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Subject: A Year With At the Gates of Loyang rss

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At the Gates of Loyang was a pleasant surprise. I traded for it a year ago without knowing too much about it. It was a game that someone local was trading that wanted the game I had for trade, so after reading through the rulebook, I took a chance on it. I had no idea that I and my wife would love it so much.

Within the last year since I acquired it, I have played the game 19 times. Most of those games were 2 player plays (which I think the game is best suited for), but there were a couple 3-4 player games as well as a few solo attempts.

The Premise:
The players are ancient Chinese farmers in the capital city of Loyang, roughly 2000 years ago. They must grow vegetables which they will use to trade at market stalls, and sell to customers. Helpers with special skills will also be used, with the ultimate goal for the players to make enough money to go as far up the path of prosperity as they can.

The Components:
The components are pretty amazing, especially for this type of game. Over 200 wooden tokens in the shape of the 6 different vegetables are included. You also get 4 wooden scoring markers and 2 first player tokens.

Cardboard components include the 4 player boards, money tokens, and customer satisfaction markers. A deck of 120 cards provides the "meat" of the game, which includes private fields for each player, loan cards, and the action cards.

Gameplay:
The game is played over 9 rounds. Each player gets a player board, of which they need to add tokens to their personal shop, a set of cards that represents their starting and future fields, and their vegetable carts, and their scoring token which they place on the '1' space on the path of prosperity.

Each player also starts out with 10 coins, from which they will have to purchase their starting vegetable from their shop, and place it on their starting field. Whenever a vegetable is used for planting on a field, every other space of that field is automatically populated with that vegetable from the supply. It is in this way that a single vegetable can be used to create more over the course of the game. The starting field has 9 spaces on it, which will yield one vegetable per round over the 9 rounds. Not only does this mean that a player is guaranteed one vegetable every round at a minimum, but it is also used as a game timer, to easily track how many more rounds the game has.

Each of the 9 rounds has three phases to it. The first phase is the harvest phase which consists of harvesting 1 vegetable from each field, and placing those vegetables in the cart to be used this turn. Then the player flips over a new personal field, that can be planted on the current or future turns. These personal fields will have from 3-6 spaces on them, which will yield more vegetables for the player to use for that many turns. In order to keep a balance between the differently priced vegetables, only the smaller fields can have the more expensive vegetables planted on them, while the larger fields allow less expensive crops. Of course, the more expensive the vegetable, the more money it will bring in. Overall, you'll have less of the good stuff and more of the cheap stuff to work with.

After the harvest phase comes the card phase. In this phase, each player will do a type of draft to acquire two action cards. This phase is important because the action cards you decide on will pretty much determine your course for the following turn(s) and will affect your overall strategy.

Each player will be dealt four cards. In clockwise order starting from the first player, each player will do one of two things. They can either place a card from their hand to the common pool (which will make that card available to everyone), or they can choose the two cards they plan on keeping. If they do this, one card must come from their hand, and the other must come from the common pool. Any extra cards from their hand go immediately into the pool. This continues until all players have their two cards.

There are five different type of action cards available in this phase. The first type is the public field. These act just like private fields, on which vegetables can be planted. Because having extra fields are so valuable, you must pay 2 coins to the bank immediately upon taking a field card.

The next type is the market stall. These cards always have 3 vegetables on them, and allow you to trade any vegetable you have for what is available on the card. Sometimes, the more costly vegetables must be traded 2 for 1. These cards can be very valuable, and allow you to trade for vegetables you don't have (or can't afford from the shop) which can then be planted for future turns or used right away.

One of the card types is the regular customer. These customers demand two vegetables per round for four consecutive rounds, and are a good source of income. As soon as you take a regular customer, you must take a satisfaction marker for the card and place it on the blue side. You are allowed to skip giving them their vegetables for one round without consequence, in which case you flip the satisfaction marker to the red side to show you got your pass. Once it is on the red, if they are ever skipped again, you must pay a penalty of two coins to the bank. So be sure to have available what they want, in order to keep getting an influx of money.

The fourth type of card is the casual customer. Unlike the regulars, they just want a single delivery of three vegetables. They will stick around as long as they need to, and you will never suffer a penalty if you do not give them what they want. Their payment is usually better than a one-round payment from a regular customer, but their prices fluctuate, and they will pay more when it is inconvenient to you. This is done in the following way: each casual customer has a base price. They will pay this base price if the number of regular and casual customers you have are the same. If there are more regular customers than casual customers, than the casual customer will pay an extra 2 coins upon delivery, basically giving you extra to take care of them when you're so busy with regulars. If you have more casuals than regulars, then the casuals will pay 2 coins less than the base price, since you're not very busy. Overall these customers can be a great boost to your income for a turn if you have the extra veggies to deal with them.

The final card type are the helpers. There are a variety of helpers that let you do things that you can't normally do, like buy veggies at better prices, trade with other player's market stalls, harvest more vegetables than normal, etc. These can be extremely useful or useless, depending on your situation.

After the card phase comes the action phase. This is basically where all the transactions take place. You can buy or sell vegetables, trade with the market stalls, use helpers (though some helpers are used specifically in the other two phases), deliver to customers, and move up the path of prosperity. All of these actions can be done as much as wanted. There is one more action which can only be done once a turn, and that is "buy a two-pack". You take the higher number of cards you have between market stalls and helpers, and that is the price you pay (if you have none of either, than the two-pack is free). Than you get two action cards from the top of the deck. You can choose to keep both, one, or none. If you keep both, than you must choose one to be underneath the other, only getting the benefit of the second card after the first one is used.

Moving along the path of prosperity is usually the last thing done every turn, after it is determined how much money is left. And that is because it costs money to move along the path. The path is numbered from 1-20, and all players start on the 1. Every turn, to move up one step (no matter where you are starting from) costs one coin. If you want to move more than one step, then the cost for every step after the first costs the number you are moving to. For example, starting at the 1, on the first turn, you can pay one coin to move to the 2. Then you can pay three more coins to move to the 3. On the next turn, it costs one coin to move to the 4, and then five more coins to move to the 5. The earlier you can move up the steps, the less expensive it is in the long run, but of course, you have little money to start with, and won't be making much until a few turns in. It is also important to have some money at the beginning that you can invest in (for needed vegetables from the shop or extra fields) that will help you later with a good return.

After nine rounds, whoever is furthest along the path of prosperity wins the game. Because of the large amounts of money to move up towards the end, there will often be ties in score from the path, and these ties are broken by whoever has more coins on hand. Even with players tied on the 18th step, there is a world of difference between having two extra coins, and having 14 extra coins.

I should also mention that anytime a player needs money for something and doesn't have it, that loans can be taken out. A loan will get you 5 coins, and there is no limit to how many you can take. However, they can never be repaid. Instead, at the end of the game, for every loan you took, you will move backwards along the path of prosperity 1 step. In my experience, loans are almost never a good idea. 5 coins now just to lose a step that cost 16, 17, or more coins to get to is bad, and often will cost the game.

Final Thoughts:
I am extremely happy with this trade, and I think the number of games played over the year shows that. I think the scoring mechanism is genius which encourages spending money early when you need it most versus paying more later if you don't. It really forces you to be as efficient as possible. Of course, with the way the card phase works, there is no guarantee that you will get to do what you want.

I view the game as a mathematic logic puzzle, except you don't have all the pieces and you just have to solve it the best you can with the pieces that are available. Sometimes the pieces you want are obvious, but more often, you have to make some tough choices on what to grab, because you always want to do more than you are allowed in the nine rounds. It all just comes together so well.

I definitely prefer this game with two players. Anymore than that, and it can get quite long. This is supposed to be sped up in the 4 player game by having two pairs of player play at the same time, which limits the interaction (and limits the power of some of the helpers), but I found it confusing trying to have two players go at once. Especially if they are new players, it helps to see what the others are doing to get an idea of the gameplay. While I prefer two, I will definitely play with more if the opportunity arises.

I really can't find too much at fault with the game. You may not like the game, or just think it's a minigame from Agricola, but I think the design is sound. I've never had a complaint where I wondered why a certain rule was in place, or thought something could be done better a different way. Sure some helpers and market stalls are clearly better than others, but if everything was exactly even, then what you decided on really wouldn't matter, because there would be no decisions of greater or lesser value.

What more can I say, other to keep on gushing? Following the BGG ratings guidelines, I rate this one a 10. I am extremely surprised that I ended up liking this game as much as I do, but it just seems to strike the right chord with me.

To see what chords other games strike with me after having them for a year, check out my list of reviews at A Year With My Games.
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Chris Talmadge
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Thanks for another great review in your series! I have been on the fence about this one, so this may put me over the top.

Keep up the excellent work. thumbsup
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Robert Manore
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Warlord beats Troll, Troll beats Elf, Elf beats Water Sprite, and basically everything else beats Enchanted Bunny.
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I too received this game in a trade and the only thing I heard about it was that it scales very well for 2p. So, since I have been trying to get more games to play with my wife, I took the trade. And just like you, I have been happy with it ever since.

Great review!
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Bayden Hammond
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DoomTurtle wrote:
I view the game as a mathematic logic puzzle, except you don't have all the pieces and you just have to solve it the best you can with the pieces that are available. Sometimes the pieces you want are obvious, but more often, you have to make some tough choices on what to grab, because you always want to do more than you are allowed in the nine rounds. It all just comes together so well.


What an excellent summation of this fantastic game, I couldn't agree more. A long time favourite for my wife and I too, and I don't see that ever changing.
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