Posted by: gschloesser | July 29, 2011

Chang Cheng

Design by:  Walter Obert
Published by:  Tenki Games
2 – 4 Players, 1 hour
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser 

Few monuments constructed by man have stood the ravages of time as well as the Great Wall of China.  Construction began over 2500 years ago, and work continued for hundreds of years.  Eventually, over a million men were needed to patrol its 6000-kilometer length.  Ultimately, the wall proved ineffective against the rampaging Mongol hordes, but it still survives today as a major cultural icon … and tourist attraction.  

Chang Cheng – “Great Wall” – in Chinese — is the latest game from designer Walter Obert and Tenki Games.    True to its name, the game involves constructing the great wall, earning reputation, and fending off the inevitable Mongol invasion.  Playable in about an hour, the game is essentially a tile placement game, but instead of cardboard tiles, the game features nice plastic wall and tower pieces.  Once the game is complete, there is a mighty impressive 3-D wall that stretches across the boards.  It may not be visible from space, but it still is quite a sight!

Each of the four boards depict three provinces, with base values ranging from 3 – 5, which are equal to the number of wall segments that will be constructed in that province.  Along the northern edge of the provinces are spaces to place the walls, protecting Chinese territory from the gathering Mongols.  Initially, only two boards are in play, but more will be added as the game progresses.  A reputation counter is randomly placed on each province, while a facedown Mongol tile is placed on the northern border, waiting to invade.  

 Players receive a collection of wall segments, which include one tower and one double-wall piece.  In addition, each player receives an identical set of six action tiles, which can be placed into the provinces to alter the scoring or majority status. 

Each turn, players choose one action to perform.  This can include: 

  • Placing two walls into two different provinces.
  • Placing two action cards into different provinces.  Action cards are placed facedown.
  • Placing one wall and one action card into the same province.
  • Place the double wall block or the tower.  

Contrary to what is printed in the rules, the designer has clarified that when placing any wall or tower, the player may peek at the Mongol counter threatening that province.  These counters range in value from 2 – 4, and will cost the player having the majority of wall segments in that territory to lose a corresponding number of points at game’s end.  A player can protect himself in a few ways, including using his tower or a special action card. 

When a player places his double-wall block, he instantly receives reputation points equal to the number of provinces and Mongol territories touched by that block.  The tower piece also reserves one adjacent space for its owner.  Players only have one of each of these pieces, so the timing and location of their placement must be made with great care. 

Once all walls segments in a province have been erected, the province is “complete” and is immediately scored.  Action tiles placed in the province are revealed and their effects implemented.  If there are two or more of the same action tile in a territory, they cancel each other and are removed, with any remaining tiles being resolved in numerical order.  Tiles convey a variety of special effects, including granting the owner extra virtual wall segments when determining majority status, increasing or decreasing the value of the province, removing an opponent’s tile or an adjacent Mongol tile, or even allowing the player to swap two wall segments.  These tiles can be quite powerful, but must be used judiciously and wisely as once used, they are discarded. 

Once the tiles are resolved, the value of the province is determined.  This is equal to the sum of the number of wall segments in that province, the reputation counter, and any action tile modifications.  The player who has the majority of wall segments protecting that province receives these points.  Ties are friendly, so all tied players receive the points.  

When a province is completed, an emperor tile is placed upon it.  As soon as three emperor tiles are placed, a new segment is added to the board.  Unless the game is being played with only three players, a fourth board will be added when this occurs again. 

The game ends as soon as all wall segments have been erected.  At that point, the Mongols invade.  The player having the most wall segments facing the territory from which a Mongol invades suffers the loss of points depicted on the tile.  The board is arranged in a fashion so that some wall pieces are adjacent to a province, but may not be affected by the Mongol invading that province.  Thus, sometimes a player who has the majority of wall segments protecting a province is not the player who suffers the effects of the Mongol incursion into that province.   

After points are deducted for all of the rampaging Mongols, the player with the most reputation points wins the favor of the Emperor, as well as the game.  

While there really isn’t anything startling new here and the game isn’t very complex, it does require careful thought and timing.  Choosing where and when to place walls and action tiles is a constant dilemma, and often the placement of just one segment or tile can result in a substantial swing of points.  The “Mandarin” action tile, which allows the swapping of two wall segments, can suddenly and dramatically alter the majority status of a province, and have implications when the Mongols invade.  These actions do require careful observation and proper timing.  In spite of its relative simplicity, there is ample opportunity for shrewd and clever play. 

The game also includes a variant wherein players can attempt to achieve the requirements listed on two event tiles, thereby earning more reputation points.  I have not yet played with these tiles, but they are intriguing. 

I am well pleased with Chang Cheng.  It is a middle-weight game filled with a continuous stream of important decisions.  Shrewd play and clever tactics are richly rewarded.  Yet, the game is easy to learn and should be accessible and enjoyable for both families and more serious gamers.    I’m looking forward to my next visit to the Great Wall.

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