Reviewed by Herb Levy

CHINA MOON (Eurogames/Descartes Editeur, 3-5 players, about 30 minutes, ages 12 and up; $19.95)

It is a paradox often found in games from Europe that games offering critical thinking challenging for adults often come embodied with incredulous themes. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. Take, for instance, China Moon, the latest creation from Bruno Faidutti.

As you might suspect from the title, the setting is China. But now we lose touch with reality as the game’s premise unfold. It seems that in China, a mandarin duck (!) is on a search for a gift for his girlfriend. Fortunately, the duck has lots of frogs for friends and these friends embark on a quest to help the duck gather lotus blossoms so that he can give his girlfriend a beautiful bouquet. From this whimsical beginning, Mr. Faidutti has come up with a clever variation on the traditional race game.chinabox

China Moon comes with 15 colored plastic frogs (three per player), 17 Lotus Flower tokens (5 each in pink, yellow and white along with one black and one blue token), rules in several languages (including English) and a mounted game board depicting the dark interior of a swamp. Throughout the swamp, there is a path (which sometimes splits in two directions only to join up again) that leads to a “winner’s circle” in the center. Along the way, the path is marked by various symbols. Maneuvering to land on or avoid these symbols makes the game.

Each player begins with three color-coded frogs placed at the start of the swamp path. Three of the Lotus Flowers (a pink, a white and a yellow) are randomly placed on the three spaces numbered 1, 2 and 3 in the winner’s circle. The Blue Lotus occupies the final space (space 4) in the winner’s circle while the Black Lotus is placed on the corresponding Black Lotus space found towards the end of the pathway. The remaining lotus flowers are randomly placed on the remaining Lotus Flower spaces on the path.

Starting with the oldest player, the active player must move three frogs. The thing to remember here is that the active player MUST move at least ONE frog belonging to another player! Each frog moves two spaces. If a space is occupied, that frog leaps over the occupied space (or spaces). All the while, players must take into account the special spaces on the path.

Should a frog land on a space occupied by a Lotus Flower, the owner of that frog (which need not be the player who moved the frog) claims that Lotus Flower. Landing on a “Silly Frog” space compels the player controlling that frog to exchange one of his Lotus Flowers with another player. Rebound spaces (marked by a “spring”) allows the frog landing there to move again the same number of spaces. Finally, the Butterfly spaces force a frog who lands there to “drop” one of his Lotus Flowers. The dropped flower is placed on the first free space behind the frog.

The first frog to enter the “winner’s circle” collects the first Lotus Flower there, the second frog collects the second Lotus Flower, the third frog, the third flower. When the fourth frog enters the circle, the Blue Lotus is claimed and the game immediately ends. Now, points are tallied.

The first pink, yellow or white Lotus Flower controlled by a player is worth 1 point with the next in that color worth 2 and the third worth 3 etc. In addition, ownership of the Blue Lotus adds 4 points to your score. The Black Lotus, however, will deduct 2 points from your total. The player with the most points wins.

China Moon is light and, in the tradition of Bruno Faidutti games, slightly chaotic. Also, as is the case with many of Bruno’s releases, it has a certain charm and some fun wrapped around it as well. The leapfrog abilities, particularly at the start of play, create opportunities for carefully crafted moves to rocket certain frogs ahead. Reportedly, the game originally called for frog movement to be 1 space for the first frog, 2 for the second and 3 for the third instead of the published 2 spaces each. We’ve played the game using both movement rules and, while I personally like the 1, 2, 3 variant a little better, others preferred the 2-2-2. You pay your money, you take your choice.

The artwork of the game relying heavily on dark blue and greens aptly captures the feeling of being in a swamp where sunlight rarely penetrates. For a family game, though, a little sunlight peeking through to brighten the play area might have been worth considering especially since the colorful plastic frogs (a welcome alternate to common cardboard counters) add a “playful” feel only dampened by the darkness of the board.

China Moon is easy to learn yet offers some strategic choices. Younger members of the family can enjoy racing and picking up Lotus Flowers. The gamers in the group can attempt to plan and execute lethal leapfrog maneuvers. (It’s always enjoyable to force the opposition to drop their precious Petals or exchange them against their wills.) Requiring at least one of the frogs you move each turn to belong to an opponent adds a little spice to play, elevating the action from just a “race around the board” game. It’s always nice to see a game that can appeal to a wide spectrum of gamers. China Moon is such a game.- – – – – – – Herb Levy


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