Posted by: gschloesser | July 29, 2011

ChiZo Rising

Designer: Deborah Robinson and Temple Games
Publisher:  Temple Games
2 – 4 Players, 30 minutes
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser 

Collectible card games usually send me fleeing in terror, avoiding the sucking money-pit they can become.  I have successfully avoided most of them, including Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon and Yu-Gi-O, even though they might be decent games.  I just did not want to fall prey to the never-ending cycle of spending money to acquire the latest and greatest cards.  I must admit, though, that I was somewhat lured into this cycle by Hero Clix, as I am still a fool for super heroes.  Fortunately, I successfully escaped after the first DC Comics series. 

Kevin Bender, one of my fellow East Tennessee Gamers, is a huge fan of ChiZo Rising.  He is even one of their demo-reps, teaching the game to others at various gaming get-togethers and conventions.  I managed to escape playing the game for months, but finally gave it a try as others in the group were singing its praises.  Like the initially skeptical “Mikey” on the old Life cereal commercials, I must admit that I liked it! 

While the game walks and talks like a collectible card game, it actually uses tiles instead of cards.  Based on the Chinese Zodiac, the tiles are separated into twelve different animal types, with fantastic artwork depicting the animals and special action scenes.  Tiles also depict various informational data needed in the game, including the animal’s allies, its strength and intelligence, special powers, whether it is an “action” or “reaction” tile, and even its element, which is not used in this set, but may be added in future expansions.  Fortunately, these icons are easy to understand, so it is rare that the rules must be consulted for clarification. 

The game can accommodate 2 – 4 players, and each player will construct a deck of 30- 60 tiles, consisting of three different animals.  Fortunately, Temple Games has recently begun releasing pre-prepared, two-player starter sets, which include all of the tiles required to play a competitive game.  Further, the sets clearly indicate the animals in each box, so players can avoid getting an abundance of duplicate tiles.  This is a wise move.  Sadly, boosters are still a mixed lot, so the avid collector will still be left with numerous duplicates.  Trading with other ChiZo fans is certainly beneficial to round-out ones collection.

The theme of the game is a familiar one:  the king has died and rival clans are vying for ultimate power.  The warlords have enlisted the aid of the realms animals in their quest for power.  The animals are the twelve comprising the Chinese Zodiac.  The ultimate objective is to score twelve points by assembling groupings of four compatible animals and by eliminating opposing animals.  A typical game takes 30 minutes or so to play. 

When assembling a deck, players are free to choose whichever tiles they desire.  It is advisable to insure that at least half of the deck consists of basic animals, with the remainder being special tiles.  These assembled decks are then shuffled, and players draw an initial hand of five tiles.  

Each turn, a player has two action points to spend.  He can divide these amongst the following possible actions: 

1)      Play a creature, item or obstacle tile.  Tiles are placed into an imaginary grid on the board, and must be placed orthoganally adjacent to a previously placed tile, whether your own or an opponent’s   

2)      Begin an Action or Battle stack.  Whenever a player declares a battle, or desires to play an Action tile, opponents have the opportunity to also play Reaction tiles.  After all players decline to play further tiles, they are resolved from the top of the stack down, with each action occurring if possible.  Beginning an Action or Battle stack is always risky, as often opponents have powerful tiles that they can play to foil your plans. 

3)      Draw 2 tiles from the deck.  There is no hand limit, so drawing tiles increases a player’s options during a turn.  Of course, wait too long to play tiles, and you may well be giving your opponents a head start that will be difficult to overcome. 

The main method of scoring points is forming a square of four compatible creatures.  The player laying the final tile in this square collects all four tiles and places them into his scoring pile.  Of course, opponents are likely to place animals or obstacles in an attempt to disrupt the formation of this square, and will likely be angling to capture the square themselves.  Much of the action takes place in this struggle for completing squares. 

When a player opts to attack a neighboring tile, both the attacker and defender may call for allies.  Allied tiles must be adjacent to the defending tile.  The, the attacker begins a Battle stack by placing ANY tile from his hand face-down.  All players then have the opportunity to place Reaction tiles.  As described above, once all players decline to play further tiles, the Battle stack is resolved from the top down.  Once all tiles are resolved, the outcome of the battle is determined.  The attacker and his allies must best the defender and his allies in both strength and intelligence, factoring in the effects of any items controlled by the animals and any tiles from the Battle stack that have affected the battle.  The winner captures the opposing tile AND the allied tiles.  Thus, fellow players must beware when agreeing to ally in a battle.  If no player surpasses the other in both categories, the battle is a draw, and no tiles are removed. 

Players continue performing actions until one player collects twelve tiles in his score pile.  Victory is achieved! 

While I don’t feel the need to purchase additional boosters, I must admit that I am hooked by ChiZo Rising.  The game is easy to learn, fun to play, and challenges players to make the best use of the tiles they have in hand.  It often requires proper timing, and gambles.  Sometimes taking a chance pays-off, while other times it only opens the door for an opponent to swoop in and capture a square you have been building.  One also needs to be constantly vigilant against attacks from opponents, which can eliminate an important animal and break-up a forming square.  

Battles can be risky, as one never knows the tiles opponents holds.  The Battle and Action stacks often result in harsh surprises as opponents play tiles to foil your plans.  Of course, it is always joyous to return the favor in subsequent battles! 

While the game can be played with 2 – 4 players, I prefer it with 3 or 4.  There is more to watch for, the struggles are more intense, and the surprises and unexpected twists, although sometimes frustrating, are also exciting.  Playing with 2-players is fun, but each of these facets of the game seems diminished.  The drawback of playing with more than two, however, is that a careless player may provide inadvertent advantages for an opponent. 

ChiZo Rising is fun and challenging, and truly doesn’t require an ongoing outlay of cash to keep me satisfied.  I feel perfectly content with the sets I possess, and feel they will keep me satisfied for years to come.  That sentiment certainly is not one with which Temple Games is hoping most folks will concur, but it should offer hope to others who fear to tread into the word of collectible card games.

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