RACE FOR THE CHINESE ZODIAC
Designed by: Christina Ng Zhen Wei and Yeo Keng Leong Published by Simply Complex. Capstone Games© and Starting Player™ It is a 3-5 Player game aimed at Age 8+
RACE for the CHINESE ZODIAC has a most intriguing and eye-catching front cover illustrated by Ray Toh. It features the regularly accepted Chinese font for the title, some Chinese characters and includes all thirteen animals associated with the Chinese Zodiac - they are brilliantly portrayed in an origami-animated style and all charging forward as if trying to break out of the box and into the New Year. Have fun locating the Cat.
The rules booklet and the box cover use the same 'Chinese' font but instead of the animals the booklet appears to show Mountains leading into Hills down to water (not like any Paddy-fields I've seen photos of), so it may be the Ocean or a Lake; it has small islands floating in it (I say floating as you can see their shadows under them on the water).
The 20 page rulesbook is created of 11" square pages made to look like light parchment due to its feint fawn colouring. The text underlays the Chinese style artwork. I like this very much because many games with coloured pages often use white text which makes reading it difficult. In this game only the Monkey and Rooster symbols are in white, and those hard to see illustrations prove my point.
The first page tells the tale of the Ancient Race, known as the 'Great Race', and how the Chinese Zodiac came about. The next page tells more about the Race and the competitors, illustrating 13 of them with a short description of each. There are only 12 wooden player-pieces, no Cat (other than the Tiger of course).
The twelve animal tokens are made of wood and roughly shaped around the illustration printed on them. There is a card wheel, with one large card circle and one slightly smaller plastic inner wheel in which the 6 inner-wedge shaped pieces are randomly placed for each game. These wedges are created with a separation line down the centre to allow them to be matched with the action results around the circle. There are three sets of cards, Animal Signs, Action and Energy, with different numbers in each deck. 40 Karma tokens (small card pieces that to be honest look like an afterthought as they are too small and poorly designed/decorated).
The Animal Sign cards match the tokens with the exception that there are three Pigs, the card used depends on the number of players. Animal Sign cards can be chosen or dealt randomly, one to each player, and determine the animal token (and special ability) the players have for the game. The 52 Action cards and 85 Energy card decks have a different theme picture and colour. There is a Game Board which has 36 spaces in a 6x6 grid and 2 elongated spaces for [Start] and [Finish] - these are all laid neatly, but obtrusively, over the previously mentioned land, sea and mountain landscape; it is 'arty' in style.
The hub of the game is the Action Wheel. This has a plastic plate on which the six wedge-shaped boards are placed randomly at the beginning of each game. If you have five players you will need to undo the assembly of the wheel and fit the plastic plate onto the flip side of the board, but only do this for 5 player games. The position of the wedges makes no difference though with three players one of the wheel wedges is not used - the WALK action wedge. The other wedges; CHEAT, HELP, RUN, REST and COOPERATE, are used in all games as are the cards that reference them (WALK cards, like the WALK wedge, are omitted from 3 player games).
The rulesbook has a myriad photo-illustrations and text boxes that cover everything to do with the different number of players, various set-ups, as well as the use of all the components and assembly of the wheel.
The player-turn sequence is pretty basic: All players secretly select two cards from their hand, one Action one Energy. All cards are flipped face up simultaneously, the players sliding their Energy card under their Action card so that their value is showing. There may be a cost, in Karma Tokens, for playing these cards - it depends on the value of the Energy card the player played previously. If you play a card higher in value there is no cost, but if you play a lower value card the cost is either one or two Tokens - another good mechanism as it's one Karma token for one point lower but only two Karma tokens, not cumulative, thereafter, eg 3 points under costs 2 Karma tokens as does 2, 4, 5 etc points under. Card and Token management is critical.
Depending on the cards played the players each have a turn of resolving the actions of their cards. Any players who have played a similar card type may benefit (or not) generally from the special action on the Action card played with the highest valued Energy card. The value of the Energy cards of the same type are added together and the result will show what side of the Wedge's partition is used and thus the Action that is available. Sometimes having additional Energy points is advantageous but other times it can ruin your developing plans. After all players have been involved in this Round the wheel is turned one section only and the next Round begins - all Actions are detailed perfectly well in the rules booklet. Knowing how these Actions can be used and what they can do is very important, not only because when used properly you will receive a positive reaction but also because by knowing them you can keep the game running smoothly without too much time lost (ie. slowing the game down) making decisions. Games with new players are always longer than necessary because players aren't up to speed - I place this game in the 'think' 'play cards' 'action' 'restart' game genre.
To get the bonus from the Action on your card you often need to have played the 'individual' highest value Energy card - note the 'individual' tag - though some cards mention 'joint' highest so read each carefully. Action cards are either Orange or Green with the colour of the card determining which action the wheel allows when the wedge of the Action chosen aligns with the Orange/Green options on the wheel - the majority of wheel actions are in the Purple sections of the outer ring and the colour of the card is then immaterial.
The race ends when one player's animal token has traveled along the 36 space track and reached the Final space. The player whose token this is wins - a basic most points wins the game mechanic. Because of the special abilities it is best that when you play more than once your players should try to play other Animals, for although the designers have balanced them as best as they can there are those that can seem to be more compatible with each other.
When cards are played they form a row in front of you until you play the 'Strategise' card, then you can collect all bar the farthest left pair of cards back to your hand. If you are the only person to play Strategise then you collect all of the cards including the farthest left. This is the only way your cards are returned to you, thus there is a rule that at one point will make you play Strategise without any option not to.
The rules get a little hazy about crossing from the Land section of the race-track to the Water section if 'Strategise' is played. We took this to mean crossing from space 18 to space 19 and that's how we played it, though looking at the race-track board (which in the box is different than the one shown on page 13 of the Rules) it could also mean spaces 24 to 25 and spaces 33 - 34. As I said the rules are a bit hazy.
The Actions associated to the symbols around the outer ring of the race track (and the inner ring where applicable) may be modified depending on the number of players. These icons/symbols are interpreted in a grid box on page 13 of the rules book.
I have already mentioned the playing of a higher or lower value card into your Row but I failed to mention that to play a higher value card you must have at least one card already down that is one below the card you wish to play. Thus you cannot play a 4 unless you have a 3 showing; the same goes for needing a 4 to play a 5 and a 5 to lay a 6. There are numerous close-knit rules and mechanics that are cleverly entwined within the booklet.
I openly admit that after our first playing I was ready to call it a day, write something trivial as a review, and close the book on the game. Of course that isn't how I roll, even if I am not keen on a game (I always give my best) and so RACE for the CHINESE ZODIAC was brought to the table again, then again and again as it grabbed a hold on us, not just me, all of us playing, you could read players thoughts and see the changes in their faces as each new possibility suddenly dawned on the others around me. There is so much more here than first meets the eye, with the scope of the game being belittled by the simplicity of the actions in a player's turn. In short, this is an intriguing and fun game.
The one thing it lacks is visuality - it isn't an attractive or pretty game to look at and thus it may not draw players to it. If you can see past the drab and pastel colours you will find a game that won't let you down.
You can find the Race for the Zodiac game in your Local Game Store or Online for between £26.00 - £44.00.