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Tuesday, June 07, 2005


Web of China

I am listening to the boardgame pod-cast at Boardgames To Go as I write this. (See the link in the left hand column). Interesting stuff. Just one guy talking about games, so there is no banter like on the Dice Tower or Geekspeak. Definitely worth a listen, though. Shows clock in at around 30 minutes. There are at least a half dozen shows posted.

I've played a couple games of China. It is an interesting area control game based upon the Web of Power system. We played the first game relying on my memory of the rules, as I had left the rules at home. We mostly got the rules right. The big rules that we missed were: 1) we needed to take cards from the deck when only playing with 3 players, and 2) there are supposed to be 4 face-up cards to choose from, instead of drawing blind.

The second game went much smoother. The winner almost completely ignored emissaries and went for a "chain of houses" strategy.

Briefly, each player has a hand of 3 cards. Cards are color coded to match 2 territories on the board (there are 2 territories of each color except purple). By playing a card a player can place one unit in a territory of that color. Units are houses and emissaries. Houses must be placed on a house space. Emissaries must be placed on the dragon symbol. Two cards of the same color can be played as a "wild card", and allow the player to place a unit on any other colored territory. Players can only place a maximum of 2 units each turn and both must be in the same territory.

There are between 4 and 8 house spaces on each territory. When all the house spaces are filled the territory is scored. The player with the most houses in the territory scores one point for each house in the area. The player with the second most houses scores points equal to the number of houses the first player owns. Third place scores houses equal to the number of houses the second player has on the territory, etc.

At the end of the game players score one point for each house (in excess of 3) in a row on a road. Roads go through several territories. If a player has 4 houses in a row on the road he scores 4 points, even if they are in separate territories. Also, at the end of the game emissaries are scored. If a player has the most, or is tied for most, emissaries in two adjacent territories he scores one point for each emissary (regardless of ownership) in the two territories.

The number of emissaries in a territory is limited to the number of houses the person with the most houses has in the territory.

There is an optional rule for placement of fortresses. If a player has a fortress in a territory his score is doubled. Fortresses are neutral tokens that cost one card to place and are claimed by placing a house on them. I haven't played with that rule, but I want to.

These area control games, or the good ones anyway, give each player little control over his destiny from turn to turn. On a typical turn each player can only affect his position slightly. Area control games are games of inches. A small advantage here and a small mistake there will win or lose the game by a small margin. Because there are usually no obvious, high-scoring choices area control games tend to be prone to analysis paralysis. China plays faster than many area control games. By limiting each player to 3 cards that they need to play in order to place pieces, each player's options are limited. That limitation really speeds up the game.

My first two experiences with the game didn't really spark my imagination. I see the potential for it to be a good area-control game, and I want to like it. The system is sound, the game is well designed. I wouldn't turn down a game, especially with the fortress rule, but I might not suggest playing either.

It might be a good gate-way game for more intense area control games.


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