Hiroba Board Game Review
WBG Score: 7.5/10
Player Count: 2–4
You’ll like this if you like: Sudoku, Rune, Blue Lagoon.
Published by: Funnyfox
Designed by: Johan Benvenuto, Alexandre Droit, Bertrand Roux
Sudoko burst onto the scene via apps, newspapers puzzle pages, and magazines in the 2000's, after being a huge part of life of Japan for years. It surprises me that you don't see more games utilise the Sudoko mechanics. However, Hiroba certainly does, and builds on this simple puzzle idea to create a very interesting game. Let's get it to the table to see how it plays.
Take nine of the board tiles and place them at random into a three by three grid. For a two player game, flip over four tiles to create a smaller game area, and for a three player game, flip over two tiles. Then place a Koi pond token onto each pond square, with the water side showing. Each player then takes a player board and their nine numbered pebbles of their chosen colour. Give the first player two stone tokens, and one to the second player, then if you have four players, the third player also gets one, but no more are handed out in a three player game. You are now ready to play the game.
How to Play
Starting with the first player each person will place one of their pebbles onto the board. On your first turn, you must place your first pebble onto one of the starting spaces marked with concentric circles. On subsequent turns you must place each pebble into row or column of a previously placed pebble. Like Sudoko, you cannot place a pebble into a row, column, or garden area where another pebble with the same number has already been placed. You also cannot place your pebble onto a space where there is already another pebble, a pond token, or a stone. Obz!
Each pebble is double sided, and when you place them you can choose which side to use. As an optional action, if you have one, you can then place a stone into any space to block the other players from being able to go there.
Play continues until all pebbles have been placed, at which point players will check to see who wins each koi token. They are given to the player with the lowest accumulative score in each space above, below, or beside each one. In a tie situation, both players take a koi token. Players can then place the koi tokens, flipped to show a x2 symbol, into any garden they have majority, in order to double their scores there. Any unused koi tokens will score one point at the end of the game.
The winner is then calculated for each garden based on the numbers shown on each pebble. So, in the example below, blue would have 17 in the bottom garden and zero in the top one. Red has five in the top garden and eight in the bottom. Red will then score two points for the two squares in the top garden they win. And blue will score 12 points for the bottom area, taking into account the x2 multiplier. Once all garden's have been scored, the winner is declared.
Is it Fun?
Playing Hiroba is a calming, but challenging experience, that I think many puzzle fans will enjoy. The mechanics and setting are all very calming. The gameplay is quite focused to your own game. Obviously you can affect what other players can do by placing your own pebbles, and the game is mainly about area control. But it feels like a solo game with the other players all working as bots against you. It's a strange feeling, but one that works incredibly well for a game of this style.
I enjoy the placement rules, and the challenge this creates. Only being able to place pebble's onto rows and columns where you have already placed one before, whilst having to observe the Sudoko rules of not matching numbers in rows, columns, or gardens, makes this first phase highly strategic. You will want to control the larger gardens, but you also need to defend gardens you have placed pebbles at previously, if another player overtakes your score there. This is so you don't waste previously placed pebbles. But, let's face it, mainly as in area control games, players get very defensive! Wanting to control what they have. And defending what was once theirs!
But if you focus too much on defending gardens you once had and have now lost, you may lose out on other areas. Gifting other gardens to other players. You need to try and spread your pebbles around the board as far and wide as you can, whilst not spreading yourself too thin, and loosing control in each garden. It's a delicate, challenging, but enjoyable challenge.
The scoring is very satisfying. Being able to double your points with the koi pond tokens is a great reward for being able to place your pebbles in the right places in the first phase. The way these koi tokens are distributed is very clever. Making it about the lowest scores in the surrounding spaces, instead of the highest scores, makes each pebbles at your disposal valuable. You will want to place the higher scoring pebbles into the larger gardens, away from the ponds. And the lower scoring pebbles next to the koi ponds, into the gardens where you hope you can win by the odd point.
I would recommend this game to anyone who enjoys abstract strategy games, puzzle games, and obviously Sudoko, and is looking for a game that works in this way. Hiroba has created a beautiful, small box game, that distills a wonderful sense of strategy and interplay, in a very focused and satisfying way. I think people who enjoy solo puzzles will enjoy this a lot, and will find the interaction with other players set to the perfect level.
I can see this game getting a lot of plays. Games last between 10-20 minutes depending on the player count, and set-up and teach is done in minutes. It's a perfect travel, or pub game. And I have found to be the perfect, 'we have a short amount of time before we need to do something else' game. Pre dinner. Before we go out. Before we start a bigger game with others we are waiting to arrive. This game is the perfect filler experience.
I very much the experience of playing Hiroba. I enjoy the challenge it presents, in the speed of game it offers. I know I am going to be making some interesting decisions, but in a game I can take from the shelves, set up and play and finish all within under half an hour. This game is highly accessible but also rewarding. I think it could have benefited from some variation with additional tiles, using extra rules for symbols or tokens you can place on the tiles. Something simple like a marker on some tiles that have to see an even number placed on it. Or, maybe something more complex using a gardener meeple that moves around and blocks certain gardens when present. But outside of that, this is a wonderfully produced, very enjoyable puzzle that I will enjoy for many years to come.