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Hands in the Sea Review
There's little sadder than finding out a favourite toy is broken. So it was with A Few Acres of Snow. After enjoying a few months in the gaming limelight, someone found out it was bust. If you don't know why it's bust you're best left in ignorance so we'll not elaborate. Suffice to say that even the designer agreed and proclaimed the game impossible to fix. And so a promising new avenue of deck-building design turned out to be a short cul-de-sac of disappointment. We all moved on.
All except for Daniel Berger.
Unicron wrote: Great review, Matt! It's a great game about everybody's second favorite Punic War that has received very mixed reviews from folks I've played with. I would advise anyone playing with new players, to double check the starting decks before every play. It seems like everytime we finished a game, someone removed a vital starting card and place it in the empire deck.
All the starting cards in my copy are marked with an "S" so it's not too hard to check whether you've got everything you ought to have.
I'd be interested to know what negative things the folks you've played with have to say about this game?
Of my three opponents, only one enjoyed the game. Battles too often favored the defender or were just draws. There is a lot to like about the game, but I'm not having much luck finding opponents.
First game we played and used the rule wrong that fights start out at the 0 space instead of the -1 space on the track - we both liked the 0 spot better than -1 since planning to win a fight takes so long to do and already at the 0 is enough of a defensive advantage. Thats an easy one to fix, just start all fights at 0 instead of -1.
Next I found the importance of pillaging using navies super frustrating once one player has a decisive naval advantage. There are two strategy cards that help out in sea fights, one adds +2 dice and the other is Roman only and allows use of heavy infantry. Oh and one other card that discards an opponent card on a successful pillage. So these are a big deal and if either player has one of them can be pretty strongly abused. Once one player has a significantly larger navy, they can camp a spot, either Sicily or Sardinia, and pillage the opponent to keep them poor and force them to build up navies. Then the huge naval fight occurs and luck determines the outcome, but odds are the larger force wins. And will chase down the smaller force to destroy it again. Then the winner continues to pillage and keep the opponent poor. This is even with the option rule of applying maintenance costs to strategy cards. Meanwhile the loser slowly puts together a new navy because there is nothing else they can do; no money means no new cards means no upgrading the deck or even paying for the cards in the reserve to attack or defend in fights. The last game I played I literally spent a full hour doing nothing but buying more ships and cycling my deck for colonists and money cards that I happen to draw on the same turn, then badly losing a naval fight, then doing it again for another few turns before resigning. I'll admit I probably am doing something wrong strategy wise, but as Carthage money is pretty tight and once Rome has a naval advantage and continues to pillage and reduce your VPs I couldn't figure out what else to do. Yes there is one strategy card that forces an opponent to pay for pillaging, but I don't have the money to buy it or my opponent can just buy and discard it instead.
Overall my bigger problem with the game is that I feel like I have very few choices each turn. To attack you need to buy the generals for that free action, plan the route and possibly even the colonist all to do one thing. Likewise upgrading navies requires colonists and money and a ship icon to pillage...there are a lot of icons that you have to lineup in advance of your turn to do this one thing. I didn't enjoy the limitations this puts on me each turn, especially in a deck system where my draws are not reliable although this did improve in later plays once we focused more on deck thinning. In contrast, other games that I really enjoy give a number of options each turn. Argent, Study in Emerald, Glory to Rome, Pax Porfiriana all offer me many choices, just not all equal each turn. In HitS I don't feel like I have the same opportunity because it takes so long to do seemingly essential things, like build ships or settle a neighboring city.
And this isn't to say that I don't see a couple great ideas in Hands in the Sea. The strategy cards (with maintenance costs) are really powerful and should help change your strategy as the game goes on. The round ending with one player exhausting his deck is great, it gives them either a gas or break pedal. Just my opinion after 3 games.
Scott_F wrote: I'll admit I probably am doing something wrong strategy wise, but as Carthage money is pretty tight and once Rome has a naval advantage and continues to pillage and reduce your VPs I couldn't figure out what else to do.
I agree this exact situation is problematic. However, to get and maintain a decisive naval advantage, Rome really needs to have one of the three naval strategy cards. So it doesn't arise that often. We've actually had the Carthage player use an action to clear the strategy offer when one of the cards comes up to stop the Roman player getting it.
It also means that Rome doesn't have another strategy card. So a possible counter is for the Carthage player to forget about the navy and choose a land-based strategy instead. War Elephants can be terrifying in concert with the card that gives +1 to all dice rolls (and that helps the navy too). Rome doesn't have such a significant military advantage that they can't be beaten by a Carthage player with the right combination of cards. And by the time Rome has a naval advantage, Carthage often has a significant VP lead from the early game, so it's about clinging on through the end game.
But in short, you make good points, and I agree. Especially about the problem of a naval imbalance. I guess I just see them as much more minor issues that don't arise that often.
I'm so glad somebody decided to fix one of Martin Wallace's half baked ideas. So many of Wallace's games are 80% brilliant and just feel it needs a little more play testing to make the game a classic. Hands in the Sea has it's many issues, including folding the board but hopefully other game designers will attempt to fix other broken Martin Wallace games.
Carthage is not at a disadvantage financially. They are at a disadvantage on developing, but they have other ways to make money. The trick to this game is understanding how to counter every strategy and I find most players simply do not know how to do it.
One more thing to keep in mind. If you don't want your opponent getting a certain strategy card, use the cycle action.