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At the Gates of Loyang

[Gaming transcends geographical boundaries and, recognizing this, Gamers Alliance is international in scope. Andrea “Liga” Ligabue is one of our valued contributors from outside the borders of the United States. He is an active participant in gaming in his native Italy, being closely involved with Club TreEmme, and a driving force, serving as Coordinator and Head of Program behind Italy’s large gaming convention: Play: The Game Festival. In addition, he is an active member of the International Gamers Award committee. Liga’s first contribution to these pages was in the Winter 2008 issue with his review of Race for the Galaxy. In this, his 8th review for GA Report, we meet with Liga At The Gates of Loyang.]

(Z-Man Games, 1-4 players, ages 10 and up, 90-120 minutes; $60)

 

Reviewed by Andrea “Liga” Ligabue

loyangboxAfter the release of two International Game Award winners like Agricola (2008) and Le Havre (2009), I must admit I was really excited about the new Uwe Rosenberg game, At the Gates of Loyang. I was aware it was an old project, before Agricola, revised and published, and I was also aware it was almost impossible to equal the success of Agricola (2nd place on Boardgamegeek and featured in the Winter 2008 GA Report)) and Le Havre (6th place on BGG and reviewed in the Winter 2009 GA Report) and, for me, Rosenberg’s best! Anyway, it was a Rosenberg title and it was about trade with the usual amount of different goods (of course including beans!) and a nice market mechanic but … it wasn’t enough.

At the Gates of Loyang is set in the city of Loyang, China, 2000 years ago and it is all about seeding, selling and buying vegetables: wheat, pumpkins, turnips, cabbages, beams and leeks. Every player has a personal shop where seeds are bought and sold and a set of nine field cards. Every player will start with a small amount of money and a “home field” planted with wheat, pumpkins or turnips. The game lasts for nine turns. Every turn, each player will collect one vegetable from each field and will reveal randomly a new field card: there are two of each type of fields defined by the number of plants produced (from 3 to 6) and the type of seeds supported. You can have big fields of wheat and pumpkins but only small fields of the precious leeks and beans.

Then there is the Card Phase. Each player will draw from the deck four cards and, in turn order, has to decide which action to undertake: place one of his four cards in the Courtyard or take exactly one card from the courtyard and one card from his hand. It is really a nice mechanic because if you are lucky enough to draw two or more good cards, the opponents have the possibility to collect at least one of the two. When a player collects those two cards, that phase is over and he has to place all his remaining cards in the Courtyard.

There are 5 types of cards: extra fields, market cards, regular customers, occasional customers and helpers. All the collected cards are deployed near to the personal shop and are visible to all players. There is no limit to the cards you can collect but having too much market or helpers could be a problem.

The third phase is the Action Phase where most things happen. Players perform this phase in turn, starting from the one that last collected the cards in phase two. (There are special rules for 2 and 4 players but they are not relevant for the purpose of this review.) At the end of the game, a single player could really take a lot by performing all the actions and this can be a problem in 3-player games.

loyang2To collect money, you have to deliver goods to regular and casual customers. Regular customers have you deliver a pair of goods for 4 turns, paying more each turn. It is a nice business you have to be prepared to sustain since missing too many deliveries will cost you money. Casual customers will ask you for a single delivery of three goods giving you a lot of money but just for one turn. You also get extra money if you have more regular than casual customers. You have to balance the two kinds of customers to win the game.

You can also collect money selling goods to your shop but that is not a good option since it is much more better to plant the seeds in the fields (you have a new field each turn and can get more from the deck) or to exchange your vegetables in the markets to prepare for a delivery. Market cards allow you to trade goods with offers of three different goods, one of each, in exchange of one or two other goods. Since, especially in the beginning, you are able to produce few goods and buying from the shop is really expensive, it is vital to have at least one or two market cards. In the deck, there are also 20 Helpers cards that let you do special actions like restocking all your markets or selling something to other players’ customers or getting vegetables for cheap. During the Action Phase you can buy a “two pack” of two cards by paying as many coins as the number (higher) of market cards or Helpers cards you have.

In the last phase of the turn, you collect victory points that, in this game, are called Prosperity. Each turn, you can move your score up one level on the Prosperity track by paying just 1 coin. You can move one or more extra levels paying how many coins as the value of the level you are moving to. So, in the beginning, getting an extra level of prosperity is cheap but it is really expensive in the end. To win, you have to use your money wisely and level up as much as you can during the game since it is almost impossible to have a final rush of more than two levels because the winners usually score something like 16-18 Prosperity. (During the game you can ask for a loan of 5 coins but every loan is one level down in the prosperity scale in the end of the game.)

In my opinion, At the Gates of Loyang is a good game, well designed and pleasant to play but really nothing special when compared to the two IGA winners as evidenced by the fact that it wasn’t able to get a nomination at the IGA and was only mentioned in the Deutsche Spiele Preis (German Game Prize) for the nice rules sheet. How the market works with regular and casual customers is nice and also the card phase is intriguing. But there is nothing outstanding and I think it lacks interaction (but that is Rosenberg’s mark). It is much too long, with the final turns taking really too much time. I can accept spending more than 2 hours playing Le Havre but I can’t accept spending so much time At the Gates of Loyang.

 


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