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Subject: Review after my first play rss

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Blake Morris
United States
Henrico
Virginia
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This size viola da gamba is like a cello with frets. I started playing at age 48.
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This is my first review on the Geek, and I do not undertake it lightly (but please be kind!). While it may sound presumptuous to review Three Kingdoms Redux after only one play, I studied the rulebook thoroughly before I attempted to teach the game. A few small questions came up during the game, but most of them were easily answered in the rules. I am writing this review because I expect Three Kingdoms Redux to hit my top 10 fairly quickly, and I believe it needs more exposure. It plays exactly 3 players; there is neither a solitaire nor a 2-player version. Also, if you acquire your copy "soon enough" there will be included a (limited edition) full-color booklet with all the generals' artwork and the history or legend of each.

I will not be incorporating any images into this review, since the designers have posted most of the art in a geeklist. Note that there is also an excellent long review in the podcast section by Heavy Cardboard, to which I shall refer later.

Components: The quality of this production is apparent from the first glance. The front cover of the box has an air of mystery, with no visible faces among the characters depicted. The back of the box gives an enticing description of gameplay and shows the game board. The tokens representing generals, resources, food, gold, etc. are of hefty cardboard and punch out easily. There are five decks of sturdy cards, one deck for each of the Three Kingdoms (Wei, Wu, and Shu) and two state-building decks (Separation and Unification). The sleeves used for 7 Wonders fit all these cards. The board is a large 6-fold of serious thickness.

Artwork: Words almost fail me here. I know appreciation of artwork is subjective, but to my eyes this art is just splendiferous. The generals, other people, and objects depicted on the cards are somewhat stylized but still very natural. An example is the "Sima Yi" card, which shows the general holding up admiringly a piece of women's clothing; the translucent fineness of the fabric is beautifully visible. Most of the necessary information about the generals is visible as icons on the tokens themselves. The board is very easy to read, and its colors assist in this process.

Historical Background: The Three Kingdoms period occurred toward the end of the Han Dynasty (about 220 to 280, depending on how one measures). Besides the actual historical records, there is an important Ming Chinese historical novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which was written much later and contains much embellishment. The limited-edition booklet relates the facts or legends concerning each of the 69 generals. I find that the theme enhances the gaming experience considerably.

Overview of play: The game is advertised to play for 2 hours, 45 minutes. Since I did not use the simplified variant recommended in the rulebook, my first game took about 3 and a half hours. The object of the game is to have the most victory points when one of the four victory conditions brings the game to a close. Each player represents one of the Three Kingdoms and receives generals, state enhancement cards, and resources. Wei, who plays first at the beginning (not necessarily an advantage), selects 5 generals, Wu 4, and Shu 3; Wei starts with the fewest resources and cards, Shu the most, with Wu in between. The Lord of each state is always included in the starting lineup. More generals will be drafted in later rounds until the three states have an equal number (assuming the game lasts long enough). The initial turn order is Wei first, then Wu, with Shu last.

Generals are used to bid for action spaces. Each has an administrative value, a military value, and a leadership value. These values are duplicated on the generals' cards, which also have a description of each general's special power and his military specialty (infantry, archery, cavalry, navy). There are twelve common bidding spaces, half of which are decided on administrative values, the other half on military. The "control Han emperor" space and the "popular support" space alternate between administrative and military values each round. There is also one track at the bottom of each player's area which represents relations with the neighboring barbarians; this region is only available for placement of a general by that player. Finally, there are three "battle" regions between pairs of neighboring states. The one across the board from each player is off limits, but the ones to the left and right of the player are available to win border provinces in which to station armies.

[An aside: These battle regions do not involve dice or any direct aggression against the neighboring states. This makes Three Kingdoms Redux ideal for gamers who dislike war games.]

What makes this game really interesting is the set of special powers conferred by the generals and the state development cards. Some of these powers only apply when the general is used in the bidding; others apply to actions by the player which do not necessarily involve that general. With the possible exception of "Imperial Palace", these do not seem to unbalance the play.

The common bidding spaces allow the players to train and recruit armies, obtain weapons and demand tribute (rice and gold), develop or harvest farms, develop or tax merchant settlements, draw or play state enhancement cards, and trade weapons for gold and/or gold for rice. An important mechanism is represented by the "alliance token". At the start of each round the player who is last in the turn order places this token. He may consult with the second player. On this space the allies' two bid values are added together, and both receive the reward if they win the space in this way.

The individual tracks represent relations with neighboring tribes. The value on this track drops one place per round unless the player stations a general there or uses a special power. The tribes can be bribed with gold (paid to the general supply) or coerced with armies (returned to the player at the end of the round) to move the tribe marker forward.

The two "battle" spaces are available to a general with one or more armies (up to the limit of their "leadership" value). Armies must be trained and supplied with weapons that match the targeted region. If the player wins the battle space, he stations one or more armies, depending on the general's "leadership" value, on the appropriate border space. Not only are these armies and their general out of the game, they must be fed (one rice each round) and paid (one gold each round). This is facilitated by developing and harvesting/taxing on the player's board, as every harvested farm moved to the granary provides one rice and every taxed trading post provides one gold to feed or pay the armies. The player also takes the flag token from the occupied region and puts it in either the granary or the treasury, representing one rice or one gold; in addition, if the region's weapon type matches the general's (on the card), he may flip it to the "1 VP" side. Note that all VPs earned so far by armies are counted every round; the earlier your military adventures, the harder they are to supply, but the more they are worth in the long run.

Once all the generals are placed, the "combat" phase is over. If a player passes while he still has a general (this is sensible for Taishi Ci) he may not play another in this round. All generals representing losing bids are removed. The small markers are placed to mirror the current turn order, then the turn order for the new round is determined based on the number of bids each player has won. Each player takes all his actions at one go in the turn order of the current round (small markers) in any order he desires. One general of the winning bidder on the "control Han emperor" space must be left face down on that spot for one round. The game ending conditions are then checked; if the game is not over, a pay-and-feed/cleanup/scoring phase ensues, and the round marker is moved forward.

[VERY IMPORTANT: Your first stationing of a general after winning a battle may be on either side. The second placement must be on the opposite side of the board. Third and successive placements may be on either side. This rule is easy to forget, but it can be tactically significant, changing the relative value of your opponent's winning/losing bid.]

Game End: The game ends when 1). The twelfth round occurs; 2). A player has stationed 5 generals in the border regions; 3). A player has developed all of his farms and marketplaces; or 4). One player reaches "Han Emperor" on the rank track, deposing the Han emperor. The phase in which the armies are fed and paid is omitted, and the Han emperor token does not go to the player who won that space in the final round.

Scoring: Players add their military points earned during the game to comparative scoring on the various tracks, plus any victory points earned by playing state enhancements or having border location flags on the "1 VP" side. (There is a scoring table on the back of the booklet, which I immediately transferred to a Word document, printed and laminated for a dry-erase marker.)

Impressions of the game [edit]: I have a game-crush on this game. After my second play I just wanted to play again. There is plenty of room for skill in the "combat" phase (auction). For example, in what order should I play my generals to avoid arousing competition? Should I "dogfight" with another player over a space and let the third player sneak away with the other goods, or should I give up as soon as I am outbid? When is my assignment to a battle space most likely to win? On the larger scale, should I draft generals which help my overall strategy or choose those which will give a short-term advantage? How much do I need to favor warriors over administrators to be sure I have enough military strength to overpower an opponent in battle? Do I choose cards which help me get resources (usually "Unification" cards), or do I try to pave the way for small victory point advantages in the final scoring (usually "Separation" cards)? The course of the game involves innumerable small decisions which need to add up to a winning strategy. The use of cards in combos is comparable to the experience in Dominion. The tactical richness of the decisions is balanced by a need to take the long view. In summary, I would strongly recommend this game to anyone who is willing to spend the necessary time. Like Il Vecchio, I expect it to repay multiple plays and study.

Conclusion: I have glossed over a number of details in the play and the scoring to avoid excessive verbosity. I consider the game to be "medium heavy". While some players, especially those prone to AP, may consider it too long, I expect this impression will fade on repeated plays as the various special powers and their interactions become more familiar. I am not reluctant to spend three hours or so on a game like this one that I really enjoy. There is immense variety generated by the cards' special powers, which means that the play feels different every time. Also, it is possible to pay less attention to one part of the scoring (as I did "battle" today) and still win. The game rewards diversification but does not require it in all respects.

The game appears to have been thoroughly tested and balanced on a pinpoint (this is very important when the starting positions are so asymmetrical). I hope I can play it often enough to verify this hypothesis for myself. Kudos to Starting Player for such an impressive offering!

Extra notes: I recommend the variant proposed by Heavy Cardboard that when a player is allowed to draw one state development card, he instead should draw three and pick one. This eliminates a major source of luck from the game. Also, as a concession to my well-known fussiness, I add a large green disk and two small blue disks to the game pieces for the use of the generals Liao Hua, who can occupy two border spaces, and Yu Jin, who needs indicators for his two actions (other than the "increase bid" tokens specified in the rules). Be sure to check the Files section for the "Three Kingdoms Redux Compendium".
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Sam Carroll
United States
Urbana
Illinois
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Thanks for your review! What I'd really like to hear more about is the emergent properties of the game - which I can't usually get from reading the rules. How does it feel to play Three Kingdoms Redux? Could you give some examples of the kinds of decisions you have to make in the game? Are there other similar games to which you could compare it? (Or does it stand alone?!) I'd love to hear you weigh in on these topics too.
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Randall Monk
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A good first effort that almost but does not quite answer the key questions: Is the game any good? Did you like it and would you recommend it?
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Michael Nanthachack
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Freehold
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Unsorted components are unwelcome.
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Thanks for making me sad for not having been able to get this to the table yet. I've played 2 practice rounds controlling the 3 sides and I've caught a glimmer of the decisions and possibilities and mindgames that a true game would bring.
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Christina Ng
Singapore
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Thank you Blake for taking the time to write up this review for Three Kingdoms Redux!
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Adam Kazimierczak
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Falmouth
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Well, obviously the reviewer likes the game (you must have glossed over the "game crush" line).

I'm a little wary of labeling it "medium heavy" as that puts it on par with a Splotter game in complexity and my group couldn't handle that...yet.
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Blake Morris
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Henrico
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This size viola da gamba is like a cello with frets. I started playing at age 48.
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If Indonesia is your reference, I'll have to agree that "medium" is a better fit. Also, the section "Impressions of the game" was added after Monkatron made his request (and after my second play of the game).
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