In a large town in medieval China, several talented artisans – Masters in their own right – aspire to become recognized as Zong Shi: the Grand Master craftsman. You are one of these master artisans and together with your apprentice, you are competing with the other Masters to attain this elevated status in the town. To succeed, you'll have to impress the townspeople with your skills. How shall you do it? Will you acquire a specialist's mastery over certain material, or will you enlarge your workshop? Will you create a large number of smaller projects or will you build fewer, but greater, masterworks? That is for you to decide.
Zong Shi blends worker placement, resource management, project completion and special action cards. To set up the game, lay out the project cards (eight types, each with a special power) and masterwork projects (only three at a time) on the game board; draw goods randomly for the two markets; lay out the exchange tiles in the pawn shop; and lay out a certain number of Scrolls of Fortune and material tiles. Players take turns drafting Scrolls (which have one-shot abilities) and materials (needed to complete projects), then the first round begins.
In each round, players take one action with their master or apprentice, then take one action with their other figure. The possible actions are:
- Begin a project – Master only. Pay the material cost, then place the master on the time track in the space shown on the project.
- Go to the market – Hang out and shoot the breeze until the next phase.
- Go to the temple – Draw one Scroll (or more if your master is at the temple and donates material).
- Go to the pawn shop – Choose an exchange tile in the shop and place the exchange tile on your player board. You may then swap one material shown on that tile for the other material on the tile.
- Pay respectful visits – Visit a townsperson, donate materials of the right type equal to the visit tile you place there, then take the special action associated with that person this game.
Those in the market then take turns choosing materials located there. You can hold no more than five materials. Players then advance their master on the time track to represent work on the project. Refill materials in the market, pass the start marker, then begin a new round.
When a player completes his sixth project, players complete that round and one additional full round. Players tally points for completed projects, incomplete projects (which are penalized), number of townspeople visited, a full board of exchange tiles, completion of six projects and unused scrolls and material. The player with the most points wins.