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Shaolia: Warring States Kickstarter Preview


Quick Look:

Designer: Hani Chang, Gunho Kim
Artist: Sophia Kang
Publisher: Bad Comet
Year Published: 2020
No. of Players: 2 or 4
Ages: 12+
Playing Time: 30-60 min

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

WARNING: This is a preview of Shaolia: Warring States. All components and rules are prototype and subject to change.

The emperor has fallen, and chaos has erupted in Shaolia. You plan to be the next emperor, but will you bring order through culture or violence?


Shaolia: Warring States is an interesting mix of dice placement, tableau building, and war game. You start out with a palace and six slots for buildings. Throughout the game, you will build structures with unique actions that will either provide culture points, resources, attack, defense, or trade. The first to deal either 12 damage to the opponent's palace or gain 18 culture points is the winner. How you develop your kingdom is up to you.

Review:

Rules and Setup:
The rules are simple. Once you know what you're doing this can be taught in a few minutes. It also has a bunch of different scenarios with slight variations in the setup that are geared to provide different play styles.

Setup:
Choose a scenario. Place the market board and tokens in the center of the table. Give each player a territory board, three dice, two locked-space cards, one culture tracker, and three dice. The territory board goes in front of you with the culture marker on zero and the locked-space cards, as shown below.


Next, players take any additional resources provided by the scenario and build the level 2 deck (bottom) using the cards specified. Flip three level 2 cards to create an offer. Level 1 (top) cards are drawn from the top of their deck randomly when purchased. The little face-up stack shown here is the discard pile.


The market has four actions printed on it, but most scenarios will have you add four more specific actions in the empty slots.   


Setup is fast except for the sorting of cards. Each scenario uses specific sets of level 2 cards and market cards. You have to sort all the cards, pull out the ones used in the scenario, then shuffle them into a draw pile. It's not bad, though. There are only 70 level 2 cards. All the level one cards are used in every game. A couple of scenarios use all the level 2 cards, so you can try all the setups out and decide which mode you like the best.

Each scenario tells you what you start with, which cards to use, and what the win conditions are. The rest is the same every game. Some scenarios are more agro than others, but they all provide opportunities to build your empire however you like. It also has an outline of how to create custom setups.

Theme and Mechanics:
Each round has three phases: buy, build, and action. Each player does the buy phase, then each player builds, then each player rolls the dice and carries out actions. The first player changes each round.

Buy Phase: In phase one, you can buy:

  • Level 1 cards for one gold each
  • Extra dice for four gold each
  • 2 officers for 1 mineral
  • Level 2 cards for three level 1 cards each.
  • Pay 1 gold to discard the level 2 offer and draw replacements

You can purchase as much as you can afford.

Build Phase: In phase two, you will build cards from your hand by spending the resources shown on them and placing them in slots on your territory. The cost always some combination of gold and minerals.

This one costs 3 gold and 1 mineral. It has 3 health and provides actions on the bottom.

You can also spend 3 gold to open one of your locked spaces. If all your spaces are full but you want to build something new, you will have to discard something from your tableau.

There are four of each building. Each one needs a different die value to activate it. So, in addition to building based on your goals, you need to make sure you have a variety of die activation values.

Action Phase: Roll three dice (plus any extras you bought in phase 1). Place those dice on your buildings to activate their unique powers. If you don't roll what you need, you can spend officers to add or subtract one to a die's value.

Palace actions: There are three spaces printed on the territory board that can be activated with any valued die. Two of them give you two gold. The third gives you two officers. This ensures that you will always be able to do something with your dice.


Buildings offer much better abilities. Deal damage. Get more gold. Gain culture points or minerals. A lot of your opening strategy will probably depend on what cards you buy in the first round. It doesn't have to, but the faster you get your machine built, the better off you'll be. Since you spend level 1 cards to buy level 2 cards, they are never a bad investment. Also, level 2 cards usually require specific level 1 cards to be in your tableau. For instance, you can't build a Catapult unless you have Infantry or another Catapult in play. If you remember what level 2 cards your opponent bought, you can use this against them by destroying the required buildings before the level 2 building can be built.

4 player mode: There is a 2 v. 2 scenario with aligned kingdoms. If the teams were A and B vs. C and D, Player A would do the buy phase, then C, then B, then D. Next, A would do their build phase, and so on. Teams can pay 1 gold to share cards and resources during the Buy phase. A team wins by destroying one palace or gaining a collective 18 Culture points.

Character Cards:


In many scenarios, you will get two random Character cards during setup. Some are powerful one-time effects, others are played to your tableau and provide an action. Characters can also be discarded to gain 4 gold. These can be played at any time.

Tokens:


From top to bottom:

  • Lock markers mean that the card has to be activated once to no effect before it can be activated normally. Some actions will allow you to place these on an opponent's building.
  • Officers add or subtract 1 from a die value.
  • Health/damage markers show + or - health.
  • Minerals and gold can be spent to buy/build buildings or in the market.
  • Attack markers add +1 to the next attack activation.

Gameplay:
Don't let the tableau building/dice placement fool you. This is a wargame. It's highly unlikely that both players will build culture machines and simply race for points. If you don't like being mean or if you get mad when someone does something mean to you, give this a pass. If you like direct confrontation, engine building, and dice mitigation, read on.

Between the market board and your tableau, a skilled strategist can do just about anything in a couple of turns. There are a ton of ways to get what you need. You just have to figure out how. Say you want to build a defense. Defensive buildings all have the passive ability that they have to be attacked first and eliminated before anything else can be targeted. These are the defensive buildings:

 
Barricades are cheap to build, and they are level 1. So you might run across one while buying cards you intend to spend on something else. These aren't bad. Attack points can't be split, so they're great against a small number of weapons with high attack values. You only have 6-8 spaces to build, so a defense with only 2 health might not always be worth it. On the other end of the spectrum, the Fortress has a ton of health, and it can be activated to add health to other cards. The downside is it's costly, and there are only two of them in the deck of 42 cards. If you plan to build that, you'll either need a lot of buildings that provide minerals or a lot of money buildings so you can buy minerals from the market. Walls and Swamps are much easier to build and offer decent protection. For the cost, Walls are actually much better, but most modes only have one or the other.

In any case, there might not be any defense cards on offer. You may choose to get a bunch of gold on your turn and spend the next Buy phase cycling through the level 2 cards until you find one. Maybe you'd rather go with the flow and simply make what's on offer work for you.

The best defense is a good offense. These are the attack cards:


There are also cards that provide market actions and resources. Here's an example of a tableau well into the game.


This a really mean setup. I focused on revenue in the early game then bought a bunch of minerals in the market and built the War Elephants. I also had a few officers on hand, so getting a 5 and a 6 at the same time wasn't hard. I won the game with 0 culture.
 
The first game we played, Erin built a crazy culture machine and left me in the dust. It's always good to have some defense and offense, but the market usually allows workarounds where you can do damage, swap out resources, heal damage, buy cards from the discard pile, etc.

Artwork and Components:
This is a prototype, but all the components are very high quality. The art looks great. My only complaint is that the first five spaces of the Culture track are a little dark and hard to see. I think the officer tokens and damage tokens are a nice touch.

The Good:
  • Great dice mitigation.
  • Lots of interesting choices and room for strategy.
  • Beautiful art.
  • Perfectly mid-weight game with a quick playtime.
  • Turns go quick with little downtime.
  • A nice mix of euro and wargame.

The Other:
  • There are some balance issues they are still working on.
  • Sorting all those cards for scenario setup can be slightly annoying.
  • It's easy to let the first cards you buy dictate your strategy for the whole game. It's more about adapting than planning, which is typical of dice placement.
  • No three-player variant yet, but they are play testing one. I think a 3 player free-for-all would be a lot of fun.

Final Thoughts:
Usually, worker placement games have the same actions available every round. This lets you determine what your available actions are. Attacking another player's buildings can take their actions away. You aren't just throwing punches and rolling dice. Every round you'll be adapting to new circumstances and figuring out how best to hamstring your opponent's strategy.

You need some attack and some defense, but you really have to focus on either Culture or Warfare in order to win. Sometimes circumstances might make you veer the other direction, though. You could make a machine that attacks the whole game then get Ancestral Valley (a wonder that can provide 7 culture in one turn) and end up winning that way. I haven't seen it happen yet, but it's possible. I think they're going to nerf the wonders a bit. They are a little too overpowered at the moment.

Shaolia: Warring States is a short, complex game that plays like a euro but feels like a wargame. They are still tweaking things at this point, but the bones are great. The dice mitigation is excellent. There's a lot of variety in the buildings and play modes. It currently has five 1 v. 1 scenarios and one 2 v. 2, but there are more in testing. Even just using one setup, the variation in buildings and adaptation-based gameplay provides a lot of replay value.

For Players Who Like:
Dice placement, direct confrontation, tableau building, multiple paths to victory, lots of ways to finagle what you need, adapting to a changing tableau of actions.



Check out Shaolia: Warring States on:

         

On KICKSTARTER now. Campaign ends July 5, 2019.



Stephen Gulik - Reviewer

Stephen Gulik is a trans-dimensional cockroach, doomsday prophet, author, and editor at sausage-press.com. When he’s not manipulating energy fields to alter the space-time continuum, he’s playing or designing board games. He has four cats and drinks too much coffee.

See Stephen's reviews HERE.
Shaolia: Warring States Kickstarter Preview Shaolia: Warring States Kickstarter Preview Reviewed by S T Gulik on June 05, 2019 Rating: 5

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