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More than 2500 years ago, the emperor of the Qin dynasty decided to protect his prolific provinces of northern China from the frequent barbaric invasions, building and joining several fortified fortresses. So he nominated his most faithful imperial officers to oversee the construction, promising riches and honors to the first to complete what now represents one of the most remarkable works produced by men: Chang Cheng, the Great Chinese Wall.
Few monuments constructed by man have stood the ravages of time as well as the Great Wall of China. Construction began over 2500 years ago, and work continued for hundreds of years. Eventually, over a million men were needed to patrol its 6000- kilometer length. Ultimately, the wall proved ineffective against the rampaging Mongol hordes, but it still survives today as a major cultural icon … and tourist attraction.
Chang Cheng – “Great Wall” in Chinese -- is the latest game from designer Walter Obert and Tenki Games. True to its name, the game involves constructing the great wall, earning reputation, and fending off the inevitable Mongol invasion. Playable in about an hour, the game is essentially a tile placement game, but instead of cardboard tiles, the game features nice plastic wall and tower pieces. Once the game is complete, there is a mighty impressive 3-D wall that stretches across the boards. It may not be visible from space, but it still is quite a sight!
Each of the four boards depict three provinces, with base values ranging from 3 – 5, which are equal to the number of wall segments that will be constructed in that province. Along the northern edge of the provinces are spaces to place the walls, protecting Chinese territory from the gathering Mongols. Initially, only two boards are in play, but more will be added as the game progresses. A reputation counter is randomly placed on each province, while a facedown Mongol tile is placed on the northern border, waiting to invade.
Players receive a collection of wall segments, which include one tower and one double-wall piece. In addition, each player receives an identical set of six action tiles, which can be placed into the provinces to alter the scoring or majority status.
Each turn, players choose one action to perform. This can include:
Contrary to what is printed in the rules, the designer has clarified that when placing any wall or tower, the player may peek at the Mongol counter threatening that province. These counters range in value from 2 – 4, and will cost the player having the majority of wall segments in that territory to lose a corresponding number of points at game’s end. A player can protect himself in a few ways, including using his tower or a special action card.
When a player places his double-wall block, he instantly receives reputation points equal to the number of provinces and Mongol territories touched by that block. The tower piece also reserves one adjacent space for its owner. Players only have one of each of these pieces, so the timing and location of their placement must be made with great care.
Once all walls segments in a province have been erected, the province is “complete” and is immediately scored. Action tiles placed in the province are revealed and their effects implemented. If there are two or more of the same action tile in a territory, they cancel each other and are removed, with any remaining tiles being resolved in numerical order. Tiles convey a variety of special effects, including granting the owner extra “virtual” wall segments when determining majority status, increasing or decreasing the value of the province, removing an opponent’s tile or an adjacent Mongol tile, or even allowing the player to swap two wall segments. These tiles can be quite powerful, but must be used judiciously and wisely as once used, they are discarded.
Once the tiles are resolved, the value of the province is determined. This is equal to the sum of the number of wall segments in that province, the reputation counter, and any action tile modifications. The player who has the majority of wall segments protecting that province receives these points. Ties are friendly, so all tied players receive the points.
When a province is completed, an emperor tile is placed upon it. As soon as three emperor tiles are placed, a new segment is added to the board. Unless the game is being played with only three players, a fourth board will be added when this occurs again.
The game ends as soon as all wall segments have been erected. At that point, the Mongols invade. The player having the most wall segments facing the territory from which a Mongol invades suffers the loss of points depicted on the tile. The board is arranged in a fashion so that some wall pieces are adjacent to a province, but may not be affected by the Mongol invading that province. Thus, sometimes a player who has the majority of wall segments protecting a province is not the player who suffers the effects of the Mongol incursion into that province.
After points are deducted for all of the rampaging Mongols, the player with the most reputation points wins the favor of the Emperor, as well as the game.
While there really isn’t anything startling new here and the game isn’t very complex, it does require careful thought and timing. Choosing where and when to place walls and action tiles is a constant dilemma, and often the placement of just one segment or tile can result in a substantial swing of points. The “Mandarin” action tile, which allows the swapping of two wall segments, can suddenly and dramatically alter the majority status of a province, and have implications when the Mongols invade. These actions do require careful observation and proper timing. In spite of its relative simplicity, there is ample opportunity for shrewd and clever play.
The game also includes a variant wherein players can attempt to achieve the requirements listed on two event tiles, thereby earning more reputation points. I’ve not yet played with these tiles, but they are intriguing.
I am well pleased with Chang Cheng. It is a middle-weight game filled with a continuous stream of important decisions. Shrewd play and clever tactics are richly rewarded. Yet, the game is easy to learn and should be accessible and enjoyable for both families and more serious gamers. I’m looking forward to my next visit to the Great Wall.
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?
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:
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
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.
Some comments on the game…
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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