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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Thursday 7 February 2019

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Gugong

Game: Gugong

Publisher: Game Brewer

Designer: Andreas Steding

Year: 2018

The premise of Gugong is a historical Chinese custom of gift giving. At this time in China, corruption was rife, but authorities had to be seen to uphold bans on corruption and bribery by enforcing high penalties. To get around these challenges, officials would accept gifts from petitioners, which they would exchange for gifts of lower value.

In the game, this theme is central to the core mechanics. In the different regions of the board, officials have gifts on offer and you are able to exchange with them for a gift of higher value to be given access to the actions available in their region. It you're desperate for an object they have, then you can exchange at a lower value, but only by making other sacrifices or by forgoing the chance to take the available actions.

In spite of the thematic ties to a traditional custom, Gugong is a pretty dry, medium weight euro game. The game has four rounds, in which you will use all of the cards in your hand to activate different zones of the board. With the gift exchange, you will swap a card in your hand for a card on the board - the card you take will be banked for end of round scoring where you compare the numerical values of cards you bank to the 3 numbers present on the destiny dice rolled for each round. In the zone of the board you selected you can perform the action, as well as any action present on the card you played. Most basic actions don't cost you your action cubes, but to perform them more efficiently you'll spend action cubes, which are in very limited supply. Other locations will lock up your action cubes, on board ships, on the decree tiles, or on the Great Wall of China. At the end of each round you'll replenish some action cubes, but if you lock too many away you'll find your hands are tied quite early in the game.
Your personal player board and very useful player aid.
In your first games, it's quite easy to get lost in the world of possibilities that the board offers you, but there are a couple of ways to find your focus and your strategy for the game. I typically use the decrees to dictate my strategy, with the largest, level 3, decrees often dictating a long term plan and some of the more basic decrees can guide the route you take to get to your ultimate goal. In addition, your turn by turn tactics are very much led by your hand management - you might simply have only one region of the board you can go to, without sacrificing actions or resources and so you have to make something work around that decision. Of course, you can also do well with a random focus, such as rubies, or travelling, but I've found that the game is pretty good at guiding your path. No matter what your focus, you still need to be mindful of The Palace of Heavenly Purity. If you don't ascend to the top tier on that track, you won't even qualify to win the game.

Each game will have two randomly selected decrees at each level 1-3.
A game of Gugong is pretty fast, but it is so tight with the hand management and the limited supply of cubes, that it really feel like a pretty heavy game. It's a game that I still want to have 'take-backs' in, even after playing 3 or 4 games, because it's just so tight, in addition to having limited point scoring opportunities available. I think it could easily be called a point salad because of the huge array of things you can undertake, and at two-players there's not a lot of interaction with other players, as there are limited opportunities to gain from for mess with your opponents strategy.

Boats add your 'buy more workers' style of strategy, where you can add more cards to your hand or gain teh double worker that allows you to get things done more quickly.
I think that Gugong would benefit from being played with more than two-players. The gift mechanism just doesn't shine with two players, because the cards available on the board don't change a lot between turns - if you have low cards, and the board is covered with high cards, you might be stuck for the whole round. With three players, there will be more changeover of the gift cards and just a bigger pool of cards in the game as a whole. This could also afford more opportunities to play tactically to align with the destiny dice. I say this with caution because I think I could become quite frustrated by the changing board state between turns, which would allow me less opportunities to plan and get exactly the cards, travel tokens, low cost ruby, or similar that I need from the board.

Gugong is undoubtedly a good euro game, it just does nothing to grab me. It's not a game I look forward to playing and I don't think its one I will over independently pull of the shelf. There's no one downside, so I wouldn't avoid playing it if other people wanted to, I just found it a bit forgettable. Gugong has cleverly turned a thematic detail into a mechanisms and it does feel like a new fresh mechanism too, but for the Yellow Meeple, it's not an exciting game to play and so Gugong is a 6/10.

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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