Review of Chang Cheng
One of the greatest places I've ever visited was the Great Wall in China. It was a fantastic experience, and I'm still amazed at the sheer audacity of the project. There have been games made about the Great Wall, but none that have captured the full scope of the actual building of the wall. Now, I'm not claiming that Chang Cheng (Tenkigames, 2007 - Walter Obert) is a game that brings the awesome wonder of the Great Wall to your living room, but it does have little wall pieces - isn't that enough?
They may place one single wall block in two different provinces.
They may place their double wall block down in one or two adjacent provinces.
They may place their Tower block on an empty square. By doing this, they reserve one of the empty spaces next to the tower (if any) for a single wall-block of their own color.
They may place one action token and one single wall block in the same province.
It turns out that while Chang Cheng is an interesting medium-weight area control game; the components elevate it to a game that will be often requested, especially considering how quickly the game plays (much faster than the hour time frame mentioned on the box). The plastic wall looks terrific as it forms, and the game offers enough satisfying choices and moments to mess with your opponents to be a keeper.
There are four double-sided boards included with the game, and two of them are chosen and placed adjacent on the table. Each board has thirteen wall spaces, which are divided into three provinces (with three to five wall spaces in each), that have a point value equal to the walls they contain. Walls are also in one of three Mongol territories, which do NOT match up with the Chinese provinces. A random Reputation counter is placed face up in each province (numbered from "+0" to "+4"), which adds to the value of that province. A random Threat counter is placed face down in each province (values range from "-2" to "-4"). Players take fourteen single wall blocks, one double wall block, one tower block, and six action tiles of their color, as well as a pawn, which they place at the start of a scoring track. The oldest player is chosen to go first, and then play proceeds clockwise around the table.
On a player's turn, they may take one of the following actions:
(In each of the above actions, players may peek at the threat counter in the Mongol region the wall section is played in.)
They may play two action tokens in two different provinces.
When every space in a province is filled with blocks, the game immediately pauses, and the region is scored. First, any action tokens in the region are scored, in order of priority. (The cards are numbered.)
1 - The owner must cancel any other action card played in that province.
2 - The owner chooses a block to be "broken", taking it out of calculation for scoring, OR they remove a Threat counter in a Mongol region adjacent to that province.
3. The owner either makes the province worth two more points OR two fewer points.
4. The province is worth "+2" points OR the card counts as a single wall block for its owner.
5. The card counts as two wall blocks for its owner.
6. The owner may swap any single wall-block in the province with any single wall block in play. Players then total up the wall blocks in the province, counting the double wall block as two.
The player who has the majority scores points equal to the provinces' value, with ties scoring points for all tied players. All tokens are discarded, and an "emperor card" is placed on the province, to show that it is finished scoring; and the game continues. After three emperor cards are on the board, another game board is added by the player who caused the third provinces' scoring. The game continues; although in a four player game, a fourth board can later be added.
When the entire Great Wall is finished, the game comes to an end, and final scoring occurs. Each Mongol region is scored, and the player who has the most blocks in that region loses points equal to the threat counter. However, if a player has a tower in the region, they are immune to this loss of scoring. The player with the most points is the winner!
There are four optional event cards that can be used in a game - with players picking two of them.
Diplomacy - The player(s) who has walls in the most provinces scores four points at the end of the game.
Dominance - The player who has the longest sequence of blocks at the end of the game gets one point for each wall space in this sequence.
Imperial Reward - Players get two points for each action token not played.
Observers - Mongol cards are revealed when the first wall block is placed in them.
Some comments on the game…
1.) Components: The game is really a beautiful realization of the Great Wall. The boards are parallelograms that easily fit together - as is the scoreboard - with everything having evocative Chinese illustrations, including the box. The walls are plastic gray pieces with a color line on top, which helps easily identify them, while keeping the whole wall looking uniform. The tower pieces are larger and easily stand out when the whole wall is finished. The "cards" the game mentions are actually cardboard tokens that have rounded edges (like thick popsicle sticks) and show a pictorial reference of what the card does. The box is quite large - perhaps larger than it needs to be, but a plastic insert holds all the components quite well. The whole thing really comes across quite nice, and the end of the game is a pretty neat sight.
2.) Rules: The rulebook, divided into multiple languages, devotes six pages to each - with various color illustrations and examples of how to play and score. A major rule is left out (players may look at a threat counter when placing a single wall piece), even though the pictures show it. This does change the game, and I hope it's fixed in future editions. Teaching the game is fairly easy; I just have to emphasize the options (you can't place a card in one province and a wall in another) and the cards (making sure players realize the order the cards are played in is important).
3.) Area control: Yes, Chang Cheng is an area control game. But what makes it unique is that players are really controlling two different areas at one time - a province and a Mongol region. Since they don't line up exactly, a good player must make sure to win the high point province, while not having the majority of the Mongol regions. The regions to go for seem obvious at first, as there will likely be a high point region on the table. But getting one high point region often absorbs much of a player's early resources, and a player who spreads themselves out a bit more will do better. There isn't any high strategy here - it's fairly basic, but there's enough to keep me coming back for more.
4.) Mongols: I hate 'em! It's very common for new players (yes, I was one!) to be in the lead at the end of the game and then lose due to controlling too many high point Mongol regions. It's just as important, if not more so - to avoid these creeps as much as possible. Clever placement of the tower is important, and one has to be careful not to simply use the tower as an area control piece, placing it so that you can get one last piece in the region. Good utilization of the tower and managing to avoid the Mongols may just win a player the game.
5.) Cards - or Tokens - or Whatever they are Called: A player only has six of these action tokens to play throughout the entire game; but knowing when to play them is fun, because playing the "negate" token when your opponent has played one of their cards to give them the majority is quite entertaining. Using them up too quickly to snag large point provinces is tempting, but players who hold them to the end will have big advantages.
6.) Players and Luck: Change Cheng has very little luck - other than the way the board is initially set up (there are twenty-four initial different layouts, diversified more by the threat and reputation tokens.) Much of what players do is determined by their strategy for the game and by how their opponents play. I find that the game is very tactical even with the full complement of four players, although it may be best with three. Games last about forty-five minutes, faster once everyone knows what they are doing.
7.) Fun Factor: Chang Cheng is an area control game that is simple and fun and will appeal to many people on visual basis alone. But behind the physical act of building the wall is a little strategy - nothing too heavy, but nothing to be discarded either; and it's an engrossing way to spend a short period of time. There's a bit of a "take that" mentality, but players can't spend too much time hurting others or they themselves won't do well. And no matter what - the wall gets finished at the end.
Chang Cheng is a good middleweight area control game - something that really isn't as prevalent in the market - which makes this a good choice for many collections. Replayability seems good with an ever-changing board, and the lack of luck will please many who want to enjoy tactical placement of walls. I'd want the game based on the components alone, but I'm glad that there is a good game behind them, making Chang Cheng the best product Tenki Games has produced thus far.
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