I love small box card games. Honshu is one of them, and boy am I glad I stumbled across this little wonder!
In Honshu, you play a Lord or Lady of noble repute, seeking land and productive building opportunities. Towns, lakes, forests, fallow fields, production, factories. But, over twelve short rounds, you need to build right and balance well if you are going to score big!
Separate the cards into 60 map cards, 8 scoring objectives, 5 starting province cards, and 5 scoring reference cards. Place the 40 resource cubes (representing fish, gold, wood, and stone) within easy reach and give everybody a random starter and reference card face up in front of them (deciding whether to play the “A” (identical) or “B” (asymmetrical) side of the starter card). Remember to add a relevant resource cube to any empty production square on your starter card.
Shuffle the map cards, dealing 6 to each player leaving the deck in easy reach. If you are playing with a scoring objective, choose one at random and place that within sight of everyone. There are also 5 player order cards numbered 1 – 5. These are laid out according to how many players are at the table.
How To Play
In a 3 – 5 player game, player 1 kicks off the trick, i.e., round 1 by placing their chosen map card on their player order card for that round.
In turn, the other players continue the trick i.e., each person lays a card from their hand until everybody has one in front of them. As each map card has a number printed on it, the person who laid the highest number card gets the first pick from all the laid cards. But, when playing a card, it is also possible to boost the value of it by paying a resource cube already on your territory. For example, a cube is worth 60 so a #13 card played with a cube jumps up to 73.
Other players can also increase the value of the card they intend to play when laying it by adding one or more resource cubes. But they have to be of the same type as the type laid by the previous player (if any).
Once all the cards are taken, the used resources are returned to the pool, and players lay their chosen map card into their own territory. If the new card has any production squares on them, you can add a cube of the matching type onto those squares (but not onto the factories – those come later).
Rounds 2 and 3 continue as before. Then, after round 3, all players pass their remaining 3 cards to the player on their left, before resuming the trick and placing phases. At the end of round 6, everybody picks up 6 new cards and play continues. Then after the 9th round, everybody again passes their 3 remaining cards to the player on their right.
After the 12th round, end of game scoring takes place.
Placing the map cards into your province comes with a few simple sounding restrictions. The new card must partially overlap or be tucked under an existing map card by at least one square, and lakes can never be covered up. If you cover up a production square with a cube on it, that cube must be discarded.
Because of the trick-taking and bidding mechanisms, a two-player game of Honshu works a little differently. Each round, two cards are revealed from the map deck and laid down face up in a pair. Then you each simultaneously lay down a card from your own hand to form a second pair.
The player who has laid the highest numbered card gets to decide which pair of cards they want. But before they can take them, the other player gets to decide if they want to pay any 2 (they don’t have to be the same type) resource cubes from their map productions squares to take that pair instead.
Once each player has a pair, they choose one to place and the other gets discarded. Any production squares on the new card get filled in the usual way and the rounds continue in the same pattern as the multiplayer version.
For some reason in Honshu, the simple scoring muddled us the first time we played. As such, I’ll explain the scoring here too:
- Each visible forest square is worth 2 points – forest squares do NOT have to be adjacent to one another to score 2 points.
- Only your LARGEST town zone will score points and town squares MUST be adjacent to count in forming a zone – each square in your town zone is worth 1 point.
- Each lake zone has the potential to score, but the FIRST lake square in any lake zone is worth ZERO. The remainder is worth 3 each. As such, the more adjacent lake squares you can place, the more your lake zone will be worth.
- If you have a factory square in your province of a type that matches a resource cube sitting on a production square elsewhere in your territory can be moved to the factory and will score the points shown on that factory square – they show 2, 3 or 4 points.
- Points will be awarded for achieving the scoring condition on the objective card (if used).
- Note that fallow fields are worth zero, however, if players are tied for the highest score, the player whose province has the most visible fallow fields is the winner.
Like other small box card games, we stumbled upon over the past 18 months, Honshu has been an excellent crunchy and fast playing surprise. As a result, it has become an instant pre and after dinner gaming hit for us!
The need to balance playing cards, keeping cards, using resources, keeping resources. There’s a lot going on in such a small package! I love how the tension ratchets up over the rounds too. Knowing you are going to lose your cards twice over in rounds 3 and 9 also brings in another element to the strategic play.
I think the only niggle I have with the game is that the glossy cards are prone to slide around. So be prepared for your province to shift about as you weave cards under and over existing ones!
Honshu is a great fast-playing, thinky little engine building twist on trick-taking games that works really well at two-players and larger groups.