So Frankly...

So Frankly...

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Review of China

In our last monthly gaming session, the I managed to get a couple of new games to the table: King of Tokyo and China.  As I said in my review, the former is a great family/casual game.  The latter is on the edge.  Since I gave it a 9/10, and also because it seems to be on sale right now for almost half price at online retailers like Thoughthammer and FunAgain, I should let you be the judge.

China is the brainchild of Michael Schacht, the German game designer that also gave us Zooloretto.  Over the course of a 45 minute game, each player attempts to gain control of different territories and roads in ancient China.  At the same time, players try to form alliances between other territories that may not be under their control.  In the end, the person with the most territorial control and influence becomes the new Emperor of China!

Or not.

This game is a European style game.  Like many games of this style, determining the winner is accomplished by counting Victory Points.  The player with the most VPs wins.  Many European style games, like China, have very little connection between the theme or storyline of the game and the gameplay.  In fact, there is another version of this game which uses a European map called Web of PowerIn China, the primary mechanism is called Area Control/Influence.  Specifically, you are trying to get more pieces in the various spaces than the other players.  There is no direct confrontation, such as in Risk.  It's not possible to eliminate other players or their pieces.

On his or her turn, a player will have a hand of three colored cards.  (Cards have not values.)  They use these cards to place pieces according to a simple 1-2-3 rule:  in 1 territory, a player can place 2 pieces using their 3 cards.  For each piece placed, the card must match the color of the territory played into, though two matching color cards can be substituted for one card of any color.  (If I have a green card and two yellow cards, I have two options.  I can play two pieces into a yellow territory using the two yellow cards, or I can play two pieces into a green territory, using the green card for one and using the two yellow cards as a green card for the second piece.  If I have green, yellow and purple, I could play one piece into any one territory of those colors, but that's all.)  Pieces consist of houses, ambassadors and fortresses (in the advanced game).  Houses are played onto house spaces, which set on roads, with one house per space.  Ambassadors are played onto the "dragon space", which doesn't have a fixed amount of room.  However, the total number of ambassadors in a territory cannot exceed the total number of houses in play in that territory.  That's it!  You've just learned 90% of the rules.  The hard part is the scoring.

Image by Chris Norwood
Scoring China is a little complicated because some of the score is relative.   I will leave out fortresses in this review.  There are two ways houses score points.  The first is that they score 1 point for each house that is part of a string of at least four houses along a road.  That's pretty straight forward.  There are a fixed number of house spaces in each territory.  The person with the most houses in a territory gets 1 point for each house in play in that territory.  The person with the second most number of houses get 1 point for each house that the player with the most houses has in play.  The player with the third most houses gets 1 point for each house the player with the second most houses has in play, and so on.  (For example, if Adam has 4 houses, Bonnie has 3 houses and Carl has one, the scoring comes out like this:  Adam gets 8 points since 4+3+1=8.  Bonnie gets 4 points for Adam's four houses, and Carl gets 3 points for Bonnie's three houses.)  This forms one of the basic strategies:  how hard to I try to control something, since putting more houses down only gives someone else points unless I manage to have the most.  Ambassadors score by a simple majority, however, I must have the majority of ambassadors in two adjacent territories to score points.  Add to that the fact that the total number of ambassadors is limited by the total number of houses in the territory at any given moment, and timing comes into play.  The tension between these two different area influence scoring systems is where the fun is!

As you can probably tell, this game is a little "thinky".  Depending on your gaming style, that is either good or bad.  As you can tell by my rating, I like games that require thought (have I mentioned Chess recently?), particularly if the rules are simple.  China's rules are simple; once you play the game through the first scoring, it will all be crystal clear.  The rulebook does a far better job explaining than I did.  (But then, Mr. Schacht takes a little more room to explain the game than I did.)  If it does suit your style, this would be a great game for casual play, or for family play with older children.  It might be tough for the 10 and under crowd.

As I said, the game seems to be on sale right now in the US.  That's probably because the US publisher has been out of business for a few years now, and online stores are dumping the last of their stock.  At roughly $20 USD, this is a great buy if it appeals to you.

China
                Ages:                    12 and up
                Time:                     45 minutes
                Players:                 3-5

 If you like games that require some thinking, otherwise no.



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