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Shaolia: Warring States: Will Culture or Military Unite the Continent?

Shaolia Box

Shaolia: Warring States Kickstarter Edition Box
(All images of Bad Comet Games products were taken and edited by KristaG unless otherwise specified)

Shaolia: Warring States is a 2 or 4 (UPDATE: as of 6/27, a 3-player mode has been added to the game) player board game designed by Gunho Kim. The game focuses on territory building, worker/dice placement, and resource management. Players take on the role of regional leaders vying for control of the continent of Shaolia. The question is, what kind of leader will you choose to be? One who trying to increase your power through the peaceful means of building up culture to unite the people, a strong showing of your military might, or perhaps a careful combination of both? There can only be one leader of Shaolia, do you have what it takes to come out on top?

As the name suggests, Shaolia: Warring States has a very heavy Asian theme. The illustrations were provided by South Korean artist Sophia Kang. As Shaolia is a fictional continent, I am pleased to see that the artwork doesn’t emulate any specific Asian culture, but instead takes cues from many when creating the look for the game. The art is heavily stylized and almost makes me think of a mobile game or graphic novel when I look at it. The other components are of an amazing quality – even for just the prototype being used for this review! The fact that the cardboard is sturdy, the wooden tokens and plastic minerals are well thought out, and the first player marker is a wooden flag was all enough for me to sit back and go “wow” when I opened the box. Shaolia: Warring States is the debut game for Bad Comet Games and is being crowdfunded on Kickstarter.

Shaolia Set Up

An example set up for the first mode of play.

As Shaolia is a game that features different modes of play, the set up does tend to reflect which mode is being chosen. Originally there were only 5 modes available, but, as of this update, that has been upped to more than 7. The basics for setting up, however, are all fairly similar. Each player gets their own player board and places it in front of them. This is the equivalent of their territory. Players also receive 3 d6s, a Culture Score Tracker, 2 locked space cards, and any starting resources as described in the set up for the mode that is being played. The locked space cards are placed in the top left and bottom right of the player’s Territory Board. All tokens, minerals, damage counters, officers, and gold should be placed in the middle of the play area, easily reachable by everyone. The Trade board is placed off to the side nearby. There are 2 different “levels” of cards that players can purchase during the game to build their territory with. They are aptly referred to as “Lv1” and “Lv2” cards. Depending on the chosen mode, the Trading Post cards and available Lv1 and Lv2 cards vary per game. Each player begins with their Culture Score Tracker on “0” and the first player marker is given to the “most regal” player to begin the game. Other game modes introduce Character cards while the Mountain People expansion available through the Kickstarter adds new technologies, characters, and yet another game mode as the “Ve” tribe enters the fray!

Shaolia End Game

The Culture Condition was met, triggering the end of the game!

As stated above, the goal of Shaolia: Warring States is to become the new leader of the continent. This can be achieved, typically, in one of two ways: either through dealing 12 damage to an opponent’s Palace or through reaching a culture score of 18. Each game of Shaolia regardless of mode is played over multiple rounds that are made up of 3 phases: Purchase Phase, Building Phase, and Action Phase. During the Purchase Phase, a player may buy Lv1 Cards, Lv2 Cards, extra dice, or Officers. Once both players have completed their purchases, they enter the building phase. A player may choose to build any/all of the buildings they purchased during their Purchase Phase so long as they can pay the building costs for the building or they can pay to either open locked spaces in their territory or demolish a previously built building at no cost. Next comes the Action Phase where the active player rolls their minimum of 3 dice and uses the results to activate either their card abilities or the basic abilities provided by the Palace. Card abilities can include things such as gaining resources (such as gold or minerals), gaining Culture, attacking an opponent, or going to the trading posts on the Trade Board. Once a round ends, the First Player Marker is passed to the next player and the next round begins until someone reaches one of the 2 victory conditions. It is important to note that some modes, such as Mode #3: Overwhelming Power, can add additional options for winning the game.

Shaolia Expansion

If backing the Kickstarter, the deluxe addition comes with an exclusive Mountain People expansion!
(Image via Kickstarter.com, edited by KristaG)

I’ve spent a lot of time with Shaolia running demos, traveling with it across the country, and playing it with friends and family. The art is probably my favorite aspect of the game, but I am also partial to the broken hearts that are used for damage tokens. As small of an afterthought as that probably was during the entirety of the design process, it really makes me appreciate the effort that went into making the components and how unique they truly are. Though there are multiple modes that run together like a campaign, I feel a lot of them are really just there to teach you the basics of the game over time so I would love to see some more come out in the future that uses the full potential of the game (characters, trading posts, all of the Lv1 and Lv2 cards, wonders, etc). By including the multiple modes, however, I feel the game opens up to players of various skill and age as well as offers newer players the opportunity to learn and grow with the game as they progress through it. While it may begin as a gateway game for those that want to learn worker placement or city building, each mode offers a new depth to explore as players become accustomed to the mechanics. One thing I want to make sure I point out, however, is that throughout my multiple plays, I found that I didn’t really get to pick my strategy for the game. Instead, I felt everything was more or less determined for me based on the cards I was dealt via my first few purchases in the Purchase Phase. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it really narrowed down my choices for my territory since there are constraints on how you build – there are only 8 potential build spaces available on the board after all. I also noticed over and over again that the player who chose culture as their winning strategy typically won unless their opponent was able to quickly build up heavy attacks and continuously strike down their culture cards, which was a little disappointing as I was hoping there would be a more overall balance. Perhaps with the expansion adding in more technology, it will bring about the kind of deft strikes I’d like to see in a military encounter. As of the release of this update, there are less than 48 hours left of the Kickstarter campaign and I highly suggest the deluxe edition for access to the expansion and the additional content!

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