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Walter Obert





One year after presenting their adventure-exploration game Krumble! at the SPIEL 2006, the Italian publisher TENKIGAMES now comes back to the SPIEL with Chang Cheng, a game concerned with the building of the Great Wall in China.

Already the graphical design of the gamebox and a first overview of the contents of the game shows how far relatively small publishers have come in terms of professional production of new boardgames. Thus, among the expected gameboards and counters which have been designed with professional artwork, the gamebox contains a total of 64 plastic wall pieces and towers which the players use to build their own stretch of the Great Wall. To set up the game, two of the four gameboards are placed on the table to form a building place which the players can use for placing their wall pieces, and whereas on one side of the wall face-down Mongols Threat counters are placed within each region outside of China, the provinces on the Chinese side receive one face-down Reputation Counter. Each player then choses a playing colour and receives 14 single Wall pieces, 1 double Wall piece, 1 Tower and 6 action cards matching his colour.


The general progression of the game and thus a player's turn is structured relatively easy: The active player chooses one of the five available actions, and then checks whether either a province has been completed and must be evaluated or a new gameboard should be added to offer new building places for an even longer Great Wall. The five different actions a player may chose are as follows:

  • Placing 2 single Wall pieces on free building spaces in different Chinese provinces.
  • Placing 2 action cards face-down in different Chinese provinces.
  • Placing one single Wall piece and one action card in the same Chinese province.
  • Placing the double Wall piece at a free building space.
  • Placing the Tower at a free building space.

When all building spaces of a province have been filled with Wall pieces or Towers an evaluation takes place. The player(s) who has built the majority of Wall pieces within this province will gain Reputation Points depending on the value of the province, but before these points are awarded the players first have to deal with action cards which possibly were placed within the finished province. Turning all cards over, the cards are solved following a fixed priority ranking which is symbolized by dots dots on the cards. If more than one player has played the same action card on a province, all identical action cards cancel each other out, leaving the players to deal only with the cards which were played just once on this province.

  • The Warrior attacks another action card which was placed within the province. Both the Warrior and his target card are removed from the game.
  • The Traitor allows its player either to sabotage one Wall piece within the province or to remove a Threat counter from an opposite Mongol region.
  • The Flood can be used either to increase or decrease the province's reputation value by two points.
  • The Builder also counts either as two reputation points or as an additional Wall piece when determining the player who has the majority of Wall pieces within the province.
  • The Master Builder is even stronger, counting as two additional Wall pieces when determining the majority.
  • Finally, the Mandarin allows its player to swap a single Wall piece in the province with another single Wall piece from anywhere on the gameboards.

Only when all action cards have been resolved the Wall pieces of each player within the province are counted and the majority player is determined. Then the reputation value is calculated by counting all Wall pieces within the province and adding both the value of the province's face-down Reputation Counter and possible modifications from action cards. The player(s) who have the majority count then may add the Reputation points to their current standing on the track of Victory Points.


Whenever a province has been scored, an Emperor marker is placed within the province to show that the Emperor has come for an inspection. When three such markers are on the boards, they are removed and the active player may add another gameboard so that the wall is becoming longer because more building spaces become available. The number of gameboards which will be added depends on the number of participating players.

The game comes to its end when all building spaces on the gameboards have been filled with Wall pieces, but before the winner is declared the players first have to face a Mongol attack which will cause some losses of Reputation points. It now becomes important that the Mongol regions on one side of the Wall do not have borders matching those of the Chinese provinces on the other side of the Wall, since the Mongols will attack the stretch of Wall adjacent to their region independently of the number of bordering Chinese provinces. Thus, once again majority counts are made, but this time the count is made for the wall pieces adjacent to each Mongol region. In each region, the player who has the majority of Wall pieces will have to face the attack from the Mongols, meaning that the value of the hidden Mongols Threat counter which had been assigned to the region at the beginning of the game will be substracted from his score of Reputation Points. Only after all Mongol regions have been dealt with in this manner, the final ranking becomes visible and the winner can be declared.

The basic strategic orientation of the game becomes clear especially when considering the fact that the placement of a Wall piece influences both of a player's chances to get a positive scoring for a majority within a Chinese province and a negative scoring for having most Wall pieces adjacent to a Mongol region. Special emphasis is placed on the Tower, since it reserves one of the neighbouring building spaces for the Tower's player, so that it may be used to ascertain that a certain space is not covered by another player's Wall piece. Also, all Wall pieces allow their player to secretly check the Mongols Threat counters in the neighbouring Mongol regions, so that it becomes possible to adjust plans according to the value of the threat counter. Furthermore, further strategic options are added by the deck of action cards each player possesses, since their limited number requires the players to decide quite well on when to use these cards.

However, the strategic focus is slightly counterbalanced by the fact that a number of factors depends on a certain degree of luck. Thus, the Reputation Counters of a Chinese province only are revealed when the scoring of this specific province takes place. Also, while it gets easier to guess which action cards a player may have used because of the stepwise depletion of each player's stack of cards, it is nearly impossible to make a correct guess during the first scorings when most cards are still in play.

For these reasons, I am a bit undecided whether I see Chang Cheng to be more of a strategy game or a family game, and I guess that it cannot truly be assigned to one side because it shows attributes of both kinds of games. The fact strategists will like is that the placement of a Wall piece should be chosen with care because of the different kinds of scorings which are connected with such a placement, whereas occasional gamers will like the fact that even a strong strategy player may be beaten if he has really bad luck concerning Threat counters and the use of action cards. However, good play and strategy still are a key factor to win the game, so that the game's outcome definitely is not depending too much on luck. And to eliminate luck even further, the people of TENKIGAMES have included a deck of four event cards which may be randomly or deliberately chosen at the beginning of the game. These cards either introduce additional scorings (the longest stretch of wall, Wall pieces in most provinces) or a stepwise discovery of the Mongols Threat counters during the course of the game, and thus the overall effect of these cards is to give a healthy strengthening to the strategic impact of the game.

What I really liked about the whole setting is the fact that the gameboard is enlarged during the course of the game. Remembering for example Big City from GOLDSIEBER, a growing playing area certainly is not new to the world of gaming, but in Chang Cheng the author Walter Olbert made very effective use of this concept to keep a high competition between the players due to the limited amount of free building spaces. A restricted gameboard would not have done the trick, since it would either be too big and thus keep competition at minimum, or to small so that the game would end too soon.

The artwork and design of the game, the optional rules for two players and the deck of optional event cards leave no wishes open, so that I am rather happy to see that small publishers like TENKIGAMES are on the advance with games like Chang Cheng, a game which might have been undeservingly lost within the long list of products available from larger publishers.

Important rules clarification:

Q. When I can see the Mongol Threat Counter?
A. After placing a Wall Block (Single Wall Block, Double Wall-block or Tower), the player is allowed to secretly see the value of the Threat Counter in the Mongol Region that borders with the wall-block just played.

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Copyright © 2012 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany