Designed by Bobby Hill | Published by Renegade Game Studios & Garphill Games
1-6 Players | 60 Minutes
Beginning construction in 122 AD, Roman Emperor Hadrian began work on a defensive fortification protecting England from unconquered Caledonia to the north. Approximately 8 feet wide and 12 feet high, the manned Hadrian’s wall extended 73 miles (117.5 kilometers) to provide a barrier against the invading Picts. In Hadrian’s Wall, you’ll take on the role of a Roman General, tasked with building a milecastle and it’s bordering wall. Over 6 years (rounds), you’ll work to manage people as well as invest resources to produce a safe, effective and thriving society.
In this flip-and-write experience, you’ll attempt to distribute and re-invest resources each round across a variety of sections of your wall and milecastle, producing additional benefits and opportunities to prosper. With each passing round, the stakes go higher as the invading Pikes grow bolder in their approach. Compete against up to 6 players and pursue renown, piety, valor and discipline to become the most revered general.
When I initially opened Hadrian’s Wall I was very intimidated. While there aren’t a ton of components, the majority of the game takes place across two densely populated sheets of paper. Yes, it was intriguing, but my eyes quickly glazed over after scanning the near-infinite icons, symbols and blanks. After flipping through the equally comprehensive rulebook, I immediately packed the game away and stuck it back on the shelf.
A few days later I started to hear positive rumblings so I decided to pull it back out and bite the bullet. I read completely through the rulebook, and while it is incredibly comprehensive and detailed, it wasn’t the end of the world. Perhaps my apprehension was a little misguided.
My first couple plays were done in the solo mode and I then followed that up with a number of multiplayer games at different player counts. First and foremost, I can honestly say Hadian’s Wall plays out very similar no matter the player count. Play it solo, play it with friends – there are only minor changes to the solo and 2-player experience.
HOW TO PLAY THE GAME
To set up, you take 2 sheets provided from each of the 2 provided game pads. These will work in unison as your own personal player board. The left side features more of the physical wall construction while the right side focuses on the society of the milecastle.
The game takes place over 6 years (rounds) and each round all players will initially receive an equal number of resources made up of soldiers, builders, servants, civilians and bricks for building. The Fate Deck accounts for the specific number of resources and this will vary slightly each round. The Fate Deck will also be used to drive a number of other game-used actions – acting as the central deck for the entire game.
Players will also draw 2 cards from their personal player card deck. They will choose one to serve as one of their game objectives and the other provides a couple additional resources (people or bricks) which you can add to your starting stash.
At that point you’re let loose… off to the races… with about 1,000 different choices at your fingertips – how could you go wrong?
It’s best to briefly breakdown the areas of the player sheets in order to help you understand your opportunities, targets and benefits. As you play your resources in certain areas of the game, you’ll receive bonuses. These bonuses may be additional resources which you immediately use, victory points or benefits triggering actions on one of the many board sections. Similar to games such as “That’s Pretty Clever”, chaining the right actions together can substantially extend your turn and expand your options.
The Cippl, Wall & Fort are areas where you’ll build your defense and gather additional brick resources. It should be understood that developing any specific area of the game will lead to bonuses. For example, as you build out the Fort, you’ll receive discipline (victory points), additional civilians (resources) and cohorts necessary for front line defense against the impending Picts attack.
Another great example here of a theme running throughout the game is how it’s necessary to complete a specific area before you’re able to receive access to another. In this particular example, it’s necessary to complete certain portions of the Fort before you’re given further access to the Cippl or Wall. This goes even further as you’ll have to build Granary upgrades to extend the Fort… Yeah, I haven’t talked about the Granary at all, but there is so much going on in these 2 player sheets – I’ll probably skip quite a bit.
Areas such as the Resource Production section allows you to gain additional bricks, builders, citizens and victory points each turn. Targeting these early and often can obviously multiple your opportunities throughout the game.
The right side player sheet focuses more on the society of people living inside the wall. This features 5 unique sections called Citizen Tracks. Each Citizen Track requires citizens to be played and in-turn provide unique bonuses as you move closer to completion (9 spaced in all per track). The track themes are Traders, Performers, Priests, Apparitores and Patricians.
Progressing on each Citizen Track will open up additional areas for advancement. Each sub area plays out as it’s own mini-game with unique approaches and rewards. While they’re too extensive to detail here I will provide a couple of examples to wet your appetite.
On the Performers track you’ll gain access to the Theater. When you’ve paid the necessary resources to open the theater, you’ll be able to put on a performance once per year. By paying a brick resource, you’ll gain a variety of bonuses with each play. In addition to the Theater, you can also open the Ludus Gladiatorius. Prepare for the gladiator games by training your servants and citizens in the arena. This mini-game of sorts plays off the Fate Deck. After training your gladiator you can choose to have them fight! You’ll pull a card from the Fate Deck revealing a gladiator rating. This rating will determine whether your gladiator is victor or victim – depending on their own ranking – earning you honor or valor.
The Apparitores provides a pathway to access the Courthouse or the Baths. Rub elbows with the influential people of the day and see your opportunities rise. The Baths provide opportunities for diplomacy in battle. As the Picts attack, use diplomacy earned in the Bath’s to fend off defeat. The Courthouse in-turn offers opportunities for additional servants and builders.
Again, encorporporting careful planning will allow you to chain these actions together, multiplying your resources and victory points.
I didn’t go into the polynomial game you can play by sending scouts out through the Patricians Civilization Track, the Gardens and Temples built through the Priest Track or the inter-player trading done through the Traders Track. Suffice it to say, there is plenty to do and so many different ways to approach it.
As each round ends, the Picts will attack. As the game progresses, this attack will become more and more challenging. Failing to properly secure your wall will cause Disdain which results in negative points at the end of the game. Of course there are plenty of ways to mitigate this, but that’s another strategy you’ll have to discover for yourself. The game’s difficulty can be adjusted (easy, medium or hard) which changes the number of attack cards the Picts will use each round.
After the 6th and final round, players will total all their renown, piety, valor and discipline along with any achieved goals – minus disdain. The general with the highest total is declared the winner.
This is a surprisingly heavy box, but it’s mainly because of the 2-200 sheet player pads. Each individual sheet of paper is decently thick and is easy to write on. The wooden meeples and bricks used to represent the resources all work fine. Each player does receive a small, cardboard player board to arrange their pathway goals as well as hold their resources. It’s good quality – I can’t complain. Finally the individual player and Fate Deck cards are all high quality and should survive many plays.
The artwork in Hadrian’s Wall is solid. It’s from the same artist behind Garphill Game’s Raider’s of Scythia. The only qualm – and for me it’s a minor one – is with the games graphic design. Much of the information on the player sheets is really small. This will definitely be a problem for some people. You can tell they wanted to pack as much as possibly into a respectable sized sheet. If you can survive that hurdle, the icons and visual cues are all fairly easy to pick up on. Overall, this is a solid looking game.
In the matter of a few days, I went from packing Hardian’s Wall back up on the shelf to essentially leaving it out permanently. I would play this solo, with family, with friends, during lunches, in the middle of the night. I could not get enough of this game.
While I think this is an amazing game, I think a little context can help you determine if it’s right for you. I’m a huge fan of the That’s Pretty Clever/Twice as Clever games. I love the ability to chain multiple actions together and essentially turn a single point into 3, 4 or 5. That’s Hadrian’s Wall in spades. Starting out with only a minimal number of resources may seem a little unfulfilling (especially given the sheer magnitude of opportunities on the board). But… with a little creative ingenuity and planning you’ll easily be able to double those resources in a very satisfying way. You’ll feel incredibly clever, even on your more mediocre forays into resource management.
With so many choices available it’s easy to go down the rabbit hole. Fortunately, the game does it’s best to keep you focused and on-track by providing new personal goals each round through the player deck. While you may not always be successful here, it does provide a great place to start your pursuit. That’s not to say going down a rabbit hole is a bad thing – especially in a game with this many creative opportunities.
The choices aren’t rehashed from one section to the next – they’re all unique and full of flavor and color. The Priest track can easily multiply your efforts through building the Gardens. Training gladiators is it’s own mini push-your-luck game while the Scouting by pulling polynomial shapes from your opponents cards is just plain fun. There are tons of different strategies just waiting for you. Of course you can’t do everything, but that’s what your next game is for… and the one after that… and the one after that.
I noticed the first few rounds really zip by, but when you hit the 3rd or 4th round, your growth really kicks in and you start seeing huge rewards. The bulk of the game was spent in the 4th, 5th and 6th rounds. I often wondered if I accidentally skipped a round. That’s not to say the game drags – you’re engaged and the time just flies by. Could you spend 20-30 minutes contemplating your next move? Sure – which is why they have a solo mode… If that’s you – go play by yourself (please).
Truth be told, when playing in a group of 3, I kinda felt like I was in study hall. While there is a small amount of interaction, this is primarily a solo game played together with friends. You put your head down for 10-20 minutes, lift them up and then brag about everything you accomplished.
There is a lot to like in Hadrian’s Wall. The entire game is really well thought out and rewards players willing to invest in the game. The gameplay can be a bit of a brain-burner, but the moment you begin chaining actions together – you realize it’s completely worth it. The unique sub-areas of the game provide plenty of real estate and adventure to explore. The sheer number of choices can lead to over-thinking, so take that into consideration when deciding who to invite to your next game.
There is a ton of logic tied into the theme and really works within the gameplay to elevate the experience.
The game works brilliantly solo as well as in a group. While the setup is slightly different for solo and 2 players, it’s hardly noticeable. That being said, it works that well because there isn’t a ton of player interaction in the game. A multi-player game of Hadrian’s Wall is essentially a solo-experience played within a group setting. The graphic design is initially overwhelming and can be a bit hard to read, but that’s where the negatives end.
In the end, the pros far outway the cons. This is one of the best games I’ve played in a long time. In fact, I’m a bit addicted to the game. I love the choices and emotions the game draws out when you’re able to successfully chain together actions. There is a major sense of accomplishment as you build your infrastructure and see the separate pieces come together earning big bonuses. Overall, the gameplay is incredibly rewarding for both beginners and experts. While initially a little difficult to learn, everything flowed fairly smoothly after a couple of rounds. It is a bit heavy and that alone will eliminate a number of people, but, if you’re willing to give it a try, Hadrian’s Wall can be a truly satisfying experience that will likely make a lot of top lists this year.