Today we popped open a recently acquired copy of Leo Colovini’s Bridges Of Shangri-La. As usual, it was only the two of us playing this game. It’s worth mentioning the game is specified for 3-4 players. This is really puzzling. There’s a variant suggested here that goes the route of playing 2 colors each player. Don’t do this! Another variant suggested by dakman here on BGG, the one we used, simply suggests that you play the game as usual omitting the three cities along the top. This works extremely well. Now to be fair, we didn’t’ play the other variant but I think it would detract from the elegance of the game. Moreover, there are enough tough decisions with managing one color that I would fear the game extending it’s welcome in essentially taking on the responsibilities of two players.
First, when you open this game, you will likely have two reactions. 1) Man this is a beautiful board! 2) That’s it? Yep, when I first opened this game and saw the board and the pieces I didn’t think there’d be a lot of game here. But, I was deeply impressed with the board – it is a nice work of art. What’s particularly compelling about it is the absence of the usual trappings – scoring track, spot for money cards, etc. Instead, there are a number of cities with space for 7 pieces in each. These spaces represent the 7 masters each player is responsible for supporting and multiplying.
The theme of the game is that of masters training students and sending them off to spread their teachings in other cities and becoming masters themselves. In a nice twist, when you’ve deemed it appropriate to send them off to another city, the bridge behind them is destroyed. The basics of how it works (I’ll explain this in a full review soon) is that you place a master first in the city of your choice so long as there is space and you later can place an additional identical tile on top of the master. When you choose to send the students in that city off on a journey, only the student tiles are removed and if your city is stronger than the one you’re going to, you will either simply take the spot in the other city if it’s empty, but even sweeter, you will displace your opponent.
What gives this game it’s level of tension is that every city is tethered to at least 2 others if not more. This means that victory over a city can be fleeting for sending your students to another city makes your own weaker. In other words, this game is an interesting take on majority control.
The setup for this game is extremely simple. You open the board, you each place 7 masters, place the bridges, and you’re off. The win victory is that when the last the Master Stone has been place, the person with the most masters on the board wins. Very simple.
All those who play games as a pair should give this a go. We played 2 games back to back and they were really tense. There’s a great deal of tactical decision making here and the depth of the game is surprising given the layout.
The first game had a spread of 6 points, the second game I conceded – I was bested by a wide margin. However, the great thing is that the game stays tight throughout. Even when it opens up, there’s still the opportunity to get back unless there’s obviously only a couple of turns left.
I’ll post a review soon, but we already recommend this game. It’s been a great surprise for us.