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Gaming Our Way Into the New Year – The Year of the Monkey!

The Spring Festival, also known as Chinese New Year, begins on February 8th this year in 2016. For those that don’t know, Chinese New Year is a fifteen day celebration concerning the transition between lunisolar years on the Chinese calendar. This year, we will be leaving behind the Year of the Goat and entering into the Year of the Monkey! If you’re like me, you’ll want to join in the festivities in any way possible! Other than attending the usual dragon and lion dances and assisting in making traditional celebratory foods, I am hoping to get in some gaming to set the mood. Described below are a myriad of games that I recommend for a full range of ages as well as those with varied interests – from more traditional Chinese games to full-out skirmish wargames!

A Game of Go

A snapshot of a game of Go (Unless otherwise stated, all photos were taken edited by KristaG)

One of the first games that instantly came to mind when trying to decide what to add to our gaming agenda is a classic and one of my favorites: Go. The game of Go originated in China over 2500 years ago (the first written record of the game being from the 4th century BC) and is a strategy filled board game about area control for 2 players. To play, each player alternates taking turns placing a stone of their chosen color (black or white). Once placed, stones stay in place unless they are captured by their opponent. Most games are played on the standard sized board of 19 x 19 squares, but many begin on a smaller board until they learn the varying levels of strategy. Go is one of my favorite games to play when I’m looking for a challenge. While it is very simple to learn as well as in concept, it can take a lifetime to master.

Dragon Tile from Mahjong

One of my favorite tiles out of a Mahjong set – the dragon tile!

Another Chinese classic to consider playing is Mahjong. It is believed that Mahjong evolved during the 19th Century from several card based games with similar draw and discard mechanics as the tile game we know today. Typically, Mahjong is played with 4 players who utilize strategy to draw and discard tiles until a legal “hand” of 14 tiles comprising of four groups and a pair is formed. While there are many different versions of the game, the rules for drawing tiles, stealing them from other players, and how the symbols may be paired, are fairly standard in most versions. Personally, I grew up playing an electronic version more often than not, but I do own several of the 144 tile sets. My favorite tiles are the dragon tiles, though not all sets include them amongst the “honors” tiles.

Dragon Parade Game

Can you guess correctly where the dragon dancers will stop?

Transitioning from the classics into something a little more current, Dragon Parade is a great card game that is ideal for the evening! Designed by Reiner Knizia and published by Z-Man Games in 2007, Dragon Parade is a card game for 2-5 players wherein players utilize hand management to direct the Dragon Dancers through the busy streets after they leave the Forbidden Palace during a Chinese New Year’s celebration. While players are given a hand of 6 movement cards (red for one direction, yellow for the other), only 4 of them will be used to guide the dragon’s path. Players attempt to earn victory points by properly guessing the final ending location of the dragon and placing their street vendors closest to that point. They get three vendors to place, with each one capable of earning up to five coins (victory points) if the dragon stops on that exact space. The length of the game scales depending on the number of players, so it can run anywhere from 15-45 minutes, but is, all in all, a rather quick and simple game for kids and adults alike.

Lanterns

Perfect for celebrating the Lantern Festival held on the 15th day of the celebration!

Another great card based game to play during Chinese New Year is Lanterns: The Harvest Festival. Though Chinese New Year is known as the Spring Festival, a lantern festival is included amongst the celebrations on the final day, making this a great game to play in the spring as well as during the fall harvest festival. As with many of my other favorite games, Lanterns is a game published by Foxtrot Games that scales in size depending on the number of players making it suitable for 2 players without adding special rules. Players take turns placing lake tiles filled with patterns of floating lanterns, earning them lantern cards while also trying to create matches for bonus lantern cards. These lantern cards are then used to create sets. To earn points, players “make a dedication” and trade in their sets of lantern cards. There are three types of dedications to make: four of a kind, three pair, or seven unique cards. This game plays in roughly 30 minutes and is really simple to learn. Definitely can’t wait to play this one again!

Ghost Stories

Ghost stories just got scary again!

Ghost Stories is a game I tend to think about playing around Halloween, but it is also very fitting for Chinese New Year. Designed by Antoine Bauza and published by Asmodee, this is co-op board game that can be played solo or with a group reaching up to 4 players. In the game, Wu-Feng (the lord of Hell) and his legions of ghosts are searching a village in the Middle Kingdom for the funerary urn containing his ashes in hopes of returning Wu-Feng to life. Players take on the roles of the Taoist Monks working together to combat the multiple waves of ghosts during their search. To exercise the ghosts, players must roll dice and match the color or colors of the ghost or incarnation of Wu-Feng. As easy as this sounds, Ghost Stories is not an easy game to win. In fact, there are even four different modes of game play available to choose from: Initiation, Normal, Nightmare, and Hell. Each one is nearly astronomically harder than the other – especially when you include any of the multiple expansions currently available for the game. However, I tend to be a fan of co-op board games that are ever changing so this may quickly become one of my favorite horror games.

As a long time miniatures wargamer, I was instantly drawn to Wyrd‘s Malifaux when I saw it on the shelves at my local game store. The miniatures are stunningly detailed and the use of a deck of poker cards (a “Fate Deck”) over dice to determine the outcomes of duels appealed to me greatly. The genre and characters vary widely across the seven factions, almost guaranteeing that there will be something to pique the interest of anyone looking into the game. Within the factions, even, the various Masters range in theme with some being Steampunk in nature and others having more of a Gothic, Victorian, Wild West, or Horror flavor. That being said, the Ten Thunders faction in particular boasts a heavy Asian theme; making it the ideal choice for the evening. Out of the Ten Thunders Masters, players will have a choice of Yan Lo (a necromancer), Shenlong (a Monk), or Mei Feng (a railroad worker) to lead their Crews of 7-10 miniatures into battle.

Malifaux Masters

Mei Feng, Shenlong, and Yan Lo. Masters of the Ten Thunders Faction.
(Images taken and edited by KristaG from Wyrd)

All of these games portray aspects of Chinese New Year in one form or another, thus making them excellent choices to play for the evening. I would highly recommend each of them as they are all games I have enjoyed recently or over the years. I wish you all much luck and good fortune in the coming New Year. Welcome to the Year of the Monkey!

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