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Hadrian's Wall - Punchboard Reviews

A Updated May 26, 2021
 
4.5
 
0.0 (0)
814 0
Hadrian's Wall - Punchboard Reviews

Game Information

Designer
Players
1 - 6
There Will Be Games

Garphill Games’ first big release for 2021 is here, and it’s a flip-and-write game. The roll/flip-and-write genre has traditionally been fairly light in terms of complexity, and the games are usually expected to be filler material – good for a quick play but not the sort of thing to bring people to the table for. We expect them to be light, because most of the something-and-write games are light, so it’s great to see a well-known publisher break the status quo and show what’s possible.

In Hadrian’s Wall, you are a Roman general, tasked with building a section of the eponymous structure which marked the boundary between what was Roman Britannia (England), and Caledonia (Scotland) in the north. Over six rounds, you’re going to construct walls and defences against the Pict invasions, entice citizens with baths, theatres and temples, and increase your renown, piety, valour and discipline, while trying to avoid disdain. Or you’ll try to, at least. The way you do this is using the various people and resources at your disposal each round and assigning them to tasks, reaping benefits along the way.

resources on cardsThese cards are flipped every round to show your starting resources, on the bottom, and the directions to defend during invasions, on the top.

I appreciate the fact that the rule book’s foreword acknowledges slavery. At the point in history that the game is set, slave labour made-up up to a third of the Roman Empire’s workforce, so to ignore it would have been insensitive. The history is acknowledged, the terminology rephrased to call those pieces ‘servants’, and it’s enough. The actions and game are so far abstracted from real life that it doesn’t feel like an issue for me.

Tick-box culture

Instead of a game board and player boards on the table, as in most games, Hadrian’s Wall sees the players tearing a couple of sheets off the huge pads included in the box. Armed with a pen, pencil, or your favourite blunt crayon, whenever you take an action you fill in a box on one of the sheets. If you cross out a symbol in a box, you get the thing that symbol represents as a bonus. That bonus could be another person to use, a step up one of the various tracks, or even favour, which can be used to help when the Picts invade. Where the game gets really juicy though, is when these actions combo up and give you more and more things.

game setup for playA game set-up, ready to go. Each player has what you see here: the small top board, a deck of cards, and the two sheets.

Anyone who’s played a good roll-and-write, like Ganz Schon Clever for example, knows how rewarding that dopamine-releasing feedback loop feels. It feels disproportionately satisfying to cross out a box just because you crossed out a different box. Trust me, when you scribble out a box that ends up seeing you tick another three boxes and grab another tiny wooden meeple, you might as well have just found a tenner in your trouser pocket.

It’s a good job it’s such a satisfying exercise, because when you first lay down the two sheets in front of someone, to call it daunting would be an understatement. Everyone has the same “Woah…” reaction. When I said there are boxes to tick, I meant, there are a LOT of boxes to tick. In the interests of public service, I’ve just counted all the little boxes and circles on the sheets, and I make it 412. That’s a lot of boxes. So you sit there, stunned, looking at two big sheets of paper with hundreds of boxes, and you’ve got no idea where to start. Fear not, reader, because things are not as complicated as they seem.

Just start playing

That’s my advice to anyone playing Hadrian’s Wall for the first time – just start playing. The rule book is fantastic, and follows a great logical order. You’re instructed to lay one sheet on the left, the other on the right, and each of the different sections on the sheets has its own section in the rulebook. Those sections are clear, concise, and give specific examples for each one, and they’re in logical order.

players' cardsThe players’ cards, flipped in pairs each round. One gives you a goal (top of the card), the other gives you scouting patterns, resources, and goods to trade (bottom of the card)

If you want the rules for forestry and mining (top of the left sheet), they’re near the front of the book. If you want to find out how to Scout (bottom of the right sheet), it’s at the back of the book. I wouldn’t normally talk about the rules as much as this, but in a game which initially looks impenetrable, it’s important to understand how easy it is to learn to play Hadrian’s Wall.

Once you start ticking boxes and seeing how the various tracks interact, it’s a game that you’ll pick-up very quickly, and at the same time you’ll start to see just how much fun it is. Hadrian’s Wall is awesome. I’m addicted. For every review I write there’s a (secret!) minimum number of times that I play each game, and let’s just say that my play count for this one is far in excess of that number.

Building a landmark

Hadrian’s Wall is a landmark game for me. It’s the first time I’ve played a flip-and-write that feels like a full-on game, and it’s a fantastic game too. Fleet: The Dice Game is a great roll-and-write game, but it doesn’t quite bridge the gap between filler and feature in the same way as Hadrian’s Wall does . It feels like a big Euro game in the Garphill Games universe, because it is a big Euro game, and because Shem Phillips saw a natural fit between Bobby Hill’s design and his own games’ settings. The only difference is it just uses paper and pens instead of cardboard and wood for the main game.

left sheet The left sheet at the end of the game. Don’t worry, I promise it all makes sense when you play.

It’s important to understand that this game could have been made a couple of different ways. The pads of sheets could have been a few player boards, and each step on each track could have been a wooden cube on a square, but they aren’t, and I’m so glad that’s the case.

right sheetThis is the right sheet. Even at the end of the game, you can see I didn’t really start the market, gladiators or courthouse. There’s a lot to do.

Scribbling on the sheets and filling in boxes is a tangible, personal thing. It feels good to colour in the boxes. By using pens and paper, the setup and tear-down time is tiny, and that’s something I appreciate more and more these days. As a dad and full-time employee, my free time is really precious to me. I can get Hadrian’s Wall setup in a couple of minutes and play a deep, thinky, satisfying game in half an hour. That’s amazing to me, and one of the reasons I keep coming back to it.

Final Thoughts

Hadrian’s Wall doesn’t feel solvable. There is too much to do in any one game, and too much variance in the setup and goals – which are card-driven – to make it possible to solve. This is huge for me. Ganz Schon Clever is great, but when I realised how to ‘solve’ it (or at least score 300+ each game), it really killed it as a game for me. I’ve chatted to lots of different people about strategy for Hadrian’s Wall, including folks at Garphill, and everyone has their own strategy, and they all work to some extent. This makes me very happy, because it means I know I will get a good way through the 100 pages per sheet and not have the game solved.

Hadrian’s Wall is not a game for someone looking for a light flip-and-write. This is way deeper than the likes of Silver & Gold or Metro-X, and that’s why I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending it to anyone who enjoys medium-weight games, and upwards. There’s a ridiculous amount going on, but it’s all tied together cohesively, and it’s so, so satisfying, in every aspect. From the combination of scribbling in box after box, to the tension of revealing the invasion cards at the end of the round and seeing if your defences stand up, it’s just brilliant. Please, don’t judge the game by looking at the pages of boxes. Play it once, just once, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it just as much as I do.

Hadrian’s Wall is my favourite game of 2021. I know there’s still two-thirds of the year still to go, but it’s drawn a line in the sand for me, and other games are going to have to go some to top it.

Review copy kindly provided by Garphill Games. Thoughts and opinions are my own.


Editor reviews

1 reviews

Rating 
 
4.5
Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian's Wall from Garphill Games, proving a flip-and-write game can be a game night game, not just filler.
A
1 reviews
Adam Richards (He/Him)
Associate Writer

Adam lives in Cornwall, UK. He has been playing tabletop games in a ‘serious’ way (i.e. something other than Cluedo and Blackjack) for 10+ years now. If it goes on a table, he's happy to play pretty much anything, as long as it’s not roll-and-move. However, he loves Eurogames most of all, especially anything with worker placement or a rondel, as well as social and hidden-role games. His favourite designers are Alexander Pfister, Shem Phillips, Stefan Feld and Uwe Rosenberg.

Outside of board games he has a lifelong obsession with videogames, and loves gardening, space exploration and pretty much anything nerdy in the slightest. You can find more of his reviews and articles on his site - Punchboard Reviews

Reviews & Articles by Adam Richards

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ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #323464 26 May 2021 11:48
This sounds intriguing, but YIKES those boards look like headache inducing spreadsheets.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #323477 26 May 2021 19:47
So . . . just marking boxes? I don’t mean that as a knock on the game, more of an attempt to understand how it plays. Cards? Dice? Action Points? Is there anything that rattles your plans?
jason10mm's Avatar
jason10mm replied the topic: #323478 26 May 2021 20:11
So how many sheets does it have? 'Cause I ain't playing a game unless I can get at LEAST 100 plays out of it :P

A couple of years back some of those roll n'write solo games made the rounds here and I really enjoyed them. You are absolutely correct that there is some sort of undeniable satisfaction to physically marking off stuff versus pushing a cube higher on a track or whatever. And the very light setup footprint is nothing to scoff at either.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #323479 26 May 2021 20:19
Great review.

Edit: it's a roll and write, Sag, so generally those are about an initial roll and the distributing and/or manipulating those dice to accomplish goals.
adamr's Avatar
adamr replied the topic: #323480 27 May 2021 02:13

Sagrilarus wrote: So . . . just marking boxes? I don’t mean that as a knock on the game, more of an attempt to understand how it plays. Cards? Dice? Action Points? Is there anything that rattles your plans?

It's a flip and write, so each round you flip two cards. One gives you resources (people and stones to spend, to tick off boxes), the other gets added to your player board to give you a goal to score towards.

I think I mention that under the photo of the cards, but in fairness maybe I should have explained a bit better.

The thing which rattles you are the attacks after each round. Part of what you're doing is building defences, and after each round some cards are flipped (the number depends on your difficulty level) , and you suffer penalties if you can't defend them all.
adamr's Avatar
adamr replied the topic: #323481 27 May 2021 02:18

jason10mm wrote: So how many sheets does it have? 'Cause I ain't playing a game unless I can get at LEAST 100 plays out of it :P

A couple of years back some of those roll n'write solo games made the rounds here and I really enjoyed them. You are absolutely correct that there is some sort of undeniable satisfaction to physically marking off stuff versus pushing a cube higher on a track or whatever. And the very light setup footprint is nothing to scoff at either.

As it happens, there are exactly 100 sheets in each pad :)

Crossing out boxes is a very personal thing for some reason. I cross that box out, which means that I can cross this box out, then I get these bonuses.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #323483 27 May 2021 07:44

adamr wrote:

Sagrilarus wrote: So . . . just marking boxes? I don’t mean that as a knock on the game, more of an attempt to understand how it plays. Cards? Dice? Action Points? Is there anything that rattles your plans?

It's a flip and write, so each round you flip two cards. One gives you resources (people and stones to spend, to tick off boxes), the other gets added to your player board to give you a goal to score towards.

I think I mention that under the photo of the cards, but in fairness maybe I should have explained a bit better.

The thing which rattles you are the attacks after each round. Part of what you're doing is building defences, and after each round some cards are flipped (the number depends on your difficulty level) , and you suffer penalties if you can't defend them all.


Thank you! And do all players take their turns simultaneously?
adamr's Avatar
adamr replied the topic: #323488 27 May 2021 09:51

Sagrilarus wrote: Thank you! And do all players take their turns simultaneously?

They do, yes. When you use the market spaces, you can actually pass resources to your neighbours, and they can use them in that turn. In solo play there's a deck that just has fresh cards flipped each round, and the traded good adds another invader at the end of the round.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #323493 27 May 2021 10:28
Well there you go, I was wrong as hell.
adamr's Avatar
adamr replied the topic: #323501 27 May 2021 12:12

Gary Sax wrote: Well there you go, I was wrong as hell.

Not really, just a step removed. Instead of the dice saying what you can do, the card says 'take 1 black, 2 purple, 1 yellow, 2 blue and a stone', then you spend those crossing them off.

Some of the things you've crossed off might give you extra things at the start of each round too.

The principle is the same, it's just a card flip instead of a dice roll.