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Subject: Three Kingdoms Redux - Full Review (after over a dozen plays) rss

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Locke Balenska
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What is at a peak is certain to decline. He who shows his hand will surely be defeated. He who can prevail in battle by taking advantage of his enemy's doubts is invincible.
-Cao Cao




Three Kingdoms Redux, the first board game created by Singapore developer Starting Player, is a theme- and strategy-heavy game for (exactly) 3 players who's core mechanic is bidding via variable-worker-placement. Players take the role of the three dynastic leaders of the Three Kingdoms period and will use their civil and military subordinates to bid for and perform various actions which build up their resources, strengthen their military reserves, and ultimately invest their forces into generating victory points.

With three players, unequal starting positions and a limited pool of actions which can be performed, there should be ample opportunity for strategic maneuvering and fierece competition. All of this is overlaid by a theme which is widely known and revered, and has spawned many, many wargames, but never (AFAIK) been made into a euro-style worker placement game before, a genre often criticized for merely pasting on its themes.

Can Three Kingdoms Redux manage to provide an engaging strategic experience without sacrificing the depths of its own theme, all while distinguishing itself from the many other Three Kingdoms games that are already extant?



Short answer:
Yes. Go play it. Done.
Long answer: Keep reading!





Gameplay

Let's start with an overview and discussion of the basic game mechanics.

Each player will have a number of 'generals' - historic figures who each have an administrative rating, combat rating, leadership rating and a unique skill. Depending on which kingdom you are playing as, you may start with as few as 3 generals, but by the late-game all players will have 8.



The basic gameplay is that players take turns placing a single general on one of the 15 available bid spaces and after all generals are placed the kingdom with the highest cumulative administrative/combat rating in the space will get to perform the action of that space. In some spaces, only administrative ratings count, in some only combat count and in others the criteria alternates each round. Any generals from other kingdoms who 'lost' the bid get removed and accomplish nothing.

Example: 'Construct State Enhancement' is an action that is bid with administration. The Wu kingdom places Han Dang there (admin = 3), then the Shu kingdom places Fei Yi (admin = 5) there, then the Wu kingdom places Sun Quan (admin = 4) there. The two Wu generals' combined administrative rating (7) beats Shu's (5), so Wu will get to perform this 'Construct State Enhancement' action and Fei Yi will not get to do anything here.



12 of the bid spaces are 'common' spaces which all three players bid upon. Most of these actions result in gaining resources of some sort - rice, gold, armies, weapons of various types, tokens which can improve later bids or cards which can improve your later resource and VP capabilities. Most of the crux of the game then comes from players trying to execute their own plans and block the other players' plans each round through a combination of using their generals to win the actions they want and trump the spaces their opponents want. There is a small amount of redundancy in the most important actions (ie: if someone blocks you from taking the 'Recruit Armies' action you can use the 'Demand Tribute' action as a weaker version of it instead) but for the most part the 12 actions are all unique.

The other two important bid spaces are the battle spaces. These function as the 'Victory Points (VP) investment' space. Players bid not only generals but also armies and weapons into these spaces. When they win, they leave a general, the armies and the weapons in a slot connected to the battle space. Thereafter, those general/armies/weapons cannot be used for anything else for the rest of the game and they cost upkeep (in rice and gold) - severely limiting your resources and bidding capabilities - but they generate VP for your kingdom in every round. There are other ways to generate VP at the end of the game, but stationing generals and armies at borders is the method that generates the most and the only method that adds VP cumulatively each round rather than a capped amount of VP at the end of the game, so choosing how and when to station your generals/armies at borders forms the most significant decision and strategy of the game.

Beyond the generic mechanics which apply to all players, each of the generals drafted by a player possesses a unique skill. Some skills apply only when taking certain actions with that specific general, some are single-use abilities and others are passive bonuses that benefit the kingdom all game.

There's lots of small aspects I have not mentioned above, such as the Alliance Space (which allows the bottom two players to join forces in one bid space each round), but the above outlines the fundamental and most involved portions of the gameplay.

Overall, the mechanics work very, very well and are one of this game's major selling points. The bidding system is not only simple, but also provides a very dynamic way of triggering actions that is constantly engaging all the players' strategic thinking and takes very little time so the down-time between 'turns' is very small. The high number of actions compared to the number of generals available, and most actions being very distinct, fosters a very competitive gameplay environment so the gameplay does not feel mundane or automatic throughout.


What's good?
--Bidding is easy to understand and goes quickly - there is very little downtime where a player does not feel their attention is engaged by their own moves or what their opponent is doing
--The variety of different actions, general skills and enhancement cards, as well as the ability to take any won actions in whatever order the player wants, gives the player a lot of flexibility in what actions are most useful and what 'combos' of different actions/skills/bonuses can be performed to accelerate their kingdom's growth
--There's a variety of 'resources' that function similarily but add additional depth and strategy to the action selection (ie: rice and gold function very similarly but you need to maintain some of both, the 4 types of weapons all function the same but certain generals prefer certain weapons, popular support tokens and the Han emperor token are different ways of boosting your generals' bids)
--Players start with only a few generals and draft more every couple rounds - this works very well at escalating the tension of the game, as well as making it harder for a player to get completely blocked out of a crucial action over multiple rounds in the early game
--The unequal starting positions, but with the number of generals equalizing after several rounds, is very well balanced
--The alliance space and bid order mechanisms serve well as light catch-up mechanisms but don't cause the Power Grid effect of making players feel like being the "last" player is actually an advantage!
--The numerous categories of end-of-game VP scoring, balanced with the military VP accumulation, is a good mix of "VP buffet" and "specializing your kingdom pays the most" styles of point scoring
--The sheer number of different generals (23 per kingdom) compared to how many are actually used each game (8 per kingdom) offers a lot of replayability

What's bad?
--There are only two "stats" for generals - adminsitration and combat - and the range of these stats is 1 to 5. There is only one general in the entire game that has a 3:3 (Liao Hua), every other general has either a 4 or a 5 in at least one stat (and usually a 1 or 2 in the other stat). Since placing a general with a '1' in combat onto a combat bid space is just asking for your opponents to easily trump you, you will almost always place military officers (who have a 4 or 5 in combat) on combat spaces and ministerial officers (who have a 4 or 5 in admin) on administrative spaces - the 'lower' stat will almost never be used except if you are the last player to place a bid. So there's not a lot of variety in how you use the actual "stats" of the generals, other than '4's vs '5's, and arguably you could remove the stats entirely and just have a civil/military system without much change in the game. Perhaps a third stat (Leadership is not ever used as a bidding criteria - maybe it should have been; or Strategy, Intelligence, Charisma, etc) would have made more variety in the stats a valid possibility (a 3:3 general is rarely useful in bidding compared to a 5:1 or 1:5, but a 3:3:3 general would be a useful tool compared to 5:1:1 / 1:5:1 / 2:1:5).
--The enhancement cards are very situationally-specific, making drawing new ones not very useful unless you have a general who's skill specifically addresses this. You only draw 1 random enhancement each time you use the 'Import Technology' action, and there is a very high chance the card you draw will grant a bonus only when performing a feat you've already done, or the card will require you to be below a rank you have already surpassed, etc. Wu and Shu players will rarely try to draw any cards beyond their starting sets because they are so specific, and it also then makes their generals oriented towards building the enhancements (Jiang Wei, Li Yan, etc) weaker. Wei has a better set of possible generals skills (Sima Yi draws two cards at a time and Hao Zhao can build an enhancement every round without being bid on the action) so they still have the possibility of using a lot of enhancement cards, but then you get into a situation where only Wei is using them. Of course, this is easily house-ruled into something like instead of drawing 1 random enhancement card a player draws 3 and chooses 1.

Other commentary
--Players who take a long time to think when faced with any tactical or strategic decision ("action paralysis") will slow the game down substantially, as there will be the opportunity to re-evaluate the situation at the placement of every single general, each round
--Plays three, AND ONLY THREE, players. This will surely be a big turn-off for some players, simply because they only over get the opportunity to play in their weekly 5-person game group, only play with their spouse, really like solo gaming, etc. If that is the case for you, then it's hard to recommend a game you would rarely or never play, right? Still, if you're in that situation and really wish you could play this game because you love the theme thiiiiiiiis much, then keep an eye on these forums... I've got a couple variants in the works...




Strategy

Three Kingdoms Redux commits itself to being a deep-strategy game - that is, most plans for success take many actions and rounds to complete. There isn't much 'tactics' - once you have the generals, armies and weapons ready to commit to a border space there is no maneuvering or last-minute adjustments to make - you just go for it and send them in.

The predominant strategic challenges will be twofold:

1. Accumulating a variety of resources (gold, rice, trained armies, weapons of the appropriate type, possibly a popular support token or two) to keep in your supply as quickly as possible so you can station your armies when you want and counter other players. This involves reading your opponents' situation and deciding what you should bid on, in what order, that you are likely to succeed in and get resourcse from while blocking the enemy. If you're wrong, you might be outbid and fall behind in accumulating these resources, leaving you unable to counter or keep up with your opponents' momentum.

2. Deciding when to invest your generals, armies and weapons into border locations. This functions very similarly to other worker placement games, as well as deck builders like Dominion. You are essentially turning your resource engine (generals, which can bid on actions to create more resources) into a Victory Point engine. If you do it too late, you might not get enough points. If you do it too early, you may not have enough generals left to keep up your own momentum, or worse you might not have enough gold/rice to upkeep your armies and lose VP.


Lots of generals and armies stationed at a border, producing VP

There are lots of other decisions that will tie into these aspects of planning. When drafting generals, do you take the resource-boosting civil official, or the general that will let you rush the border earlier? Do you wait an extra round to make your weapons match a border location, getting you a bonus 1 VP, or skip the 1 VP and attack now? Do you launch your attack this round, or try to block your opponent's actions since he seems low on gold and you might be able to block him from paying his own upkeep? Do you use your farms to just produce more rice now, or put them in your granary to offset military upkeep costs?

While the mechanics of the game are fairly streamlined and simple, the strategic considerations are definitely lot. Even though stationing generals is the biggest contributor to VP, it will typically only be around a third to a half of your total score, and with numerous other categories you are scored on there are many ways to win. There are also several end-of-game triggers, some of which can be triggered as early as about round 8 (the maximum is 12) if you really want to, so you can even try strategies like a mid-game point rush followed by personally ending the game as quickly as possible.

The limitation in the number of generals you receive also shapes the strategy of each player very well. You will find that you cannot use the same strategies each time, that the cards you start with will encourage you to try and maximize their skills in new ways, and then in later drafting rounds you can choose the new generals that will best continue that strategy.

It is this variability in the avenues you can pursue and the different tools - particularly the generals - that really makes the game shine as a strategic game, and keeps you engaged enough that it hardly feels like a 2-hour game.


What's good?
--Long-term, multi-round strategy emphasized
--Many ways to acquire VP
--Can specialize specifically in a few ways of generating a lot of VP (ie: station some generals early, control the most borders and try to build a dozen enhancement cards) or can take a broader approach of getting lots of small VP increases from many sources
--Many end-game triggers, some more player-controllable than others
--Unique skills and enhancements offer fun opportunities to combine different bonus effects in efficient 'combos'

What's bad?
--It is quite rare, but possible that the initial general draft starts you in a very poor position. The developers seem to have tried to address this by making the initial general draft give you more to choose from (6 for everyone at the start, whereas later it is 2 more than the number of generals you acquire), but even so it did happen to me in one game that all the generals I could choose from as Shu were civil officials with awful combat ratings (and Liu Bei, whom Shu always starts with is not exemplary at combat either). Those civil officials were great for developing my farms, but early on you really need to start preparing some armies or you'll have nothing to contest your borders with for a long time. Thus, it took until round 3 before I could even start to try and recruit armies and produce weapons, which Wu and Wei both capitalized on with their extant armies fairly early. Might need a house rule to allow players to discard the entire original draft and draw a new one.




Theme

Three Kingdoms Redux is, unsurprisingly, based upon the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history, and more specifically upon the Sanguo Yanyi, an epic historical novel which portrays a grandiose version of the events of that period. Perhaps the closest Western equivalent is the Iliad.

Here's a short introduction to the setting and the novel for those interested, but you can skip right past this part if you don't care:

[history lesson begins]
Spoiler (click to reveal)

The end of the the Han Dynasty (specifically, the rule of Emperors Ling {168-189 CE}, Shao {189 CE} and Xian {189 - 220 CE} ) and the Three Kingdoms period {221 - 265 CE} is among the most legendary and revered in Chinese history, as well as one of the bloodiest regional eras in any history (sometimes ranked only below World War II). The Han dynasty had ruled for 400 years (with a short usurpation and restoration in the middle) but finally crumbled from corruption and mismanagement in the Imperial Court under Emperors Huan and Ling. By the time Emperors Shao and Xian came to power, the governors and magistrates of the empire were more akin to regional warlords who only paid lip-service to the throne. While the Han Emperor Xian ruled nominally for 31 years, he spent almost all of that time as a mere figurehead for a succession of Prime Ministers of doubtful fidelity while the empire was fragmented into dozens of miniature states and city-states. By the time Xian forcefully abdicated to Cao Pi, three of those states had conquered and absorbed all the others, hence the name Three Kingdoms.

These three states (Liu Bei and Sun Quan declared their own empires shortly after Cao Pi deposed Xian) would fight back-and-forth for decades, but each time one kingdom gained an advantage over another, the third would usually keep the first in check, so very little militar progress was made. Eventually, the Sima clan usurped the Cao clan's Wei dynasty, forming the Jin, and the failure of Wu and Shu to govern well lead to them being conquered fairly easily by Jin, thereby ending the Three Kingdoms period in 265 CE.

While academically the Three Kingdoms period refers to 221 to 265 CE - from Cao Pi's formation of the Wei dynasty to the final conquest by Jin - the famous legends and stories of the period are mostly from the period of approximately 190 to 230 CE. These 40 years encompass the time when heroes first appeared, spies plotted clever intrigues, allegiances were formed and broken, and numerous warlords fought over territory across the empire. The stories of the heroes of this period became increasingly popular during the dynasties that followed, especially when conquest by non-Chinese peoples fragmented the empire again (specifically, the Han Zhao and later the Yuan and Qing dynasties) and the loyalists looked back at the idealized, unified Han.

As centuries passed, many new or exaggerated stories featuring the most prominent characters of this era were developed. Sometime in the late Yuan or early-/mid-Ming dynasties, an author gathered together historical sources, Tang dynasty poems, Yuan dynasty operas, folk tales and more relating to the Three Kingdoms period and wrote a literary novel chronicling the era, incorporating both factual and the popular fictional accounts. This authorship is usually attributed to Luo Guanzhong (but this is debated) and the title was Sanguo Tongsu Yanyi. That novel was widely circulated and re-redited multiple times, most notably by Mao Lun and Mao Zonggun in the 1660s and republished as Sanguo Yanyi. This version of the novel became even more popular and is the definitive version widely known and circulated today. In English, it is commonly translated as The Romance of the Three Kingdoms (because that is how Brewitt-Taylor translated it in 1925... though some argue it is not the best translation).

Today, the novel is still highly acclaimed, is still a cultural touchstone of China, and continues to inspire poems, theatre, fan fiction, television, movies, video games... and board games!

[/history lesson]


Characters-wise, Three Kingdoms Redux is based on the Sanguo Yanyi - despite the name, it is more focused upon the characters and stories leading up to the formation of the Three Kingdoms and a short while into their first battles afterwards, but not all the way to the later half of the period nor the Jin conquests (and it follows the stories presented in the novel, whether they are historically true or not). Gameplay-wise, however, the game is indeed based more upon the post-formation period - there are no other factions beside the Three Kingdoms leaders, the battles are all named after later battle regions, etc.

This may be marginally upsetting for hardcore Three Kingdoms purists - if the three kingdoms are already formed at the start of the game, why are Guo Jia and Sun Jian still alive? Where's Cao Zhen, Liu Shan and Deng Ai?

Well, too bad for those purists. I think the developers made the right choice in that they clearly wanted to make a game focused (gameplay-wise) upon there being 3 and only 3 kingdoms which embraces the "too much conflict between players 1 and 2 only benefits player 3" ideology, but at the same time the developers included all the most prominent and most remembered figures from those three kingdoms whether they actually were involved in that stage of the era or not. It gives the whole setting some added 'oomph' that the generals you are playing with are not the generals who merely won some battle in a history book somewhere, but are instead the ones with dramatic tales of steering a boat through a wall of flames, being shot in the eye and eating it, or divining the enemy's strategy by sorting through a box of womens'... clothing... damn it Sima Yi!



Beyond the vague timeline, there are some other choices that players familiar with the story will find strange. For example, Guan Yu - a warrior famed for riding about on a magnificent horse slaying generals with his spear-like weapon - for some reason prefers boats in this game, not horses or spears. Such anachronisms are few and minor, and the developers have shown they have ample knowledge of the source material so I assume such decisions were made for the sake of gameplay balance, which is always the right decision. Again, the purists will just have to get over it (and really, I mean it, these things are very few and minor).



From a higher-level perspective, the bidding process and then the 'taking' of an action has a good feeling of actually sending generals out to go do a job and then come back, and the gradual accumulation of armies, training them, and building weapons before you can deploy them (as well as slowly developing your farms and markets) while you gain more worthy generals every couple rounds leads to a strong sense of building your nation into something better than it was before.

The worker placement and bidding for common actions of course will feel un-thematic to some. It doesn't really make sense that just because Guo Jia is building a catapult in Wei that Zhang Zhao can't also build a battering ram in Wu, a thousand kilometers away. There's no sugar-coating this - the common actions and bidding for them is a totally unthematic abstraction that exists solely to make good gameplay rather than align with the theme. People who can't stand that sort of thing, this just isn't the game for them.

As for the "combat", it is tough. People who know Three Kingdoms, or who have played a lot of Dynasty Warriors or even other Three Kingdoms board games are going to be going into this expecting some degree of combat - fitting for one of the bloodiest periods in history and a novel that includes tons of ruses, ambushes, fire attacks and detailed battle scenes. But that is not the game this is trying to be. It's a worker placement and bidding game, and that is it! There's no RPS=Spear-Horse-Crossbow mechanics here, and it may well hurt your brain not to get a +1 combat bonus when you send spears against enemy horses, but the headache will stop eventually, I promise! To its credit, the idea of stationing your troops at the borders and leaving them there works very well as a thematic substitute for a more complex open warfare than just comparing the combat ratings of your generals and the number of armies at each battle space. You can't ever push someone out of a border location though, so you can't really re-enact Wei taking Hanzhong, then Shu conquering it, then Wei re-taking it. Think of it more like just defensive positioning in the first decade, and having such a better position (as well as more farms, more support of the populace and better treaties with the outer tribes, etc) is what will guarantee your armies conquering your opponents after the game has actually ended.


A highly-contested border battle taking place!

Unfortunately, that does make the theme sort of anti-climactic from a certain perspective. That is a common limitation of the worker-placement genre of games (or in a sense, of all fixed-round games as a whole) - you get the same thing in games like Shogun, Eclipse, and even Catan - the game ends and VP are tallied before the story of the game truly ends (through global conquest, mercantile monopolization, whatever...).

However, the multiple end-game triggers does a noteworthy job of bringing some of that climacticness back - ie if one player thinks they have the lead and starts trying to reach Emperor status as fast as possible it causes the other two players to either desperately try and prevent it or rush their plans for as much points as they can get in the time left. It won't give you a book-like ending, but the tension of the last round(s) as that end-game condition is triggered or not does often yield a satisfyingly emotional finish.

Overall, it is the grandiose feeling of not being able to commit yourself fully to attacking one enemy because the other enemy will pounce upon the opportunity that is best represented in Three Kingdoms Redux. The three-way layout of the game and the usefulness of every common action makes it such that piling a ton of generals onto one bid space in a duel with one player is almost never as good of an option as cutting your losses and bidding elsewhere. Nor is sending all your armies to only one border - even if you repeatedly win there it will weaken that neighbour too much and let your other neighbour beat both of you in border scoring. Or how about the feeling of being sort-of-allied with Wu against Wei, agreeing publicly that you'll both work against Wei together, and then in a pique of anger at Wu for double-bidding the Han Emperor space sending your last general to attack Wu uncontested? There may not be any weaponry-specialization, no taking of your opponent's capital, no raiding your enemy's treasury at so-and-so point on a map, but the feeling of intrigue and armies sweeping across the board while the balance of power shifts back-and-forth is very real AND it ties in very closely with the feeling you'd get from the Sanguo Yanyi!



What's good?
--Terminology, the game board, characterization, beautiful art, etc, all serve to truly engross the character in the theme
--Smart choice of not sticking to a historical- or even book-canonical set of generals to fit the kingdoms-already-formed setting
--Skills, weaponry, attributes, enhancements... even the artwork itself is all adapted directly and faithfully from Sanguo Yanyi (with a few exceptions like the Guan Yu boats)

What's bad?
--Like many VP-engine games, the storyless ending can be anticlimactic
--No military tactics - some theme fans will really feel this is missing
--Players who are not familiar with the source/theme will find the similarity of names annoying (Xun Yu/Xun You, Zhao Yun/Zhou Yu, Jiang Wei/Jiang Wan, Yu Jin/Yue Jin). It would lose a bit of thematic integration, but nevertheless I wonder if it would have been wiser to use some style names instead of given names in order to not alienate the players who are unfamiliar with the names already, ie: Xun Yu and Xun Wenruo, Yue Jin and Yu Wenze.

Other commentary
--Only covers Wei, Wu and Shu, so fans of other characters and factions will have to patiently wait until I finish making the fan variants for Dong Zhuo, Lü Bu, Yuan Shao, Liu Biao, etc.




Rules & Components

The first thing many players will notice when they unbox this game (or when they browse around these BGG pages) is how beautiful the artwork is, particularly on the general cards. Ray Toh, the main artist, did a fabulous job bringing a lot of famous Three Kingdoms scenes to life. Even the subdued scenes of generals just sitting around eating chicken ribs (no really, that's a thing) look great. Components like the little cardboard state markers are tastefully adorned with traditional Chinese calligraphy - I'm certainly nowhere near a calligraphy connoisseur but they look good to me.



The game board is laid out well - players sit at assigned sides and the one empty side is where the excess stuff like the round marker, bid order markers, etc, go to get them out of the players' way. Even when playing as Wei (who sit at one of the short ends of the rectangular board) everything that matters most (particularly the action spaces) is close by and the use of vertical markers on the farther-away VP and rank tracks makes it easy even for people with poor eyesight to see how they are faring compared to the other players (and even exactly what spot they are on as long as their vision isn't really bad). It took a while to even notice, but the board has an outline of China itself underneath all the game textures, and the players sit roughly where their kingdoms would be on the map - a really cool little aesthetic touch.

The board is relatively big, but not too bad. But then, there are also 3 reference sheets - one for each player. Each reference sheet is nearly 30x30 centimeters (1x1 foot), so they take up a LOT more space. And you will need the reference sheets for at least the first several games - they not only layout the sequence of the game, but also all the end-of-game scoring conditions which are too numerous and complicated for new players to learn and memorize entirely in the first few games. The back sides of each reference sheet also provides a listing of all the abilities of the generals of the other two kingdoms, which again is necessary because the general cards of the other players are too far and upside-down to read easily, and with so many generals new players will not be able to memorize them, either.

I appreciate the listing of enemy generals on these sheets - it really allows players to do full, heavy strategies knowing exactly what their opponents have in-hand, without needing to memorize every unique skill. I also really like having the VP conditions and sequence listed as those help new players follow along and plan their victory much more easily than my explaining things repeatedly. Still, these sheets are just way too big. It makes taking TKR to play in a bar/coffee shop/bubble tea shop/etc a non-option because the whole thing will simply not fit on any tables there, and in homes it means using an oversized table that wasn't necessary for the size of the game board, only necessary because of the extra 30-60cm needed in width to fit reference sheets on all sides. A better option would have been to break up the information into several large cardboard reference sheets or reference cards. The repeated information could even just be printed once and passed around, if necessary.

On top of the reference sheets, you'll need room in front of each player to lay out your general cards (once you get the hang of the game you can start partially-overlapping them) and your individual supplies of all sorts of tokens. You'll also need a general supply for the 12 types of tokens, piles to hold your unused generals tokens in, decks with your undrawn generals and decks to draw unification/separation cards from, too. None of these things have any room on to go on the board, so "sprawling" is a pretty apt word here - even without the reference sheets (though they are definitely the biggest contributor) the game takes up a lot of extra space beyond the board itself.



In terms of organization, you basically need to go buy a plano or tackle box to sort all the tokens of the general supply into or you'll spend way too much time passing and fishing around for tokens in the box lid. You might as well go and get some sort of custom box for the cards too or at least 5 different elastics/bags because you can't actually stack together all the cards in the box, either. The game box is not very tall at all, so with the 6-fold board, reference sheets and rule book (but mostly it's the board) stacked together in the box there is only about a centimeter or two left of space on top. If you leave all the cards and tokens just haphazardly strewn around on top it will fit, but if you want to impose any sort of organization it will not fit easily - you will need to separate the cards into different stacks and have lots of token bags so there is no bulging. If you want to use something like a plano box, you will never find one wide enough but short enough to fit within.

Furthermore, the game does not come with any bags, elastics, or other tools to help you organize the 111 cards and 319 cardboard tokens. So, that was disappointing that the owner needs to provide and setup all of that themselves, and that the game only fully fits in the box if left in a state that is tedious to work with and slow to setup.


Left: the game as it comes. Right: the game in a playable form, but it doesn't all fit in the box anymore.


As for the rulebook, it is pretty average, but with a couple notable omissions.

The rulebook follows the basic layout of explaining the game bit-by-bit, chronologically through a single game round. This is the tried and true method of most games, and it does work well for sitting down and reading the rulebook front to back in order to learn the whole game before your first play. There's a couple minor spots where I later was looking back to clarify rules and wish some parts had been put together functionally instead of chronologically (ie if talking about bidding for battle spaces and resolving battle spaces were together) but for the most part this format works the best for this kind of game.

There's also one or two mechanics that are only really explained through implication and the rulebook should really have done a much better job explaining them. The chief one is explaining when generals are revealed after drafting them. The rulebook says to place them face-down after drafting them, and to place tokens face-up when bidding, so after a couple careful read throughs you can eventually realize through implication that the player is allowed to keep their generals face-down and unrevealed to the other players right up until the moment they are first used, but this really ought to have been made much clearer in the book, especially since one of the generals' unique skills revolves around keeping him hidden.

Throughout the rules are tons of examples, which is great, but the page-by-page layout of the rulebook does get a bit jumbled by these huge pictographic examples which sometimes sit between paragraphs of the same section. The layout just goes from top to bottom through two columns on each page with the examples inserted wherever relevant, and sections or examples often flow over into the next page, so the layout does not help much with keeping mental track of where you are in the game as you read through. I think it would have been a lot cleaner and easier to follow if the rules text had only been written in one column of each page and the examples all in the other column next to what they are exemplifying, with page breaks used to keep each section and example all on one page.

The terminology used can be a bit of a mouthful or leads itself to confusion in some instances - ie "Improve tribal relations action spaces" is a specific term, and there is a difference between "armies" and "army units". These terms carry over to the generals' unique abilities, so players do end up needing to know what a lot of them mean and ergo teaching them when playing with new players will require a bit of patience and/or trial and error. I would have preferred to see the designers go with shorter, simpler names that have a more memorable quality to them...

ie:
Actions -> Actions
Action Spaces -> Zones
Common Bidding Action Spaces -> Common Zones
Battle Action Spaces -> Battle Zones
Improve Tribal Relations Action Spaces -> Tribal Zones
Untrained Army -> Untrained Soldiers
Trained Army -> Trained Soldiers
Army Unit -> Army

IMO, it is easier to say "I use these soldiers and these weapons to form an army with this general, bid him in this battle zone, win and perform this action" than it is to say "I use this army and these weapons to form an army unit with this general, bid him in this battle action space, win and perform this action" and it is a lot easier for new players to follow along, too. (I know, 'Zones' is not a very thematic word but I'm sure we could find some equivalent that is short, memorable and thematic.)

Regardless, the terminology is at least consistently used both across the rulebook and on the generals cards' unique skill descriptions. There are a couple cases where it is difficult to tell upon a first read how strictly the conditions of these skills apply, though.

a couple examples:

{a} Zhou Tai's skill says it activates when he "takes the control Han emperor action" but apparently you can use the skill when another general 'takes' the action as long as Zhou Tai is in that space

{b} Hao Zhao's ability activates when he is stationed with 1 army and the card doesn't specifically say if that means "exactly 1 army" or "at least 1 army"


Now, to their credit, the developers released here on BGG and on their website a compendium which lists all the generals' and state enhancement cards' abilities with notes which clarify any of these uncertainties. Nevertheless, though, it is a bit annoying when, in the middle of a game, you have to reference another 20-page booklet of rules. Most of the clarifications won't really be necessary for players who follow the text strictly and the few clarifications that were really needed (like Hao Zhao's in the example above) are fairly easily memorized, so overall it's not a big deal.

Finally, the rulebook is actually very good at telling you when you must and may do something. Occasionally this isn't where you will first look for it (ie you'll probably look at the page which explains stationing generals at border locations to determine if you must do so, but what you're looking for is the "A player may choose not to take the actions of any action spaces won." which is about 5 pages back at the start of the action resolution chapter.

Overall, the rules and card text are not that great for using during the game, but they are satisfactory for learning the game the first time. The bidding mechanism and actions all work pretty much the same and there aren't that many exceptional rules, so once you have played the game a couple of times you will probably find you don't need the rulebook anymore and can just use the game sequence layout on the player aid sheets. The game board itself, too, has a lot of useful imagery to remind you of the intricacies of each action and showing you where VP are accrued, too.

So, the rules, text and needing to look up the compendium are definitely a notable flaw for the game, but after a couple games many players will find it is no longer an issue. Similarly, the organizational problems add a little bit of preparation time, cost and space required, and this may frustrate some players while others may not be bothered by it at all.


What's good?
--Game board is well designed
--Artwork is pretty
--Rulebook is consistent and flows well for reading it through entirely
--Lots of rulebook examples

What's bad?
--No insert for the hundreds of cards and tokens
--No supplies provided to help store and organize all these cards and tokens
--As it arrives, game takes much longer to setup and play due to so many tokens left unsorted
--Most owner-provided organization systems which fix the above problems will not fit in the box
--Some terminology is confusing and/or unmemorable
--Rulebook layout is not very clean, and not conducive to easily finding individual rules
--Some general skills not entirely clear - need to reference online compendium at least once to fully understand them

Other commentary
--The Generals Artbook (a special item included if you buy the game directly from the developer in Singapore) is about half a centimeter too long to fit in the game box without bending the pages. What the heck?!




Conclusions

I'm sure there are a lot of prospective players for this game who like bidding mechanics and worker-placement games that don't know and don't care about the Three Kingdoms theme. For them, there will certainly be a little bit of a hurdle in dealing with similar-sounding Chinese names and embracing the chicken-ribs artwork, but I believe that even when completely divorced from its theme Three Kingdoms Redux provides an entertaining and tense experience, with mechanics and player interactions that will set it apart from other worker-placement games you might already have in your collection. In particular, the deep strategy aspects offer a lot of replayability and the 3-players-exactly dynamic of the game has it filling a specific niche that may not yet be filled in many players' collections.

For the fans who do know and love the Three Kingdoms theme, this game is practically a must-buy. Sure, there are lots of Three Kingdoms wargames and card games already extant, but a complex and strategic eurostyle Three Kingdoms game is something else entirely, and this game manages to both bring the theme to life and provide a very compelling gameplay experience while absolutely embracing its eurostyle mechanics.

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Edward Uhler
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Great write up! It's good to see other folks, other than just us, give this game the type of review that it so richly deserves!
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Kevin Smith
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Superb review, I picked this up but have not had a chance to try it yet. Having read your review I may have to nobble a couple of my players to ensure I only get three at the next game session!
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I wonder how this could work as a 6 player game in teams of 2....?
Maybe each individual having "control" over 2 generals at a time (or switching between them 2 then 1)...? Or...?
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Larry Rice
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Just a note - I organized everything into baggies and the game fits into the box just fine. There's certainly no room for anything more though!
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skir wrote:
What's bad?
--No insert for the hundreds of cards and tokens
--No supplies provided to help store and organize all these cards and tokens
--As it arrives, game takes much longer to setup and play due to so many tokens left unsorted
--Most owner-provided organization systems which fix the above problems will not fit in the box

I think focusing on high end solutions to such problems leads to frustration, not to mention unnecessary expense. I'm sure good old ziplock bags would solve the problem for me. It's only the lack of an interesting military sub-system that holds me back.

[edit] I would post before reading the other responses... Larry nailed it with the baggies. gulp
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Yeah, I used little baggies at first, too, but you need about 12 of them, and in the end we found that having one big supply box on the side was easier than passing around a dozen bags individually (you can reach across the table to pull a token out of the box, but to get a token out of a little bag you have to ask someone to pass it to you).



stowcreek wrote:
I wonder how this could work as a 6 player game in teams of 2....?
Maybe each individual having "control" over 2 generals at a time (or switching between them 2 then 1)...? Or...?


Well, I've got a 4p variant in the early planning stages that could be played as a 2v2*. Basically you only have a border to your left and right, so the players across from each other would be on a team since they have no border.

I think instead of treating every common bid space as an alliance space it's more varied and tougher if the bids of allies do not add together, BUT if the top two bids in a space are allies they can both do the action. If the highest bids are A, B, C with A and C allied, then only A gets to do the action. Maybe each team gets one alliance space each round, too.

I'll play around with the idea and see how it works. If it turns out good, we'll see if it still holds up when extended to a 2v2v2 or 3v3 scenario. Though I am focusing on the 1p and 2p scenarios first, right now, and there's a good chance I'll try and make a 5p/6p FFA scenario before doing major development on any 5+ team scenarios.



*Yuan Shu & Sun Ce vs Liu Biao & Eastern Wu (Liu Yao, Yan Baihu, Wang Lang)
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Nate
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I can't stand baggies so I did this.


lanothe wrote:
lanothe wrote:
Found these at walmart for a little over a buck:







And while I haven't found a great solution for the cards, they fit perfectly into these toothpick boxes with sleeves and will keep them from sliding around.



Also, this storage solution has the lid sitting about a centimeter above the bottom of the box.




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Thank you for taking the time to write up such a detailed review for Three Kingdoms Redux! It is great to see that you have played the game dozen of times. We are curious about your variants. Do share them on BGG when they are ready!
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A J
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Great review, thanks! I feel it would be a bit too heavy for my group. What are some of the other "many Three Kingdoms games" that you're talking about that are good?
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ayejae wrote:
What are some of the other "many Three Kingdoms games" that you're talking about that are good?


Check out the listings in the [geekurl=https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgamefamily/22883/romance-three-kingdoms]BGG Rot3K Family[/geekurl]. Many are out-of-print and/or were never translated to English, though - generally the higher-ranked ones on this site are the ones that are easier to find in English.

I'm almost certain I've seen a copy of Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms being played at some point, but I can't be sure and didn't recognize what it was at the time. That one is from Japan.

The Romance of the Three Kingdoms came out in 2004 in Korea and is a wargame style. The company did do an english translation of the rules (which was later vastly improved by fans). I think that one has since gone out of print, too, now.


For card games, I think Heroes of the Three Kingdoms / San Guo Zhi (I'm not really sure if those are actually different games or just a commercial re-print in another country) reached fairly high levels of popularity in its/their day, but has since been eclipsed by The Battle of Red Cliffs and Legends of the Three Kingdoms, at least in China.

It's a bit hard to track this stuff since so much of it has different popularity in Korea, China, Japan, Singapore, etc, let alone the difference between Asia, North America, Europe, etc. Plus not all of it is translated, and lots of it that is translated is a re-publication of an already existing game for western audiences (ie Legends of the Three Kingdoms was already being made by tons of companies and fans doing their own knock-off versions in one big disorganized game long before Ziko came along and made an 'official' English version to sell in NA/Europe).


Are any of them good? I haven't played any of the wargames, myself, so I can't comment on those. For the card games, it really depends on what sort of card games you like. Legends is basically a Bang clone in many regards, but the added rules, character abilities and variation of special cards makes it a bit more tactical and a lot crazier (a lot of countering over-powered abilities with other over-powered abilities). Red Cliffs is a Rummy-like set collection game and apparently not a bad one mechanics-wise, but it has almost zero theme other than things looking ancient Chinese, so it won't do much to scratch an itch for a Three Kingdoms game.

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A J
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Thanks for the suggestions. It's unfortunate there are so few (good) games using that theme, even though it's so full of potential.
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Great write up. Thank you for your review.

I'm a purist. I do have some deferring opinions.

But for a game as it is. It's great euro game...that's what the design is all about anyway......

Theme wise, I would have expected more though.laugh
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Wow very nice review, gives a very good idea what the game is like to those wondering. I'm a huge fan of the game since we discovered it about a month ago. I find there are not many really good 3 player strategy games that have appealed to our group. I'm a big fan of the theme and love the story of the characters from my time playing the video games a long time ago. It was nice to revisit the theme in a Euro style board game.
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Paul Grogan
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The artbook being too big to fit in the box is really annoying. I have no idea now where to put it and its just going to get lost.
 
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chris schott
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PaulGrogan wrote:
The artbook being too big to fit in the box is really annoying. I have no idea now where to put it and its just going to get lost.


I also thought it was conspicuous that the book didn't fit in the box. It's so close. I've got the book on my bookshelf but it would get consulted more often if it were in the box.
 
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Hock Leong Goh
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Hi,

Is this game available in some Singapore board game cafes? I tried PlayNation but could not find it. I would love to try out some Singapore-made board games.

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sg_hawkling wrote:
Hi,

Is this game available in some Singapore board game cafes? I tried PlayNation but could not find it. I would love to try out some Singapore-made board games.

Three Kingdoms Redux is still available from our online store. Here is the link:

Starting Player online store
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Hock Leong Goh
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Thanks for the reply and a happy lunar new year to you and your family!
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