Unification of China is a Euro style area influence game chronicling the military campaigns and monumental works of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China.
The players serve as advisers to the Emperor and are tasked with conquering the seven Warring States and constructing such wonders as the Terracotta Army and the Great Wall.
Each player will commit soldiers, workers, and gold to these projects and provinces, competing with each other to gain favor with the Emperor and glory at the imperial court.
The Emperor’s Initiatives
During the game, players will perform actions in six interconnected project areas attempting to enrich themselves as well as the Qin Dynasty. The game features an innovative Yin & Yang -like system that presses players to weigh their Sacrifice for the Dynasty against their desire to pursue actions of Self-interest necessary to win the game.
The Great Wall
A significant public works project of Qin Shi Huang necessary to protect the region from foreign tribes in the North. Players can restore and unify a collection of scattered wall segments into what would become the Great Wall of China.
The Emperor’s Mausoleum
A massive city-sized mausoleum that took 38 years to complete. Players can complete sections of the project to gain favor and a wealth of resources.
The Terracotta Army
An army of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of the Emperor and protect him in the afterlife. Players can assemble terracotta warriors which can be strategically placed into areas near the Emperor’s Mausoleum.
The Shu Roads
A series of mountainous roads connecting the Qin state with agriculturally rich Sichuan Basin. Players can construct and travel these roads to gain strategic benefits and special abilities.
The Canal System
To encourage travel and trade between the unified provinces, a system of canals were used to spur economic development. Players can build canals which will allow them to exchange resources into more valuable scoring opportunities.
The Wars of Unification
At the time, the thought of conquering the seven warring states and unifying the region was believed to be an impossible task. As the Qin state grows in strength, players will conquer neighboring states and collect spoils of war, joining seven independent states into the Unification of China.
Six Things We Want You to Know about Unification of China
2-6 players, 90 minutes, ages 12+.
Unification of China is designed to support its entire range of player number without requiring any fiddly rules variations or creating virtual players. Smaller player counts might be associated with a relaxed and epic game, where each player can amass great influence in each region and project, while larger player counts might feel more frenetic and territorial, requiring players to specialize carefully. We enjoy playing it regardless of the number of players, and we hope you will too.
The game takes place over 6 rounds that last around 15 minutes each, for a total of about 90 minutes. We recognize that there are a lot of great games out there, so we worked hard to create a game that gives a full Euro-style strategic experience without monopolizing your entire evening.
There are enough novel ideas and mechanics in Unification of China that the game might be a little tricky for our younger gamers to appreciate. That said, there are no adult themes or explicit content, and we consider the subject matter appropriate for all ages.
The key mechanics are area majority and resource management.
The most common event that happens while playing Unification of China is players putting population cubes on the bagua, the arrangement of the yin/yang circle and eight fundamental trigrams that is central to Daoist thinking. These population cubes are allocated to various public works projects as workers or to the regions of China as soldiers. At the end of each turn, the player who has the most cubes in a given region or project is rewarded with points, money, good fortune in the form of yin and yang cards, or favor from the Emperor. As turns progress, the bagua rotates, opening new destinations for the population cubes.
These mechanics are established and well understood concepts in strategy games, but we put a unique and innovative spin on them. In particular, we explore a setting where having the plurality in the area in question is not necessarily preferable, as “winning” a region often necessitates sacrificing a cube, and ties can be broken, but often at great cost to the player who wants to claim priority. In terms of innovative resource management, we introduce the concept of the Emperor’s favor (see point 5 below) as a fungible resource, and even though sacrificed cubes are removed permanently from the game, their sacrifice does not go unnoticed by the Emperor, and even they may score points at the end of the game.
We take the cultural and historical context seriously.
In only twelve years, the First Qin Emperor unified China’s seven Warring States under one empire–a task long thought to be impossible; established monuments that we still associate with China today, including the Terracotta Army and the forerunner to the Great Wall; and still had time to pursue an obsessive dedication to making himself immortal by consuming mercury. We are fascinated with this moment in history and feel that it has not been showcased in Western popular culture, especially gaming, nearly enough.
Therefore, we wanted to give players as representative a sense of historical accuracy as possible. For example, certain projects are aligned with certain states because they were constructed in those states or using materials and resources from them. Regions become available for conquest corresponding to the historical campaigns of Qin Shi Huang. And you might notice the number 6 present in several rules and mechanics, inspired by the affinity for the number 6 in Daoism, which was codified into a formal belief system during the Warring States period.
We believe that designers who ask “I have a great design; how can I make it more thematic?” are asking the wrong question. Instead, we think the most compelling games start by asking “This is a fascinating idea; how do I make a game to represent it?”.
Our design is based on observations from years of analyzing strategy games.
If you’re new to Games Precipice, we have been blogging about game design since 2013. If long-form articles dissecting what makes great games so great sounds like your cup of tea, you’re in the right place! We realized that we keep coming back to a handful of core principles of game design, and we designed Unification of China keeping those firmly in mind.
Here are some of our favorite design principles:
- Not all strategically deep games are good, nor all complicated games bad; the more important measure is a game’s strategic depth relative to its rules complexity.
- No game should ever eliminate players by either de jure elimination from the game or de facto elimination caused by being impossibly far behind.
- The games with the most interesting themes are the ones where players actually do what the game tells them they’re ostensibly doing.
- Games should play similarly and provide a consistent experience no matter how many players are playing or how skilled they are.
- Every decision should be meaningful, and players should be able to understand how their choices affect the outcome of the game.
- There should never be a single dominant strategy; instead, games should have enough paths to victory and scoring opportunities that skilled execution, and neither memorizing a strategy nor blindly lucking into it, should determine who wins.
We hope that you’re nodding along with us, and if you are, we hope you see these principles clearly reflected in Unification of China.
You will need to carefully weigh self-interest against sacrifice for the greater good.
Unification of China is a competitive game, in which each player takes on the role of an imperial advisor who is trying to gain more favor with the Emperor than the other players. But the Emperor does not tolerate his advisors putting their own concerns ahead of that of the Qin state.
Therefore, the game also contains certain cooperative elements. For example, no player can construct the Great Wall alone, yet neglecting its construction leaves China vulnerable to attack. One unique mechanic that we have implemented to encourage players to work together is the scoring ceiling, in which the maximum score that any player can attain is limited based on the progress that the players have collectively contributed to the Emperor’s projects.
Another illustration of the yin-yang philosophy that rose to prominence in Qin Shi Huang’s era is a mechanic called the Emperor’s favor track, which ranks players from most to least favored at court. The most favored players are ones who declare their intentions openly (and earn the right to take the first turn), while the less favored players may work underhandedly to react to what their fellow advisors are planning. In situations where two players have the same amount of influence on a project or in one of the Warring States, the player who is more favored can take the bulk of the credit–at the cost of reducing his own standing with the Emperor.
Fans of Euro games might recognize some mechanical nods to our favorite designers.
We’re big fans of Stefan Feld’s capacity to create games with a multitude of viable mechanics, no incorrect choices, lots of ways to score points and gain resources, and an extent of player interaction that is up to the players themselves. So we have been delighted throughout the playtest process to have Unification of China compared favorably to Feld’s games, including Castles of Burgundy and (especially) Trajan, along with other medium-heavy Euro greats such as Terra Mystica and Puerto Rico.
We look forward to sharing some of the design, playtesting and collaborative development lessons we’ve had over the course of creating this game in the months to come.