Tuesday, May 19, 2009

WBC West - Aftermath Pt 2 - China: The Middle Kingdom

One of the staples of WBC West has been Britannia, the classic game of playing out the history of Britain through the various invasions and influxes of various peoples who landed on her shores. This is a game system that has prompted many to reset the game in a wide variety of settings and times, from Spain to Russia, from Italia to India. This time, the game is set in China from about 400AD through the Chinese Civil War that saw the Communists come to power after World War 2. 

The game is essentially a very stripped down version of the system, with a few bits of chrome tacked on. What is missing is a need to take specific areas, so you might see quite a few empires moving in directions they didn't historically. Each nation also has a "power rating" that grants VP for eliminating them, as well as extra reinforcements, so play tends to be pretty bloody as you can *always* get points for killing units in certain situations. In fact, after the first turn we found that most of the early nations had been wiped out as if they had all been the runaway criminals in an Asian version of Dog the Bounty Hunter. 

As a disclosure, I'll note that we did finish the short "early" game that covers the first 12 turns (there's also a "Modern" version that covers the second 12). I messed up several rules early, and so we decided to start again after playing four turns. However, we played correctly the second time out. 

The game has a couple of huge problems. The first is that many of the big empires, the ones that are supposed to generate a lot of points for a given player, may never get started as they depend on a previous empire doing well. Mike's Han, for example, only got a few units on the board because the Qin hadn't done well, so the Han didn't do well, and it was his *only* big empire. There were at least three or four of these "revolutions" in the first half of the game, and they generally went poorly for everyone. 

The other problem is that the balance of active play for each faction was rather imbalanced. This is a common issue for all of the games of this ilk - think of the Yellow player in Britannia, who plays the Romans to great effect for a couple of turns, then sits around for most of the rest of the game. Red had very little to do once the Han were gone on turn 6, and I'd chosen the early game because I knew that Green had similar issues in the second half. Combined with the first problem of weak revolutions, and you have a game where not much is happening. 

Strangest of all was that I, as the Blue player, controlled pretty much all of China for the bulk of the game. And I came in last. In fact, there were often so many empty territories that people didn't really have to fight much. 

I have four of these games (five if you count the AH version of Britannia, the one with the incomprehensible raiding rules), and I have to say that all are pretty much broken other than the original. Maharaja has confusing rules for the colonial period, and there are two empires that more or less control the entire board (sort of like Rome and the Saxons in Britannia). Italia has a set of rules that only Phalanx Games could produce (and interpret), and now China, which tried mightily to reduce the rules to a manageable set succeeds only in a game where the main goal seems to be killing other armies rather than controlling historical provinces. No rush for the Welsh to York in this game. 

Which is not to say that I dislike the game, only that I think it's only really suitable for solitaire play to spur interest in the subject. I'm not sorry I got a copy (Mike, on the other hand, said he wanted to buy two so he could burn them both), but I'm very unlikely to ask anyone else to play. Like Italia, the game is set for a specific number of players (Britannia and Maharaja attempt to vary the number, but the effort was pretty much a failure - these are four player games), so that already limits it's chances of hitting the table. Given the lack of play time for various factions at various times, I'm OK with this, but it is a shame that the game was so clearly not playtested but rather vetted against history. In fact, many of the reviews on the 'Geek go into great detail about how this empire wasn't as strong as represented in the game, or that since they were mostly in Indochina they really weren't Chinese at all. Whatever. As a game, it's a bust. As a sim, it's probably worth your time if you like this series and know better than to inflict it on your gaming buddies. 

Sorry, guys!

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