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Subject: Ancient China, the perfect setting for 2-player area control rss

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Bruce Murphy
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Dynasties is a tiny-box 2-player game from Jolly Roger Games in which two players, through a combination of deft strategy, bluff, and second guessing attempt to control the most valuable provinces of China. I review the basic game here.

Components

The game is played on a small quad-fold board depicting five historical provinces of China. These don't match any modern or historical map, but are a combination of provinces from each of the 9 Dynasties depicted.

The board also contains space for the turn marker showing which of the 9 dynasties is currently being played and a differential score track recording which player is currently in the lead.



Each of the provinces is given a scoring chit which remains in place during the game. The three numbers represent the region's scoring value at the end of the 3rd, 6th, and 9th dynasty.



Armies are represented on the board by chunky white or black cubes. There can only be one of the player armies on each space, so they don't get too crowded.

The player actions are taken by selecting cards. These are smallish narrower-that-usual cards which seem of reasonable quality. I don't know why, but the tall narrow cards remind me of the many of the scrolls or artwork that I associate with ancient China.



Gameplay

Set up is simply. Players shuffle their decks and take some of the special cards as well as their full set of 6 yellow army cards. The board is cleared of any cubes that have snuck on, and the turn and score markers are reset.

On each dynasty, the players will secretly place cards from their hands next to the board adjacent to each of the 5 region names along their edge. Provinces are resolved in left-to-right order by flipping the card. Basic values of cards are simply compared with the higher player moving their army cubes equal to the difference into the region. Each region is a differential score, so if white has 4 cubes, black moving in 3 will result in 1 white cube remaining. If white had 2, 3 new black cubes will result in 1 black cube in the region.

Therefore, in your deliberations,
when seeking to determine the military conditions,
let them be made the basis of a comparison,
in this wise:


There are some additional rules for the basic 6 army cards which range in value from 1-6 and which the player always has. Any player who uses the 1 card (the weakest army) may draw an extra card for the next round. A player playing the 6 in the province must discard one of their army cubes to mark the province. The 6 cannot be played there again.



According as circumstances are favorable,
one should modify one's plans


In addition to the six basic cards (Which guarantee each player will always be able to place an army in all 5 regions) there are special cards. Some are simply stronger armies which have values from 7 to 10. There are also +1/-1 cards which almost match the strength of any opposing army, except that they guarantee a win or loss by 1 point. Finally there are plague cards which cancel any battle in a region and cause the loss of half the occupying cubes (rounded down)



Finally, all non-yellow cards used are discarded and players draw two new special cards (if they have any left) for the next round.

It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted
with the evils of war that can
thoroughly understand the profitable
way of carrying it on.


At the end of the 3rd, 6th, and 9th dynasty, scoring is done. Each player receives the point values for the scoring round for each region that they currently occupy. The difference is recorded on the score track. The game ends immediately if the score track reaches the end space in any round, otherwise the winner is the player with the score marker on their side at the end of the 9th round.



Notes and Conclusions

It's amazing how often a regional will be identically valued by both players leading to identical cards being turned over (to no effect). This can be almost spooky as both players ignore low-scoring regions in a particular set of Dynasties.

It can be extremely difficult to root out an establish occupier of a region. If a player is desperate for the points from a high scoring regions, they can play -1 and P(lague) cards which will reduce their forces at a frustratingly slow pace and give them the points. Also, Plague cards can never completely deplete a region because half of 1, rounded down, is 0.

To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our
own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy
is provided by the enemy himself.



Each player has a limited number of army cubes as well. These are depleted by playing the 6 cards in regions, and often all cubes can be on the board at a time. This is a very dangerous situation because if a player wins by a large margin and runs out of cubes in their supply, they must build up the number of their occupying army by taking cubes from an adjacent region or regions. It can be game-winning to play a 1 against a 10 at some junctures to trigger this.

Despite the perfectly balanced nature of the game, one of the strategy-heavy folks I play games with insists the game is broken and that black always wins. While this has certainly been the case every time he has played against me (I always play black) and even every time he's ever watched, it certainly isn't true. Something about the art must have triggered superstition.

Dynasties is a nice 2-player game. It travels well thanks to its small box size and similarly diminutive table footprint as well as having relatively few pieces small enough to fall into the radiator grille of a Hungarian train.
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Justus Pendleton
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thepackrat wrote:
It can be extremely difficult to root out an establish occupier of a region.


This was one of the things that gave me a bit of a sour taste when I tried Dynasties. Depending on the scoring I found that if someone decided to make a province theirs, there was little you could do to pry it loose. Your opponent is forced to play high-number cards to try to remove some of your troops, making it even easier for your high-number cards to work elsewhere.

Now, maybe if I had liked the game better -- something about the large number spread on the cards combined with the number of provinces just made me feel like putting my cards down randomly would work as well as most 'strategies' -- I would try to push through that and look for/find strategies to ameliorate that.
 
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Bruce Murphy
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hoostus wrote:
thepackrat wrote:
It can be extremely difficult to root out an establish occupier of a region.


This was one of the things that gave me a bit of a sour taste when I tried Dynasties. Depending on the scoring I found that if someone decided to make a province theirs, there was little you could do to pry it loose. Your opponent is forced to play high-number cards to try to remove some of your troops, making it even easier for your high-number cards to work elsewhere.


Well, there are only 4 high number cards (7-10) on each side and they're not all going to be available immediately. If someone decides to hold onto a province tightly, let them win by a huge margin and suck all their forces there.

You probably do need to concentrate on just a couple of provinces and maybe a few turns ahead of the scoring rounds for high-scoring provinces. Waiting the score round to attack a province is far far too late.

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Alan Newman
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thepackrat wrote:


Despite the perfectly balanced nature of the game, one of the strategy-heavy folks I play games with insists the game is broken and that black always wins. While this has certainly been the case every time he has played against me (I always play black) and even every time he's ever watched, it certainly isn't true. Something about the art must have triggered superstition.


I'm hoping he was kidding. There is absolutely nothing in the play design to favor the Black player.
 
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Bruce Murphy
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Have you considered more subtle effects such as how much black vs white pieces appear imposing when piled up?

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R. Vafai
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Perhaps players are just more enthusiastic about clearing white off the board. ;P
 
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