Initial Thoughts: Hawaii
I first played Hawaii at Great Lakes Games 2011. At the time, the only production version available was from Germany and I really wanted to take it for a lap around the table. I don't read German but, luckily, I found someone to teach it to me and with only that one play, I was hooked. I preordered the English version from Rio Grande Games and in the few weeks since it arrived, I've managed to play a few games solo (playing three players). I can't really give a solid review of the game per se given that I've not played it enough times "live" but I thought I'd regurgitate my thoughts up to this point.
Hawaii doesn't fit neatly into any one particular category of games exhibiting flavors of worker placement, set collection, and resource management. The board, like the game Luna, comes as numerous narrow strips and when assembled like a puzzle, leaves an enclosed, unpopulated area in the middle. Numerous cards/market-stalls (the same for every game) are shuffled and randomly placed within this area to form the island. The board is directional with a beach and smaller islands on the southern border and the randomized market stalls stretching to the north.
In front of each player is a little hut to hold secretly, resources gathered during the round (i.e. shells, fruit, and feet...yes feet)as well as an angular shaped piece of cardboard (much like the game Vikings) where collected tiles will be placed while building villages. In addition, each player is represented on the board with a large meeple. The game is played over several rounds where players, in turn order (variable from round to round), starting at the beach, travel/walk from market to market buying the goods that each market is offering. Players must pay feet to travel from one market to the next and they must pay shells to buy the goods. The goods offered come in various types: (village huts, tiki masks, boats, hula dancers, surfers, fruit, gods, etc.) On each turn, it's up to each player to decide which market to visit and in which order to visit them. The number of goods for sale in each market varies from round to round as well as the price of each good. In general, the earlier you arrive, the cheaper the good but there's no way to predict the price of any goods from round to round or how many will be available since each market stall uses a nifty randomization mechanism where one to N spaces are populated with markers pulled from a bag. The markers have numbers from two to six (the cost in shells to buy a good). Each market also has a limit on the total cost of all goods available from that market in the round. If you pull a token causing the sum to be too larger, the token is NOT placed in the market (one less good available that round) and the token is flipped over and represents fish that can be gathered with another action in the round.
Most purchased items are placed directly into your personal village building area according to some relatively simple rules. Some tiles provide more goods of a certain kinds at the beginning of each round (e.g. additional feet, shells, fruit) but provide no points, others score end game points, etc. However, to score any end game points, you must make sure that your village is long enough. And of course, you can buy items (tiki masks) to reduce the length you personally need to make the village to score points at the end of the game. It's unfortunate but it does happen that you may not be able to score anything for a village you've worked hard at but failed to complete by game end.
Resources can be tight at times (oh....I wish I had one more foot!) and you can get shut out of purchasing a resource you really need because someone got there before you. They've layered on a few more features with a little token (the token/price you take when you purchase a good from a market) collection mechanism each round to help you score points during the game (similar to the strength/battle points in Kingsburg) and if you've got enough boats (and feet), you can visit a set of islands on the south end to collect points and special tiles without buying them. When you're done walking around the island and/or run out of resources you return to the beach and eventually make your way to the turn order track where you can decide what order you'd like to go in for the following round. They sweeten the deal by placing ever increasing token values by choosing to go later in the subsequent round.
At game end, players simply determine which of their villages met their personally defined minimal required length, score any end game points, and the player with the most is the winner.
I really like the variable order of the market stalls. Form one game to the next, you have to adjust your strategy based on how close a stall is to the beach. Those near the north end of the island can be very costly to get to. I also enjoy the Kingsburg like strength mini-game and the inclusion of those tokens into the mix to determine turn order. Lastly, I think the components are very well done. Kudos to Rio Grande Games for nice production quality, rich artwork, and a clean set of rules.
I've played enough games to see that although the variable board does mix it up a bit, it may not provide enough variability to drastically adjust your strategy. I suspect there are two or three basic strategies and once you see the layout of the board, you'd just pick the one that makes the most sense and stick to it. That said however, there is enough tension for the little decisions throughout the game to keep it exciting. I don't suspect analysis paralysis should play much of a role but time will tell.
Box Front photo by W. Eric Martin - Used with permission