Games Gazette Logo

TEN YEARS ago Stefan Feld's boardgame "IN THE YEAR OF THE DRAGON" was launched. Published by ALEA it soon became a favourite amongst strategy boardgamers and has consistently remained so.

This latest Edition includes two mini expansions, "The GREAT WALL of CHINA" and "The SUPER EVENTS", each taking one page of the Rules booklet for their rules as well as having specific, separate component pieces (Wall Tiles and Corners)

Of these expansions the SUPER EVENTS are just 10 small card counters die-cut into fan shapes. Only one of these is used per game and thus there are ten different new variations or twenty different if you use the SUPER EVENTS and the GREAT WALL of CHINA expansion together. Neither of the expansions are major but each does add a new dimension of play that requires thinking about and always adds something good to the game. These expansions were originally released as part of the Alea Big Box Expansion sets -  the 2009 Alea Treasure Chest.

So there is the Basic Game (1), plus the first expansion (2) plus the 10 tiles for the second expansion (12) and then there is using the Ten tiles with the GREAT WALL scenario (one tile only per game of course) which takes the total to 22 similar but different games in the one box, it's better than a compendium. My suggestion is to do as we did and play the Basic game until you are used to the mechanics and then you will find it really easy to introduce the new Expansions into your sessions and enjoy them more than you would if you had just jumped in feet (expansions) first without building up to them.

 

The GREAT WALL of CHINA:
This introduces a new Action card, the Wall, so that instead of three twin-sets of cards and one solo card in the central section, you now have four twin-sets to choose from. Players also have six small wall tiles in their colour. These have a different privilege on each of them: A Rice Tile, A Fireworks Tile, A Palace Section, 2 Yuan, 3 Spaces on the Person and 3 Spaces on the Scoring Tracks

The SUPER EVENTS:
This introduces the ten Corner pieces, each of which is a small, but super, event, which comes into play after the seventh Event tile has been activated but scoring hasn't as yet occurred. The new mini events are listed below:
Lanternfest: 2 VPs per person in Palaces.
Buddha: Players score VPs for Monks according to the number of floors in your Palaces.
Earthquake: Everyone loses two Palace sections (floors).
Flood: Half of everyone's Yuan, Fireworks and Rice tiles they currently hold.
Solar Eclipse: The seventh Event's effect is repeated.
Volcanic Eruption: All markers on the Person Track are returned to the Zero space.
Tornado: Players have to discard 2 of their Person cards, thus they only have one card each for the eighth and ninth months and have to skip the Person phase in the last 3 months (10, 11 and 12).
Sunrise: Each Player selects a unique "young" Person and scores it appropriately.
Assassination Attempt: All Privileges are discarded without compensation,
Charter: Beginning with the Start Player everyone receives the advantages from one (they select which) Person type in their Palaces.

  
My memory isn't clear on the original, so apart from the expansions I cannot comment on any differences - if there are any - between that and the 10th Edition. To me it looks the same and when recently played again, this time with players who were au fait with the original rules, (and not using the expansions) it played much better than I remembered it. In fairness I wouldn't recommend buying it just for the expansions if you already own the original version. However if you don't own the original version and you like thoughtful strategy games then this is definitely a game you should consider. Yes it may be 10 years old, but boardgames don't, in the main, age like computer/electronic games and so, in the main, the year that it was first published makes no difference. This is a classic Stefan Feld game; high on intellect, low on luck, high on options, low on player interaction, high on quality.

The board is pretty boring to look at, with the exception of the ingrained Chinese Dragons within the perimeter of the Person Track - there are two tracks, the Person Track on the inner board and around the outer edge is the Scoring Track. The player pieces that move on these tracks are basic wooden dobbers in player identification colours, all other components (apart from the plastic stands) are good printed card.

Players are Chinese nobles calling on the assistance of the talented craftsmen available to them so that they can build Buildings and ensure the populace survives. The game play is governed by player's actions and the twelve Event tiles (two times six different tiles) which are placed in a row on the bottom of the board during setup. The first two Events are always Peace, thus nothing untoward occurs, giving the players a chance to consolidate their plans. The remainder of the Event tiles are shuffled and placed randomly on the other 10 spaces of the row. This ensures that every game has the same events but rarely in the same order, though quite often coming out of the mix as a pair which can be devastating or exhilarating depending on whether you have had the opportunity to plan for it.

  
Most of the craftsmen/person tiles are in two types, Old people and Young people, though there are three stacks of tiles that have no age denominations - the Builders, the Taxmen and the Court Court Ladies - the other Persons are split into their two types and positioned with the Elderly at the front and the Youngsters at the back. The Young craftsmen produce more but give less movement on the Person Track, but they cannot be hired until all the Old persons have jobs. There are four Phases in each Round, Action, Person, Event and Scoring. The Action Phase is where the 7 Action cards are shuffled face down and then placed face up in as many sets as there are players - so in a 4-player game there will be 3 sets of 2 tiles and 1 single tile. In order of the Person Track the players take turns in claiming one of the sets and doing one of the available actions. If they do not want to do one of the actions available they may pass and take 3 coins. If a player wishes to place their Dragon on an already occupied Set they must pay the Bank 3 coins (Yuan) and then they can take an action.

The Second Phase of the Round the players must hire a Craft Person but unless they have room under their Buildings for them (one Person tile per Building Roof) they must take one and discard it or they can replace one of the Persons already in place. Buildings may only be up to three stories high and must have occupants - once placed Persons may only be moved out if they are discarded, they cannot be moved to another Building. If a Building is left without occupants then it decays and one of its roofs is discarded; discarding the last roof decays the building completely.

Once all players have done Phases 1 and 2, Phase 3 the Event effect takes place - these are generally painful as players may well lose Persons by not having the necessary resources: Rice per Palace in Drought, Money as Imperial Tribute, Fireworks for the Dragon Festival, Warriors against the Mongol Invasion and Healers stop Contagion.

There is so much going on that players have very little down-time, which means the game moves on at a good pace, although there is never any feeling of being rushed or pushed along. Despite the fact that the game looks complex there are only 8 pages of actual Rules, plus three pages for the expansion's rules and explanations. Games can take up to 2 hours to play at first but this is almost halved once you know the routine.

  
In The Year Of The Dragon doesn't fall into a regular game genre. It isn't a Building game, it has no dice, it isn't card driven, it isn't truly historical, and it isn't really a resource management game, although it is the latter that it falls closest to. There are options for players every Round and Phase though if you haven't been forward thinking you may find yourself short on the necessary. Knowing the order that the Events are coming up is really helpful if you remember to take note for then you know which persons you need to have under your roofs. Throughout the game you should be planning for all the things that are going to happen, that's obvious, but there are some subtleties that are often missed at first; such as the Lady Person tile. At first she appears to be of very little use but in reality she is worth 1VP per Round. The same can be said of the Privileges; paying 7 Yuan for a two Privilege tile seems expensive as cash can be tight but they will net you 2VPs a Round. Other Persons give you Food, Fireworks, Money etc all of which you need for various reasons throughout the game and especially for their respective Events.

In The Year Of The Dragon is a classy classic board game and should be in the collection of all strategy gamers. It's for 2-5 players aged from about 12 upwards  and should be in your local game store for a quite varied number of prices, from £20.00 to £45.00 so you are best to check out online and in the stores but always support the bricks & mortar stores if you can.

 

 

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015