Players represent powerful trading merchants in the Far East, attempting to secure commodities, execute profitable trades and load their goods onto junks (cargo ships). The ultimate objective is to earn the most Yuan(money), which is earned by skillful (and sometimes lucky) transactions.
The game is relatively short -- only ten turns. Turns move fairly quickly, with a full game being played in 1 - 1 1/2 hours. The mechanics are also very straight-forward and after a turn or two, everyone should easily grasp
the rules and mechanisms.
The board depicts five junks of various colors, as well as a market area, tracks for the two merchant trainees and four locations for the action cards. The artwork is functional, but somehow fails to impress. The quality of the components, however, is quite nice and the game should prove quite durable. Each junk has a space for commodity cards, as well as a hold for loading cargo.
Players begin the game with numerous cargo plaques, each depicting three crates. These will be stacked into the various junks during the course of the game. Each player also begins with eight commodity cards. The remaining commodity cards are divided by type and begin the game located on the junks. The set-up chart also calls for certain junks to be pre-loaded with a few crates, and the three merchant tokens begin on pre-designated junks. They will move clockwise top the next junk with the passing of each turn. The two trainees begin on at the beginning of their charts.
The Sequence of Play is very straightforward:
1) New market tile is revealed. The market tile depicts the four commodities and their value for the current turn, ranging from 1 - 4. There may also be an "S" indicated on one of the commodities, which allows the player who wins the right to sell this type of commodity to choose a special
2) Special actions. In turn order, players may select one of the three merchants or one of the two trainees and perform their special action. Once a merchant's or trainee's special action is used, it is inverted and not
available for use by another player that round.
The special actions of the merchants are fixed can only be executed on the junk where they are present located. The trainees actions are listed on the trainee chart and vary from turn to turn. Those actions can only be utilized on a junk where a merchant is NOT present.
The special actions of the merchants are:
a) Load 2 Crates. The player executing this action loads two of his crates onto the junk where this merchant is located. Crates are loaded in rows of three, with the next row being stacked atop the previous row but in a
different direction. This is important as the number of crates visible plays an important role in the game.
b) Take Commodity Cards. The player executing this action takes a number of commodity cards from the junk where this merchant is located equal to the number of visible crates of his own color loaded on that junk. The minimum
number of commodity cards he takes is three even if he has less crates visible.
c) Take Money. The player executing this action takes money equal to the number of crates he has visible on the junk where this merchant is located. Again, the minimum amount of money he takes is three.
The actions of the trainees basically mirror those of the merchants, but vary from turn to turn and can only be executed on the junks where a merchant is NOT present.
Four times throughout the game, the trainees will be located on a special spot. Two of those allow all players to choose an action card from one of the four stacks, while the other two force all players to reveal their current money totals.
3) Refill Hand. Each player selects two commodity cards of his choice from the junks. The number of commodity cards a player is entitled to may increase during the game if the proper special action cards are taken.
4) Bid for Right to Sell Commodities. At this point, all players bid commodity cards for the right to sell those cards for the price listed on the current market tile. Players secretly place a number of commodity cards
of the same type before them and simultaneously reveal them. The player bidding the most for a particular commodity receives the amount of money indicated on the market tile. Ties are split between the tied players. In
any case, ALL players who bid on this commodity, whether they won or lost, must discard the cards they bid. Ouch! This forces players to pay attention to the number and types of commodity cards each layer has in their hands, a skill I am not particularly adept at!
If some commodities were not offered for sale, a new bidding round is held until all commodities are sold or everyone passes.
5) Merchants and Trainees move. The three merchants then move to the next junk in clockwise order, while the trainees progress one space to the right on their charts.
6) Start Player Rotates. The entire sequence is again repeated, with the start player rotating clockwise.
As mentioned, there are several opportunities for players to select special action cards. When these opportunities arise, players actually take one of the four stacks of action cards into their hands, study them and select one
they prefer. The remainder are returned to the board. It behooves a player to remember what types of cards are remaining in the various stacks in order to benefit the player in future selection rounds.
The action cards allow a variety of special abilities, including:
a) Break Ties. This is a VERY important power and there is only one card in the deck. Any ties during the bidding round are broken in favor of the player who possesses this card. Grab this one if you can!
b) Extra Commodity Cards. This allows the player to collect an additional commodity card each turn.
c) Swap Commodity Cards. The Player can swap two commodity cards for two others when the market tile is revealed.
d) Move or Load Crate. These cards allow the player to move one of his crates, or load a new one to a junk
e) Victory Points. These cards are used at the end of the game and award victory points if the player has the required number of crates visible on the indicated junks. Points awarded vary from 8 - 12 points.
The game ends following the tenth turn and players tally their victory points:
b) 4 points for each junk wherein a player has at least one visible crate, or 25 points if a player had crates visible on all 5 junks.
c) Any bonus points awarded by the action cards.
The game follows a very processional path and players are able to discern the future movements of the merchants and trainees. This allows the astute player to carefully plan his actions and take advantage of opportunities on
the turn when he is the start player and gets to select his action first.