1-4 players, Competitive/Cooperative, Thematic Hand Management Adventure
Designer: Walter Barber, Ian VanNest, Andrew Zimmerman
Artwork: Stephen Gibson, Hannah Kennedy, Jason Piperberg
Publisher: Greenbrier Games
Champions of Hara was one that I played a full 4-player competitive game of for my first game. Although it ran LONG with tremendous amounts of downtime between player turns, I still enjoyed the thematic feel of the game. Eventually I sought it out and grabbed a copy and played a few more games at different player counts to get the full feel for it. Let’s take a look at how it measures up.
Overview of Gameplay
In Champions of Hara players will be moving around a grid style board composed of large hex tiles fighting monsters and undertaking quests. All of this is in an effort to gain energy of three different types. The first player to fully fill up all three of their energy tracks and make it back to the center tile is the winner (In the competitive mode)! The co-op mode is a bit different in where players will be working together to complete a specific challenges in order to complete a specific scenario to win.
The gameplay is pretty much the same regardless of which mode you play in with the only difference being the win condition. ALTHOUGH there is some pretty nifty story arc stuff included with the game for each of the playable characters. It is recommended right off the bat for new players to play the competitive versus game and then the winner of that game gets to choose a specific scenario to play next and they also gain a reward in the form of a new progression card. This is really neat to incorporate into the game but at the same time you really need to play the game many, many times to fully appreciate this. Luckily you can also just play one off games however you want so it is nice to have a choice.
Discussing the basic competitive game a bit more, players will each choose one of the six characters to play as and each of them play vastly different. Well, they all have the same basic movement abilities but their individual powers they have at their disposal are varied. Each player will have their own individual hand of cards that can be played on their turn which can perform a variety of functions based around their character. On your turn you have three activations and you will spend these either playing a card from your hand performing the top portion of the card, or using the bottom action of an already played card earlier in the game. These usually involve moving your character around the board activating enemies or quests. When you activate a card from your hand it goes to the table so you can use the bottom portion later. And similarly when you activate a card on the table it will return to your hand to be able to play later. It’s an interesting mechanic and highly strategic on when you want to play cards as you have to think ahead for those luscious bottom card actions. After each player ends their turn the monsters on the board get a chance to unleash their devious attacks to that player if they are in range. This is a simple affair where the monster just hits the players for damage equal to the monsters attack strength, although there are abilities that can alter that a bit.
After all players have taken a turn and monsters have spanked said players, dusk will descend over the land. During this phase of the game DUSK cards will be spawned! For each Dusk card you will roll a couple dice that will dictate exactly which tile and spot on the tile they will appear. These little babies will basically spread more enemies and quests about the land. After that a World Shift card is drawn that will cause the tiles to be mixed up a bit, usually by switching the positions of two main tiles. This could change up the positions of players as well if you happen to be located on said tiles.
So, players will go through these actions over and over completing quests and fighting monsters ALL in an effort to increase their three energy pools. Each monster and quest will have a particular amount of energy you gain when you defeat it plus other goodies like rare equipment sometimes. Of course there is also an artificial time limit incorporated into the game. Each day and dusk phase you go through is a single day and at the end of the 6th day if no players have achieved victory, game over with no winners.
The components are excellent all around. The minis you have for each character look great and the fact there are minis for the big baddies you can go against in the co-op mode is awesome. Really adds to the theme of the game having visual representation of the characters in the game. The player boards where players will track their energy levels are all double layered AND the little plastic tokens you use to track them are VERY weighty and to be honest are some of the most premium feeling plastic tokens I have encountered.
If I had one wish it would be for the enemy, quest, dusk and world shift hex cards to actually be cardboard tiles. Granted that would create a space issue but the hex cards feel so thin to me. Having nice solid tiles would just be icing on the cake for this game. Speaking on the cards a bit more I do love how they handle some of the abilities with “charge counter” tokens. These are little more than small square cardboard tokens that sit atop some ability cards but they are super neat in how they operate. When you draw a card that have a certain number of uses you will take one of these charge counter tokens and place it on the card in a particular spot. When you use one of the charges, you rotate the charge counter token to keep track. I really love that.
The game board is a very good quality containing multiple large hex tiles. Not only are these thick and sturdy but are double sided as well! Now each side mechanically is the same but with completely different artwork adorned. One side has a darker, more gloomy look and feel to it whereas the other side is super bright and colorful. Personally I prefer the colorful side as I feel it really brings out the theme of the game more.
The box is pretty deece. The bottom portion has a nice plastic insert that holds the minis and cards pretty well and does have a couple cardboard pieces that sits atop the minis that serves two purposes. Firstly it prevents the minis from plummeting out when the box is stored on its side and secondly it provides support for the board tiles that will sit above the stood up hex cards. It’s an interesting method for a storage solution but it works! Because of this though the box is rather deep although to be honest it’s not that bad.
Visual Appeal /Theme
The theme is there, but it’s kinda hard to see in the competitive game. I mean I can see they put a lot of time and effort into each of these characters and the little stories that each has along with the scenarios that they want you to go through. However, when playing the competitive game you really miss out on all of it. The game boils down to trying to level gain numbers so your number can beat that enemies number so you can gain more numbers of energy and win. And that is anything but thematic. The player powers are interesting and luckily do save it a tad but you won’t be using those all that often.
And this is really the most surprising thing to me when it comes to this game. I went in expecting an extremely thematic experience incorporated into the gameplay but the competitive mode fails terrifically in this regard. Completing the steps just to max out all three energy levels just wasn’t fun to me over multiple plays, even if you did get new powers. Which honestly just were used to more quickly max out those levels. /yawn.
Now as for the co-op mode, it is a little better. You actually have specific monsters to go against called, “The Corrupted”. Now each of these has its own stat card that shows health and abilities amongst other things. I found this game mode to be MUCH more exciting and thematic than the competitive mode. Since you don’t need to worry about maxing out energy you can focus on defeating those enemies or quests that might interest you more in an effort to level up enough in order to actually go against the Corrupted. Of course since the combat in the game is very simplistic, the fights are not very exciting.
Visually however the game is excellent on all counts. Especially the more bright and vibrant alternate side of the game tiles. Everything is colored coded for a specific zone and the artwork is incredible all around. I am happy to state that this is a visually stunning game.
The rulebook is a bear to get through. Starting out learning the game I was flipping all over the place trying to tie everything together. It suffers from being far too wordy with most of the instruction in paragraph form kinda like reading a long book. Not only that, but the information was ordered very strangely with some bits of info tossed into the middle of sections that felt like they should have been elsewhere. The setup section is pretty rough as well. It has a picture of basically how it SHOULD look but explains it with paragraphs instead of numbered bullet points. Going a bit further, the page layout is pretty odd being split down the middle. Needless to say, I had a heck of a time learning and playing my first couple games of this, coming back many weeks later having to almost relearn the entire game again. Also, searching around for particular questions was difficult even though there is a table of contents at the front.
Player Interaction/Fun Factor
Player interaction is there but it is low even on the competitive mode. Considering player death is but a mild annoyance and what you get for defeating another player usually isn’t really worth the effort, it’s almost more of a hindrance to the game than anything. During our playthroughs we fought just once and it was so anticlimactic that it could have been argued that it didn’t happen at all. The winner gaining two of any resource with the loser losing two and going back to the middle of the board, which is within arms-reach of everywhere. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the player interaction is very low in this game regardless which mode you play. Players are far more likely to just go about their own business and complete quests and fight monsters and there are always a lot to choose from as every day more gets added to the board.
Now that being said I did have quite a bit of fun with the game when playing either solo or 2 players. Hitting up the locations and defeating monsters and seeing what cool new item I could draw (and there are a lot!) to use is awesome. The co-op game of building up to defeat the Corrupted monster was much more exciting as it also performed an action based on its die rolled every day, which kept the excitement up.
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
I would say solo or 2 players all the way. Unfortunately there are only a few solo scenarios to choose from included in the rulebook BUT you could always play as a couple characters at the same time and do a basic co-op game as well. That’s one good thing about the game is that there are A TON of play style options. I cannot recommend playing with 4 and even 3 is pushing it. The downtime between turns can be horrendous and honestly nothing at all will ever really concern you during another players turn so you end up just twiddling your thumbs waiting.
Replayability is very good though if you want to change things up with your games. Each of the characters has different cards and abilities to utilize which affords a different playstyle. On top of that if you play the co-op game you have a variety of different corrupted you can use for each game to make that flavor a little different. Going even further there are quite a few different Rifts, monsters, events and items to find. So each time new cards are drawn each day to populate the board, you will surely experience something you haven’t seen before placed in a new location.
Positive Final Thoughts
I love the variety of everything in the game. From the different playable characters to the different Corrupted villains to the plethora of items and events and monsters you can encounter. It’s also a very colorful game especially on the particular side of the game tiles. The characters are super varied and interesting and the minis for them look excellent. I also appreciate the amount of choice when it comes to game modes that you are given and the way you can unlock new abilities for characters if you play consecutive games with them.
Negative Final Thoughts
The rulebook needs an update to its organization and style. It’s much too hard to read without your brain going numb. Even though there are multiple game modes, I found the competitive game to be very dull going with a boring win condition that boiled down to just collecting numbers. Which in turn killed the theme of the game. Playing on the co-op mode is better enhancing the theme with the Corrupted but the battles are so simplistic that it doesn’t add THAT much fun. High player count is a no-no with downtime being a huge detractor with very little player interaction.
The Bottom Line
Now with all that said, I still enjoy this game! I don’t think it’s one that I will bring out a lot and when I do bring it out I will only play with 1 other person at most. I think this game does have some incredible table presence though and looks amazing when set up as it really catches the eye. Playing the co-op game does bring in some fun exploration and coupled with the beautiful board and art, this is one that I would recommend to play, but not own unless you are a collector. Because of that I am giving Champions of Hara the Fuzzy Llama Bronze Seal of Prevalence.
The Fuzzy Llama Bronze Seal of Prevalence