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ZhanGuo» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Controlled Area Gaming Review: ZhanGuo rss

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Tahsin Shamma
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The unification of China during the reign of Qin Shi Huang Di isn’t a theme presented very much in board games (if ever). The game ZhanGuo takes this subject head-on with an intriguing mix of card play and building structures to gain majorities or score bonuses.


2 – 4 players | 60 – 120 minutes | Medium to Expert Difficulty

The game board presents a large map of China as well as a space for cards to be played to the Imperial Court. Additionally, personal boards provide players a means to play cards to various regions to enact edicts to control the citizenry.

During the game, players will draw from three separate decks of cards and play to either their personal board or to the main board. When played to their personal board, players collect bonus tokens and plan for future bonuses as they take certain actions. When played to the main board, players are taking actions to complete structures, install officials/governors, or round up workers in various regions. If the card played is numbered higher than the previous card played, then certain actions will trigger bonuses from personal boards. If the card is lower, other actions get a bonus. While doing all of this, players are managing a negative scale of unrest in various regions which could prevent scoring opportunities or remove the ability to trigger their personal board bonuses.

At the end of each round, bonus tokens collected could be used by the majority holder to collect free structures, officials, or workers. The end of the game occurs after five rounds (30 turns for each player) and endgame bonuses for structures and governors are tallied.

Presentation

• The art on the cards is beautiful but more functional. The art and graphic design for the main board is well presented and laid out, but again, more practical than stylized. Iconography needs basic explanation but is not overly complex.

• The components are wooden figurines for walls, palaces, and governors. The officials and workers are cubes and cardboard respectively. All in all, it’s functional and looks wonderful put together.

• The rulebook is clear and detailed. The rules covered every situation under question in the appropriate sections with very few moments to look up something. References in the back of the rules covered iconography clearly.

• Teaching the game is straightforward, but more than one player is usually tripped up by the rules regarding playing a card to the Imperial Court on the board. The iconography aids in teaching, and usually after a couple of turns it makes sense. This is primarily because the mechanism of playing cards and gathering bonuses for a high or low card played is not common in other games.



Gameplay

• Play is tense. When choosing which cards to play to which regions, consulting the endgame bonuses is mandatory while tracking the ability to score points immediately.

• The management of cards in hand and choosing the right moment to play a card for its action versus playing a card to a region for a future bonus is very engaging.

• The high or low aspect of card play demands efficient planning long-term from the beginning of the game. Usually a player’s overall plan succeeds or fails in the endgame scoring and it can be a slow grind to defeat if the player has played badly in the early game.

• When playing with equally skilled opponents, play is fierce but not mean. Deciding which cards to play for actions is at the heart of the game. Playing with experienced players will be punishing.

Fun

• Some amount of luck is inherent in the card draws for each player. Sometimes consistently bad draws can shut out a player.

• The buildup to the endgame scoring drives the tension but at a certain point, it becomes clear that if a player is able to make certain plays, the game will fall a certain way. This reduces the tension in the endgame slightly.

• Use of the bonus tokens during each round to gain advantages can help players who are patient for big opportunities at the end of the game.

• It’s extremely enjoyable for multiple layers of strategy through every round. Games are very much about optimizing and implementing a game-length plan better than opponents.

Collection Management

Few other games fill this niche. This could replace a card-driven Eurogame that has overstayed it’s welcome. ZhanGuo isn’t the casual or filler play of the evening, it will be a main course for gamers who enjoy strategy, albeit with some luck, over tactics.

Summary

Presentation - 80%

Gameplay - 80%

Fun - 85%

Overall - 82%

Solid mechanisms deliver tense strategic planning with a bit of luck while staying not too heavy.
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Tahsin Shamma
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Since this is the first official review from Controlled Area Gaming, I would greatly appreciate any feedback on the review structure or composition.

I won't regularly be posting all reviews to BGG (just linking the reviews).

Thanks in advance.

http://controlledareagaming.com/category/game-reviews/
 
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Martin Juhl
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Very well written review.
Nice layout and structure. Short and to the point.
Keep up the good work.

How would you compare this to Vasco da Gama? (also from "What´s your game?")
I have never played ZhanGuo but it seems very good indeed.
 
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Tahsin Shamma
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mjuhl wrote:
Very well written review.
Nice layout and structure. Short and to the point.
Keep up the good work.

How would you compare this to Vasco da Gama? (also from "What´s your game?")
I have never played ZhanGuo but it seems very good indeed.


Thank you Martin. I have never played Vasco de Gama. I would certainly review it if What's Your Game sent me a copy, but it's probably not a game I would buy. I usually prefer to buy Euro games that have a non Euro-centric theme, hopefully broadening the scope of what themes are possible with more Euro-style mechanisms.

Thanks again for reading!
 
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Brian Pierce
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mjuhl wrote:
Very well written review.
Nice layout and structure. Short and to the point.
Keep up the good work.

How would you compare this to Vasco da Gama? (also from "What´s your game?")
I have never played ZhanGuo but it seems very good indeed.


I own and have played both Vasco da Gama and Zhanguo. Despite a somewhat similar graphic design and both being from the same publisher they are very different. VdG’s unique twist is the way in which workers are numbered. There is a push your luck element to the game where you can select numbers very close (or even lower) that the current economy and thereby ensure that you get to act first. However, after all workers are placed an economic adjustment occurs and players have to pay money equal to the difference between their workers and the economy. This is a fun push your luck puzzle, and leads to a good deal of competition in the game because the order in which certain actions takes place is very important. Outside of that it is fairly standard Euro fare – buy a ship, collect certain colors of crew, get a captain, and sail it off for victory points. There is also a fun aspect in the way that ships progress up the track (i.e. go farther out to sea), and players can manipulate this to their advantage. Finally, there are special power tiles that players can acquire and that can change hands throughout the game. Overall, I enjoy the game and think it has several fun elements.

I find Zhanguo to be a heavier game by a good margin. There can be many things to think about on each turn, and while there are mechanisms to help you focus it can feel very wide open on the first few turns. VdG is more focused with all players on a similar path and each trying to optimize it. I really enjoy the card play in Zhanguo, but I have also felt that there is a good deal of luck in the opening hands that can have a big impact on the game. If one player receives cards that combo very well together, this can set them up early for some powerful turns. The other thing that I am not a huge fan of is the massive point swing of the Governors.

I personally find Zhanguo to be more fun, but my preference is for brain-burny type games that really make me puzzle out the best options. With that said, VdG is a solid worker placement euro with a couple of unique twists that make it a fun game in my eyes.
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