Played at Halesowen Boardgamers on 25 June 2008
We continue to try out the new stuff from Games Expo, in this case Confucius, which Dave was lucky enough to acquire one of the few copies of. Dave had played before at home (see his report here), I had been given a run down by one of the guys at Surprised Stare at the expo and had downloaded and read through the rules, while Mike was coming to the game completely blind.
Setting up at the start the foreign invasions were (in order) were Korea, Manchuria and Annam. The distant lands saw Africa and the Spice Isles worth 4 points each. India was 3, while Arabia and the Americas were 2. The points for the ministries were Bingbu 7/5, Hubu 8/5 and Gongbu 7/6. We were playing the basic game so there was no petitioning of the emperor. There now follows an overview of the play, note the events mentioned are not necessarily in the order they happened.
Dave was selected as first minister for the first turn and the general tendency (I don't quite recall if it always happened was for this to be passed to the right, presumably on the basis that the outgoing minister would get first action in the next turn, that was certainly my reasoning). I spent the first turn giving Dave a gift and buying my 3 cost gift, together with gathering income, while the others went straight to the bribing of officials.
Over the next few turns, we all did a bit of bribing and buying of junks, followed by setting sail to foreign parts. Mike was first to visit Africa, while I followed up with a visit to the Spice Islands and Dave went to India, all picking up Emperor's reward cards. Mike got a free gift and of course took his 6 value one, which he then gave to me, while Dave got a free bribe. I held onto my free army, for a short while as there seemed to be no action on the military front.
The first ministry to be resolved was Hubu, which Mike took 4/3 over Dave, I also had a single official and would have been obliged to support Mike in the resolution, but took the opportunity to transfer my influence before the resolution, cancelling Mike's 6 value gift in the process. In the other 2 ministries I was able to get ahead, through use of the imperial examinations, replacing one of Dave's officials in Bingbu and Mike's in Hubu, then displacing an unbribed official in Bingbu to force the resolution for me 4/3 over Dave. Gongbu was resolved at the end, again in my favour over Dave, who unexpectedly (to me) displaced Mike for second. Dave took the extra point for first minister at the end of the game.
As has been said there was not much action on the military front, Korea went by with no one placing any armies. The invasion of Manchuria failed as I was the only one who sent an army (which was free), placed to gain the emperor's reward card, yielding a free bribe to help me in Bingbu. Mike and Dave supplied the 2 armies to invade Annam at the end, Dave taking the 4 points and Mike 3 and the emperor's reward. I built one more army to take the extra point at the end as General. I wonder if there would be more action in this area with more players, since (barring emperor's rewards) it costs 1 action to raise a single army and then another action to send a single army to war. Even a small invasion is going to take 4 actions to complete and I suspect that more players committing more actions would make this area more viable.
In contrast there was plenty of action in overseas voyages. As mentioned before we each made one of the early voyages, while Mike started another and I finished a voyage to Arabia at the end for 2 points and an emperor's reward of a free bribe, which helped in Gongbu. I took the extra point as Admiral. In this case you can buy multiple junks as a single action and then send multiple junks to sea, also as a single action. Admittedly the points available are not as high as those potentially available from military action, but you can do it all yourself, rather than being potentially reliant on the help of other players.
In the end the final scores were Dave C 24, Dave D 22, Mike 15.
This was after a recount. Having awarded the game to me on a tie break at 22 all, I went home and worked through it in my head and came up with the above. In this game the scoring possibilities are set in advance and there are not so many of them that you can't remember who got what when. The key to Dave's victory I think was having a share of each ministry resolution which in turn gave him the point for first minister at the end.
What do I think? Well on the evidence of 1 play I would give a qualified thumbs up, even on this play I saw an interesting game with scope for varying strategy. I was able to make good use of the Imperial examinations, by triggering them when I had the only candidate; this is particularly useful in combination with the Imperial favour because no one can then comeback at you. I say qualified because I think that it would be better with more players for the reasons I mentioned about the military path. Additionally with more players you would have more options with your gifts, with three to get 5 actions you need to have given a gift to each of your opponents and received one back (or given one and received 2) and to make this work you need one of your opponents to have given back one of equal value creating mutual obligations. With more players there is more scope and I suspect this would mean more players with the full 5 actions, meaning more gets done.
The one problem I found with the game has nothing to do with the game play, it concerns the way the imperial favour is marked with a cube on the same display as the actions that have been performed. Throughout the game I was looking at the cubes on the display thinking that many actions had been performed and getting confused because one of the cubes represented an action which hadn't been performed. This may say more about me than the design, but I feel it would have been better to have a card to represent the imperial favour, which could be given to the first minister who could place the cube on the card rather than placing it on the display and confusing poor souls like me.
Anyway just to repeat, an interesting game which I hope to play again soon with more players.