ALAN M NEWMAN's strategy board war game for 2 Players Aged 9+
SUN TZU Featuring the exceptionally fine artwork of Rolland Barthélémy & Stéphane Poinsot
This is a card-driven strategy wargame from a company, Matagot, well known for its miniatures-based productions but not known so much for 2-player tabletop strategy games. The last Matagot game I reviewed was the fun, family game, Cappuccino, and anyone having played that would not be expecting their next purchase from Matagot to be Sun Tzu; it is like chalk and cheese, and is aimed at a much different playing group.
SUN TZU is played over a series of rounds, with the winner being determined after either Round 3, Round 6 or by a points count up at the end of Round 9; games never go past the ninth Round.
Each Round is divided into five phases; the first three setting up and resolving the battle, each player playing one card per each of the five provinces: Qin, Jin-Yan, Han-Qi, Chu and Wu. These battles are carried out in order with troops, plastic miniatures in the Red of King Chu or Blue of Sun Tzu, being placed on or removed from the provinces according to the difference in values of the cards played to defend/attack them.
Players are allocated a number of troops plus three with the remainder making up the supply. The three are set aside as exceptional support, a sort of last-ditch reinforcement, but these are not replaced once used; however, there are special cards that allow extra exceptional support when played; these are like saving-throws and should really only be employed tactically and after forethought.
Scoring is quite unique. There are 10 score boards, each set as a triangle with three sides and each with values that represent the scoring for each province. From the 10 five are randomly chosen at the start of the game and five put back in the box, ensuring that although each game may play to a similar fashion there is always different scores on the boards.
The cards used for each battle are returned to their owners if they are valued between 1-6 while higher valued cards are discarded; use of your high rated cards at the right time can be devastating, so a little amount of card counting knowledge could be a small advantage.
During the game an Event card is turned face up and counts for or against both armies. Once its conditions are met though, it is removed from play and a new Event drawn. Event cards are another way of adding that extra tiny piece of spice that subtlety flavours the game.
The rules are presented booklet-style and spread over just four well informed and illustrated sheets of glossy paper. They are both easy to follow and easy to understand, but like so many 2-player wargames it is experience gained over a multitude of playing that is the biggest advantage here.
SUN TZU is based very loosely on the adapted thesis of the great Chinese military General who is regarded by many as the master of war, having written the oft practised much mentioned The Art of War. His opponent in this game of classic battles for Ancient provinces is King Chu (aka Zi’ao) who was the King of the State of Chu.
Within this game there is a secondary, very neat game of bluff under-running the strategy and tactical game of war. It is not a long game, possibly lasting less than 15 minutes and rarely longer than 30 minutes, but it is ideal preparation if you are going into a much longer tabletop boardgame and need something to open your mind to the considerations and possibilities that you could soon be facing.
Although 2-player wargames may be thought of as a male preponderance, I often play this with Fran, my wife. She is very astute at this type of game and generally either wins our contests or runs so very close to a result if I manage to win for once. In our case it was me having to persuade her that it was a game mechanic she was using and that although it has an ancient Chinese theme, a theme is all it is. Once past that mind-block she really got into the card playing and bluffing aspect.
One word of advice: When you first set up the Score boards it is best to add a spot of glue to each triangular end-piece thus locking the boards together. This doesn’t harm or damage the game as the box is plenty big enough for the triangular pieces to stand in already set up. Gluing the end-pieces in place keeps the board solid and prevents you accidentally losing the end bits, they do have a habit of falling off. That apart, the presentation and the production are up to the very high standard that Matagot games can be very proud of.