By Raymond "DuMeeple" Dumee on September 6, 2019
Ancient China is under the reign of the Longqing Emperor of the Ming Dynasty. Left with his father's heritage, he finds his beloved country in a terrible state, molested due to corruption. Determined to bring back stability and honour to his reign, the Longqing Emperor reforms his government and puts the death penalty on corruption. From that point on, the highest officials of China pretended to uphold the ban on corruption, but instead of taking money like they used to, a trade of gifts became the new widespread custom. So however you look at it, they're still effectively bribing their way into the Forbidden City.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we are talking about a worker placement board game with some set collecting, otherwise known as Gùgōng. Now, I know this is usually the part of the review where I will start about what is all inside the box, but there is just so much I can better spend my time on, like playing the game. So, let's do the short version: inside the box is a big game board with several locations, four very clear player boards with a round overview and very handy spaces to store all the stuff you need or collect during the game. There is also a deluxe version of the game with more wooden tokens and green glass Jade pieces. The version I played and used for the photos is the retail version.
The game is played in four rounds, each of which consists of three phases. With some imagination, the rounds represent a period of four days. Each day has three phases: the Morning Phase, during which the game gets prepared for the coming day, the Day Phase, where players preform their actions and, finally, the Night Phase, in which you can check if your bribes were successful. When the board is prepared in the Morning Phase, the day starts and every player performs various actions by first exchanging Gift Cards with the Officials in the forbidden city. Every Gift Card represents one of the seven locations on the Game Board and when used the player performs the corresponding action.
So, a Gift Card is linked to a location on the board which is linked to an action in that location. Let's have a look at these locations and actions starting from the topside where you can exchange your Gift with the Revenue Official and send your wandering Traveller to cities throughout China to collect taxes. On the next location, every player can help with the renovation and construction of the Great Wall of China. On another location on the board you can exchange your gift with the Jade Official to be introduced to the Jade market vendors and buy precious Jade. Exchanging your gift on the fourth location with the Shady Official will get you higher on the Intrigue track, which indicates your family's influence in the Forbidden City.
Now, the Intrigue Track doesn't actually help you as far as Victory Points are concerned, but helps whenever a tie occurs in the game. Another location on the board where you would like to get higher on the track, is the Palace Track in The Palace of Heavenly Purity. Make sure to obtain an audience with the Emperor before the end of the fourth day or all your efforts will have been in vain. On the sixth location on the board you can gain special Decree advantages which helps you during the rest of the game. Which brings us to the last location on the board, which lets you exchange your Gift Cards, the Grand Canal. At this location, you can send your servants on a journey to trade with people outside Beijing.
The entire game is built around the custom of exchanging Gift Cards to gain the favour of the Officials and subsequently placing your servants wisely to receive the best advantages and the most Victory points and getting your bribing ass into the Forbidden City. Because that is what it is all about. When the fourth day ends, you must have had your audience with the emperor. It is then that all Victory points are counted. The player with the most Victory Points wins the game.
Gùgōng is such a beauty of a game and although there is much going on, it is a very easy to keep track of everything and keep an eye on your opponents at the same time. Or on the automa for playing solo; the automa is the automated player for when you have nobody bribe with and in my humble opinion plays very well. It is even a good challenge to play against. But playing games is like drinking rice wine, I prefer to do it with others.
Now, Gùgōng isn't what you would call a brand-new game. It was originally released in 2018 and has been decorating table tops ever since, and not only in China. For your gaming pleasure, Game Brewer is releasing an expansion, which increases the replay value of the game even more, under the name Pānjun. The expansion consists of four new modules which can be combined with the base game. I have caught a glimpse of this expansion at the Brussels Game Festival and I can say it looks top-notch and comes with two new board locations, an adaption on the Forbidden City stairs and several new Gift Cards and Degrees. I am exited!
Year of release: 2018
Designer: Andreas Steding
Artist: Andreas Resch & Noah Adelman
Players: 1 - 5 players, ages 12 & up
Playtime: approx. 75 minutes