does the same until the population limit is hit. That’s really it.

Where the game fails for me is that the combat doesn’t add anything at all to the game. The magic of Ticket to Ride is having your route blocked and finding a new way to finish your route. Here? You just kind of crammed pieces into a space long enough to get another scoring marker down, and hoped you could figure out a way to get that line back at the end of the game. The combat also helped extend the game needlessly, as it constantly put pieces back into the player pools for later use.

Component-wise? Hokkaido kind of looks like a first time production. The jigsaw-style board is neat, but after being on a shelf for a while, it warped and didn’t stay together too well. It’s also very small. The card print quality was pretty rough as well. The text on the cards was pixellated, as though the had to blow up a low-quality image. I liked the gems used for player pieces…but they were just generic dots. The thing I liked about Blue Panther’s earlier releases was that the wood had character. They felt like a fully realized project Hokkaido feels like a first draft. I think there’s probably a good game in here, but they didn’t quite find it.

Hokkaido is culled from the collection. Ticket to Ride is still there. Sometimes simpler is better.

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