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Designer Diary: Three Kingdoms Redux

Christina Ng
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Board Game: Three Kingdoms Redux
We have read a number of designer diaries on BGG. Each diary walks us through the designers' thought process during the game's development, allowing us to develop a finer appreciation of the game.

Similarly, we hope to share some of our key considerations during the development of Three Kingdoms Redux via our designer diary, which is complemented by valuable input from our playtesters. We hope that you will enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed the game development process.


My Significant Other has been a fan of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms story (三國演義) and history (三國志) since he was a teen. He has read the novel, has played almost every edition of the famous Koei series of PC games, owns a well-drawn series of comics, and has watched the China made drama series several times.

In terms of Three Kingdoms knowledge, I was his direct opposite, knowing next to nothing about the story and history. He has a big collection of books and I recall browsing through his collection and coming upon a set of Three Kingdom comics. This was during one of my visits to his home before we got married. Curiosity got the better of me and I started reading them. That was how I started to develop an appreciation of the story.

While surfing and researching via BGG, my Significant Other found a GeekList of Three Kingdoms-themed board games. Sieving through the list, he found some general similarities that hinted at a gap in the current crop of Three Kingdoms-themed board games. One of the most important and intriguing themes of the story was the natural balance of power between the three states of Shu, Wu and Wei — power not only in the military sense, but also from the economic and social perspectives. The emphasis of many of the Three Kingdoms-themed board games he found on BGG was on the military aspect. He thought the Three Kingdoms theme could be enhanced by including the other elements. These considerations led to some initial ideas, which ultimately formed the backbone of Three Kingdoms Redux.

A series of events, which I will not repeat here (as we've relayed the full story on this GeekList), led us to deciding to develop those initial ideas, with the ultimate goal of publishing the board game. The rest of this post discusses the development process.


My Significant Other worked on the preliminary set of rules for much of 2010. The first draft was ready in December 2010, upon which we started on the first playtests. Here is a brief description of the initial ideas for the game:

Three-Player Game

The as-yet-unnamed game started life as a card game for three players.

The initial part of the three kingdoms era was marked by civil disorder and chaos as many warlords fought for power. This soon stabilized as the three states of Wei, Wu and Shu emerged. The second half of the three kingdoms' era was marked by the intricate balance amongst these three states.

Most if not all board gamers prefer games with a well-integrated theme; the term "pasted on theme" is often used for the opposite case. We wanted our game to explore the balance of power between the three states, so with theme very much on our minds, we gravitated towards a three-player game (akin to why Twilight Struggle is a two-player game). While we appreciated that it limited the number of players, theme was of greater importance to us.

The game was to undergo a whole host of changes during its development, but the three-player premise was maintained throughout.

Asymmetrical Starting Positions

Each state starts the game with a fixed list of generals, with Wei having the most generals to demonstrate its higher strength relative to the other two states. The starting generals are:

• Wei: Cao Cao, Cao Ren, Cao Hong, Xiahou Dun and Xiahou Yuan
• Wu: Sun Jian, Huang Gai, Cheng Pu and Han Dang
• Shu: Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei

The asymmetrical starting positions and identity of the generals are in line with history. Wei was the first state to develop, followed by Wu and Shu. The above generals are also the ones who joined Cao Cao, Sun Jian and Liu Bei respectively at the earliest stage.

From gallery of tinang
From gallery of tinang
From gallery of tinang
Cao Cao, Sun Jian and Liu Bei

More importantly, we wanted to increase the replayability of our game via asymmetrical starting positions. Players playing with different states enjoy a different playing experience. With three states in our game, this should hopefully imply three times the replayability.

The asymmetrical starting position idea was also retained throughout the game's development. We were to experience significant difficulties balancing the asymmetrical starting positions, which led to lengthy discussions and we did consider dropping it on occasion. My Significant Other was the more persistent of us and we kept plugging on. I am glad we did! Nonetheless, we did make changes to the starting list of generals subsequently.

General Attributes

Each general possesses a number of attributes, namely intelligence, war, hit points, development phase skill, engagement phase skill, and battle skills.

Two Phases

There is a Development phase occurring over five years with four seasons each year:

• Spring: Tax collection by players depending on the marketplace level and payment of salary for general.
• Summer: An event occurs (which may be good or bad).
• Autumn: Harvest by players depending on the farm development level and payment of upkeep for army unit.
• Winter: Nil.

During the Development phase, players use their generals to carry out actions. There are common actions available to all players as long as the pre-requisites are met and costs are paid; there are also limited actions which are on a first come, first served basis. The number of limited actions available increases as the game progresses through each year.

The list of common actions available to all players if pre-requisites of intelligence or war are met:

• Search talent
• Recruit general/official
• Develop farm
• Develop marketplace
• Recruit armies
• Train armies
• Manufacture weapons (spear or crossbow)
• Rear horses
• Build vessels

Here's the list of limited actions available to all players on a first come, first served basis, which appear at different stages during the game:

Year 1
• Trade rice

Year 2
• Trade weapons (spear/crossbow)
• Trade horses
• Trade vessels

Year 3
• Build city wall
• Build barrack
• Build armory
• Build stable
• Build harbor

Year 4
• Sabotage
• Technology: Repeating crossbow
• Technology: Combat ship
• Technology: Catapult

Year 5
• Build Palace
• Alliance: Loan of generals between allied states during Engagement phase

The Engagement phase follows after the Development phase. During the Engagement stage, players take the military forces and resources built up during the Development phase into battle against one another other at selected battle locations.

The game features a total of fifteen battle locations with different terrains, and terrain awards military advantages to different army types. Each pair of states — Shu 蜀–Wu 吳, Shu 蜀–Wei 魏 and Wei 魏–Wu 吳 — has five battle locations and they select three of the five locations to engage in battle. Every general has hit points and skills that can be used against the opponents during the battle. The player who manages to defeat the other two players in battle wins the game.


1) Game Duration
The game took too long to complete, easily taking more than three hours.

2) Interaction
There is insufficient interaction among the players as the common action spaces are available to all. It felt like a solitaire game as the mechanism does not enhance the theme of the game. Players would like to experience more conflict between the states.

3) Development Phase
Some of the Development phase action spaces felt unnecessary and are too similar to one another. The Alliance action space felt awkward and alliances were not easy to form.

4) Engagement Phase
The Engagement phase did not work well because it was too cumbersome. Many rules and components were required, but they did not add much to the game. We also learned our first painful lesson in board game designing: Not to spend too much time writing out detailed rules until the main mechanism/ideas have been playtested. As this was our first attempt at designing a board game, we learned this the hard way.

5) Generals
The attributes of generals, in particular their skills, helped to differentiate between each general and gave each general historical flavor. This part will be retained in the game.


1a) Reduce Game Duration
Removed the Engagement phase. This shortened the game, and also simplified the rules significantly.

1b) Change General Attributes
Reduced generals' attributes to administration, combat, military strength and one skill (instead of two previously). This was due to the removal of the Engagement phase. "Intelligence" and "war" were renamed "administration" and "combat" respectively. The term "military strength" was eventually replaced by "leadership".

2) Bidding
Bidding was introduced into the game as a core mechanism.

The player with the highest bid (based on administration or combat) for each action space gets to take the action. The idea of common action spaces was removed. Bidding introduced more conflict and interaction among the players throughout the game. With the change, players have to now decide which action spaces were of a higher priority and concentrate their generals on those. This is in contrast with the previous version when all players could take an action as long as the pre-requisites were met.

Bidding was to become the cornerstone upon which we built our game.

From gallery of tinang
From gallery of tinang
Administration and Combat criterions used for bidding

3a) Streamlined the action spaces
Build armory, barrack, city wall, stable, and harbor action spaces were replaced by a Construct Military Enhancement action space that can be used to build these enhancements. The bidding criterion for this action space was combat.

Technology: catapult, combat ship, and repeating crossbow were also replaced by a Research Technology action space that can be used to build these technologies. The bidding criterion for this action space was administration.

Similar actions were also grouped together as one action. For example, Trade weapons, horses and vessels were grouped together.

3b) Alliance
From gallery of tinang
Previously, a separate action known explicitly as the alliance action space was available that must be taken by twi states before an alliance can be formed. It was difficult to form an alliance with this format.

We turned the idea on its head and came up with something radically different — the idea hit us one late morning when we were sitting side by side on our sitting room couch and staring out of the window — as follows:

An alliance is automatically formed between the two states that took the fewest number of actions in the current round. An action space is chosen by the two states and that becomes the alliance action space in the next round. Both alliance players can bid for the alliance action space and their bids are summed up. If both alliance players win the alliance action space, then both players may take that action. The two players making up the alliance changes from round to round, depending on which two players took the fewest number of actions.

Alliances were a key feature of the three kingdoms' era. The two weaker states, usually Wu and Shu, would protect themselves by forming an alliance with each other. The alliance make-up changed occasionally depending on the relative strengths of the three states.

The new alliance mechanism was conceived to replicate this part of the three kingdoms' history and to increase the theme factor. It also gave the two weaker states a leg up against the strongest state, helping to address the imbalance brought about by the asymmetrical starting positions.

This new alliance mechanism went on to survive the rest of the playtests, without any changes.

4) Battle
We made major changes to how battles were fought. Players may deploy generals and army units to the same battle location(s), where their military strength are compared. Bonus military strength can be earned from terrain or technology or from being the first to occupy a battle location. The player with higher military strength at more battle locations than the opponent wins that border. The player who wins both borders wins the game.

From gallery of tinang
An initial playtest session, just between the two of us

After numerous rounds of playtesting between ourselves, we felt comfortable enough to introduce the prototype to friends for their feedback.

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Two of our friends, Lip Ghee and Keng Chiong, became the first playtesters of our game (not counting ourselves). Their first playtest took place on June 23, 2011. Lip Ghee was to continue on as our main playtester for the initial part of our game development.


1) Set-up time
Set-up time was a little long, due to the number of cards involved.

2) Insufficient Conflict
There was insufficient conflict between players at the battle locations because both players were allowed to deploy generals and army units to the same battle location at the same border. Players were not allowed to block off the opponent from a battle location. This failed to bring out the theme of Three Kingdoms in which the states would engage in battles with one another to expand and control new territories.

3) Game Duration
Playtime was still too long. This was primarily due to the number of generals recruited during the game. In addition, the game ends after twenty rounds of play, i.e. four seasons for five years.

4) Tedious Computation
The computation of military strength towards the end of the game became tedious, especially during the last round since it was the only winning condition. In addition, other action spaces were ignored in the last round since gaining military strength was the only way to win the game.

5) Imbalance in Generals
There was still significant imbalance between the three states, with Wei much more likely to win. Shu starts the game with the fewest generals and appeared significantly weaker.

Board Game: Three Kingdoms Redux
Initial playtest with Lip Ghee (center) and Keng Chiong (right)


1) Game Board
A game board was introduced to replace the action space cards, thereby changing our card game into a board game. This simplified the setting up process and reduced the number of cards required.

From gallery of tinang
Version 1 of our game board, which was made of mahjong paper; the prototype game board underwent a number of changes and was eventually upgraded to a cardboard version

2) Battle Action Spaces
Three battle action spaces were added. Players have to bid and win the corresponding battle action space before they can station generals and army units at battle locations. Bidding was based on the total of administration and combat. This change added conflict for the battle locations. It also ensured the battle action spaces were consistent with all other action spaces, i.e., all action spaces require bidding.

3a) Recruitments
The number of general recruitments was reduced, and the smaller number of generals in play should shorten the playtime.

3b) End Game Condition
An end game condition was introduced. The game ends when any two of the three borders are totally occupied, i.e., no empty battle locations along two borders. The maximum number of rounds was reduced to twelve, i.e. four seasons for three years.

4) Scoring Categories
Alternative scoring categories were introduced, as follows:

• Number of battle locations occupied (which was subsequently renamed to border locations to avoid confusion)
• Winning a border
• Marketplace development
• Farm development
• Military enhancement
• Technology
• Players may score VPs via some events if certain conditions are satisfied

Military strength at the battle locations of the borders was no longer the sole factor to winning the game as now players had other avenues to achieve victory. The nature of these scoring categories underwent substantial changes in subsequent playtests, but the core idea of multiple scoring categories was retained for the rest of the game's development.

The multiple scoring categories was aimed at improving replayability and reducing the repetitive feel during late game when players would deploy generals and army units to battle locations as that was the only victory condition, while ignoring all other action spaces. This was also a conscious change to expand on the non-military aspects of the three kingdoms' era.

It is also worth noting that the inspiration for the military enhancement and technology idea came from Agricola. We are huge fans of Agricola and thought the minor improvements (and occupations) increased its replayability tremendously. We wanted to achieve a similar impact with the military enhancement and technology cards.

5) Generals' Skills
Skills of some generals were adjusted to address the balance in strength among the three states.

Adjusting/inventing general skills (and state enhancements) was to become a task we repeated after nearly every playtest. The only generals whose skills remain unchanged from the beginning until the end of the game's development are Cao Cao and Sun Ce. We did not throw away the old general "cards" (printed on normal 80 g/m² white paper), as the reverse side could be used for future games' development. That stack of old general cards now measures 10cm thick.

From gallery of tinang
Stack of old general cards

Brandon Lye
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As elaborated upon in our GeekList, Lip Ghee was unable to continue with the playtesting after a couple of months of helping us. We started to look for alternative playtesters.

My Significant Other had met a young chap by the name of Brandon during his annual in-camp-trainings. Brandon was nearing the end of his two-year stint, after which he would be waiting for enrollment to a local university. We contacted him and asked whether he was interested in a part-time job of playtesting. He replied to the affirmative, and we were able to resume our playtesting after a delay of a few months. The first playtest with Brandon took place on March 4, 2012.

Board Game: Three Kingdoms Redux
Playtest with Brandon (left); note that the game board has been upgraded to a cardboard version.


1) Events
Events sometimes widened the gap between the stronger and weaker states. We tried to introduce events that help the weaker state, but that resulted in the turtling of resources and was also deemed an unfair penalty to players who had played well.

2) Predictable Start
Actions taken in starting round were predictable as the identity of the starting generals were fixed.

3a) Timing of Some Actions are Fixed
The timings of the harvest and tax collection were fixed in spring and autumn. Players who failed to develop before those seasons tended to suffer, which gave rise to the inclination to develop farm during summer and to develop marketplace during winter.

3b) Action Spaces
Some of the action spaces were not popular, in particular Sabotage. The Construct Military Enhancement and Research Technology action spaces were not clearly differentiated from each other.

4) Scoring Categories
Scoring categories were not balanced, resulting in certain categories being ignored by players.

5) End Game Condition
The end game condition of two fully occupied borders was never achieved, which made it redundant.

6a) Military Enhancement Cards
Military enhancements were too costly.

6b) Generals' Skills
The generals' skills were not differentiated sufficiently.


1) Events
Events were removed from the game. This removed the undesirable effects, i.e., turtling of resources and unfair penalty, and simplified the game.

2) Starting Generals
Players chose their starting generals via card drafting. This improved replayability greatly and starting moves became less predictable, but at the expense of a small decrease in theme.

3) Changes to Action Spaces

a) Timing of Harvest and Tax Collection
Timing of harvest and tax collection were left to players' discretion. This was done by introducing both as options on the develop farm and develop marketplace action spaces respectively. As a result of these changes, the idea of "seasons" were removed from the game. This change increased player flexibility and led to less restrictive decisions.

b) Introduction of Control Han Emperor action space
From gallery of tinang
The power of the Han throne declined alarmingly towards the end of Eastern Han Dynasty. A number of Han emperors ascended the throne at a young age and governing power usually rested with the regents, often the emperors' older relatives. As the young emperors matured, they experienced great difficulty in regaining control of the government from the regents.

During the initial period of the three kingdoms era, warlords took over the roles of regents. The Han emperor was often kept under control by a powerful warlord, e.g., Dong Zhuo, Li Jue and Guo Si, and Cao Cao, under the pretext of supporting and protecting the Han emperor and the Han dynasty. The true motivation of doing so was to gain promotions and the legal authority to control the other warlords.

The Control Han Emperor action space mechanism was designed to mimic this aspect of the three kingdoms' history. Resources and manpower was required to control the Han emperor, but it gave the player additional authority via the Han emperor token to complete tasks.

The inspiration of this mechanism came strangely from a Xiang Qi variant known as San Guo Yan Yi Qi. It was Xiang Qi for three players, but included the Han emperor and some Han troops. Whoever controlled the Han emperor would be able to control those Han troops.

We were quite excited when the action space was first conceived as it was another aspect of the three kingdoms history captured in our game and a scoring category in its own right.

c) Introduction of Maintain Tribal Relations action space
The three states of Wei, Wu and Shu not only faced the threat of war with one another; they also suffered from incursions/rebellions from various border tribes. The main tribes residing in or near the states of Wei, Wu and Shu were the Xiong Nu, Shan Yue and Nan Man respectively. These tribes enjoyed an uneasy peace with the three states, frequently challenging their authority in a bid to reclaim sovereignty. The lords of the three states had to maintain a balance in their military allocations between the internal and external enemies. Zhuge Liang of Shu, in particular, spent much effort in quelling the Nan Man rebellions.

As with the Control Han Emperor action space, we designed the mechanism for the Maintain Tribal Relations action space to mimic the above described aspect of the three kingdoms' history. It was a further enhancement to the theme of the game, as well as another scoring category.

From gallery of tinang
Wei, Wu and Shu's tribe markers

d) Replacement of Sabotage action space with Win Popular Support action space
We found ourselves disliking the Sabotage action space with each playtest. It was an action space that was detrimental to an opponent but carried no real benefit for one's own state. Players also tended to take the action as a defensive measure. Espionage was certainly part of the three kingdoms' history, but the idea did not translate well into a game mechanism.

From gallery of tinang
We therefore replaced the Sabotage action space with something more positive: a Win Popular Support action space. Many of the wise leaders and their able advisors, e.g., Cao Cao and Xun Yu, espoused on the need to win the hearts of the people as a precursor to earning the right to govern.

The Win Popular Support action space mechanism was designed to incorporate winning the people's support into the scoring of the game. We also wanted to provide players with the means of increasing their bids and the popular support tokens were a logical way to achieve this. It is always easier to achieve national goals with the people's support.

e) Combination of Trading Action Spaces
Rice was harder to collect than gold in the game. The two trading action spaces were also not popular compared to the other action spaces. We combined both trade action spaces to increase the attractiveness of the trading action space; this change also provided players with an alternative avenue to collecting resources.

f) Combination of Military Enhancement and Technology Cards
As the Construct Military Enhancement and Research Technology action spaces were not well-differentiated, we combined them into a single Construct State Enhancement action space. The respective cards were also combined and renamed as state enhancement cards.

We eventually added more state enhancement cards, included drawing additional cards on one of the action spaces, and separated the state enhancement cards into two decks. One deck served to provide resources while the other offered alternative means of earning additional victory points. The two decks gave players some control over the card draws, based on what they needed at that point in time.

4) Scoring Categories
Adjustments were made to the scoring of each category. After much tinkering, we were eventually to settle on the 5/3/2/1/0 scale.

5) End Game Conditions
More end game conditions were introduced, which certainly led to more interesting playtest experiences. Players had to be alert to the possibility of any of the end game conditions being triggered by other players during late game. Later game rounds became more tense and exciting.

The end game conditions were also to go through much tweaking before we settled on the five generals stationed, full development of farm and marketplace, and achieving the Emperor rank format, in addition to reaching round twelve.

6) Adjustments to State Enhancement Cards and Generals' Skills
Further adjustments made to generals' skills and state enhancements. The costs, pre-requisites and benefits of each state enhancement gave us much headache at one point in time. They were reviewed and adjusted time and again before we were happy with their balance.


Further playtests with Brandon gave very promising results. For one, issues and concerns were starting to decrease in magnitude. In particular, the various scoring categories were bringing out the feel of the three kingdoms well. Players had multi-faceted concerns to contend with, much akin to how a warlord must have had to go through running a state.


1) Popular Support Token
Popular support tokens were not used to increase the bid. Instead, players tended to retain them for end game scoring. As a result, there was usually a popular support accumulation race throughout a game.

2) Bidding Criteria
Bidding for the Control Han Emperor action space was based on combat while bidding for the Win Popular Support action space was based on administration. A player who chose to recruit combat or administration-heavy generals will have a high chance of winning the respective action spaces, thereby improving the chances of winning the corresponding scoring category. This led to some predictability in the game, i.e., a "samey" feel from game to game with respect to these two categories.


1) Introduction of Upkeep
An upkeep cost was imposed on the popular support tokens on hand. This was designed to reduce the propensity towards accumulation and to encourage its use during bidding.

2) Bidding Criteria
The bidding criteria for the Control Han Emperor and Win Popular Support action spaces would alternate between administration and combat from round to round. This made winning the corresponding scoring categories less straightforward. Recruitment also became more balanced, with both administration and combat-heavy generals required to do well. This was also thematic in an indirect way, as a successful state needs both wise administrators and strong generals.

As a result of this change, combat-heavy generals were viewed as weaker than administration-heavy generals. To address this imbalance, the bidding criteria for battle action spaces were changed from maximum of administration and combat plus number of army units to combat and number of army units. This came with the added benefit of a small thematic improvement; we always thought it was a tad strange for the battle action spaces' bidding criterion to include administration.


Playtesting was progressing well with the regular sessions with Brandon. Based on the feedback and results of each session, we made adjustments until eventually arriving at what we felt was a stable game backbone. From then on, we did not expect major changes to the game mechanisms and and just tweaks to the generals' skills and state enhancement cards. These adjustments would be based on the winning statistic of each state as well as the likelihood of generals being recruited or state enhancement cards being played.

As our game's playtime is reasonably long, averaging between 135 and 150 minutes, we took extra care about approaching friends or other boardgamers for playtesting. It was not until we were satisfied with the results from the playtesting sessions with our regular playtesters that we started to approach our friends and local boardgamers for additional playtesting or blind playtesting sessions.


We joined a local gaming club at the beginning of 2010 and made quite a number of board gaming friends there. We approached some of those who preferred heavy Eurogames to playtest our game and they acceded! A few of them (Weiliang, Tatu, Jeffrey, Ashleigh, Favian and Michael) have since tried our game for a number of times, playing with different states.

Board Game: Three Kingdoms Redux
Ashleigh (left) and Favian (right) playtesting our game

My brother had also just graduated from his university course at around this time. While looking for a job, he volunteered some of his spare time to playtest our game.

Board Game: Three Kingdoms Redux
My brother playtesting our game on a mahjong table

A number of other friends outside of the gaming club also volunteered their time to playtest our game and provided us with valuable feedback.


1a) Tightness in Resources
Resources (gold and rice) were tight in the game. This limited the actions a player could take and hindered the player's ability to station army units at border locations. One such feedback we received was that the tightness made gameplay feel like "work".

1b) Stationed General
It was penalizing to station a general with only one army unit since a general is unavailable for future bidding.

2) Blocked out from Recruiting/Training Armies
A player might be blocked out from recruiting untrained armies and/or training them as only one action space existed for each.

3) General Recruitment
Recruitment for each state at the start of the game: Wei drew six general cards and chose four, Wu drew five and chose three, Shu drew four and chose two. Since Shu started off as the weakest state, there was concern that Shu does not have significantly more options than the other two states during the initial general recruitment.

4) Insufficient weapon differentiation
There was not much differentiation between the four weapon types. Players commented that it did not matter to them which weapons they are producing during the game.


1) Reduce Resource Tightness
Reducing tightness of resources via introducing the granary and treasury spaces, adding another option into the harvest and collect tax actions and including border location tokens.

When taking the harvest/collect tax action, each flipped farm/marketplace token on the state's farm/marketplace development space could either be converted to five rice/four gold or be placed on the granary/treasury space. Each flipped farm/marketplace token on the granary/treasury reduced the state's stationed armies upkeep by one rice/gold token at the end of each round.

This translated into a significant amount of savings in resources, especially when the flipped farm/marketplace tokens were placed on the granary/treasury early in the game.

Having occupied new territory in the form of a border location, it was reasonable to expect that the new territory would produce some resources. We needed another mechanism to reduce the upkeep. More importantly, it had to reduce the upkeep by a greater percentage when deploying generals with only one army, which meant some camouflaging of the mechanism was required.

The border location tokens were created with the above considerations in mind. Placing the border location tokens on a state's granary or treasury was akin to receiving some form of regular income from the occupied territory. They also provided the perfect camouflage of decreasing upkeep by a greater percentage for deployment of one army: Upkeep for deployment of one army was now halved, whilst that for deployment of two armies was reduced by only 25%. Players are therefore faced with the choice between upkeep payment and victory points earned.

From gallery of tinang
From gallery of tinang
From gallery of tinang
Developed farm, developed marketplace and border location tokens

From gallery of tinang
2a) Alternative Avenues for Recruiting Armies
Other avenues to recruiting untrained armies were introduced. The demand tribute action space doubled up as a lesser recruitment action space. State enhancement cards and generals' skills were reviewed (again!) to provide other means of obtaining untrained armies.

2b) Alternative Avenues for Training Armies
An additional action space was introduced for training of army units. Bidding for this action space was based on administration, in contrast to the other training action space which was based on combat. The drawing of additional enhancement cards action was eventually added to this action space.

3) Recruitment
All states drew six general cards at the start of the game and recruited 4/3/2 generals accordingly. This boosted Shu's initial options. Wu's initial options were also increased, but to a smaller extent.

4) Army Type Specialization
Army type specializations was introduced as a new attribute for each general. If the generals were deployed with their corresponding army type specialization, they would earn 1 victory point from the border location token. The border location token was still placed on the treasury/granary and still reduced stationed armies' upkeep by one gold/rice.

This addition was made to differentiate between the different weapons and army types. We already had a number of state enhancements that gave bonus victory points for different army types, but these were deemed insufficient by our playtesters. The army type specializations meant weapon production planning was vital to earning the victory points from the border location tokens.

We researched and tried to make the generals' army specializations as historically accurate as possible. Unfortunately, this was not always possible as we also needed to make sure the total number of army specializations was balanced with the number of border locations requiring each army type for each state.

From gallery of tinang
The four weapon types in the game: spear, horse, crossbow and vessel

5) Flavor Text
There were suggestions to include some form of flavor text for the general cards to enhance the theme of the game. We adopted the suggestion by including flavor text to the three lord cards. Besides enhancing the flavor, it also served to differentiate the lord cards from the rest of the general cards.


We attended a local gaming convention to seek feedback from the local gaming community. A number of them (Alexis, Adrian, Bohan, Ou Yang) volunteered their valuable time to try out our game.

Board Game: Three Kingdoms Redux

Board Game: Three Kingdoms Redux

Board Game: Three Kingdoms Redux

In addition, we were invited by a local game reviewer, Eric Teo to playtest at his home with a few other local boardgamers (David Chiu and Kok Hian).

Board Game: Three Kingdoms Redux

We also received help from Juan M. Medina, Ana Forero and their daughter Sara Medina. They took the time to produce their own prototype (which consists of quite a number of components) to playtest and provide us with feedback. We are very grateful for their time and effort! Their feedback led to much improvement to our rulebook.
Juan Medina
United States
Cedar Park
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Ana Forero
United States
Cedar Park
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We received much valuable feedback from all blind playtesters and due consideration was given to all suggestions. Much of the feedback received pertained to the rules. Observation of the game play also gave us a better idea of the areas in the rules that needed further clarification.


1) General Cards
• Some general skills were reworded to make them clearer and a compendium has been uploaded on our website for players' reference.
• Adjustments were made to the layout of the cards, e.g. enlarging the icons on the cards
From gallery of tinang
An example of the changes made to the layout for Liu Bei's card

2) Rulebook
• Most Chinese wordings were removed from the rules to make for smoother reading.
• Replacement of some of the terms used in the rules, mainly to avoid confusion.
• Certain rules — e.g., alliance action space, improve tribal relations action space, and military VP earned — were misinterpreted by the players. We extended the explanations of them and included pictures and examples as further clarification.
• Cosmetic changes were made to the domestic development mechanism to remove the clutter on both development action spaces, thereby improving the flow of the game.

3) Gameboard
• Some action spaces on the prototype game board have lengthy descriptions and were not easily understood by players. The final version of the game board comes with icons instead of wordings to describe the actions. There is a strong preference among our playtesters for the icons, which can be understood easily.
• The wordings on our prototype game board were facing all directions and some players experienced difficulty reading them. The main suggestion received was to have a game board with all information facing in one direction. We kept this in mind when planning the layout for the game board. All the wordings and icons on the final game board face the Wei player. The Wu and Shu players flanks the Wei player and are able to read the wordings and icons easily as well.
• We also received many suggestions from players regarding the design of the game board, such as not to paint the board too dark and not to include too much frills that may overwhelm the functionality of the board. These were kept in mind when we worked with our artist on the design of the game board.

From gallery of tinang
Picture of the actual game board

4) Additional Suggestions
Players thought it would be useful to include the following items:
• A list that summarizes the use of the tokens, especially those which are for one-time use vs. repeated usage.
• Tips for players to shorten their learning curve and help new players to formulate effective strategies right from their initial plays.
• An example play, e.g. one full round, to aid new players' understanding of the rules.


Like us, many boardgamers play board games mainly with their spouses/partners. For this reason, we thought it would be worthwhile to attempt a two-player variant for our game.

Objectives of the Two-Player Variant
• Retain the theme of the three kingdoms, i.e., the tension between players is maintained and the alliance action can still be implemented effectively.
• Make it simple to implement and learn, i.e., do not need to include too many additional rules nor involve too many changes to the base game.
• Maintain the fun factor of the base game.

We spent a few months playtesting various possible ideas between ourselves. The results were unfortunately not satisfactory.

We found that we needed to include quite a number of additional rules for the dummy third player, which felt cumbersome. Another unfortunate development was the loss of a huge chunk of the base game's theme. The natural balance between the three states was no longer there, largely due to the arbitrary rules we had to put in place for the dummy player. As a result, much of the fun from the base game seemed to have gone missing.

After more thought, we concluded that no matter how "smart" we make the dummy player, we will not be able to replicate that delicate balance between the three states when played by three human players. In the end, we decided to stop work on the two-player variant. We do not wish to include a two-player variant for the sake of making our game seem more scalable when the variant wasn't really that viable.


The above playtests were interspersed with our regular playtests with Brandon. We are grateful to all playtesters for their time and feedback as they offered us different perspectives upon which adjustments could be made for the betterment of the game. We would also like to thank all BGG users who have supported us, via their advice and feedback as well as proofreading our rules. We are very grateful to all of you! BGG is indeed a supportive and helpful community!

After four years of hard work, Three Kingdoms Redux has finally become a reality. We had set out to replicate the experience of a lord governing his state during the often chaotic three kingdoms period via our game. We hope we have succeeded and that you will enjoy the game as much as we do!

Christina Ng Zhen Wei and Yeo Keng Leong

Board Game: Three Kingdoms Redux
Game set up and ready for play!
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