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Purchased this at Game Expo 08 after a long chat with Alan Paull ( the designer).
Overall theme is to gain power and prestige (= VP's) in Ming Dynasty China. There are many ways this can be done.
The game is attractive, come in a sturdy box with period artwork. There are several sets of thick card tiles, a large deck of cards and several smaller decks, a set of wooden pieces for each player (3-5 players, a set of wooden junks, the board, player aid cards and the rules (24 pages, back page is a comprehensive index).
The board is split into three main areas. At the top is the Action Box display, the Imperial examination display (where 'Direct Entrants' are sponsored), the VP track and the Gift Tracker (to keep track of who is obligated to who). The middle part is the three Ministeries, Army, Finance (= HR) and Public Works (= Navy). Each has spaces for 7 Ministers ranked 1-7 in order of seniority, spaces 4,5 & 6 start with a random official tile in them. The bottom area is split into two, Distant Lands/Shipyards, where you assemble and conduct voyages of discovery, and Military Colonies/Foreign Lands, where you launch invsions. Yes, there's a lot going on!
All VP's are displayed on the board at the start, by random draw. There are no hidden VP's - you know exactly what's on offer and where.
Resources are handled by the large card deck and is split between licences and cash. Each card shows a mix of both as follows: 1 cash/3 licences, 2 cash/2 licences or 3 cash/1 licence. No change is given when these are spent. Different actions have a different cost in cash or licenses, but there are no Actions where a mix of the two is needed. This makes an interesting balance to be maintained. For example; to build junks uses cash; to sail on a voyage uses licenses. Conversley, to recruit armies uses licenses but to use them to invate a foreign power costs cash. Each player starts with a 1, 2 and 3 cash card.
The Turn is as follows:-
Count Gifts: You get a number of Actions based on the Gifts ou have given and received (tracked on the Gift Tracker) The base is 3 (= 0 Gifts), the maximum is 5. This usually goes up, but can go down later in the game if you neglect your social responsibilities.
Chief Minister: At first, determined randomly; thereafter the previous Chief Minister must select another player. This determines the Turn Order. Also, the Chief Minister MUST select the Imperial Favour action immediatley, using one of their available Action cubes.
Actions: In Turn order, use an Action Cube on the Action display to select and carry out an action. The first time costs 1 cube. Second and subsequent uses of the same action cost 2 cubes. Thus, you could do the same action up to three times in a single turn.
Bribe Official (so they are loyal to you)
Secure Bribed Official (= make them yours always)
Nominate student (if they pass, then they get into a Ministery secured to you)
Force Imperial Examination (to make sure your student passes)
Buy junks (to explore)
Start a voyage ( to get VP's. When you get there, you pick an available VP chit, usually the highest. You also get an Emperor's Reward card, with gives a one-off special action you can do. Some of theses are powerful; reward cards are worth having).
Recruit an army (to launch an invasion)
Invade (to get VP's. Invasions take time; it is possible you won't be able to do it in the correct period and it will fail. More than one player can join in though to get VP's)
Buy Gift. (You start with a free Value 1 gift. This action allows you to buy any one of your avaiable Gifts and put itready for use)
Give Gift (Give an available gift to another player. This puts obligations on them until they cancel the gift by giving you a better one (amongst other ways). For example; they cannot have more bribed officials in a Ministery than you; they must support your student etc.)
Commercial IncomeResources are tight! Pay up to four cash and get cash + 1 cards back. You can only do this one per Turn)
Tax Income: Draw two cards
Pass: Do nothing (still costs a cube though)
Petition the Emperor (Costs 2 cubes and a Gift; range of powerful results depending on the value of the Gift. Not recommended by the designer until you've played a few games)
Imperial Favour: Taken last of all by the Chief Minister. Allows them to take any action at no cube cost; even if they have already done the action earlier in the turn. Very useful.
The Great Wall: at the end of each Turn, a wall tile is placed. This is a timer, once the 9th is placed the game is over. Also. it triggers the Invasion resolution at fixed intervals, if the invasion isn't ready then it fails.
New Ministers are placed, one per Ministry. If it's full and everyone is bribed/secured then it is scored. Whovever has the most Influence (= bribed officials) wins the higher VP's. The second lowest gets the lower VP's. If there are more than two players in the Ministery, then the lowest Influence must give it up to another player. This is where Gifts come in again. They must give it to the player they are most obligated to. This cancels the Gift (hence Gifts given can go down!). This is repeted until there is a clear first/second.
Once the Wall is built, or all three Ministeries are scored, or the School runs out of candidates then the game is over. There are bonus points for whoever recruited the most armies, had the most junks etc. The winner is the one with the most VP's.
I think this game is excellent; ther's a lot going on and lots of routes to victory. It has got a steep learning curve; not due to the mechanisms (which are simple and elegant) but due to the number of possibilites. However, It's perhaps best to pick a strategy and go for that; you can't do everything (as I found out - see session report). I'm sure this will go down well at Halesowen Boardgamers.
Good review and much better (easier to udnerstand) than the session report
Yes a broad diverse strategy will not help you here. Do 1.5 things well in the this game, and don't compete too much if you can help it. With limited actions, any thing erased or wasted is huge!
Good comment about the learning curve. Not sure what it was about the game as it's actually very simple, but our playtest group had a hard inital time too. I think you need to see a game or two unfold to grasp what you should be doing. It felt difficult to really handle/control the gifts if there are 4 players and you only have a couple actions per turn. It is unqiue and I hope to play it soon with some people interested in the game, and I think there is some innovative and interesting thing to explore.
Well, this did appear at Halesowen Boardgamers, I was one of the players, and sadly I was disappointed. Forget the learning curve, it's the planning curve that really hits you. The Junta-style variable money is bad enough, but once there are a few gifts given or ready to be given, all your plans become a long 'if..then..else' statement as you have to reconsider every option depending on whether the obligations will change during the turn. I've played a few of what I would call "Sons of Caylus", all introduce random elements but have wildly different success rates with them. Age of Empires III gets it right - the random stuff like the Natives strength actually fits the theme and feeling of the game, here the 'funny money' and intricate gift consequences make it too random for my taste.
I too was a victim of the random money draw. I'm keen to find a house rule fix for this as this lottery aside I think its a great game.
- Last edited Tue Jul 28, 2009 11:01 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Tue Jul 28, 2009 11:00 pm