Dale Yu: Review of Terracotta Army

Terracotta Army

  • Designers: Przemysław Fornal, Adam Kwapiński
  • Publisher: Board&Dice
  • Players: 1-4
  • Age: 14+
  • Time: 90-120 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by publisher

terracotta army

To start, the TL;DR intro from the publisher:

Emperor Qin Shi Huang has passed away. To protect him in the afterlife, a great army in the form of statues of faithful warriors must be assembled to stand guard in the Emperor’s tomb. You will be among those tasked with building this magnificent army.

In Terracotta Army, you represent talented craftsmen and artists laboring to build the wondrous assembly of statues. During the game, you collect resources, upgrade your workers, and seek favor with the Emperor’s advisors. Your goal is to play a crucial role in the process of creating the terracotta army, and your success is measured in victory points (VPs). During the game, you and your fellow players build the army together, but after the fifth round of the game is over, only one of you — the one with the most points — will stand as the winner.

During the game, you place warrior miniatures within the mausoleum, forming groups. A group’s miniatures may belong to multiple players as denoted by the player bases on those miniatures. Multiple separate groups consisting of the same type of miniature may exist within the mausoleum.

You will have many opportunities to score points based on domination and presence. To achieve domination, you must be the only player with the most of the specific resource or type of statue currently being scored. (If you are the only player, you have domination.) To have presence, you must have at least one of the specific resource or type of statue currently being scored.

At the end of the fifth round, the player with the most VPs wins.

terracotta army bits

Ready to learn more?  I was after a short demo at GenCon 2022, and this was one of my most anticipated games to get to the table as a result!  The board is placed on the table, and the action rings are affixed to the board to give you a three-level rotating action thingy.  One scoring tile for each round is randomized onto the round track, and each of the Inspector tracks has an inspector placed on the first space of the track. 

All of the miniatures are organized in their allotted spaces; either on the board itself or on the Warrior Organizer box.  Each player chooses a color and takes all the bits of their color.  Note that you have two types of workers, the smaller Craftsmen and the larger Artisans.   Each player also starts with 4 weapon tokens and 3 coins. Starting order is randomized and players get clay and coins based on their starting position.

The game is played over 5 rounds; each with 3 phases: Action, Scoring, Cleanup.  There is some end game scoring at the end of the 5th round.

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In the action phase, players – in turn – place a worker around the action wheel on the game board.  Before they do this, they can choose to rotate one of the two action rings one space in the direction indicated by the arrows on that ring.  It costs 2 coins to do this.  The worker is now placed on any empty space around the wheel (each segment of the wheel has 2 possible spaces).  If the spaces are empty, you can freely place there.  If one of the spaces is occupied by a craftsman, only an Artisan can be placed on the second spot.  If an Artisan is already present, then no further workers can be placed on that segment.  Finally, going from the inside ring to outer ring, you choose to perform the depicted action or pass.  For the innermost two rings, you could also choose to take 1 Wet Clay or 1 coin instead of the depicted action.

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There are many different action possibilities on the three rings:

  • Gain Coins or Wet Clay
  • Convert all your dry clay to wet clay
  • Convert your Craftsman to an Artisan
  • If you have a master token played to this area, take the special ability; if not, pay to place a master token into the matching area
  • Pay Clay to make a Warrior figure and place it in the Mausoleum – choose any type of warrior, place your color base on it, and then place it in the Mausoleum. If you have the weapon token of this type of warrior activated, you can spend the token and take the special ability associated with that weapon.
  • Ready a weapon token
  • Spend coins and weapon to buy a Specialist figure and place it in the Mausoleum

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The four types of Specialist figures do not get a colored base; in fact their bases are non-square so that you can’t mistakenly do so.  Each type of Specialist has its own ability. 

  • Horse – this is a 3×1 figure and one of your previously placed warriors gots on the empty space here.  That warrior is now said to occupy all 3 spaces of the Horse footprint.
  • Footman – At the end of the game, score points for having a majority of figures in the 8 adjacent spaces to the Footman
  • Kneeling Archer – The kneeling Archer is placed so that it faces another warrior, and it becomes that type for scoring.  The Kneeling Archer will also break ties for majorities
  • Musician – in every scoring phase, each player scores 1VP for each of their warriors in the same row or column as the Musician

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On a turn, each player places a single worker and then does the actions in the segment where the worker was placed. Then, the next player takes their turn.  When all players have played all their workers, the round moves into the scoring phase.  In the scoring phase, points will be scored in three ways:

  • Inspectors – The Inspector on the left of the area scores for the number of Warriors in its row.  For Domination (having the most of any player), gain 7VP.  For Presence (being in the row and not Dominating), gain 3VP.  After scoring, move the Inspector one space further.  Repeat the process for the Inspector on the bottom, this time using the associated column in the mausoleum.
  • Musicians – Each player scores 1VP for each Warrior in the same row or column as the Musician.
  • Scoring Tiles – Each round had a random scoring tile placed on the track at the start of the game.  Score based on the criteria on the specific tile.  The VP value for Dominance and Presence are printed on the board below the tile.

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Finally, the round ends with the cleanup phase. Change the turn order based on Priority markers gained during the round.  Players without a Priority token go last, keeping the same relative turn order.  All players flip their Wet Clay tokens to the Dry side (some Masters afford some protection here).  Gain coins for Masters if they given them to you.  Take your workers back, move each wheel one space in the appointed direction and start a new round.  Repeat this 5 times.

At the end of the 5th round, there is some Endgame scoring.

  • Score each Footman, 8 for domination around it, 2 for Presence around it
  • Remove any warriors not in groups and then score each group.  Each Warrior is worth VP equal to the number of different players in that group.  Then, 5VP for Domination of the group, 2VP for presence in the group.
  • Each Kneeling Archer is worth 2VP to the piece it is facing
  • 1 VP per each 2 leftover clay or coin

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The player with the most points wins. Ties broken in favor of Turn Order at the end of the game.

My thoughts on the game

Terracotta Army is another in the evergrowing line of strategy games from Board&Dice.  Because it starts with the letter T, some people are putting this in the same T family as Teotihuacan, Tekhunu, Tawantinsuyu, etc.  To start, I would say that this game should not be in that grouping; it is not nearly as complex as the aforementioned T games.  Terracotta Army is rated also near two hours, but it doesn’t feel as complicated.  It was much more reminiscent of Origins: First Builders.  Interestingly, the designer of Origins is one of the co-designers of this game, so that might explain some of the similarities.

I was immediately drawn to the game given the theme given my love of ancient history as well as my personal background.  It was one of the games being highlighted in the B&D booth at GenCon ‘22, and the game was in constant play.  I did get a short demo of it while I was perusing the booth, and this was one of my most anticipated games to play after the show.

While each of the particular actions is fairly simple, there is a lot to think about as you play the game.  In any given turn (or round), you have to figure out which actions you want to take, and whether or not this will involve you turning the action wheel or not.  When doing this, I’d be sure to take a second to look at the other combinations that you are leaving behind as well – as you don’t want to necessarily leave a super juicy play for the next person either!  Also, you’ll have to weigh the cost; 2 gold pieces doesn’t sound like a lot – but money can get fairly tight in this game, so need to keep a very close eye on it. You’ll also need coins to place your special action markers as well as buy special statues.

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In any event, you’ll spend some actions gaining resources (clay, coins) as well as taking actions to make warriors and place them in the mausoleum.  As you would expect, there are multiple things to consider here as well.  Short term, there is the scoring criteria for the current round.  Some of the figures, such as the archer, can score nice bonus points with clever placements.  Oh, and you’ll also score for the inspectors each round – though these guys move around a good bit each round, so it’s not necessarily certain which row and column will score.  Long term, you will also score points for the composition of the group where a statue is found as well as points for dominance/presence in a group.

All of the mechanisms are nicely woven together, and there is the constant feeling in the game that you want to do multiple things on each turn, but you’re limited to only the actions you are able to get lined up on the action wheel.  If you are able to convert some of your workers to the larger Artisans, you will open up a bit more flexibility in your action choice (or gain the ability to block out other players) – but it will cost you one of your regular actions to make that transition; this is another thing which you will have to weigh the pros/cons on…

I really liked this game because of the puzzle that you have to solve each turn/round. – trying to figure out how to maximize your actions.  In a 3p game, you only get 20 turns (so 60 actions).  Some of those actions will just be turning wheel actions that you can’t use into wet clay or coins (and you’ll surely pass on a number of outer wheel actions which cannot be converted); so you should try to make the most of what you’ve got.

Do you use your coins to move the wheels and get better actions?  Or will your money be better used on the Masters; the special actions afforded by them can be quite strong, as well as the end of round bonuses.  Coins can also be used for the special statues, and each of them can really swing the mausoleum game in your favor.  One trick that we’ve now seen a few times is to get a Footman in a corner adjacent to a previously placed piece.  There are only 3 possible spaces next to it, and one is already occupied by your piece; putting you in the drivers seat for an 8 point payoff.  The kneeling archers can also be a very strong move as there are a lot of ties in the game, and the tiebreaker benefit is very strong.  Pay careful attention to the inventory as there aren’t many of each special statue.

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Graphically, the game looks great on the table.  The statues (and the box they come in) is really neat, and seeing all the figures lined up on the board is also attractive to the eye.  I will admit that it can become really crowded on the mausoleum board and it may take you a bit of time to look at the pieces to figure out the groupings, etc.  On the downside, nearly 50% of the board isn’t really used, and this means there is a large board with an action wheel in one corner and the mausoleum next to it in the other corner.  The players who are sitting near the special actions and the masters have a long way to look to see the information they need in those other areas.  Admittedly, there isn’t a solution for this because even if each of the features were on a separate board, they would still be closer to some people and further away from others.  What I would recommend is that you orient the board so that players who have a harder time seeing stuff are closer to either the action wheel or the mausoleum.

Like many other recent B&D games, there are plenty of rules reminders on the board; almost everywhere you look, you’ll see references to the scoring or special abilities of the different pieces.  However, I still wish there was a player aid to put all the info in a single place for easier reference.  Additionally, the final scoring isn’t recapped anywhere on the board; and this is a vital bit of information that players need for their long term strategies.  

The rules are thick (again, as with many of the recent B&D games), and for the most part, I’m liking their style.  First is a few pages of the illustrated component manifest. Then the setup, with nicely labeled examples.  Then, I’m still getting used to the section of key concepts, where they tell you a few things about the game without telling you yet how to play.  Then the game rules, then the solo rules.  In the end, having the key concepts before the rules is an advantage when you’re reading the rules the first time, but I still find that it makes it harder to look stuff up because some of the information you want is not physically on the same page as the rest of the rules of that part of the game; but like I said, I’m getting used to the format, and for as complex as the B&D games tend to be, we don’t have that many questions in our first games, which means that the rules are doing what they are supposed to do; namely instruct us on how to actually play the game.

The physical components are well done.  The plastic molded statues are nice, and while there are all drab shades; the different coloring helps you more easily identify groupings of like statue types on a crowded mausoleum board.  The only component complaint I have is that the little plastic bits used to affix the wheels to the board were glued to the inside edges of my warrior box; and there was no explanation in the rules as to where I might find those things.  Heck, one of the bits ended up glued behind one of the dividers and I ended up tearing my warrior box in one small place trying to retrieve the necessary black plastic bit.  Not sure why those two little things weren’t supplied in a plastic baggie like all the other bits.

Our first games have moved pretty quickly; no more than 30 minutes per player; and I would expect this time to come down a little bit with increasing familiarity with the game.  During that time, though, the game is engrossing, and the game gives you plenty to think about – both on your turn and between turns.  There is definitely the opportunity for Analysis Paralysis if you are prone to that, made slightly worse by the fact that you often can’t fully plan until your turn start – the orientation of the wheels, the action spots left free, the placement of statues in the interim, the positioning of the Inspectors, and about 100 other things all might change your view of your possible actions on a turn.  But, don’t think that this a bad thing; the game mechanics are woven together tightly, and at the end of my most recent game, I think all the players were a bit surprised at the length of the game (95 minutes for 3p) as we didn’t feel like it had been that long – so engrossed were we in the playing of the game.

For now, this is probably my favorite of the B&D lighter fare; it definitely should stay under my personal 2 hour game length limit; and it already has the feel of something that I will want to play again and again.  

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Chris Wray (1 Play): Board & Dice is a tense, think-y, and fairly intuitive twist on the worker placement genre.  The game is still decently heavy, but it is helped along with a solid rulebook. Dale is right to praise the rulebook: it is one of the better ones this year.  And he’s also right that this is perhaps the best “T” game from Board and Dice. I can see why this was so popular at Gen Con this year.

Dan B. (1 play): I thought the overall system was interesting – and I liked it more than those of the more complex “T” games – but a lot of the details I thought were not great and showed a lack of polish. E.g. the masters did not seem well-balanced and there was very little to do on the last round. I’d play it again to give it a fair chance but I don’t expect it will be a favorite.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

I love it! Dale Y, Steph H

I like it. Chris Wray, John P

Neutral. Dan B

Not for me.

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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3 Responses to Dale Yu: Review of Terracotta Army

  1. Nice wrap up, Dale! I scheduled a teach-and-play of Terracotta Army with Reiner Alfers from B&D with the Beans & Dice krewe at Dice Tower Con East 2022 — it was my #1 most anticipated game to play. It did not disappoint, although to be honest, I did not grok the scoring mechanic until the last round or two despite the excellent teach from Reiner. I didn’t get to geaux to Gen Con so don’t have a copy yet, but I’m looking forward to digging into this more. I love that B&D are putting out these weight games, as Origins: First Builders gets better and better with every play (three plays so far and counting).

  2. 2 hour game limit so how on earth do you like this with the AP machine that is the action wheel and the constant stop start scoring system………….. also how can you praise a rulebook that doesn’t even give you a decent reference aid……….and no aids per player?! Really?!

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