‘Honshū’ Is a Fun Map-Building Game Set in Feudal Japan

Reading Time: 6 minutes

As lords and ladies in feudal Japan, you seek new lands and opportunities for fame and fortune. You must outwit your opponents and create the best map in order to master Honshū.

At a Glance

Honshū is a map building game with a bidding mechanic, for 2 to 5 players, aged 8 and up that plays in about 30 minutes. The game is published by Renegade Game Studios.

Components

In the box, you’ll find:

  • 40 resource cubes (10 ea of 4 types)
  • 6 double-sided Starting Province cards
  • 60 Map Cards, numbered 1-60
  • 8 End of Game Scoring Cards
  • 5 Player Order Cards
  • 5 Scoring Summary Cards
  • 1 Score Pad

The components are all of good quality, acceptable and heavy enough to feel like they will last. The art on the back of the cards is quite pretty, representative of the box, and do their part to help set the theme and setting. Both the Starting Province and Map Cards are divided into six equal squares, which represent plots of land. There are six types of areas: forests, towns, production squares, factories, lakes, and deserts.

The Starting Provinces are double-sided and serve as a starting point for players. The “A” side is the same for all players, if you want to start on an even playing field and the “B” sides are all different. The Map Cards are all different too and numbered from 1 to 60, for a reason that will become evident when we talk about gameplay.

The Order Cards are pretty straightforward—a big number on a card—and the End of Game Scoring Cards are an optional addition to the game, providing more ways to score. Finally there’s the small scoring pad to assist with calculating the winner. I have a confession to make: whenever I open a box and see a scoring pad, I get a little anxious and think to myself, “One day that’s going to run out. Then what am I going to do?” It’s silly, because I’ll just try to get a new one if the game’s still in print or use a pad of paper, but I have that thought every single time I see a scoring pad. Anyone else? No? Oh well, we’d better learn how to play, then.

How to Play

Setup is pretty easy. Everyone gets a Starting Province card and the group decides which side to play. If your card has a production square, you get to take a single resource of that color from the common pool and place it on the production square. Players also get a Scoring Summary card and a random Player Order card, dealt face down. (If you’re only playing fewer than five players, toss the extra Player Order cards in the box before randomizing.) Finally, shuffle and then deal the Map Cards, giving six to each player before placing the rest in the center of the table. You’re ready to start!

The game plays over twelve rounds, each consisting of a Card Selection and a Building phase. During the Card Selection phase, players choose the cards they will build with. First, players reveal their Player Order card in front of them. This player order dictates who plays their card first. Beginning with the first player, each chooses a card from their hands and places it by their Order Cards.

Once all cards are out, the player order is reassigned, with the highest card becoming first player and the lowest card getting the last Player Order card. Then, in this new order, players take turns choosing which of the played cards they want—as first player, you can take your card or any of the others.

There is one additional thing you can do during the Card Selection phase. When you set your card down, you may take one of your resource cubes and place it on your card. This gives your card’s value an additional 60 points, giving you a real advantage in card selection. Other players who follow you may also place a cube, but it has to be the same type that you played. Any resource cubes played are forfeit to the common pool.

Before moving on to the Building Phase, we should visit the different area types found on Map Cards and learn how they score. At the end of the game, each visible forest plot is worth 2 points. Each visible town square is worth 1 point, but you only count the squares in your largest, contiguous district. Lakes are worth zero but if you can string them together, each successive lake in a chain is worth 3 points. Production Squares generate resources but are worth nothing at the end of the game. However, unused resource cubes can be moved to the factories at the end of the game to generate 2, 3, or 4 points, depending on the card. Only one resource may be assigned to a single factory. Deserts are worth nothing and only counted in a tie-breaker situation.

Now that you’ve chosen a card and understand the scoring, it’s time to build! Anytime you play a card, it has to be played on top of (or under) an existing card on your map. At least one square from the card has to show from the new card (if placed under existing card(s)) or at least one square from old cards (if placed on top of the map). There is one exception: lakes may never be hidden. If your new card has a Production Square showing, you may take a resource from the pool and place it on that square. If you place a card that covers up a Production Square and its resource, that resource is discarded to the pool.

Play continues this way through three rounds, after which, you pass your hand to the player on the left. After six rounds, each player is dealt six new cards from the deck and after the ninth round, your hand is passed to the player on the right. After twelve rounds, the game is over, points are tallied and most points wins.

If playing with two players, there is a different rule for the selection phase. A player reveals two cards from the draw pile, these form a pair. Players then each reveal a card from their hands at the same time, which forms a second pair. The higher revealed card gets to choose which pair he wants to pick and the lower card gets the other card. Each player then evaluates their pairs, selects a card to build with and discards the other. Finally, if players choose, they may play an End of Game Scoring Card, which add wrinkles to the scoring. Cards deliver bonuses for things like empty Production Squares, 2×2 blocks of desert areas, and more.

Verdict

Honshū is light and fun to play. Plus, it’s a small box game, which I absolutely love, not just for portability reasons because I travel a fair bit, but also because I don’t always have time for 90 minutes or more to play a bigger game. (Though I try!) However, even though it comes in a small box, you still need a bit of space to play it, as cities can grow a little big with 12 overlapping cards.

The auction-like element of bidding for cards always gave us a small feeling of suspense. If I really wanted my card, is the number on it high enough? Should I have put a resource cube out? Will someone take the card I want? It’s a fun little mechanism for choosing cards and we liked it. In two player mode, it’s even tougher.

The map building phase of the game is fantastic. It’s really fun to watch other players’ maps grow and try to anticipate their needs, while balancing with your own strategy. Sometimes the cards cooperate, sometimes they don’t. But the overlapping, tucking underneath aspect of card placement is really enjoyable and presents a nice logic challenge with many opportunities. Too often, like lots of games, your strategy at the beginning is different than at the end of the game, depending what on the cards and the location of the areas on them allow.

We played it in all player configurations and it’s just more fun with 4 or 5 players, not only because of the bidding mechanic, but it just felt like there were more options. In games with fewer players, it seemed like it was easier to stay at the top of the player order, but some of that could have been due to the players in the game.

The scoring feels a little like Between Two Cities or Quadropolis or one of the other build-a-city-score-some-points games out there. One thing that sets Honshū apart from those is that there aren’t any negative points in the game, which does give it a little zen vibe. That brings up an interesting point. The Card Selection phase is a bit stressful, with a small amount of nervousness associated with it, but the Building phase is really very peaceful and nice. You’re working out your map and that’s very enjoyable. More than once, as I was waiting for others to join me, I found myself just building with random cards. It’s the part of the game I liked the best.

Honestly, the theme of feudal Japan isn’t evident beyond the card backs, which you don’t really see much. If the land areas on the cards had been more representative of that time, perhaps it would have helped or even adding societal hierarchy art to the Player Order cards (in descending order, Shogun, Daimyo, Samurai, Peasant, etc.), maybe the theme would have felt stronger. But, no matter, Honshū is a really neat, little game. It’s enjoyable to play, pretty easy to teach and has made it to the table quite a bit in the time we’ve had with it. Plus, it’s available at a great price with a MSRP of $25, although it’s easy to find under $20 at Amazon or at your FLGS.

Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

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