I bought a copy of Hatsuden at Tokyo Game Market, and was a bit saddened to see such a simple gem to be solely available with Japanese language rules.
The game itself is supposedly based on Battle-line, but it is very much its own game. You run a power company and are responsible for building a specific type of renewable power (Hydro, Biomass, Solar, Geothermal and Wave/Tidal). You take turns drawing power plants until you and your opponent have 5 cards each. After that, the game begins.
On your turn, you can put down a card in one of two rows in your tableau. These cards have a value written on them; this value is the amount of power they can provide. If you play the card regularly, you can then (in future turns) replace the card with a card of greater value. However, you also have the choice to place the card down face-down; in that case, it is worth zero points and can’t be replaced.
The amount of power provided has three important effects on the scoring at the end of the game.
First; if you have the most output of a certain type of power, you get one point as the “chief supplier” of that energy type.
Two; you can replace cards of a lower value with a higher value; a wind power plant of value “1” can be replaced with a “2” or a “3”. 4s cannot be replaced, and you cannot do anything with a card that has been flipped over.
Three; if the horizontal value of your “row” is equal to 10 points, you will be rewarded with 2 points for supplying a city with the exact amount of power it needs. Alternatively, you are safe with 9 or 11 units of power supplied. Any less than 9 and you lose points; any more than 11, and you must scrap power plants by flipping over their card (IE: make them worthless & non-replaceable) until you have 11 points or less of electricity in that horizontal.
The point system is what really makes this game shine and forces you to be strategic. There are two games that you handle at once; a strength game where you wrestle for control over a type of power, and a finesse game where you try to provide your two cities just with enough power. The strength game is a versus game with you and your friend; there are plenty of opportunities for strategy and bluffing, while the finesse game forces you to hold off on playing your largest cards.
The game continues until one player has used up all 10 spots on their tableau. The other player gets one last turn, and scoring beings. One point for each power source you control (0 for ties), 2 points for each city.
This game is satisfying and quick. It reminds me of Race for the Galaxy, in that I can have a full game with my wife that ends in 20-30 minutes. It definitely is a step up over other Japanese games I have played; it certainly is better than many of the Werewolf clones made over the past year, and it has visual panache without being gaudy.
Moreover, I don’t feel like it is a less interesting version of another game (ahem, Machikoro); this game has its own personality and at the price I paid, 1800 yen, is a steal.
**** would buy again.