In ZhanGuo you are officials who work for the first Emperor of China. You try to help him with unifying the warring states (ZhanGuo). You have to unify the writing system, create a political system, keep civil unrest under control and at the same time help construct the Great Wall of China to stop the barbarian hordes from invading, and thus by creating security, also help creating the state; the Chinese Empire.
What is ZhanGuo like?
Zhanguo is a game about having a hand of cards and using them in the most optimal way. Each card can be used in so many, many ways. And yet you have to decide on two main things only. You can send an emissary to a region to influence it (play a card in your own tableau, and thus building your engine) or you can send the emissary to the government and influence it to take certain actions (put a card on the government area and chose one of six actions).
You play for victory points, and you get victory points for almost everything. However, since the game is such a sprawling point salad, the designers have taken the wise choice of including goals (that vary from game to game) that you can work towards. You won’t be able to do them all but it does incentivize you to choose a direction.
There are two different kinds of goals, goals that count how many palaces and governors you have deployed in the five ZhanGuo, and goals that is based on how well you did with building pieces of the wall. The latter are goals that are linked with how well you did on your personal boards.
What you do in a round
You start each round with six cards on your hand. The cards are taken equally from three different decks. The decks determine what numeric value is on the cards. One with low numbers, one with high numbers and one in the middle. And in a turn you can play only one card.
As previously mentioned you can play your card in two ways. One way ill let you to improve your engine and get more unification tokens (showing how much work you have done to unify the empire), and the other way will let you influence the government to take actions in certain ways. When you take the second action you have the opportunity to trigger your engine.
Each card you have played on your player board has a trigger icon that links it to the actions in the government area. So when you take a government action you might trigger the cards that have that trigger icon. I say might because you have to time your card play to ensure that your cards will trigger. You see this is where the numbers on the cards come in to play. Your engine only triggers if the card you played is either higher or lower (depending on what action you take) than the one played before it. This makes it very important to have an idea of what types of cards your opponents have left.
There are many more elements in the game. You have to make sure that you have created enough resources, have your officials in the right areas to take the right actions and manage the civil unrest.
As you can tell. This isn’t a simple game, there are a lot of things to consider. But the each turn is still a relatively simple choice so the game has a nice pace as most of the strategic planning can take place between turns.
ZhanGuo is the third game from the publisher What’s your Game we have reviewed on the site. I really liked Nippon and Peter was fond of Signorie. So I went in to this game with high expectations, and I can say that I wasn’t disappointed. While I think I would only rate Nippon a 4/6 at this point, I am certain that ZhanGuo is a 5/6 and will continue to be that. The way you build an engine and the way the card play works, creates a consistently strategic and interesting decision space while the numbers on the cards makes sure that you can never know for sure what you can do one turn ahead. It does a lot of what Nippon does, but for me this is a much better game.
- A lot of interesting decisions.
- For a game of this weight it is reasonably simple to grasp.
- It doesn’t outstay its welcome.
- Beautiful board
- Great rulebook
- A lot of depth
- The theme feels a bit disconnected from the game on one hand, but at the same time I felt like I learned a lot about the period and felt drawn to the theme of the game. It’s not a game that makes you feel like you are living in the times or that the things you do mirrors things that makes sense thematically.
- It takes one round of the game to really understand how everything works.
- Depending on the types of players some people might get a bit of analysis paralysis.
This is a game with a lot of rules, but there a no special instances or exceptions to these rules. This means that once you have everything explained to you (or read the rules) and have played one round, you can play the game without thinking about the rules. They never get in the way of playing the game, so to speak.