In this post I will give my opinion about Sun Tzu regarding six different topics: Theme, Components, Game Play, Strategy/Tactics, Complaints & Overall.
Being a kung fu movie fan, I have seen enough to bring much of this board game to life through my imagination. I see it as though I was a general sitting in a room with a big map of the land spread before me, consulting with my advisors about where to strike next. Pieces representing mine and my adversaries armies move as news travels back and forth about which provinces I have taken and which have been taken from me.
The components are generally fantastic; this is a beautifully produced game which looks great on the table. The board is very nice and the cards have (in my opinion) a unique style with beautiful art. Rotating point markers for provinces are a great touch which seem to add to the whole ambiance of the play area. The game also includes miniatures which I think is very cool – a definite upgrade in the reprinted version I have. I especially like the silver and gold miniatures which are solid and well crafted.
I do have a minor quibble with the army miniatures though. Despite there being a variety of different miniatures to represent armies (nice extra detail), they are made of soft plastic. This means that some minis are bent out of shape and are kind of wonky. I have seen this issue with similar minis such as in Cyclades and it is unfortunate because it detracts from an otherwise stunning production.
My final issue with components is with the ‘Warlord’ cards. These are one block of text. In the rule book, the explanation of these cards includes some symbols; but for some reason symbols are not on the actual cards. Otherwise, I do like the cards which include some Sun Tzu quotes that are fun to read while waiting for the other player.
Area control is how points are earned. Controlling an area depends on how well players can perform hand management and drafting with some deduction and bluffing/anticipating. Actions are selected simultaneously and then revealed card by card. Turns can be fairly quick with little down time.
Players can adopt a long term strategy based on being able to see what provinces will be worth how many points throughout the course of the game. This also has the benefit of changing every game too. Maybe you want to go for the big point grab first or perhaps you will build up control in areas worth little at the start of the game but where you can cash in later. There are several strategic decisions to be made from the outset which if not made correctly, could lose you the game early in this tug-of-war style point scoring system.
Tactics also are very important because both players will be reacting to where each other plays and what cards are drafted into their hands. There is a beautiful balance between making a general plan of attack and really reacting to both your own and your opponents cards.
Asymmetrical player powers are all the rage these days and I must admit that I too have come to enjoy some good asymmetry in my games. An attempt has been made to do this through the optional feature of ‘Warlord’ cards which give each player a onetime only unique ability. These are subtle advantages which, when played at the perfect time and place can probably push one player into the lead. Although they add a touch of flavour, they do feel a little pedestrian for me. It would have been nice to see some game breaking super powers or a little more asymmetry. Now I rarely play with these cards in because I don’t feel they add much. This reflects that I think the game is great without them; but because they are included – I can’t help but feel they could have been much more exciting.
I am also slightly disappointed with the event cards. Too much chaos can ruin a game, and I have no idea what the best balance is, but the event cards sometimes never get triggered. Seems a little anti climatic and again, I never play with the event cards but because they are there – I wish they could have been a little more influential.
I like Sun Tzu. I also play a lot of two player only games and this one provides something quite unique as it gives me the feel of something very big (thanks to the dudes on the board) but which can play very smoothly and quickly. There is a tense story arc which builds up to something big for the end of the game which is quite satisfying and I feel like I can play this with any level of gamer from new comer to jaded pro. I think it is great value. I intend to experiment playing this in teams 2 v 2 and tweaking some of the ‘Warlord’ cards to mix things up a bit for a bit of house ruling fun. I also might play around with having my own kind of modular board; battle for Los Angeles, storm the castle, trying to get a seat in Starbucks..! I am also looking forward to the possibility of some expansions coming out in the near future..?
I felt that Citadels and Raptor had some similarities to Sun Tzu, so if you like either of those games, maybe you should give this one a try too. If you don’t like the interaction of having to anticipate your opponent's moves, then this might not be for you.