You are a general in the Roman Army charged with building and manning a section of Hadrian’s Wall to fight off the invading Picts
Note: Garphill Games sent us a copy of Hadrian’s Wall so that we could write this unbiased review
It’s the 2nd century, and the Roman Emperor Hadrian Augustus has just visited North Britannia, witnessing the aftermath of a war between the Romans and the Picts. He has ordered a wall be built from coast to coast in order to keep the Picts out. He entrusts this task to his Generals and gives them 6 years to complete it.
In this game, you are those Roman Generals who must construct a milecastle and wall whilst also providing civilian services and entertainment. First and foremost you must keep the people safe from the Picts, but you will also build temples, markets, theatres and Colloseums to keep them entertained and wealthy. Along the way you’ll score points for Renown, Piety, Valour and Discipline and lose points for Disdain. After 6 years the General with the most points wins!
How the game works
The object of the game is to score the most points. You score points along 4 tracks (renown, piety, valour and discipline) through various means (usually by earning them on your player sheets) and through 6 end of game bonus cards you’ll accumulate throughout. You also lose points depending on how much disdain there is amongst your population, which will be higher if you let the invaders through and lower if you do not.
The game is played over six rounds where you spend workers and resources from your supply to progress down various tracks on your player sheets, giving one-off and ongoing bonuses, unlocking new abilities and most importantly gaining points.
Each round begins with the flipping of a card from the Fate deck, which gives each player the number of each type of worker and resource for this round. For example you might get 1 soldier, 2 builders, 2 servants, 3 citizens and 1 resource. Then each player gets additional workers and resources from any production on their player sheet (at the start this will just be one single resource but you can increase this, and later even produce Victory Points).
Finally, everyone deals themselves two cards from their own player deck and picks one to be their “path card” (kept only for their end game bonuses so you’ll end up with 6 in total) and their “prospect card” which gives them additional workers, resources or both. Pick the one that you think the objective will be easiest to complete to be the path card, and the one whose workers you desperately need to be your prospect card.
After that, each player can happily go about their business until everyone is finished and the invasion for that round can begin. You spend the cost required, cross off the box and gain the reward in the box. Most of the time you are either gaining nothing, workers, resources or victory points but sometimes you will be able to increase your production (e.g. gain additional resources at the start of each round) or improve your “cohorts” (your main defence against the invaders). You’re trying to do as much as possible with each round, gaining as many VP as possible while installing enough defences to push back the invaders.
There are often prerequisites to filling certain boxes so you can’t just skip to the powerful stuff. For example to build a Small Hotel you need to have reached Level 2 on your Fort and to build a Large Hotel you need to have reached Level 6 on your Fort. It’s easy to accidentally build something you’re not allowed to, so do check each time.
The player sheet is split into two main areas – the wall defence and the civilian tracks. The wall defence is as you imagine it would be, building and manning the walls, training soldiers to fight. You also have servants out gathering resources. Here you can also improve your production which will give you additional workers and VP at the start of each round. You’ll need to spend a fair amount of your time on this side of the sheet as it is the main way of providing civilian workers which can be spent on the other player sheet.
The other sheet is split into 5 civilian tracks, relating to Traders, Performers, Priests, Apparitores and Patricians. I won’t go into what each of them do, but they are all ways of generating even more Victory Points. You can explore a few of these paths during a game but you’ll do well to do all of them. Some allow you to train gladiators, others to build temples or even make underhanded deals in the baths to remove disdain. When it’s first explained to you it’s quite intimidating but it’ll soon make sense.
Once everyone has finished the round, the invasion phase begins. Here, a number of cards from the Fate Deck are flipped and your left, right and centre cohorts are tested. If you succeed you gain Valour, if you fail you gain Disdain. The harder the difficulty the harder it is to succeed, so make sure your defences are strong enough.
After the sixth invasion ends you count up the VP from your four tracks, plus your path cards then subtract any disdain and declare a winner.
The first thing I’d say is this game is right up my street. You could say it “ticks all the right boxes” but that would be a terrible pun and I only make good puns.
I love the Roman theme and Hadrian’s Wall is somewhere I visited a lot as a kid, so it was instantly appealing. The artwork on the card backs and the box is also stunning, Sam Phillips has done a great job here. It’s also really tricky on a game that is primarily writing-based to make the artwork on the paper good without making it difficult to write over. They’ve done a fantastic job at that as pencil shows up very easily and the illustrations on the sheets are brilliant. Jess commented that they could potentially be double sided to increase how many plays you get out of it but I think the artwork would have shown through and they’d have needed thicker paper, so makes sense as it is.
Personally I wouldn’t put it with other flip/roll and writes, not because it’s much more complex than other games in the genre, but because there is very little flipping, and that flipping doesn’t influence the game that much. Over the game you’ll flip 6 Fate cards to gain workers/resources but you always gain between 1-3 of each and between 1-2 resources, so there’s no major surprises. It’s more of a resource-management-and-write game, as you have to be so careful with your workers and resources to make the most of each round, some of the combos are amazing.
I would say the game is just as enjoyable solo as it is with any player count, as you’re trying to beat your previous scores and increase the difficulty level. When playing with others there’s very little downtime as you’re only ever waiting for others if you use all your workers up before they do and even then the wait isn’t going to be long.
There’s also zero player interaction other than occasionally paying someone to make use of their prospect card. You literally do not need to take any notice of what your opponents are doing and can focus solely on solving your own problems. Sure, I enjoy games with high levels of interactions between players, but I also enjoy games with no interaction between players. This game is the latter, and it is fantastically fun to play.
You can use your neighbours’ path cards to scout and to trade goods, which is a mechanic I really like because in order to use them you need to pay them a worker/resource. So you’re benefitting yourself by using their card but to do so you benefit them as well. It’s an interesting trade off and you must be careful not to do it too often.
Another great mechanic is the ability to negate the Picts attacks through gaining “favours”. You can gain favours in several places on the civilian sheet, which can act as a “get out of jail free card” when the Picts overcome your defences. Because you gain VP when you successfully defend, these are well worth getting and can mitigate the luck element of flipping the invasion cards each round.
There’s so much going on, especially with the civilian tracks and associated buildings, that when you learn the game it is overwhelming. How on earth am I ever going to remember all of this?! But once you get going it all makes sense and the game rewards you with an amazingly satisfying experience. There are so many paths to victory, you can focus mostly on your fort and wall defences, you can trade goods, build temples, train gladiators, invest in diplomacy and many more. If a particular strategy doesn’t work in your first game, try another one…and another…and another! This, coupled with the different difficulty levels adds to the replayability of the game.
As with all games from Shem Phillips, the rulebook is impeccable. It breaks down all the sections and explains them really well, making a very complicated game much more manageable, even if it is intimidating at first!
I am a big fan of the use of physical workers and resources in Hadrian’s Wall, it makes it much easier to keep track of your box-ticking rewards – in other games you just have to remember or use them immediately – plus it adds to the aesthetic of the game.
I’ve always liked games that give you cascading rewards and combos so this was a big hit for me. As you progress along the four VP tracks you get bonus workers and bonus VP which can really stack up towards the end of the game. Getting to know some of the combos available will really boost your score!
Overall I loved the game. It’s complex but pacey, thematic and beautifully illustrated. Sure, it has no player interaction and it’s more write and less flip, but I think everyone knows that going into it. The number of different strategies you can take makes this game very replayable and highly recommended.
Get this game
Check this game out on Board Game Geek