James Nathan: The Glorious South

The Glorious South

Game: The Glorious South
Designer: Ariel Yi Chi Chang
Publisher: GeGe Co. Ltd.
Players: 4-8
Time:  20-40 minutes
Times played: 4 with purchased copy

Sometimes I think about how my body will degrade as I age. I think about losing my senses one at time, wholesale.  Suddenly there’s no more seeing.  Soon, there’s no more hearing. I don’t have any reason to expect that this is how things will go, and I don’t think about it as much as I have in the past.

There’s nothing that has happened to me that would make me think my senses will start failing.  {And I imagined this sentence should say something like ‘sure, we all have the occasional thing we hear that wasn’t really there, or a phantom touch’ but then it occurred to me that I’m not sure about that either.  Also, how weird would phantom tasting be.  And phantom smelling isn’t a thing, right?} But then I walked into an art museum and saw this one day:


It’s a piece by Anne Lindberg.  The piece is in that horizontal yellowish area.  It is that area.  Essentially, it is a piece of cotton thread strung back and forth between the walls.  As a cross section, the work is square-ish, at about 13 feet.

But here’s what happened when I approached it.  My vision started failing – not so much my vision, but my brain’s ability to process what I was seeing – and not everywhere, only where the piece was.  The best analogy I have is TV static.  It was as if the work was causing my vision to not have reception in that area – all I could see was white noise.  Walking towards the work was quite the visual cortex experience: I could see the walls, floor, and other art perfectly clear, but couldn’t see in the area of the work, as if there was some sort of sensory malfunction.

Which I guess brings us to The Glorious South.

This is a game about seeing, and describing what you see.  It’s a game about the details of artwork.

At the same time, it’s a speed game and a team game.

The board is a reproduction of Kuo Hsueh-Hu’s (郭雪湖) 1930 painting, “Festival on South Street” (南街殷賑).  The painting is originally on silk, is more than 6 feet tall, and currently resides at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum.  Rather than being a ‘board’ per se, it is printed on cloth.

The game comes with a number of round discs, each depicting in detail one portion of the painting.  This rebroadcast and retransmission of the rules will be, well, as best as I can tell.  

mvimg_20171202_2101184528789401418010490.jpgFrom a scoring standpoint, this is a set collection game. In the picture below, the tiles have been flipped to their back side, and you can see that there are sets of colors (e.g. pink tiles, dark brown tiles, light brown tiles), and the gold/yellow-ish tiles are individual actions (e.g. the two in the photo allow you to force-trade tiles with the other team.)  

mvimg_20171114_2218593638068417359690239.jpgThe different sets have different conversion rates (e..g collect 3 discs to earn 2 points; collect 4 discs to earn 4 points).

To start, you create a pool for this game’s discs/tiles (the rules call them cards), by choosing sets of discs with the same goods on the back, and a random subset of the gold tiles.  Shuffle these tiles to create the pool.

Split into two teams, and choose a start player for each team.  That player draws 5 of the discs, and both players simultaneously begin describing the portion of the image on one of their cards.  Your teammates scour the painting attempting to locate the part of the image that you are describing. When they think they have it, they point to it, and if they are right, you cover that part of the painting with your tile and move on to the next.

It’s a real time game, so both teams are racing to describe as quickly as possible, and then move on to the next tile and the next.

Once one team has guessed each of their 5 tiles, play stops.  You flip the tiles over to their goods/conversion rate side, and the teams take turns drafting the tiles off the board.  You can only draft as many as your team placed on the board.

For the next round, rotate which player is describing, and continue until the pile of cards is exhausted.

GeGe had posted the rules for this one ahead of Spiel, and this was one of my first stops Thursday morning. I knew roughly what to expect – speed, team, Where’s Waldo, as I’ve been describing it. I wasn’t familiar with the source painting, but it looked interesting enough.

What I wasn’t prepared for was how closely you really have to look, and how you need to process what you’re looking for.  

I’m one of those people who would make a terrible Law & Order witness.  How are they always able to say the person had such and such hair, and a face like so, and were wearing this garb, and then get an accurate sketch?  My description of people I see is more like “um, I think it was a person, but it might have been a mannequin, or a llama wearing clothes.  I can’t really recall.”

Which is to say, I thought I had seen this painting just in looking at pictures online, and eventually in physically looking at the board, but playing it is a whole different level. I had to tap into a different part of visually processing what I was looking at.

When I look at the painting casually, which is to say normally, I say “Sure, there are these signs, and some laundry, and a busy market full of people – there’s a lot going on!”  But if my teammate needs me to find a woman facing out from the painting with a ponytail over her left shoulder with a red bow and wearing pearls and wearing a purple dress and appears to be buying two pineapples from a man facing into the painting wearing a yellow hat and a white coat – the level of detail that I need to observe is ratcheted up quite a bit from it’s idle position.  You really are forced to digest what each person in the market is doing, and many people will match part of that description, but only one will match all of it.

My analogy with that work from the top is that for me, this is a game about visually processing outside of your comfort zone.  I don’t recognize people well, and also, I don’t read Chinese – so the tiles that deal with the signs can also be tricky.  Sometimes the describer isn’t sure of the orientation of the tile they have, so as the guesser, you may also need to be thinking about the painting from different angles.  It’s a game that rewards preposterous attention to detail and all encompassing familiarity with the painting.

All that said, I don’t especially like this game.  It has quite a few shortcomings.  Sometimes the color and detail reproduction between the tiles and the board can be inconsistent, and you’ll find some details obvious on the tiles, but hardly visible on the board.  The tile mix can get stale, and leads to an uneven experience if one player has had a tile before.  (This partially stems from something I thought I might love – the coming up with a name for things game – “cave painting doing jazz hands” or ”red cantaloupe” – but now those two tiles, for instance, are erroneously one-sided.)  The drafting seems disjointed from the describing/guessing phase, but there isn’t enough raw fun in the first part where it can be a party game that you just throw out the scoring.

I don’t especially like this game, but that’s not the point of writing this up.  This is to say thank you.  Thank you for making this game.  Sometimes I value games that make me think differently over games similar to things I’ve liked before, and for that, I’m glad this game exists, and that I got to experience it.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

W. Eric Martin: I haven’t played the game as no one in my area loves real-time pattern-matching games anywhere near the level that I do, possibly because I tend to crush people in these games as something in them just clicks for me, so I didn’t pick up the Glorious South, gorgeous though it is. Instead I just wanted to chime in to say that I’m on the same fuzzy wavelength as James in regard to valuing the exploration of what games can be, and I love his review style. Thanks, James!

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

I love it!
I like it.
Neutral. James Nathan
Not for me…


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2 Responses to James Nathan: The Glorious South

  1. jmellby says:

    Well if you didn’t like the game would you consider selling it?

    • xitoliv says:

      I would and I did – sold it last week. Sorry!

      I should add that in my many visits to Hall 8 at Spiel, after they sold out, GeGe had a sign offering free worldwide shipping. Not sure if that offer stands, but you might have luck ordering from their website. (There is an online shop for Taiwan, and you send an e-mail for all other orders; the price showing in the Taiwan shop I would assume is in TWD not USD.)

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