A recent post on Hibernia: the March to Victory on BGG intrigued me enough to purchase the boardgame. Hibernia is a game nominally set in in Iron Age Ireland; the description suggests that four tribes are vying for the high kingship of Eire. The theme is established with the introductory historical quote:
“A mighty host was now assembled by the men of Connacht, that is, by Ailill and Medb, and they sent word to the three other provinces, and messengers were dispatched from Medb to the Manè that they should gather in Cruachan, the seven Manè with their seven divisions…Thus the four provinces of Hibernia gathered in Cruachan Ai. They pitched their camp and quarters that night, so that a thick cloud of smoke and fire rose between the four fords of Ai…and their poets and druids would not let them depart from thence till the end of a fortnight while awaiting good omen.”
– The Táin Bó Cúalnge
This quotation, from “The Rising-Out of the Men of Connacht at Cruachan Ai“, establishes the notion that there will be four sides to the game and what the ultimate prize is. Very economical.
Garrett and I played it three times last night and even the longest, learning the rules session was absurdly quick, like 20 minutes at most.
The bits are quite colorful, although I thought the publisher was ripped off by the color separators on the map board. Color is important in this game, for both movement and scoring reasons. Yet at first glance, one can barely discern red from yellow on the map. It becomes obvious after the first game but the proofs shouldn’t have been signed off in their current state.
The map is just a happy to glad criticism; the game is eminently playable as is. Moreover, I give the designer and publisher very high marks for the compact nature of these game components. When was the last time you could lay out a game and play it– comfortably– while eating Chinese? Even Zombie Dice takes up space. I was impressed.
The four tribes were represented by piles of red, green, blue and yellow cubes. Our mutual command of gaelic being somewhat rusty, we dubbed them the O’Neills (for the “Red Hand of Ulster” of course), the O’Haras (for the Gold Lion and Green field), the O’Malleys and the Borus (B for blue!)
Setup is easy enough: Each player takes a set of warriors in 1 color. Each player puts one of their warriors on the start space (Upper Left: Brown Rectangle with Celtic symbols) of the scoring track. Take one warrior from each player and use these to randomize a start player. Then randomly place these warriors on the 4 spaces marked with castle icons on the game board; this creates the starting position for each player. The first player places 3 warriors on the shield space in the upper left part of the game board, the second player places 2 warriors on the shield, and the third places 1 warrior there (I think the designer stipuates that to counterbalance the effect of going first). From the rules, as far as I can tell, the Castle/Celtic Knot area is some sort of Irish Valhalla where the souls of the departed go to await resurrection. But we’ll circle around and visit that one again. Play proceeds left from the start player.
From that point onward, it’s a mere matter of marching, hence the subtitle of the game. A player rolls the dice, which has colored dots on it– red, green, blue, yellow, white and black. The obvious colors represent colors on the map– if you roll these and have armies (cubes) adjacent to a county that is the color rolled, you may move into that space with a force as big as the one you are marching from. Example: an empty yellow county is next to a green and red county that has 1 green army in each. The player, when active, may attack the empty county with TWO armies, since two armies are adjacent.
There is also a white and black side to the cube, the white dot on the cube allows the player to move anywhere on the board, and the black dot moves his score marker along on the score track.
Combat is pretty simple and hardly problematic. If you march into a county that is occupied by enemy cubes, you exchange them on a 1 for 1 basis– so it’s a good idea to invade occupied real estate with more than they have present. Dead cubes go to the Valhalla like island, to be reinforcements at a later time. The active player can use 1 die of any color, or their wild play, to return all of her own warriors from the shield space to her supply. All other players return half their warriors (rounded down) from the Valhalla area to their supplies when the active player takes this action.
Scoring is the perhaps the niftiest.. and most frustrating element of HIBERNIA. There is a track around the map where each player can move his or her score marker, but only on the matching colors. As you can see from the map, they are staggered all over the map semi-randomly. Each turn, the player ends the turn and advances the score marker along the track on the matching colors the same number as counties they control. The fact that the scoring track leads to some bizarre strategies– for one thing we interpreted the rules to mean that once you “lap” the starting position, a score marker has to go as far as it can for that turn and then it’s there for the rest of the duration. So it’s quite possible to see how a game is going to end, and what a player has to accomplish to achieve victory, far in advance. I found myself attacking my opponent (Gar’s O’Haras) at the end game turn because I knew he would need a certain amount to pull ahead of my already stalled O’Neill score marker. As it was, the yellow score keeper marker advanced from last to second, simply because of the score track configuration!
In summary: Well, I love the subject and I enjoyed the game quite a bit, but that doesn’t mean those two factors have much to do with each other. I have read where the designer, Eric Vogel, likes to refer to Hibernia as a very light wargame with Euro mechanics. I don’t quite see it that way. I see it more as a Euro-style area control game with a wargame theme. If you can sort that phrase out. I liked the asymmetric scoring track and I loved the attempt at historical themes, but at the end of the day it’s extremely simple and a time-filler game. I had fun moving little cubes around the map, but I didn’t’ get a strong sense of game narrative from Hibernia. There’s not enough flavor there. A player does have a significant amount of choices to make, which I like, but movement is largely dominated by the color choice of the die roll, which is completely random. Random dice rolls are not the easiest bedrock to formulate a strategy on. For what it is, it is pretty good– I just wouldn’t be expecting a lot of depth (or really, a game much about Irish History) if I were you. Gar and I were ignorant of the official two player variant and just played two tribes against two tribes which worked out reasonably well. It is obvious that this game plays best with four players.
I would not hesitate to recommend this game at the price I paid for it, which was fairly affordable. A great game to take along on outings or picnics.. but probably not long car trips. Enjoy!
- Wargames, I have a thought (trolldens.blogspot.com)