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Subject: Tell me about : Three Kingdoms Redux rss

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alex w
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Once in awhile, I will dwell in a serious Eurogame or two. Usually Eurogames do not have my attention for long, unless they are truly worthy of my time away from war gaming. Is 3KR such a game? That's where I would like to find out too. (Obviously, from this review of 3KR, it would seem that this game is indeed worthy of my time and effort.)

Sometimes, the rich history of ancient China is often submerged by those of Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome and the great discoveries of the New World. In my opinion, 3 kingdoms was brought to life, not by interest, but by beautiful manga type art, that defines the unique characters of that time in history. From these beautiful art, companies like Koei was able to bring to life the rich history and story that was 3 kingdoms.

Ever so often, certain history would be merged, twisted, reformatted, or simply re-written to bring in flavor and spice to the overall story. I believe that 'Romance of 3 Kingdoms' was such an interesting book, that it was soon widely embraced as the main flow of history through those days of strive in China.

I was a playtester of this game about 2 years ago. Just once, before I finally got my hands on a copy, straight from the designer's hands into mine when it was published. I was eternally grateful for their trip to meet up with me. What follows is purely my opinion, my likes, my preferences. In that perspective, I can very well understand that this review may be bias or skewed. I wanted to do a full review about the whole game and it's mechanics, but there are reviews before this that have done an excellent job of explaining the whole game in depth. In so, I would not be touching too much upon those issues, but touch I must, in order to explain certain opinions that I have.

Rule book

The rule book was initially written in a way that a designer would.....a game system that has been played numerous times and he/she knows the game well, and so the words and phases were only knowledgable to themselves. But looking at it now, I could see and very clearly understand the whole game structure. They have indeed put in lots of effort in explaining and phrasing it in simple sentences, that made understanding of each step of the game.....simple.

I agree, it may not be the best way to write such a rule book. I do have my own preferences, such as numerically decimal-ed, much like old Avalon Hill games would have been written, to get into all the exceptions and special rulings. But what is presented, was a beautiful rule book with examples on all the critically possible misunderstandings into diagrams. That made it so much easier, at least for me, to play the game correctly, right from the start.

What the rule book, however, lacked, was all the exceptions and rules-bending of all the cards and generals. You feel very much like a core rule book with quite a few FAQ on individual cards. This reminds me of Magic the Gathering. I played that for years, and every new expansion, it comes with a few pages of rules explanation. So, I'm not overly concern of the possibility of gamers asking numerous questions on exactly how a power would work. However, if a game was played a few times, it would become clear 'when a power was meant to be executed'. But that would mean several plays before 'enlightenment', would come.

What would it be? A rule book that is 100 pages long and accurate? Would be better than a 1 page brief note that frustrates a gamer? (He/she will try the game with this brief rules, have 100 questions unanswered and angrily put the game aside.)

Thus I would say, this rule book was actually pretty well written. I would give it an arbitrary 95%. (0% being really really bad.)


The counters/tokens/cards :

The amount of data for the generals on the initial playtest counters were quite abit. Not as much as those from Victory Games of yesteryear. (I remembered well, the numbers from a counter in the 'Fleet Series' of games.) A name and 3 sets of numbers...... Initially, I was thinking of 'Standees' which are great looking, you can put the character image on it, including space for numbers, but may not work too well under current game play issue. Flattened disc/counters work OK, but limits what can be written on its surface space.

Now look at what is presented to us in the game. Large character tokens with clear names and numbers that stands out clearly in game play. The designers must have heard our calls, and re-designed the tokens. Not only are the General tokens changed, so were the others. The weapons, the soldiers, the markers..... Excellent show. A slight waste, as I would have loved the faces of each General to be on the bidding tokens.

The cards are great quality. Beautiful art of each general or machine. The artist need to be commended.

An 85% here.

The map :

The playtest set has a unique map. It was hexagonal in shape. It was unique, beautiful and brings in a 'Chinese cultural' flavour to the game. The 6 sided map gave me the impression of a Taoist prayer accessory (I might be wrong here.) that strongly points this game religiously eastward. Towards China. Impressive.....

The spaces of gaming interest was unfortunately diminished due to this awkward angles. Not only that, some spaces were completely upside down to the opposite gamer. So unless, you have played this game from all different angles, you will have to stand and twist yourself to read all the action spaces on the map. It was most frustrating for first time gamers.

What I unfolded in the published game was an oblong map, 4 sided, mounted and unfolds almost perfectly flat. Being a 3 player game, the map spaces were very well positioned to allow for clear visibility at the entire map. Each player so positioned could still read all the actions spaces in proper. So no player would have a psychological upper hand on visibility to which action space is still available to be contested.

Take a moment and look at all the action spaces. The art fills this map with history. Not necessarily of 3 kingdom era, but of how ancient China might have been in its cultural and warring days.

A 70% for the old map, an 85% for the new. (Why is it not higher?)

The Game play.

Like all heavy euro games. The gameplay mechanics may need some time to be absorbed after the first play. Second and third play onwards, gamers will start to 'buy/hire' generals and cards for a specific route to victory. More plays after that, gamers will start to look for 'sabotaging chances' and some new combos that they can make to test out the game. Any more plays will head towards trying different generals and card combo, without too much bother on actual winning of the game.

One thing I noticed is that certain gamers will lay down their weakest general near the last moment, especially to steal an action or to steal a space that was borderline challenged. ( 5 each by two factions, so need another point to break the tie.) this action is perfectly fine. Especially for a euro game.
(Up to this point, the gaming experience is at 80%. It's really quiet a great game for 3 committed players.)

The Opinion part.

Which comes to my points on all my dislikes......some of these points I have highlighted to the designers before BUT, I don't expect them to act upon them just because it was my own opinion.

The characters.

(1) I don't see the character at various areas on board. I cannot feel that Sun Ce was training soldiers. I cannot see that Cao Cao is coming with his army to terrorise .... All I see AND feel is that there is a token that is A5, or C5 used at its maximum. Which leads me to another point below.

(2) Why would a C1 general train soldiers? By logic? Or by luck that no one else was training? A C1 general trains as well as a C5 general?? A C5 general that lost the training space, could not train anyone, because some other opponents was training soldiers across the border.......

Hope you understand the logic a game mechanic it seem like a euro logic - I won at that area, so I can take that turn/action. Perfectly well for it. I have no doubts about it.

As a 3 kingdom game? Has Shu ever stop training soldiers because Wu is training across the border? I felt rather strange for this line of thought in a warring era.

Of course, there is another area where you can pay for the training action ...... So now 2 factions can train soldiers and 1 faction will have to wait for 1 year?....

Why do I care so much about training soldiers? Why do I care so much about having the proper weapons? The system works right?

Yes, it works perfectly.....if you tell me that this is a euro worker placement game.

This is 3 kingdoms, is it not? It has wars, it has generals ...... It can't train troops...... I have to train soldiers bare hand combat, before I decide to buy them spears 2 years later.......

And I was not alone, when other gamers ask the same question. I wasn't the only one noticing it.

(3) Three kingdoms story was noted with feats of bravery and battles, where generals are killing and counter-killed. Thought came to mind, did the soldiers die bravely for their leaders? Did Generals die for their lords? Most of such battles usually end up with an army completely destroyed and the lords have to rebuild and recruit again.

Interestingly, when I challenge the battle, my troops don't get killed. They got displaced back to my pool. Literally, no one was injured. No weapons lost, no penalties except that I could not occupy a victory point zone.

If, with luck, no one challenges the battle. I will get to occupy a victory area. That's correct. It's like an army marching into uncontested territory and consolidate there. Here comes the interesting one else can go to that same area. (Eg, the spear/infantry battle deployment area.)

This is how I see it : an army reached Loyang, occupies it. Than no other army can come and challenge him for a battle. Loyang is permanently occupied by that 1 particular general.

Another interesting point : that general at Loyang now can't come out! Even if summon by his lord. He is imprisoned permanently. Neither can he be replaced. This works in a euro game. But it just defies my logic.

(4) Did I mentioned that your Generals cannot defect or be recruited by other factions? Friend and foe, is as fickle as anything you an imagine during that era. So how is this reflected in such a game? The answer is : you can't. The generals are balanced in the decks of their factions. (Or so it seems.)

(5) Lastly, (but nothing important to game play but just flavour text) the single words to describe a generals attributes/skill/feat/etc, does give an Initial feel that it's like Magic the Gathering cards. There may seem to be recurring skills. (Much like 'First Strike' or 'flying' in Magic) but it's not. Slightly disappointed there, but not an issue. Purely personal expectations.

The Map

(1) A 3 Kingdom game about China torn to pieces and warlords doing their utmost to unite as 1 whole seem to be missing the major image here. Where is 'China?' Where is the Great Wall? Where is Loyang? Cheng Du?

With this believe that it's all an abstract game, it is well and functions perfectly. This is just my preference. So that I can see my armies March to a certain location for battle.

The Cards

(1) Has anyone ever win by ignoring the cards completely? Has anyone specifically pick generals so that every Adm or Cmb phase, he/she will have complete control of the emperor? Is it possible, that if the game ended at turn 5, with a player fully concentrated at the emperor action? If that is so, what are the scores of the other players at turn 5? I asked this question myself and will answer it soon enough. But in gameplay, this is quite possible. Please note, this is not a fault of the game. It's just a question I ask myself, if such a tactic would unbalance the game.

(2) No duplicates of effects in the cards. Strange is it not? Because I can built a watch tower, no one else can........ How does that sound to you? Is it a mechanic flaw? Or is it something the designers feel that it's ok, not to have? Do you find it ok, to have 1 person having battering ram and the other factions could not? Not because, they don't want to, it's because they can't.

This is the main reason, I did not find games like 'eclipse' nice at all. One race can design missiles weapons, the other races suddenly becomes dumb. Because the tile has been taken by someone else 1 step before you, or because he was first player, so he has first pick.

Again, it's euro works ok. But in a war setting? I find that hard to understand.

The victory conditions

I believe the ending conditions are ok. Multiple ways to get VPs are great. Its one of the most basic mechanic in a eurogame. The 'everybody gets some victory points theory''s a pretty good idea.

In a three Kingdom game, the winner is the one that balances between winning battles? Growing the most plantations? Building the most ram? building the most watchtowers? Or becoming emperor? Did Cao Cao' descendants unite China by growing vegetations? By killing every enemy soldier and generals? Or when he controls a puppet emperor? Cao Cao did what ever he could to rid the country of any descendent of the emperor. Kill the cousins, relatives, etc.....did he not? Even Liu Bei, a distant cousin/uncle was not spared?

Even if our arguments hold true..... The one sitting on the throne wins China? Or the one sitting at the paddy fields?

The idea of 'we can lose the war, but we can still win the game....'. Is like saying Cao Cao lost the battle and got killed. But it's ok, he grew the most his faction is the winner, whether he is emperor or not or six feet under is not of concern. Again, I find this idea not to my agreement. It matters little, but just some thought for discussion.


As a Eurogame, this game is pretty engaging and plays very well. I can see that the mechanics lean towards worker placement and Agricola did have some part to play.

Take A than take B. exchange A and B to get C type of mechanic.

The powers on cards and the variant on general tokens are also well used here to allow for such worker placement gaming. Replay ability is dependent on the variation of generals and cards, which is Pretty good here.Overall, a very solid euro game for 3 players.

I view it at 80% to my liking.

As a Three Kingdom themed game, I feel it lacked certain important aspect, as I have briefly described above. But than again, are you looking for a euro game? Or a War game? When you pick up a three Kingdom. I believe, that is THE question.

Thanks for reading
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Christina Ng
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aka Auntie
Thank you Alexis for taking the time to write up the review as well as giving us your feedback during the playtesting session.
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