Game Overboard – A Hagoth: Builder of Ships Review

Game selection can be a curious thing. Quite often I’ll spend a good half hour or so in my local game store, pulling boxes from shelves and seeing what interests me. Quite likely I’ll bring a game up to the counter that was referred by a friend, or mentioned in a recent review, or it’s just the new hotness. And then there are the quirky ones – you know, the ones that inexplicably call to you from the shelf. You have no idea what might lurk inside, but suddenly there’s a cute panda, or a zeppelin, or a buff, shirtless man hauling lumber by the seashore. Yeah, that’s Hagoth: Builder of Ships. I bought the quirk. And now you get the review.

Once you crack open the rustic, shirtless-man-bedecked box, you’ll find the usual euro-like affair: A small board; some ships, tracking tokens and bits of wood-like shapes made out of, well, wood; and a deck of cards. The goal of Hagoth: Builder of Ships is to be the first player to reach 25 points, conveniently located at the end of the scoring track on the board. Each player accomplishes this by – you guessed it – building ships.

Players build the aforementioned ships by playing blueprint cards. There are five total ship blueprints that can be built from various cards, and some of the blueprint pieces can be shuffled between ship designs by the player once they are placed on the table. Each ship type is worth a set amount of victory points once it’s constructed, depending upon its level of complexity. Players will have to decide whether they would rather construct smaller, less complex ships worth less points, or take their time and go for the blockbuster juggernaut. This puzzle-like, push-your-luck playstyle is one of the more pleasant aspects of the game.

A sampling of ship blueprints: from dinghy to juggernaut.

Piecing together the puzzles of the ship blueprints is only one half of building a ship, however. Players also have to gather the actual lumber needed to put the ship together in a delightfully monotonous endeavour known as Going Wooding. To do this, players must play a Go Wooding card from their hand, or forgo playing any cards on their turn and announce that they are Going Wooding, instead. A four-sided die is rolled, and the player receives that much wood from the supply. Once a player has the wood they need, they can then begin building a ship from a completed blueprint, either by playing Build cards from their hand, or by playing no cards and announcing that they are going to Build.

Once a ship is complete and in the water, then a player must sail that ship (again, using cards from the hand, or by using a Sail action instead of playing cards)  from the shores of Bountiful to Land Northward. If they do so, they gain more victory points.

The race (as it were) is on.

In addition to ship blueprint cards, Sail cards, Build cards, and Go Wooding cards, players also have access to the usual gang of mischief-making cards that allow them to up the punk factor during play. It’s a necessary evil, however – without the ability to mess with opponents during the game, the rather dry process of plan, gather wood, build, launch, sail, rinse and repeat would get really old, really fast.

Thus far in the review, it no doubt sounds as if this game is staler than six-month-old bologna, but it does have its merits. In addition to the press-your-luck, puzzle-filled race of ship building, the game is leisurely and relaxing. It’s also very easy to pick up and teach, with light rules and mechanics. However, the light rules can be a mixed blessing – there are a lot of vagaries in the small rulebook that often need to be sussed out during gameplay. My gaming group has quickly discovered some unsavory techniques that are perfectly legal; activities such as rare-card-hoarding and taking too much wood have lead to some immediate house rules. Thankfully, gameplay is open enough to accommodate such variants without much fuss.

Gameplay/ReplayComponents & ThemeFun
Overall, gameplay in Hagoth: Builder of Ships is smooth and enjoyable, and will appeal to a wide range of gamers. The game, however, fills an odd niche - it’s not really a deep-thinking strategy game, but the somewhat-slow pace and often-extended length make it last too long to fit the role of a filler. Speaking of pace, the game is intended to be a race to build, sail, and collect points. However, with so many stops in between planning and actually getting the boat into the water, the race seems more like tortoise rather than hare. Historically, it does take awhile to build a boat, so it has that going for it. As for replay, if you’re fine with only the randomness that comes with the shuffling of 100 cards, then you’ll be just fine with Hagoth.First of all, let me say that Hagoth: Builder of Ships is a very pretty game. The art and components tie in very well with the theme, making for a rich and engaging play experience. Now, with that said, let’s talk negatives. The card stock is pretty rough. It feels a lot like shuffling a deck of 90-lb. card stock index cards, and they bend just as easily. Not every game has to have the best card stock in the gaming world, but if you’re going to produce a game that involves handling, shuffling and placing cards on every single turn, those cards shouldn’t be cheap. Kudos, however, for the inclusion of the under-appreciated four-sided die. The “plastic caltrip” has traditionally been one die that doesn’t hate me (probably because of my many years of playing dagger-wielding rogues in D&D).Do you have beer or rum on board the ship? Then, yes, Hagoth will be fun. Otherwise, many players may find that their tour of duty will stretch out long before them, much like the relentless blue-gray that is the harsh open sea.
Overall score: 10 out of 18 - Probably best left to those who are really into chopping lumber, sailing - or buff, shirtless men.

Hagoth: Builder of Ships is a game for 2-4 wood-loving ship-builders, ages 8 and up, by Mike Drysdale from Mayday Games. You can purchase Hagoth: Builder of Ships from Funagain Games, or you can pick it up from your favorite local game store.

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3 Responses to “Game Overboard – A Hagoth: Builder of Ships Review”
  1. tomg says:

    Well, that is somewhat disappointing. While it seems that it would be good with my kids (at least for a while), I had hoped that it would be a good gamer game. But alas, Haggoth is really Haggone.

  2. Marc Specter says:

    I have had the luck of owning Hagoth for quite some time. My kids like it, but to me it is mostly an exercise in torture. Especially as a 2-player game…ugh. For the sake of my kids I break this out, but that’s about it.

  3. dicehateme says:

    Tom – Haggone. Heh. Yeah, I can see that it might make an ok family game, but it’s not terribly deep. Of course, not every game has to have all the bells and whistles, but I expected a little more out of it.

    Marc – Glad you agree! I think the 2-player experience is actually a bit better than multiple players – at least the game is over quicker. 😉

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