David McMillan
United States
Madison
Tennessee
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You come from a long line of proud warriors. Over the Generations, your family have conquered and browbeaten their way across China and now exert a large influence over this land that you call your home. Many people fear your family’s name and bow in terrified obedience while others revere and respect it and will gladly march to their deaths in the defense of it. You are not like those who have come before you, though. You favor the power of the pen above the might of the sword. Where your ancestors used strength and brawn to prevail and conquer, you prefer the excitement of a shady, backroom deal and the thrill of a political coup d’etat. Why fear someone else’s military when you can defund them and leave them destitute and useless with but a few choice words? Yes, you’re going to leave your mark and China is never going to be the same.

Eternal Dynasty is a game of Generational conquest. You will play as a single family over the course of several Generations who will use political and military influence to conquer China and crush your opponents under your heel. The game uses a mixture of card and worker placement mechanics to accomplish this. Will your dynasty rule supreme or will you play second fiddle to someone else’s? That’s for you to decide.

Now, before I delve too much further into this review, I’d just like to take a moment to thank Nicholas Yu over at Zucchini People Games for sending me the review copy of this game that I am basing my review upon. Nicholas is a very personable and very approachable individual and is always glad to answer any questions. His personality and generosity, however, has not influenced my opinion of this game in any way. Rest assured that if this game is terrible, I will let you know. If you like what you read here, then I implore you go to check out the Kickstarter for this game here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/yutingxiang/eternal-dyn... . You had better be quick, though! This campaign only has a few days left!

COMPONENTS

I am going to preface this review by reminding you that everything that you are about to read is based upon a pre-release prototype copy of the game that was sent to me. The style and the quality of the pieces that were sent to me are not reflections of the quality of the final product.

This game came to me in a rather large box that looked like it could contain your average sized window frame. Before I opened it, I was completely baffled as to why this was. However, it became immediately apparent as soon as I ripped the packaging away. Inside of this large shipping container was a hefty sized game board that was printed and mounted on a large piece of foam board. The game board features a beautifully illustrated layout of Ancient China that has been cut up into 19 distinct provinces. Each province has been clearly divided into two different sections that are slightly different colors from one another. This is to distinguish the political portion of the province from the military portion. All of this, along with anything else that is not immediately clear, will make sense eventually.

Also inside of the shipping container was another, smaller box that features the artwork of some of the cards from the game and in emblazoned with the Eternal Dynasty logo. Inside of this box are 4 decks of wonderfully illustrated cards: a large, oversized Rulers deck, a standard sized Event deck, Dynasty deck, and Vote deck. Accompanying these cards are several double-sided fortress/palace tokens, some double-sided General/Magistrate tokens, a whole slew of coin tokens ranging in value from 0 to 2, and a starting player token. In addition to these are several wooden pieces: a purple turn tracking marker and 2 cubes for each of the 5 different colors (white, yellow, red, green, and black). One of these cubes is used for the scoring track. The other is used to mark your home province. The tokens feel like they were printed on photo paper and then cut down to size. While they are not exactly high quality card board pieces, they are also not made of flimsy paper either. They have more of a plastic texture than a paper one. There is also a set of voting cards for each player – one Aye and one Nay.

In addition to all of this, each game will also come with 300 influence tokens and a fully illustrated rule book. Neither of these were included with my prototype, though. I was able to obtain a rule book from the files section of Boardgamegeek, but the lack of influence tokens came as a total surprise that we did not discover until we actually sat down to play the game. In this prototype, there were a few tokens in each color that were printed with 3’s and 5’s. We wound up having to pirate some tokens from other board games and supplement these with dice. As such, I cannot comment on the quality of the influence tokens. The rulebook, however, was very well written and everything was clearly discussed. However, I and my group did feel that it could have benefitted from some illustrative examples. (This, Nicholas has assured me, is going to be addressed in the final product).

SET UP

The set up for this game is fairly simple. First, each player selects a color and takes one Aye and one Nay card each. Then, they will place one of their colored markers on the scoring track at the start position. All of the coins are shuffled and placed face down somewhere within reach. Then, a die is rolled to determine who goes first.

Next, one magistrate, one general, one palace, and one fortress card are removed from the deck of Dynasty cards. Then these cards are shuffled and each player is dealt a total of six cards apiece. Then the Rulers deck is shuffled and each player is dealt 3 of these cards apiece. Each player will then select one Ruler card to keep and will then discard the rest. Each of these General cards has a maximum allowed hand size printed on the card. Each player will discard Dynasty cards until they are holding the maximum amount of cards that their Ruler card allows them to hold. Each Ruler is associated with a home province. Each player will place their second wooden marker cube on their home province and will place two influence tokens in the military half and two political influence tokens in the political half (the military half has an icon of two crossed swords on it while the political half has the icon of two hands shaking. Finally, each player will receive a number of Vote cards equal to the number of players in the game.

When all of this is complete, the players are ready to begin. Here, I would like to point out that the paragraph above is actually the second step in each Generation beyond the very first. I will refer to the above paragraph as the ‘setup phase’. Whenever I mention that phrase from here out, just refer to the previous paragraph.

RULER CARDS

There are four different types of cards in this game as I mentioned before and each one of these is an integral part of deciding how you’re going to spend your turns spreading across China and gaining influence. It’s difficult to talk about one thing without having already discussed the other, so I apologize in advance if any of this seems confusing. It will all make sense eventually. Since I’ve already mentioned Ruler cards and since they are one of the first things that you will encounter during the course of the game, it seems only natural to begin by talking about them.

Each Ruler card has several things in common with every other Ruler card. Each card has a name and directly beneath the name appears a special ability. Every card has its own special ability. Some will allow you to add extra influence during your turn. Some allow you to remove influence. Some provide you with free fortresses or palaces. No two cards share the same special ability and it is these special abilities that will probably be the deciding factor as to which Ruler card you decide to keep for the course of the current Generation you’re in.
On the right hand side of every Ruler card are three icons. At the top of the card is the military icon and this icon will have a number on it. Beneath that is an icon shaped like a playing card and beneath that one is the political icon. Like the military icon, each of these others also has a number on them. The number on the playing card icon represents the maximum hand size the controller who chooses this Ruler is allowed to have. The numbers on both the military and political icons represent ‘bonus influence’.

Whenever any effect would cause you to place influence on the board other than your starting influence that you get from choosing your Ruler card, you can place any or all of the same type of bonus influence on the board in the same spot as well. For instance, if a card tells you to place 3 political influence into a province that you have representation in (a province in which you have any type of influence at all), you would place your political influence into the chosen province and then, if you chose to, you could place any or all of the bonus political influence from your Ruler card onto that spot. If your Ruler had 3 bonus political influence, you could add all 3 of it to that spot for a total of six political influence. Or, you could place one or two or none at all. Once all of the bonus influence has been placed, however, you don’t get anymore, so choose wisely.

DYNASTY CARDS

You only have a few of these each Generation depending on who you choose as your Ruler. Some dynasty cards will allow you to move influence around in ways that you normally wouldn’t be able to. Some will allow you to build structures or place magistrates or generals onto the board. Some will be completely useless to you. It all comes down to luck of the draw. Fortunately, though, as you will soon see, you are not required to use these cards at all. They are merely utility cards that you can ignore if you want or use if you so choose.

EVENT CARDS

At the beginning of each Generation after the first, the top card of the Event deck is revealed. These Events typically require a die to be rolled to select a province. On the game board is a chart numbered from 1 to 20 and each number corresponds with a province with the exception of 20 which tells you to reroll). Once the province is chosen, the event from the Event card fires off. Events typically have some kind of game changing effect. There are two different kinds of events, too. There are major events and minor events. If the Event card drawn is a minor event, then another Event card is drawn and resolved after that.

VOTE CARDS

At the beginning of a player’s turn and only once per Generation, a player may call a vote. To do this, they will lay their Vote card onto the table and read it out loud. Vote cards will typically give the player that played the card some kind of instant benefit in the form of extra influence, but what the players are really voting on is the other portion of the card.

Each Vote card will have something that happens if the vote is passed and then something else that happens after that depending on how each individual answered. When the vote is called and the card is read, each player will select either an Aye or a Nay card and place it face down on the table. Once everyone has selected their card, they will reveal them simultaneously. If the Nays have it or if there is a tie, then the vote does not get passed. If the Ayes have it, though, the vote passes.

Getting voted down isn’t the end of it, however. Regardless of how the initial vote turns out, people can still influence the way that the vote goes. Beginning with the person to the left of the person that initiated the vote, a player may discard Vote cards from their hand. For every card that gets discarded, they add an extra of whatever vote they cast. For instance, if someone voted Nay, they could discard two Vote cards to add two extra Nays to the equation. These are all of the Vote cards that you will receive for the entire game, though, so you will want to exercise caution when forcing the vote in this manner.

FORTRESSES, PALACES, GENERALS, and MAGISTRATES

These subjects were glossed over somewhat in the rule book that I received and my group and I ran into several issues where we had questions that we simply could not answer. So, I am going to make sure I don’t gloss over them here.

For starters, each one of these items has not only a double-sided token that represents it, but there is also a card in the Dynasty deck as well that bears the same name. If you want to add one of these things onto the game board, then it is going to require you to play the appropriate card from your hand to do so. This is a list of the benefits that each structure (the buildings) and each leader (the people) bestow:

Fortresses – if there is a fortress placed into a province and you have the highest military influence in that province at the end of a Generation, then the fortress will give you 3 extra victory points

Palaces – palaces work exactly like fortresses only they look at the political influence of a province instead of the military influence

Generals – when a general is placed, the person doing the placing immediately gains a military influence. Whoever placed this general has double the military influence in whichever province the general was placed.

Magistrates – work exactly the same way that a general does only they affect political influence instead of military

GENERATION – SEQUENCE OF PLAY

There are always as many Generations in the game as there are people playing. Depending on the number of Generations, there is a set number of turns available within each Generation. To help keep track of which Generation/turn you are currently in, there is a helpful chart printed on the game board. The marker starts at the maximum number of turns and works its way backwards until it reaches the very last turn of the Generation. Then the marker moves to the next Generation’s maximum turn. This cycle continues until the last Generation comes to an end.

Each Generation consists of several phases. Recall that the very first Generation does NOT have an event phase. Here is the phase sequence of a Generation:

- Event phase (the Event card is turned over)
- Remove all current Rulers from the game
- Setup phase
- Play out all of the turns until the Generation comes to an end
- Scoring
- Remove all Leaders (Generals and Magistrates) from play
- Pass the first player token clockwise. That person now goes first.

SCORING

Scoring takes place at the end of each Generation. Each province is considered separately in the following manner:

- Whoever has the most military influence receives 2 points
- Whoever has the second most military influence receives 1 point
- Whoever has the most political influence receives 2 points
- Whoever has the second most political influence receives 1 point
- If there is a fortress, the person with the most military influence receives 3 bonus victory points
- If there is a palace, the person with the most political influence receives 3 bonus victory points
- If any player has BOTH the most military AND political influence in a province, they will win a coin. The coin is kept face down until the end of the game.

If two players ever tie for first, they receive 1 point apiece. There are no rewards for any other kinds of ties. At the end of the game, after all of the points have been tallied up, each player will reveal their coins and add their values to their score. The highest score wins.

And that, my friends, is Eternal Dynasty.

THOUGHTS

When I first started laying out this game, I was dismayed to learn that I had not received the influence tokens that should have come with it and that almost had an adverse effect on the way that I felt about the game. However, I stepped back from the situation and realized that I shouldn’t let some missing pieces cloud the overall game experience. What’s on trial here is not the quality of the pieces or the lack of pieces completely, but the game play itself. Does the game play well? Does it feel like it was rushed? Does it feel like it’s been polished over the course of many, many playtests?

Well, to answer those question succinctly: yes, no, and definitely. But that doesn’t really help, does it? Eternal Dynasty has that simplistic looking quality that so many other games possess that belies the complexity that lies beneath. One of the things about this game that makes it so fascinating is the idea of your actions spanning across several generations. When you begin the game, you’ve hardly got anything to show for it. As the generations come and go, though, there are pieces everywhere so that this thing that you did 20 turns ago is having a direct effect on this other thing right now. I’ve never played a game like that before.

As I am playing, I can see the story line evolving in my head. This ancestor blazes a swathe of destruction across China and their descendant opts to follow a path of peace and diplomacy. When that isn’t working anymore, their descendant follows a more warlike path. So on and so forth. It is this attention to story in an otherwise strategy driven game that truly makes this game unique.

As far as strategizing goes, this game can really get in its own way at times. Let’s say that the Ruler you’ve got right now has enabled you to put together an amazing influence engine and then they die. The next three that you draw are less than stellar and do not work at all with what you’ve been doing. While it’s interesting to have to develop a new strategy on the fly, I feel that it would be far more interesting to be able to follow that one strategy you had going its full course. So, if you’re a long term strategist, be aware that this type of long-term planning is not going to work in this game.

Still, though. All of that being said, I really enjoyed this game. It was exciting watching my color spread across the land like a cancer and it was interesting (and sometimes heart wrenching) to see how the different political subterfuges would sometimes wipe out several turns worth of effort in one fell swoop. That’s just the nature of this game. Ever changing, ever expanding, Eternal Dynasty will keep you on your toes and in your seat. This game was a real pleasure to play and I look forward to the next game.

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Chris Puram
United States
Wilsonville
OR
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Golden... As in Oldie! I'm new to the Portland area and looking for gamers to game with and new gaming groups to join! I'm 50+ and like most games but do have a special affinity for dry, cube pushing euros!
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Great review! I'm very excited to be backing this game. Nice twist on area control and it seems like a lot of fun!
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Nicholas Yu
United States
Rochester
New York
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Thanks for the extremely thorough write-up, David! I enjoyed reading it!
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