Dadaocheng is another Essen winner for me. The game is a simple economic game but it's the market that really wins me over.
First the production is good. The game has a nice box and board and very nice artwork. The market tiles are fantastically thick and easy to pick up and flip. The discs are decorated with 5 different plants/flowers which represent the resources. Poppy/Opium-black cubes, Rice-white cubes, Tea-green cubes, Sugar-red cubes and Camphor oil-yellow cubes.
Each players has a small player board (card) and they own one of the storehouse rows that surround the market. On a players turn they are allowed two actions. A player may swap two discs in the market or flip one disc to the other side and they can to do one of each action or two of one action. Discs fronts and backs are color coordinated. When the swapping or flipping of discs result in an orthogonal line of 3 or 4 discs of the same color, the player collects one or two resources of that color. In addition, the storehouse that is adjacent to and touching the line gets a resource no matter who's it is. When all the rooms of a store house has at least one cube the owner may collect the resources at the end of the market phase. The catch is that if a store room ever has 3 resource cubes in it they are lost and returned to the supply. So while this part of the market sounds pretty simple, the really interesting aspect is that after you collect resources from a line, those tiles flip and any resulting line will also earn resources and this is repeated again. If a player collects 12 or more resources during this process, the player must rearrange the discs and return to resources.
After the market phase the player may buy ship cards or buildings, they may visit the temple, they may exchange 2 cubes for 1 and execute the historical event in the order of their choosing.
Opium may be used as a cube of any resource. However, if a player has collected opium and uses it as a resource they will receive negative points for the amount of opium used. Ships are worth VP at the end of the game. Buildings provide abilities and VP. With 4 players the game ends after 10 rounds.
So the game is not complicated and there may seem to be limited player interaction but as you play the market there is definitely some planning. I find the market mechanism to be really interesting and it is what makes the game for me. I like games with grid markets going back to Hermagor. More recent examples include Targi and Dilluvia Project. It's a bit puzzle-y trying to see how to optimize your resource collection without giving too much to the other players. You can collect resources while forcing the other player's storehouse to be over the limit. The fun thing is sometimes you can start a chain or flipping in the market and not even realize it. I think it plays best with 4 since all the storehouses will be in play although our game with 2 went well.