Jiguan: The Eastern Mechanist
- Designer: Eros Lin
- Publisher: EmperorS4
- Players: 2-4
- Ages: 14+
- Time: 45-90 minutes
- Times played: 2, with preview copy provided by publisher
EmperorS4 has been one of the most consistent (IMHO) Taiwanese publishers since I have started to follow games from the region. Walking in Burano, Round House, Shadows in Kyoto, Burano and Hanamikoji have all been well received here. This year, I received advance copies of two of their games, and as usual, I have been glad to get them on the table quickly.
Per the publisher: “Jiguan – a form of ancient Chinese science and mechanical engineering. In the old days powerful weapons and machine of Jiguan were so advanced that the common people believes it to have mysterious powers. As a master mechanist in Jigūan: The Eastern Mechanist, it is your job to acquire parts, obtain energy, improve your skills and complete your creation. Your goal is to advance your place in the Five Pagodas, by creating unique mechanical beasts. Your creations not only bring you honor but also contribute to the advancement of Eastern civilization.Players must acquire parts to build mechanical beasts, so they can advance their place on the Five Pagodas, receive new blueprints or bonus cards. When the Parts supplies run out, the the current Period ends and score is calculated. There are two Periods in the game, at the end of the game the player with the most Honor Points (VP) wins.”
A bunch of stuff is done in setup. The 5-Pagoda board is placed on the table and a scoring token is placed on top of each. A multiplier token is placed at the bottom of each column. A board for gears in also put on the table with 10 piles being made of gear tokens. The blueprints are shuffled by color and 2 stacks of 5 are made for each color. Finally, the reward cards are also separated and shuffled, and each column of blueprints has 2 of each type of reward placed underneath. Finally, each player gets a Workshop Mat and an Assembly Mat (and 2 blueprints will start on the edge of this assembly mat).
The game is played in two rounds. Each round follows the same pattern, with turns in clockwise order, and there is scoring at the end of each round.
The active player starts by taking one of two choices: A] Get Gears and Buy Stuff or B] Complete a Mechanical Beast. During the turn, a player can choose to take unlimited exchanges. When the main action is over, players can score completed Mission cards. Finally, check to see if the round end is triggered and then replenish the reward card display.
To Get Gears and Buy Stuff: choose a house with a Gear on it on the Gear supply board, take the gear there, and then take the gear from an adjoining house. If no gear piece is available, you get the reward printed on the house (coin, energy or point). Place any acquired gears on empty spaces on your board (if your board is full you can remove existing gears to empty spaces), and then gain energy from any beast or blueprint cards on the horizontal, vertical or diagonal line of that spot. Then, you can choose to either use energy to buy a reward card or you can pay coins to buy a blueprint and place it on a slot on your board. The cost for either is seen on the two tracks of the workshop mat. Each time you make a purchase, you move your marker forward one slot to show the new price. As you reach the right end of each track, you could gain points with the movement of your marker.
To Complete a Mechanical Beast – you can choose to complete a Blueprint if there are 3 gears in the same line AND the value of the gears adds up to the exact number on the blueprint. You can then flip over the Blueprint to show the finished beast, and then discard two of the three gears used to make it. Additionally, on the Pagoda board, raise your level by 1 on the matching column and take any rewards as shown.
The end of the round is triggered when the last Gear is taken from the Gear board; taking the Airship to mark that he triggered the end. At that point, that player finishes his turn, and then every other player gets one more turn. Then there is a scoring phase.
· Airship – whoever has the airship gets 5 points
· Energy Dots – in the first round, score the white background multipliers; in the second round, score the black background multipliers – sum the energy dots on your Blueprints, Beasts and Reward cards in the matching colors and multiply them by the token.
· Pagoda Bonus – Bonuses are given to the player(s) on the highest level of each pagoda
· Rewards Cards – score as shown on the card
· Conversion – players can gain 1 point per coin and 2 points per blueprint removed. In the second round, convert all Energy left over 3:1 for coins and then convert those coins to points.
The second round starts with the player who had the Pagoda in the first round. It is played identically. The player with the most point at the end of the second round is the winner. Most coins is the tiebreaker.
My thoughts on the game
Whew, my first game of Jiguan was a brain burner. With rules, it took about 2.5 hours to play – there are a lot of things to think about here. You have the puzzle of taking gears and placing them on your board to build the blueprints; a mini-game of also placing the blueprints/gears in the right places so as to generate energy points. And, if that wasn’t enough, you also have an majority game over on the pagoda board, which is its own complicated thing. Sure, a lot of the game length was due to the fact we had a bunch of cards to digest, and sadly, the usual amount of rules questions from a first translation from Taiwan – but it was engrossing, and we all enjoyed working our way through the game.
Setup can be a bit fiddly, and it took us a good ten minutes to get things set up in the right places, etc. We’re still not entirely sure if we did the blueprints correct nor the reward cards, but everything worked in our game, so we’re going with it. Once you get started though, the game flow is simple – you only have two major choices, and each path is fairly straightforward.
I really liked the interaction on the gear board – placing blueprints and gears in the right places was a lot of fun for me. Sometimes, the gears available to you don’t work – and it’s helpful to have a completed blueprint row in waiting so you can choose to score the blueprint and wait for better gears. Of course, you don’t want to wait too long on a blueprint, because scoring it gives you lots of bonuses as well as extra energy dots that will come in handy in the future.
The pacing of the game is well designed. Early blueprints provide you with coins and energy (thru pagoda bonuses) which you need to get more blueprints. Later in the game, as you have more things on your gear board, you’ll be flush with energy as most placement turns will generate at least a few energy for you. At this time, completion of later blueprints will lead to victory points. Also, early on, many players take the instant reward cards to give them more supplies to build, and later in the game, there is a shift to the cards which provide victory point rewards at the end.
The components are good – though you may need to be careful to check that the shiny cards aren’t sticking to each other. The player mat reminds you of most of the things you need to remember, though I do wish there was a reminder of the scoring rubric for the end of each round (but I think I say this about most games). The rules are OK – lots of pictures to help – but there are still some questions left unanswered. In my experience, this is fairly common, but there are usually FAQs or updated rules put out quickly once the right questions have been answered. In fact, the publisher has invited gamers to download the rules and help proofread – but until the game is actually played, I think it’s hard to know where the rules might fall short.
If I hadn’t looked at the components, or if they were done in a more neutral fashion, this game could easily have been mistaken for a complex Italian co-designed game or maybe a lighter sort of Lacerda. There are a lot of interlocking mechanisms to deal with here – almost to the point that it makes you wonder if they all need to be there! I think that there are definitely gamers that gravitate towards these sorts of games, and this will be a great fit for them. No, it’s not as complex as Vinhos or Barrage… Maybe more like Grand Austria Hotel, Coimbra or Lorenzo il Magnifico. For me, this does not stray into the overly complex as to detract from the game, it is just at the right level. Now, I just await the rules questions to be answered!
Definitely a game to look out for at SPIEL 2019 if you like complexity. Be sure to have a large table at home though, you’re gonna need a lot of table real estate for this one.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Steph: I had a great time playing this one. I loved all of the choices and trying to puzzle out the best solution. This is a real hit for me and one I think will appeal to many gamers. I can’t wait to play this one again really soon!
James Nathan: This one was strongly not for me. But, Jiguan, it’s me not you. I would’ve liked a player aid and a graphic design tweak or two, but mechanically it was solid. I’m typically not a fan of games where you push up tracks as a side quest and I felt similarly about the card market. However, I can see many of my friends who enjoy med-heavy games enjoying this one quite a bit.
Until your next appointment
The Gaming Doctor
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