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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Tuesday 5 February 2019

Back When Building a Wall Worked:- Gugong

Game: Gugong

Publisher: Game Brewer

Designer: Andreas Steding

Year: 2018

Gugong is a 1-5 player hand management game in which you take on the role of Chinese nobles seeking to increase your station and undermine your opponents. To do this you will trade in precious jade, travel around the provinces, assist the construction of the great wall and ultimately gain an audience with the emperor to impress upon him your great deeds! Gugong takes place on a sectioned board, with each area representing one of the deeds that you can do. activating areas is done by playing cards from your hands in a way not unlike worker placement games. As each round has 3 random numbers that will reward you at the end of the round careful hand management can lead to great rewards!

On any one turn of Gugong you will take one of the cards from your hand and use it to replace one of the cards on the board. If you card is higher in value than the existing card then you get to play normally, otherwise you will have to pay a penalty of either cards, influence cubes or not getting the action for the space you used. Assuming you didn't  forfeit the action then you will get to perform the action of the location you went to. In addition many of the cards have a secondary action printed on them, giving you an extra action or other various benefits. Additionally many actions can be powered up by spending extra resources to gain greater rewards. Regardless of what you do the card you replaced gets added to your discard pile, this card will be in your hand next turn and also will be used for end of round scoring based on the 3 'destiny' numbers for the round.

Traveling actross china can result in quick rewards, but also longer term rewards as you can spend your used token again!

Gugong presents you with a lot of different actions; Traveling across china lets you gain one use tokens to give you instant bonuses. In addition you can spend sets of used tokens to gain rewards such as influence cubes or Jade. Building the great wall offers rewards to the person who put the most cubes in, at the cost of all their cubes being cleared off (opponent's cubes stay), buying jade lets you... buy jade, which is worth an exponential amount f end game points the more you collect. Claiming decrees give you points, but can also give you ongoing bonuses sch as an income every round or an end game scoring bonus. Intrigue grants you the first player marker, but also dictates who wins ties when they occur. You can spend intrigue for rewards whenever the wall is finished. The grand canal lets you unlock extra cards to increase your hand size, or unlock an improved influence cube. Finally the palace lets you send your envoy to the emperor, if you haven't done this by the end of the game then you cannot win!

A game of Gugong will involve careful management of the resources at your disposal, getting the most cards matching the destiny numbers of the round will let you get more influence cubes back, and reward you with points and advance your envoy towards the emperor. However if you only go after these cards you may find you aren't doing the best actions for you at any point in time. Getting the right balance between playing efficiently and playing for the cards is key, getting perfect cards one round might result in you having too many low numbers which means you'll have to pay a lot of penalties in the next round. Of course the lower number cards typically have the extra bonuses when played.

The board is huge with tons of room for activities. Using the right combinations of actions and cards leads to victory, jsut don't forget to visit the emperor!

There is no denying that Gugong is a complex game, all of the different areas have their own merits and many interact with each other, sometimes in unexpected ways. Rationing your influence cubes is important to your success, but the cards are even more critical. But this is where things fall a bit short in the two player game. With only 2 players the spaces often remain stagnant, numbers slowly getting higher and higher until you are forces to take penalties. The penalties are all crippling, losing 2 cubes can destroy your strategy, but both the other options are costing you at least 1 action that turn. But in the mid game you can easily be in a situation where you have to take one or two penalties on your turn in order to do anything useful. It feels like you are being punished simply for playing the game.

Gugong is a game that I would happily play again, and I'd love to play it at a higher player count where there is more room for interaction. As a two player game it feels like all the complexity of the game is cut short. Combine this with a rather dry theme and you end up with a game that just didn't hit the mark for me. However I can clearly see why people would like it, the combinations of actions in the game give it a lot of depth and provide for a lot of different strategies. It just needs more than 2.


Gugong was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available at your friendly local game store for an RRP of £53.99 or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk/.

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