Hamlet Builder Pro 5000 Kickstarter Preview

Hamlet Builder Pro 5000 is the newest Kickstarter game from the Gamecrafter, who not only supplies all kinds of awesome board game components, but also made one of our favoritest games ever, The Captain Is Dead.

Headed to Kickstarter on September 16th, Hamlet Builder Pro 5000 is a light tile-laying game where each player takes on the challenge of planning and building the most successful hamlet around!

Hamlet Builder Pro 5000 in all its prototypey glory! Let's plant some tiles!
Hamlet Builder Pro 5000 in all its prototypey glory! Let’s plant some tiles!

(Kickstarter prototype heads-up thingie: The Gamecrafter sent us this prototype for review.  No telling what kind of changes to art and components there might be during/after the Kickstarter.  DON’T SAY WE DIDN’T WARN YOU!!!)

jessmJessHamlet Builder Pro 5000?  Did a case of SURGE! get delivered to the Shire or something?

andysmAndrew:  I know, right?  X-treme town-building seems like, well, it’s hard to picture, frankly.

robsmRob:  Wait, this game isn’t about constructing the most effective Danish prince you can?

andysmAndrew:  What are you…oh, I get it.  No, not that Hamlet.

robsmRob:  Ah, nuts.  But tell me you wouldn’t play that game.

andysmAndrew:  I’d play the crap out of that game.  My Hamlet has +3 to Brooding!

robsmRob:  Yeah?  Well mine has +5 Skull-Finding.  My poison resistance is still zero, though.

andysmAndrewEveryone’s poison resistance is zero.

jessmJess:  Uh, boys?  Review time?

Hamlet Builder Pro 5000 (which I will absolutely be abbreviating, because come on) is designed for 1-6 players (with the solo option being a point-grab).  On paper, it’s a pretty short game; clocking in at just 7 rounds, Hamlet Builder Pro is one of those games that can vary pretty wildly depending on how analysis-paralysis-prone your slowest player is.

The stack of Year cards for a game shows you both what will happen at the end of this round as well as a sneak-peek at what will come in future rounds. Plan accordingly!
The stack of Year cards for a game shows you both what will happen at the end of this round as well as a sneak-peek at what will come in future rounds. Plan accordingly!

At the beginning of each round, the top card of the Year deck is revealed, giving players a warning of what the events which will trigger at the end of the round.  Very, very cleverly, not only do you get to see what will happen at the end of this round, but thanks to the iconography on the backs of the Year cards, players even have a little warning as to what is to come in future rounds.

Once the current Year card is revealed, all players will draw some town tiles from one of the two available bags.  The tiles in the pastoral green bag are relatively cheap and worth one point in the endgame.  The mysterious purple bag contains far more expensive, powerful tiles, worth two points.

Each player then adds as many tiles as they can afford, keeping in mind that the roads (both stone and dirt) must match up with the existing tiles.

There are also some stock 0-point tiles which are always available for purchase and are often extremely useful for setting up future tile positions, even though they don’t directly contribute to your hamlet’s score.

 

A properly built hamlet, with all roads respected.
A properly built hamlet, with all roads respected.

Tiles will generally grant some bonus to your hamlet’s stats, which consist of Income, Military, Culture, and Storage.

robsmRob:  Not poison resistance?

andysmAndrew:  Never poison resistance.

Your hamlet's stats. You will move those little rings around as these values increase (and sometimes decrease) during the game
Your hamlet’s stats. You will move those little rings around as these values increase (and sometimes decrease) during the game

Income is exactly what it says on the tin; the more you have, the more you get, generally speaking.  Military and Culture serve double-duty, often serving as success conditions for specific year cards (for example, the hamlet with the highest Culture gets some bonus stuff or the hamlet with the lowest Military loses a tile), as well as providing straight-up victory points at the end of the game.  The fourth stat, Storage, is sort of…odd.

Year cards can vary from incredibly friendly...
Year cards can vary from incredibly friendly…

andysmAndrew:  Ok, let’s see.  My income is a 23, so as per the Year card, I get 23 coins…but my Storage is only a 16, so I have to throw these 7 extra coins away?!?

jessmJess:  Oh, the value, it chafes me!  I can’t possibly carry all this money!

andysmAndrew:  …Said no one, ever.

Storage is there to make sure that someone doesn’t just go wild with Income during the first half of the game and then snooze their way through the end, but it can be so frustrating to have to toss your hard-earned cash.  It didn’t happen often, but every time it did, it left me gnashing my teeth.

So it’s important not to neglect your Storage, is what I’m saying.

...To incredibly not.
…To incredibly not.

Anyway.

Some tiles have adjacency bonuses or building prerequisites, so you need to always keep your whole hamlet’s layout in mind when making your placements.  Once you have placed as many as you can or want, you pass all but one (or more, in case you get a tile which lets you keep more) of any excess tiles you have to the next player.

After everyone has passed their excess tiles, the current Year card is resolved, the next Year card is revealed, and play continues with the drawing of more tiles.  After 7 rounds, players will score their hamlet by flipping over all their tiles and counting up the values there, as well as their current Culture and Military level.  The person with the highest score wins!  Ties are broken by currently held coins.  A further tie results in a duel to the death.

 

No, we didn't make this up. But we are entirely in favor of it!
No, we didn’t make this up. But we are entirely in favor of it!

robsmRob:  AHAH!  A duel to the death, eh?  Maybe this is a little more like that other Hamlet than you would have had me believe!

andysmAndrew:  What?  No, it’s just a thing from the-

robsmRob:  The lady doth protest too much, methinks!

andysmAndrew:  The lady?  I’m just…you know what?  I can’t.

So, with little exception, HBP is solitaire.  Everyone takes their turns simultaneously, with very little consideration given to what anyone else is doing.  The game has some mechanisms which are designed to mitigate that solitary gameplay, but honestly, you could set the game up in such a way as to never interact with your opponents at all.

A handful of little purple tiles will add up to huge points - if you can afford them.
A handful of little purple tiles will add up to huge points – if you can afford them.

jessmJess:  And that’s intentional – the setup for the game gives you options as to whether you want interactive year cards or solo year cards, positive year cards or negative year cards (or a mix of any of them).  I really like that, because it lets us play a game with just as much contention as we want.  The customization is awesome!

andysmAndrew:  Assuming we all agree.

jessmJess:  Well, of course!  But we do agree, right?

andysmAndrew:  Yes dear.

 

HBP is a really fun, relatively light-weight game with a lot to recommend.  We did find a few little missteps worth mentioning, but nothing that detracted from the overall quality of the game.

Firstly, the Gamecrafter makes lots of great components and I love how sturdy the little town tiles are.  However, the visual similarity of many of the tiles means that you will be constantly scanning your hamlet to try and pick out that Crop Farm so you can build your Windmill, and you will constantly be referring to your cheat-sheet (thoughtfully provided) to understand just what the heck this thatched-roof-thingie needs in order to be placed legally, as opposed to that slightly different thatched-roof-thingie.  It’s a quibble, but it slowed things down quite a bit at times.

It's handy to have a cheat sheet to track adjacency bonuses and prerequisites, but it's a little cumbersome to have to hunt through it time and again.
It’s handy to have a cheat sheet to track adjacency bonuses and prerequisites, but it’s a little cumbersome to have to hunt through it time and again.

And slowness is a potential issue here.  Especially towards the end of the game, each round (if you’re lucky and haven’t shorted yourself on coin) will be a long series of calculations as you try to squeeze the most points you can out of every tile.  The game is very wisely capped at 7 rounds; much more and the analysis periods would have become untenable.  Of course, if you have an AP-prone group, this is going to happen anyway, but that’s not the game’s fault.

End-game purple tiles cost huge amounts of coins but can combo in really effective ways.
End-game purple tiles cost huge amounts of coins but can combo in really effective ways.
I do hate these little paper coins, I have to admit.
I do hate these little paper coins, I have to admit.

Another gripe are the coins and the score mats.  I wish the mats were printed on heavier stock – it was too easy for a gentle nudge to displace them so that all the trackers moved around.  Same for the coins; the art was perfectly fine, but they are really nothing more than punched paper bits, and I absolutely hate that.  They were difficult to pick up, slid all over my table, and were generally tough to keep track of.  I really hope that in the final version of the game HBP comes with some better, less annoying coinage.

robsmRob:  Almost like you needed to build some Storage specifically for them, without which you might accidentally lose track of some stray coins each round?

andysmAndrew:  …Touché…

My final criticism, and this is truly a ‘your mileage may vary’ sort of observation, is that the theme on the box doesn’t match the game at all.

There are plenty of games I have played that have the theme pasted on, and that doesn’t stop a game from being great (although, if you do have good theme penetration, that is just awesome).  But this isn’t a criticism that the game is abstract and that the theme is irrelevant.

Quite the contrary; the whole hamlet-building theme feels just fine, and the events on the Year cards are a neat way of adding some randomness to the game.  It’s just that the whole X-TREME SUPER HARDCORE PRO 5000 OF THE STARS part of the game’s identity doesn’t exist anywhere other than the box.  One member of our group observed that if he hadn’t seen the cover, he would have almost guessed that it was a new, workerless, light-weight Keyflower variant (which he meant as praise; we all like Keyflower around here).  HBP just isn’t as hardcore as its title tries to suggest.

But the great news is that Hamlet Builder Pro 5000 doesn’t need X-TREME!!! to be a genuinely good game of its own accord.  It’s a fun, light-to-medium weight tile-laying game, with a really smart, modular setup and just enough moving parts to be engaging without being too fiddly.  Perhaps with a successful KS campaign, we might get an upgrade for those darn coins and then it will be awesome.

We are really looking forward to Gamecrafter’s Kickstarter for this one, and we hope it does great!

andysmAndrew:  Ok, that’s the end of the final round!  How is everyone’s hamlet?

jessmJess:  Mine is worth…70 points!

andysmAndrew:  Oh wow, good job.  Mine is only worth 56.  Stupid Storage.

robsmRob:  Mine…just died of his wounds.  Stupid poison.

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