Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Wednesday, 5 June 2019

The Game Shelf Previews:- Shaolia: Warring States


Game: Shaolia: Warring States

Publisher: Bad Comet

Designer:  Hani Chang, Gunho Kim

Year: 2019

In Shaolia: Warring States, each of you is a talented leader, building up your territory to become the new emperor, emerging from the chaos of wars all around the region.

The game is primarily a head-to-head game for two players, although one of the five game modes in the box is a 2v2 team game. This beautifully crafted game makes use of engine building, dice worker placement and combat to create a game full of strategy in which players can forge a unique path, pursuing wither military or cultural prowess.

Shaolia: Warring States launches on Kickstarter on 5th June 2019.

Gameplay

In Shaolia you have two potential win conditions. You can defeat your opponent in warfare by dealing 12 damage to their palace, or you can be peaceful and achieve a cultural victory by earning 18 culture points. Though in some missions you can also win by building enough wonders!

Each round consists of 3 phases, first you will have the purchase phase which allows you to trade in currency for random building cards off the top of the level 1 building deck. Alternatively you can trade in 3 building cards in order to claim an advanced building from the open market. You can also spend left over currency on extra die rolls or officers who let you manipulate your dice. Next there is the building phase, this phase is very simple, pay the resource on top of a building card you own and you can place it on one of the 8 slots in your civilization. Advanced buildings typically cost more resources and may have a requirement for you to have some basic buildings first as part of a mini tech tree. At the start of the game two of your civilization's slots are filled with woods so you'll have to pay to get the forests cut down before building there!


The final phase is in many ways the most important. During the action phase you will roll your 3 dice (plus any you bought earlier) and allocate them as workers on your buildings. Different buildings have different abilities and require different value dice. Your palace starts with 3 die slots that accept any face, these produce a small amount of money or officers. Most buildings however need specific dice, or specific combinations of dice in order to be activated. officers can be spend to manipulate your die rolls in order to activate the buildings you want. In return for being harder to use these buildings offer greater rewards such as gems or culture. Some buildings reward combat which can be used either to raze your opponent's palace (to win the game) or their buildings (to slow them down), while others allow you to perform trades, letting you perform trade actions as dictated by your particular mission.


Amy’s Final Thoughts

There are a lot of interesting things going on in Shaolia. the game offers half a dozen scenarios, each with a mix of different cards which results in games more skewed towards one mechanic or another. This also serves as a tutorial, with the first game not featuring much trade or any wonders, allowing you to focus on simple routes to the 2 potential win conditions. The addition of new buildings and more varied trade opportunities over time lets different strategies shine. from game to game.

One potential issue is the availability of basic cards. While advanced cards are available on a market where you choose one of 3, basic cards are drawn blind. They only cost 1 gold each so they are cheap enough to not worry too much, but at the start of the game you don't necessarily have the spare cash to go fishing for the type you want, let alone with the number you want on it! Sometimes you will be all but forced into a military strategy simply because you can't draw those basic culture cards, and without the basic one you can't build an advanced one. This feels strangely restrictive considering the rest of the gameplay and adds an extra luck element on top of the dice rolling.


The dice rolling itself is done really well. You can buy temporary extra dice to increase your chances, or you can hire officers to manipulate your dice. Using the basic palace you are never going to have a die you can't use and since once of the palace space lets you hire a pair of officers you should always get a specific room activated if it's vital to your strategy. You end up with the feeling that rolling well is advantageous, but not necessary. Sure if someone has far more luck then you then they will play more efficiently and likely win, but not to the extent that you won't stand a chance.

Overall Shaolia: Warring States provides a fairly light dice-worker placement civilization game. The art style is charming and sort of reminds me of old RTS computer games like Warcraft. It's quick and fun to play and the included variants provide a decent amount of replayability. Though you may be cursing them as you fish through the building decks to set up the right cards for the next game!


Fi’s Final Thoughts

We have a lot of two-player only games and they typically fall into two categories - light game, or super thinky games. Two-player games with direct conflict don't tend to stick around in our collection. Shaolia: Warring States falls into a light-medium weight category, but more important it combines a few of my favourite mechanics. With engine building and dice worker placement in the mix, any hint of conflict is quickly forgiven. In addition, the fact that conflict is not the only way to victory is really in Shaolia's favour. I have really enjoyed finding out whether conflict or culture is the best strategy for me and we've had tight games whilst pursuing either. It's only when you both pursue the same strategy that I feel the game becomes a little bit too influenced by luck of the draw or basic buildings and timing for getting the right advanced buildings. In addition, the player conflict isn't really destroying any of the other player's hard work, it's just whittling down hit points, much like Star Realms and other games.


The officers are a fantastic touch in the game to allow you some luck mitigation by altering your dice rolls. It's up to you to try and build a tableau that uses a good mixture of dice values, but there might still be a turn where, from an ongoing strategy point of view, you'll want to activate a specific building and then the officers are really helpful. The addition of spaces where you can put any dice for money also means that no turn is an utter wash out.

Possibly the weakest part of the game is the market, which I just couldn't figure out how to use in a really effective way. It felt like a backup plan, rather than the main event, where you'd go to do a last little thing on your turn, rather than to make a big move. Even the game mode that specifically focuses on boosting the market didn't really move the game focus for me, from being one about creating little tech trees that really boost combat or culture.

Overall, Shaolia: Warring States is a fantastic two player game that feels very unqiue in our game collection and I definitely think it's worth checking out on Kickstarter.


You Might Like...
  • There are lots of different scenarios, each with a different feel that makes Shaolia feel like it comes with a bunch of expansions.
  • With the dice worker placement and creation of your own tableau you have a lot of control of your own fortunes in the game.
  • The different paths to victory are generally well balanced.
  • The artwork is beautiful throughout, including charming artwork on the building cards.
You Might Not Like...
  • The culture strategy seems to always come out on top for us, so long as that player can build some defence.
  • The market doesn't always feel like a very good use of your resources, even in the game mode that focuses more on the market.

The Verdict
Shaolia: Warring States is without doubt one of the most polished prototypes we've played. Although all of the elements of the game are familiar, it's really interesting to see mechanisms like engine building and dice worker placement used so brilliantly in a head-to-head two player game. If you play a lot with two players, then there should definitely be a space for Shaolia: Warring States in your collection.


Shaolia: Warring States was a review copy kindly provided to us by the designer. The game launches on Kickstarter on 5th June 2019.

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