- Designer: Jacky Huang
- Publisher: BigFun Game
- Players: 3-5 (basic), 3-6(advanced)
- Time: 45 minutes
- Ages: 12+
Cheng Huang is the “God of City”, and he is responsible for maintaining the well being of the city. Players in the game serve as the Night Generals of this Cheng Huang, and they search the city each night to reward virtue and punish vice.
At its heart, the game is a drafting card game. The deck of cards is made up of 6 different types of vice and virtues – the actual distribution of cards is based on the number of players and can be found on the aid card. There is also a second small deck of Night General cards – there are 9 total in the box, but you only need one per player. At the start of the game, a first player is chosen randomly. In each of the 3 succeeding rounds, the first player is the player who has the lowest score in the previous round.
There are 7 phases in each of the four rounds.
- Deal General Cards
- Draft Cards
- Perform special abilities
- Final Showdown or Burglary
The round starts with each player being dealt a Night General card. These are openly seen, and each player announces what their special ability is. There is a number/letter in the upper left corner which tells you the order in which the special actions will trigger. The rules suggest a specific 5 to use for the basic game, and I will describe the actions of those as the basic game is the only way I have played the game thus far. Each player is also dealt 6 cards from the Vice/Virtue deck.
In the drafting stage, players look at their hand, and then chooses one to keep, and places it face down in front of them. The remaining cards are then passed clockwise to the next player. This continues until each player has 6 cards face down in front of them. These are then collected and examined by the players. One of the cards is now discarded, leaving each player with 5 to deal with. They are then arranged facedown in a pattern of 3 in the top row and 2 in the bottom row. (There is a certain Night General, General Liu, that would allow you to have 2 on the top and 3 on the bottom…) Once all players have done this, all players then flip up their top row cards.
Next, each of the remaining Night Generals takes their special action. This is done in numeric order based on the upper left of each General card.
- Military Judge (#1) – choose one card of yours (can be face up or face down) and turn it horizontally. It will count as 5 points for you in scoring
- General Gan (#2) – Draw 2 cards from the discard pile. Choose one of those and add it to your facedown bottom row of cards. Return the unchosen card to the discards.
- Torture Doctor (#3) – Peek at any two face down cards on the table. You score +3 in the Scoring phase of this round.
- Civil Judge (#4) – Choose any of your Vice/Virtue cards and place it face down under any of your other cards. This facedown card now copies whatever is on top of it. It no longer has its original function or score.
After the special actions, then the players review all the face up cards and discusses which player has the highest score in this round. Players are free to bluff here. If you had the Torture Doctor action, you may not specifically reveal any of the numerical information you know from looking at the opponent’s facedown cards.
Next, it’s time to vote. All players take a voting token into their hand. On the count of 3, all players simultaneously vote by placing their voting token in front of the player they think has the highest score in the round. You may never vote for yourself. If there is a tie for votes, the start player for this round breaks the tie. The player who wins the vote then has two choices. He can either Deny the claim and go to the Showdown or he can Admit it and then the game moves to the Burglarly phase
In the showdown, all players turn up their facedown cards and the score is counted. If the player who was voted for does in fact have the highest total, he must discard his 2 most valuable cards. If the player who was voted for does not have the highest total, he is allowed to review the discard pile and choose and one card from there as compensation for being wrongly accused.
If the game instead goes to the burglary phase, the player who holds the most burglary cards in their display will receive one card from the voted player. The voted player gets to choose which card. If there is a tie for the most burglary cards, the tie is broken by the start player. If no one has a burglary card, then nothing happens in this phase.
Finally, the round ends with scoring. Each of the card types has a different scoring value. All players total their score and collect scoring tokens equal to that number. These are left facedown for the rest of the game. The player with the lowest score in this round becomes the starting player for the next round. The two decks of cards are shuffled and re-dealt to start the next round.
The game continues for 4 rounds, and the player with the most points at the end of the four rounds.
My thoughts on the game
Cheng Huang is another great game from Taiwan. Until last year, I had not really had much experience with games from this part of the world, but thanks to Smoox at Taiwan Boardgame Design and the individual game companies, I am really glad to get a chance to play them. Like Poland/Czech Republic about 10 years ago and then Japan in the past few years, I think the English gaming world will soon be focusing on these previously undiscovered games. For instance, Flip City is making it to the American market this year. It would not surprise me if this one garnered some interest when it is seen at Essen 2015.
The game itself is actually pretty straightforward. The current translation is a bit rough around the edges, but we didn’t have too much trouble figuring it out. As I mentioned above, the cards are not completely language independent, but the two sided player aid provides all the translation you need. We had no comprehension issues in our game, so I would not let the lack of EN cards discourage you from trying the game.
The drafting itself is fairly simple as there are only 6 different types of cards – and only two of the types combine with themselves. The bigger issue is figuring out which cards to draft and then how to display them. As you normally show 3 of your 5 chosen cards, you do have a little bit of room to try to bluff at what you might have – though honestly not that much. There may actually be value to not drafting the highest card available each time around because you do run a risk of losing points if you are the player voted to have the best hand. If you’re firmly behind the leader, or you can convince the other players that you’re not in the lead, you’re guaranteed to score all your points. Or… if you can convince people that you are the leader when you’re really not – it’s a great way to score all of your points with the addition of adding an extra card from the discards for your spoils.
Each of the special powers in the basic game is useful, and you need to remember which player has which role in the discussion phase. You might be able to garner more information when you know who has been able to look at other player’s hands, etc. After the first few games, I’m fairly certain that there isn’t one of the powers in the basic recommended set that is stronger than any other. I’m definitely ready to move onto the rest of the Night Generals though as I think the added variety would make each round a bit more interesting and give us more to talk about in the discussion phase.
The art in the game is absolutely gorgeous. However, the parents in the audience should be warned that it would be rated at least PG-13. All of the Night Generals are females in fairly brief outfits. While there is no actual “nudity” depicted on the cards, it’s still something I’d think twice before showing the neighbor’s kids…
The components are decent. The Virtue/Vice cards are regular cards with a matte finish. The Night General cards are just cardboard rectangles – but as they don’t need to function as cards – it’s not as big of a deal. On both the Virtue/Vice cards as well as the General cards, all text in my copy is in Taiwanese symbols. This is not a problem though because the Virtue/Vice cards have regular numbers and icons on the corners which is all you need to play them. The General cards have their translations in a chart in the English rules – and that’s really all you need. I printed out a few copies of that page of the rules for the table and everything was cool.
This was the first game from Taiwan that I have played this season, and it definitely sets the bar high for the rest of the delivery. As I mentioned at the top of my comments, I would not be surprised at all if someone picked this up for DE/EN production and distribution. This game is more than good enough for that to happen.
Until your next appointment
The Gaming Doctor
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Thanks for the review, Dale! The rules are under first revision and will be sent to you from the publisher soon! ;-)