Friday, June 29, 2007

Review: China

Overview of Rules and Game Play
China is a quasi-territorial control game involving component placement through card usage. With regards to scoring, there are in-game and end-game scoring mechanisms. Here's how it plays:
The board is a map of China divided into 9 regions. Each of these regions if of one of five colors. So, two regions are yellow, two are green, two are red, two are orange, and the largest territory is purple. Any two regions of the same color do not border each other on the map. There is also a "great wall" of China scoring track which is fun as it reinforces the theme quite well. The board is also double sided with a different setup on each side.
Each player starts off with three cards in their hand. Each card is of a single color corresponding to one of the five region colors and each card has listed on it the names of the territory or territories it can be used for. When a player plays a card, it allows that player to place either a "house" or an "emissary" in a region. A player may place up to two pieces on their turn (their cards permitting) but they may only do so in a single region. The rule books provides an easy way to remember this with the 3-2-1 idea:
Three cards may be used to place up to two pieces in one region.
When placing pieces, if you have two cards of the same color, they may both be played as a "wild" - allowing you to place a piece in any region you wish. Thus, a player may use all three cards in their hand on their turn.
At the beginning of the game, after everyone has their cards, the top four cards from the draw deck are layed out. After placing their pieces each player replenishes their hand back up to three at the end of their turn by selecting cards from either the four that are layed out, blindly off the top of the draw pile, or both. After replenishing their hand, any empty spots left by cards taken from the four that were layed out are filled again off the top of the draw pile. The card replenishment is important because going through the draw deck twice triggers the end of the game.
In placing pieces on the board, one of the interesting rules is that no player may place two pieces in a region that doesn't have any pieces in it already. What this creates is a situation where some of the players are hesitent to place a piece in a new region because all of the other players would then have a chance to place multiple pieces in that same region on their turns.
There are a specific number of spots in each region for a house and there are roads connecting these spots. You may place a house on any spot in a region that you wish (if you have played the appopriate card or cards to allow you to do so). Once any region fills up, the scoring works in descending order like so:
The first place player (the player with the majority of houses) gets a number of victory points equal to the total number of houses in the region regardless of who placed them. The second place player gets a number of victory points equal to the total number of houses in that region placed by the first place player. The third place player gets a number of vp's equal to the number of houses placed by the second place player and so forth. Ex:
Player one plays 4 houses in the purple region
Player two plays 3 houses in the purple region
Player three plays 1 house in the purple region
Player one would get 4+3+1=8
Player two would get 4 points
Player three would get 3 points
What this creates is the interesting dynamic of trying to get others to help you out. 8 and 4 is a fair amount of distance between a first and second place player with only one extra house placed by the first place player. However, if a smaller provice broke down like this:
Player one plays 4 houses in the red region
Player two plays 1 house in the red region
Player one gets 4+1=5 points
Player two gets 4 points
In this example, player one did all the work and player two, with only one piece, got only 1 point less than player one.
As I mentioned, there are roads that connect the housing spots. If a player connects four of their houses in a row or more along a road (regardless of whether those houses are all in the same region or not) that player gets a number of victory points at the end of the game equal to the total number of consecutive houses on the road.
Emissaries can be placed on a region in a black circular symbol in the middle of each region. The total number of emissaries that can be played in a region (regardless of who plays them) is always less than or equal to the total number of houses in the majority in that region. For example, if a region has two houses from player one in it and one house from player two, then that region can only hold two emissaries in it because two is the number of houses in the majority in that region at that time. Emissaries can by played by anyone. They do not have to be played by the majority player.
Between each region is a small black spot with a number on it. There is a black game piece that represents the emperor and, at the end of the game, the emperor piece starts out on the spot labeled "1" and continues through until he gets to spot "15" - at each spot "checking the relationship" between each region. In a given relationship, there is only scoring if one person has a majority of emissaries in both regions of the relationship and that player gets a total number of points equal to the total number of emissaries in those two regions regardless of who played them. So, if you choose to place an emissary in a region, you had better win the majority in that region or you're just handing more points to the eventual majority winner in the end game scoring.
A player may, on their turn, choose to play a fortification (represented by a small black square) in a housing spot for their first piece (remembering that they have to play a card or cards to do so) and then a house on top of that fortification as their second piece. Each player may only do this once in the game. The fortification piece doubles any scoring in which the house on which it is built is involved - meaning, region scoring with houses and any road scoring.
So, now that we've covered the rules, what about the game? Is it fun? How deep is it? Who would like it? etc. Well, I personally like the game. In spite of the lengthy dissertation I just made on the rules, it's not really a very deep game. In fact, even though I may play China occassionally with my gamer friends, I believe the game really shines as an "introduction" or "cross-over" game (what I mean by "cross-over" game is a game that has enough options to keep a genuine gamer interested but has enough of the right elements to appeal to a non-gamer.) Here's why:
-The board and the game components are colorful and visually appealing.I know this may not sound like a big deal but non-gamers tend to need something more in a game's appearance to have a good time as they are probably not as interested in mechanics.
-The turns are short and the game moves quickly. New players don't have to wait for a long time for it to be their turn to play again. Also, because the placement of pieces by the other players can affect multiple scoring opportunities, other players' turns are more interesting to watch.
-Even though there are multiple scoring options, what you do on your turn is pretty simple - play cards and place one of two types of pieces in a single region. This element helps reduce "turn fear" on the part of newbies/non-gamers (you know, the idea of a person hating it when its their turn because they have no idea what to do).
If you are looking for a game to add to your collection that would appeal to your non-gamer friends yet is still fun to play on its own merits, then China just might work for you. I personally enjoy playing it.

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