You may be familiar with roll n’ write/flip n’ write games like Welcome To…, but Hadrian’s Wall turns things up to 11 by sprawling over two huge sheets simulating Roman society, and your general efforts to manage a milecastle on the Emperor’s enormous erection.
Whoops – I let a group of invading Picts ransack the town, and everyone’s angry at me. I guess the only solution… is to take a bath. Hi! It’s Ryanl from Nights Around a Table. Here’s how you play Hadrian’s Wall.
You and your friends play Roman Generals in charge of a milecastle, or chunk, of a massive fortification called Hadrian’s Wall. Emperor Hadrian Augustus got sick of the Picts invading from the north of England, so he ordered this huge wall built from coast to coast to keep them out. The wall was apparently only two feet tall, because the Picts were very short. Your job is to build and manage your section of the wall over six years, keeping the invading Picts from getting through, and if they do get through, bribing officials so that your boss doesn’t hear about it.
This is a roll n’ write game where you get two big sheets of paper to mark up. The left side generally describes your defenses along the wall that you’re building, and the right side has different areas portraying the lives of various Roman citizens who can help you keep out the Picts. There are four scoring tracks, representing Renown, Piety, Batmans, and Discipline. At the top of your defense sheet, you have three sections of the wall called cohorts – left, center, and right – that you have to fill in to defend your milecastle.
The game clock is up here. A game of Hadrian’s Wall lasts 6 years, or rounds. At the end of each round, you’ll flip over a certain number of Fate cards that show you which sections of the wall the Picts have attacked – left, center, or right. If you have enough boxes in your cohorts filled in, and you fully or partially defend against the attack, you’ll earn some Batmans. But for each attack you let through, you’ll earn the disdain of the people you’re sworn to protect, and that disdain will grind against your score at the end of the game. But don’t worry: there are ways to defend against the Picts even when your cohorts aren’t up to snuff, and you can even convince people to forget about certain bygone years when the Picts ransacked the area behind the wall.
At the beginning of each year, you’ll get some wood workers: black soldiers, blue builders, yellow civilians, and purple servants, which the game’s rulebook admits represent slaves, but it manages to address that unpleasant piece of history in a paragraph that sensitively and sensibly acknowledges those people’s role in the story. I hope you’re taking notes, Puerto Rico! There are also these resource pieces that represent wood, brick, sheep, neutronium – anything you need to build things. All these wood pieces are the currency you’ll use to fill in the empty boxes on your sheets.
Every box you want to fill in has a cost (and the game calls every white shape a “box”). So for each box you want to fill in to build your Wall, you have to pay 1 resource. To hire a Performer, you have to cash in a yellow civilian. Some boxes cost you multiple workers or resources, or both. So to build the Large Gardens, you have to pay a purple servant, a blue builder, and two resources.
On top of that, certain boxes have a prerequisite before you can fill them in. It costs one servant and one civilian to build the small precinct, but this blue flag with a “3” on it means you must have attracted three Traders before you can fill it in. But with each box you fill, you may gain some kind of reward printed inside that box, and those rewards can cascade into satisfying combos if you orchestrate everything cleverly.
Certain spaces have hash marks in them, which means you have to write in the current year number. So the Training Grounds let you turn one of your builders into a Wall Guard once a year. You write the current year number into the space, so that when you go do other stuff and come back to it maybe a few minutes later, you don’t forget that you already trained a wall guard this year.
Finally, there are a few weirdo boxes, like these hexagons in the market, the round gladiator hit points in the arena, and the Tetris puzzle down here next to the Scouts. I’ll explain all of that eventually. For now, let’s look at how your turn works.
At the beginning of every new round, you flip over one of these Fate cards. Ignore everything else on the card – all that matters right now is this section, which describes the workers and resources that all players will receive at the beginning of this round.
Now, everyone has an identical deck of 12 cards that you shuffle off the top of the game. At the beginning of every year, you draw two of those cards. You get to keep one, and you tuck the other one behind your player board in the slot for the current year. At the top of each card is some sort of end game scoring condition. The bottom left corner depicts one or more workers and/or resources that you alone stand to gain at the beginning of the round, in addition to the stuff from the Fate card that everyone gets.
So maybe you choose to tuck this card – we call that a Path card – and keep this one face-up beside you, where we call it your Prospect card. You’re using the Path card for its end game scoring condition, and are foregoing its resources. And you’re counting yourself out of this endgame scoring condition at the top of your Prospect card, but you get to take a builder and a civilian from the supply to bolster your collection of wood.
Next, you check this section of your left sheet for any extra income you’re entitled to. Off the top of the game, everyone has this leftmost Resource Production box filled in by default, so right now, you and all the other players get another resource to add to your wealth of wood pieces. As the game progresses, you may be able to fill in more of these boxes to gain additional stuff at the beginning of each round.
Now that everybody has their starting digs, you all play simultaneously, paying wood pieces to the main supply to fill in different boxes on your sheets. Eventually, everyone will either exhaust all of their wood pieces and/or will run out of moves to make. At that point, you’ll flip over a certain number of Fate cards to see which cohorts the Picts attack, and take your rewards and penalties as they come. Then, you begin a whole new year, flipping another fate card to determine everyone’s starting wealth, drawing two cards from your deck, tucking one, getting extra wood pieces from the bottom left corner of the other, and then making your moves simultaneously alongside the other players. Keep going until you finish year 6, and then count up the scores – including any extra points these tucked Path cards earn you – to see who’s won!
Now we can drill down to what’s going on on these sheets, starting with the left one.
THE LEFT SHEET
At the top of the left sheet are your three cohorts – left, center, and right – that the Picts will be attacking. But notice there’s nothing you can pay to fill in these boxes directly; the only time you can fill in a cohort box is if you fill in some other box with a red shield symbol on it – say, this one, after spending a soldier – and then you get to choose which cohort you want to fill in. Many of the areas in the game require you to work from left to right, so you can’t just jump over here and fill this box in… you have to do this one first, then this one, then this one. So if you fill in a box with a red shield in it, you pick one of the three cohorts, and then fill in the leftmost empty box.
Now at the end of the year, that section of Hadrian’s wall will cancel out one attack by the Picts if the direction on the flipped fate card matches that cohort. We’ll go into that in depth a little later.
Notice that as your cohorts get stronger, you get to start filling in boxes on the Discipline and Batmans tracks to earn some endgame points.
These two sections below the cohorts – mining & foresting and the wall guard – get filled in left to right straight across the sheet. For each servant you send into dangerous Pict territory to gather resources, you fill in a box. If you fill in a box like this one, you get to take a resource from the supply, and you get to fill in one of the Resource Production boxes, which are represented by a hammer. With that box filled in, you’ll get more starting stuff at the beginning of the next year, and every year after that.
It costs 1 soldier to fill in each box along your Wall Guard, which regularly strengthens your three cohorts. You can also spend a sword – we’ll see how to get swords in a moment.
These three areas – the cippi, the wall, and the fort – work a little differently than the ones above. (By the way, Cippi were pits filled with, like, wooden barbed wire.) The fort sets the pace for these other two tracks. You build your fort from left to right by spending a builder or a soldier for each box you want to fill in, and neither your cippi nor your wall can ever extend past your fort.
What’s more, the fort is in three sections, which are supplied by your granaries. You begin the game with a small granary. You’re not allowed to spend a dude and start filling any boxes over here until you spend a servant, a builder, and a resource to build the medium granary. And likewise, you can’t build this section of the fort until you’ve constructed a large granary. Remember, the flags are prerequisites – so as soon as you’ve built this section of your fort, you meet the infrastructure level required to build the medium granary. And as soon as you build out to infrastructure level 5, you meet the prerequisite to construct the large granary.
The Rules Gremlin wants you to know that even after you’ve built a granary, you still have to fill in the fort boxes from left to right. You can’t reach infrastructure level 1, build the medium granary, and then start working on this part of the fort. You need to build this whole thing first.
Down here is your income area. We already saw one way to earn the hammers that let you fill in these boxes. In the Training Area, you can train one of your blue builders to become a Wall Guard, but you can only do it once a year. Spend a blue guy and write in the current year number, which gets you a sword, and a sword, you’ll remember, lets you fill in one of your Wall Guard boxes up here.
Down here, as long as your fort has reached or surpassed infrastructure level 2, you can pay a servant, a builder, and a resource to fill in this box – plus this box at the same time, which gets you a yellow civilian immediately. Now for the rest of the game, you’ll also get an extra yellow civilian during the income phase. If you manage to reach or surpass infrastructure level 6, you can fill in this box (plus this box, which gets you a renown point and a civilian immediately). From that point on, you’d earn two extra civilians during the income phase of every year.
It’s the same story over here with the workshops, which you can build by paying a certain number of resources after you reach infrastructure levels 3 and 7 along the fort. They instantly earn you blue guys, and this one gets you a renown point to boot. They also get you extra blue builders during the income phase.
The small and large roads cost this and require this, and get you this. The slash means “or,” so if you build the small road, you fill in the box, and earn either a piety or discipline point. During the income phase, each road you’ve built lets you fill in the leftmost empty box of your choice along one of the four scoring tracks. Incidentally, any time you see a small thing and a large thing, you have to build the small thing before you can build the large thing.
The Forum is sort of an inefficient way to get the exact dude you need. You spend two dudes of any colour to get one dude of any colour – so for example, spend a purple servant and a blue builder to get one yellow civilian. You can only do this once a year, so you have to write the current year number in the box to remember that you did it. The other limitation is that the trade can never involve black soldiers – so you can neither pay soldiers, nor receive soldiers, in a Forum trade.
Once one of your four scoring tracks reaches or surpasses the 15 point mark, you’re eligible to build one of these Landmarks. There’s a different Landmark for each track – renown, piety, Batmans, and discipline. So if you reach or surpass 15 in Piety, at any point you can pay one builder and two resources to build the Monolith, which gets you two discipline points.
At the bottom of the left sheet is this area, which plays into the Pict invasion at the end of the year. Let’s see how that works.
THE PICT INVASION
At the end of the year, once there are no more moves anyone can afford to make, you have to flip over a certain number of Fate cards to see where the Picts attack. The number of cards you flip depends on the current year, and your difficulty mode – easy, medium, or hard. In the first year, on easy mode, you only have to flip over 1 Fate card. But this part’s easier to understand the more cards you have to deal with, so let’s skip ahead to year 6, when you’re flipping over 8 cards.
You flip the cards and sort them by which cohort the picts are attacking. So in this example, the Picts are attacking the left cohort twice, the middle cohort once, and the right cohort five times.
For each box you’ve filled in the affected cohort, you successfully block one of the attacks. To block all of the Pict attacks on the left cohort, you’d need to have filled in 2 boxes in that cohort. So take a look, and figure out what you’ve blocked, and what you’ve let slip through.
There are three possible outcomes: you blocked everything, you blocked nothing, or you had a mixed result.
If you blocked everything, you gain as many Batmans as are in the grey flag – so in this case, 4 Batmans. If you blocked nothing, you have to take as many thumbs-down disapprovals as are in the grey flag – that means you have to draw a circle down here for every disapproval.
If you blocked some attacks, and let some others through, circle your disapprovals first, without exceeding the number on the grey flag. If you haven’t reached the grey flag number in disapprovals, you earn the remaining number in Batmans. So if you let 3 attacks through and blocked the rest, you take 3 disapprovals, and one Batman, to make 4.
And now, you’re ready to play Hadrian’s Wall.
What? … There’s a whole other sheet??
(sigh) THE RIGHT SHEET
Okay, the right sheet is where things go a little bit bonkers.
You have five sections depicting different roles in Roman society: Traders, Performers, Priests, Apparitores, who are like your governor’s civil servant entourage (and one of them looks strikingly like Alfred Molina) and Patricians, who are the fancy-pants one percent of Roman society. You can attract any of these personages to your cause by spending a yellow civilian, and the more of these people you woo, the more nutty stuff you get to build and do over here. Notice that each type of person has its own symbol – the money bag, the janus masks, the grey moose, the scales, and the signet ring.
Each coloured flag you trigger reminds you that you’re eligible to build or do something interesting over on the right side of the sheet.
So for example, acquiring Traders lets you build these precincts. The prerequisites here are 3, 6, and 9 traders to build the small, medium, and large precincts. They all cost a certain number of additional servants and civilians, and they let you fill in these entire boxes and get all the rewards inside in one shot, which include a piety point… a resource production circle… and a wooden resource piece! And like before, you have to build the small precinct before you can build the medium precinct, and the medium before the large.
If you’ve filled in at least four traders, you can build the Market by paying a servant, a builder, and two resources. You immediately get to fill in 1 box on your renown track. Once your market is built, you can start trading for goods! That’s where your Prospect cards come in.
When you want to buy a Trade Good, you have to look at the bottom right corner of the Fate card that you turned up at the beginning of the year. You can also look to the Prospect cards that your neighbours kept at the start of the round: to your left is Gargnog, Scourge of the Pustular Mountains, Bringer of Lamentations, who strikes terror in the souls of the innocents, and to your right is Carl. Gargnog is selling a 4, while Carl is selling a 1, and the Fate card also shows a 4.
When you buy a Trade Good, you’re buying the actual number on one of these cards. So you’re not buying four goods from Gargnog or the Fate card – you’re buying the actual number four. Your goal in the market is to fill these hexagons with as many unique digits as possible. The cards contain the numbers 1 to 6. Lower numbers are more common than higher numbers. If you want to buy Carl’s 1, you pay one of your resource tokens to him. If you want to buy Gargnog’s 4, you’d pay him the resource instead. But if you want a 4, it’s probably smarter to buy the 4 on the Fate card – that way, you pay the resource to the main supply, instead of giving it to one of your opponents.
You can buy multiple copies of the same number – say, two 4’s. The reason you might do that is because trading goods in these two stalls gets you an extra servant or builder. But generally, you want to trade for unique numbers, because for the first three unique numbers you acquire, in any order, you earn 1 point of renown. If you buy a 4th or 5th unique number, you get two renown points, and if you fill the final stall with a unique number, you score three renown points! And unlike the areas on the left sheet, you can fill in these hexagons in any order, as long as you meet the prerequisite number of traders, and you pay the resource.
Hiring at least one Performer lets you build the Theatre for one servant, one builder, and a resource. You get 1 point of renown. From then on, you can put on one performance a year. You have to meet the prerequisite number of performers on the left, and pay one resource, presumably to throw a brick at the actors. Since you can only put on one show a year, you have to write this year’s number in the box, and you get the reward on the left. You could get points, or extra dudes, or you could even attract an extra trader or apparitor or priest or patrician. Like the trading stalls, you can put on shows in any order, as long as you meet the performer prereq.
If you have three performers, you can build the Ludus Gladiatorius, a school where you can train up to two ferocious fighters. It costs this much, and it gets you 1 point of renown. You have two gladiators you can train – a red guy and a blue guy. You train them up by having them fight either a servant or a civilian. For each dude you feed to one of your gladiators, you get to circle the leftmost box. Just make sure you meet the performer prerequisite on the space above each circle.
Now, these unfilled circles become hitpoints for your fighters, and the more hitpoints they have, the stronger they are. Each year, you can enter each of your gladiators in one proper match-up against a purple gladiator. To run a fight, you pick one of your gladiators, and write the current year in the topmost empty box. Then, you draw a card from the Fate deck and put it face-up in the discard pile. The Fate card has a purple gladiator on it with a certain number on him: that’s how many hitpoints the purple guy knocks out of your fighter. So if your red guy had 3 circles, and the purple gladiator hit you for 2, you’d fill in 2 of those circles. Since your red gladiator doesn’t have all of his circles filled in, he’s survived the fight! You get the reward in the victory area beneath your rightmost circled box.
If the purple gladiator has as many or more hitpoints than your gladiator, and you have to fill in all the circles, that means your gladiator died in combat. You still get a reward of a certain number of piety points beneath your fighter’s rightmost filled box, but you can’t enter that gladiator in any more fights, because that would be gross.
If you attract at least 4 priests, you can pay this much to build the small gardens, which get you a piety point, a trader, a performer, and another priest. And at 7 priests, if you already built the small gardens, you can pay for the large gardens, which get you a piety point, and one of each personage all in one shot!
With 1 priest in your population, you can build the small temple for this much stuff, which gets you a piety point. If you pay one dude of any colour, you can fill in this box. And any time later, if you pay another dude of any colour, you can fill in this box to get a piety point, and circle this Favour icon. Favour icons can block Pict attacks. If the Picts are going after one of your cohorts, and you don’t have enough boxes filled in to defend against them, filling in one of your circled favours lets you ignore one Pict attack card entirely!
If you have the small temple and at least 3 priests, you can build the medium temple, and if you’ve built both of these, then at 6 or more priests, you can build the large temple. You can’t start filling in a larger temple until you’ve completely filled in the next size down. And remember that you have to fill these boxes in one at a time, top to bottom – so if your small temple is full, you can pay a dude of any colour to fill in this box, and then pay another dude to fill this box and get a piety point, and then pay a third guy to fill in this box, and so on.
If you have at least 3 apparitores, you can build the Baths for this much stuff, and earn a renown point. The baths are where all your political wheeling and dealing is done. Once the baths are built, each year you can spend resources to bribe up to two officials to forget about any past slip-ups where you accidentally let the Picts past the wall. Write the current year in up to two of these boxes, as long as you meet the prerequisite… pay the resource cost, and then fill in that many disdain circles on your left sheet. Once they’re filled in, these circles will no longer count against your score at the end of the game.
If you have four or more apparitores and you pay this stuff to build the courthouse and claim a renown point, you can make 1 ruling a year in each column – as long as you meet the prerequisite – to either get a free servant, trade a builder for two servants, or trade two servants for a builder.
And finally, spending civilians to attract Patricians lets you deploy Diplomats to different cohorts along the wall. With one or more patricians, pay these guys and these guys to earn a Batman and circle these two favours. The difference between these favours and the other ones we just saw is that you have to assign them to one of your cohorts – left, center, or right – by filling in one of these arrows. If the Picts attack at the end of any given year and you want to fill in a favour to ignore one of their cards, you can only use one of these favours if it matches the cohort that the Picts are attacking. So because this Diplomat is assigned to the center cohort, you can’t use his favours to ignore any attacks on the left or right cohorts.
And at the bottom right corner of the second sheet, if you meet the Patrician prerequisites, you can spend a Soldier to make him a Scout. Scouting lets you choose a tetromino shape from either your card, or the shapes on the cards of the players sitting to your left and right. So let’s see… that’s either Carl, or… Gargnog, Scourge of the Pustular Mountains, Bringer of Lamentations, who strikes terror in the souls of the innocents. If you choose to use Carl or Gargnog’s shape, you pay your soldier to that player. If you use the shape on your own card, you pay the soldier to the common supply.
Then, you get to draw that whole shape into this area. You’re allowed to move and rotate the shape, Tetris-style, or even mirror the shape, non-Tetris style. You’re just not allowed to hang any part of the shape out of bounds, or let it overlap any squares you’ve already filled in. And you have to fill in all the squares in the shape. You could end up filling in one or more boxes that earn you more servants or resources, and any time you fill in an entire row, you earn a caped crusader. I AM JUSTICE!
And now, we can finally look… at the third sheet. … Naw – i’m just messin’ with ya.
The game ends when everyone is out of moves at the end of the 6th year.
From there, you tally up the points you’ve earned for renown, piety, world’s greatest detectives, and discipline. If you gain any workers from these tracks at the end of the game, they just get wasted.
You’ll earn a certain number of extra points depending on how well you’ve met the conditions on the path cards you’ve tucked. So this one gets you points for your trade goods, and this one gets you points for having constructed landmarks. Finally, you punch in the number of points you lost for disdain circles that you failed to fill in and forgive. Add up all the positive numbers, and subtract the negative. Whoever has the highest score wins. If there’s a tie, the player with the least Disdain wins, and if there’s still a tie, whoever scored the most points from their tucked Path cards wins the game. And if there’s still a tie, settle it with GLADIATORIAL COMBAAAAAAT!!
2-PLAYER AND SOLO GAMES
If you’re playing with 2 players, or by yourself, you’ll need an extra set of cards to act as a dummy player to give you more choices of trade goods and scout patterns. In a solo game, you’ll flip over 2 cards from the dummy deck each round, and in a 2-player game, you’ll flip just one. If you buy a Trade Good or use a scouting pattern from the dummy deck, you’ll put the resource or soldier on the dummy card. When it comes time for the Picts to attack, each piece of wood sitting on a dummy card means you’ll have to draw an extra Fate card, which will beef up the Picts’ attack. When the attack is finished, send the wood back to the supply and discard the one or two dummy cards you drew for this round.
In a solo game, you’re trying to beat a certain score. If you crack 70 points, especially on Hard mode, you’ve beaten the game! But if you’re still clamouring for more, you can download the official solo campaign that i’ve linked to below this video, which was created by the game’s designer Bobby Hill, who i’ll show a picture of right now.
… Nah – that joke is too obvious. And now, you’re ready to play Hadrian’s Wall!
At 13:22, i was supposed to fill in a couple of Batmans, but i filled in some Discipline boxes instead. Thanks to eagle-eyed viewers Chereebers and Auberon for spotting the goof!
My error highlights a general issue with the game that may or may not bother you: since play in Hadrian’s Wall is simultaneous, no Rules Lawyers at the table can possibly police your every move. The drawback to the smoothness of simultaneous play is is that you may make mistakes by filling in the wrong boxes, or boxes you’re not allowed to fill in yet, and not realize it. If someone calls you out on filling out a box in error too long after your mistake, it’s hard (if not impossible) to walk it all back. If the thought of that bothers you, Hadrian’s Wall (and many other roll n’ write games) may not be your cup of tea. But if you’re fine with life being less than perfect — and as a Nights Around a Table fan, that’s highly likely! — then relax and enjoy a great game.
Get Your Own Copy of Hadrian’s Wall
Buy Hadrian’s Wall using the Amazon link below. Your price will remain the same, and Nights Around a Table will receive a small commission to help keep our channel in the fight.