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Subject: Father Geek's Review of Bull in a China Shop rss

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Cyrus Kirby
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Farmington
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The Basics:
o Ages 8 and up
o For 3 to 5 players
o 30 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:
o Counting & Math
o Logical & Critical Decision Making
o Strategy & Tactics

Learning Curve:
o Child – Moderate
o Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:
o Accumulate china, while also preserving it from the raging bulls (not including Robert De Niro)

Endorsements:
o Father Geek approved!
o Child Geek approved!

Overview

Bull in a China Shop, designed by Michael Schacht and published by Playroom Entertainment and others, is a loosely themed card-drafting game about collectors amassing impressive collections of china while minimizing the inevitable damage wreaked by visiting bulls. Perhaps the collectors should have invested a little time and money posting a “Bulls Not Welcome” sign.

There are two decks of cards. One consists of 40 China cards, in 3 colors (green, blue and red), with values ranging from 3 to 8. The China deck is interspersed with 4 scoring cards, indicating the junctures in the game when players score points for their collections. The other deck contains 30 Bull cards. The decks are placed in the center of the play area and 5 China cards and 5 Bull cards are turned face up. At all times during the game, the face-up China and Bull cards in the display are replenished from the relevant deck so that there are 5 of each.

Each player begins the game with two pieces of Starting China placed in front of him, as well as one Money card and one Pass card.

On his turn, a player has 3 options:

1. Exchange a Money card for a China card, moving it from the central display to his own collection in front of him;

2. Pass, surrendering his Pass card and forfeiting his turn (a once-per-game-per-player opportunity, as there is no way of regaining a Pass card); or

3. Take a Bull card (and watch the ensuing carnage). These cards indicate that a player must lose some China of a particular color or value; this China is removed from the game. If a player does not possess China of the required color or value, then there is no additional penalty. Indeed, it is possible to take a card and not lose any China at all. Regardless of the effect (or lack thereof), the player is compensated with a Money card. A player cannot hold more than 2 Money cards at any one time, so if he already has 2 Money cards, he may not take a Bull card. If the Bull deck is depleted, it is reshuffled.

Play then passes to the left.

There are four scoring rounds during the game; these occur when a scoring card is revealed in the China deck. Players must choose which of four options to score, each can only be invoked once per player per game:

1. Score the sum of the highest value China owned in each color;

2. Score the sum of the lowest value China owned in each color;

3. Score the sum of all China owned in one color (player’s choice); or

4. Score the sum of all China owned (in all colors).

Prediction

I acquired this very recently in a trade, as I thought this would be an excellent introduction to card-drafting, a game mechanism that also features in the more highly fancied gateway games Ticket to Ride and Thurn & Taxis. The shorter game duration and silly theme of Bull in a China Shop seem a good fit for younger school-aged children, although the artwork on the cards is far less goofy than you might think, judging from the box art.

I predicted that my six-year-old son would be able to grasp the game play, although he might struggle to select the best scoring options early in the game, with a view to planning for future scoring rounds.

Final Word

We have only played the game once so far, but I am sure that it will be making frequent visits back to our table in the future. The rules are easy to explain and it only takes a few rounds for new players to understand the flow of the game. The card drafting mitigates luck, especially bad luck, not so much good luck. You are often forced to take Bull cards in order to regain Money, but you always have 5 options from which to choose the least disastrous. If, instead, the rules required you to draw a Bull card blindly from the top of the deck, you could suddenly find yourself with no China at all! On the other hand, if the player to my right buys China and the next card drawn is a 7 or 8, I would have first opportunity to buy it … as long as I have a Money card to spare. (Believe me, it can be very frustrating if you don’t!) This happenstance is equally likely to occur without the card drafting mechanism.

I have mentioned in other reviews that my son enjoys showcasing his arithmetic skills, and, unsurprisingly, he kept a running total of (and commentary on) the value of his collection. At one stage, he had the chance to score the entire collection for a rather creditable 31 points. He chose to hold out, hoping to improve his position in a later round; alas, this was not to be, but such are the perils of the “learning curve” and no doubt next time he will have a better idea of when his collection has peaked.

Bull in a China Shop runs slightly longer than the typical filler game, but its small form factor makes it otherwise suitable for a great travel game (perhaps not on an airplane though, those tray tables are just too small). If you can find this game in stock for around $10-15, or pick it up from a friend, it is great value for the money.

Written by Meng and published with permission
Respectfully submitted by the Father Geek
fathergeek.com
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Ting Pong IP
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Lai Chi Kok
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Quote:
You are often forced to take Bull cards in order to regain Money, but you always have 5 options from which to choose the least disastrous.


I believe it should be that new Bull cards are drawn only when all Bull cards at the display are taken. So, a player may have fewer than 5 options to choose when taking a bull card. At least, this is how the German rules are written (I don't know whether it's been changed in the English version).

That's why I think it's not a good 5-player game. The last player has so few options to choose.
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Meng Tan
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Bridgeman Downs
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Correct! I realised this just last night (but before reading your post). We played it with the correct rules (3 players) and found the strategy to be very similar. I'm not convinced of your argument that it would not be a good 5-player game, because the China and Bull cards are replenished at different times.

Thanks for the comment, though.
 
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Ting Pong IP
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Lai Chi Kok
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Just an extreme example (and it happens a few times in my plays).

Player 1: Blue 3, Red 4
Player 2: Green 3, Blue 4
Player 3: Red 3, Green 4
Player 4: Red 3, Blue 4
Player 5: Green 3, Red 4

The 5 bull cards in display are:
Green&Green&Red&Red, All-Green, All-Red, All-Blue, All-Green

The China cards in display are:
Green-4, Green-5, Green-6, Red-4, Red-5

Then, in the first round, the most trivial pick would be:
Player 1 => All-Green Bull, no China card is discarded
Player 2 => All-Red Bull, no China card is discarded
Player 3 => All-Blue Bull, no China card is discarded
Player 4 => All-Green Bull, no China card is discarded

Then, when it's player-5's turn, what can he/she do, except taking the Bull card (and lost all his/her 2 China cards) / Push? He/she just can't take a China card because he/she would then have no money card and MUST take the Bull card next turn (and lost all his/her 3 China cards again).

The single Push won't work either because all other players now have 2 money cards. The last player still have to take the Bull (Green&Green&Red&Red) card finally and lost all his/her China cards.

Note that this situation would go on that the last player usually have 1/2 Bull cards to select whenever it's his/her turn.

That's why I am really concerned about a 5p game. Maybe, you can give it a try with 5p and see if you have different experiences.

Cheers
 
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