I love Asian history. Growing up in the US, schools didn't really teach me much of what happened on basically an entire hemisphere of the planet. It wasn't until I started working on a history degree that I was finally able to take some Eastern Civ. classes.
The good people at Thinking Past sent me a prototype of their game to try out.
So grab your silk and rice and set sail for adventure. It's time for another TGN Review. This time, it's Fujian Trader.
Fujian Trader puts you in control of a powerful merchant family in China in the year 1620. Traveling from a multitude of ports, your family is looking to gain the most influence in terms of areas they control and the acquisition of silver via trading rice, silk, and iron. Storm clouds are on the horizon, however, and soon the Manchu will invade from the north, bringing chaos and destruction with them. Only the house with the most influence will be able to survive.
Fujian Trader is a resource acquisition and management game. It has aspects that put it in the same category as Settlers of Catan, with some elements of Risk thrown in. The game seats 3-5 players and an average game will take about 2 hours.
The set sent to me was a prototype, so I won’t go too much into the quality of the pieces, as it’s very likely they will change between now and when the game gets to your table, but I’ll still go over what is included in the game. There’s quite a lot of pieces inside.
- Game Board: this is a recreation of what is currently the oldest-known trading map of the region. The different ports of call are printed in various colors, depending on which region they belong to (more on why they’re like that in a bit). Also, many Chinese provinces are on the map. The provinces are either white, light grey, or dark grey (again, more on why later).
- Event Cards: this is the timer for the game. There are 10 total, including 3 Manchu Move cards. Every round (other than the first), a new Event card is flipped. Events change some fundamental parts of the game, like a famine that makes certain areas of the board not produce rice, but increases the cost that rice can be sold for at markets in those areas. The timer aspect comes in to play when the 3rd Manchu Move card is flipped, signifying the last 3 rounds of the game have started. Since the deck is shuffled at the start of the game, it’s unknown when, exactly, the Manchu will begin their invasion.
- Fortune Cards: To use a couple terms from Magic: The Gathering, these are the Instants and Effects of the game. Players can purchase these during their turn, and they grant a variety of bonuses, such as giving you a bonus to a roll when taking over a port or increasing production of a certain good at a port.
- Port Cards: There is one card for each port on the map. The ports are color-coded for which region they are in. Each region contains 4 ports. The control of ports is the main way players acquire goods during the game. Players show ownership of the port by having the card associated with it, as well as placing their House markers on the port.
- Province Cards: There are 17 provinces, divided into 3 regions (white, light grey, and dark grey). Players may purchase provinces when they are at Fujian. Provinces are much like Ports in that they’ll supply resources to the player who controls them. They also provide a bonus to movement, attack, or defense depending on which region the province is in.
- The Manchu Dragon: This represents the Manchu invasion as it works down from the North, causing the provinces to collapse and no longer provide bonuses to the players.
- Boats and House markers: There are 5 different color boats and house markers. The boats are used as the main game pieces to show what port a player is at, while the house markers are used to show ownership of ports and provinces.
- Silver pieces: Silver is the main currency of the game. It can be used to purchase ports or provinces, or stored to gain influence at the end of the game.
- Colored Goods Pieces: There are 3 goods in the game: rice, iron, and silk. Each good is represented by a specific color of piece. When a player acquires goods, they get the corresponding pieces. Those goods are then traded for silver or wagered during revolts at ports.
- 1 Region Die: There are 6 regions in the game. Each side of the die is colored to represent one of the regions on the board. This is used to determine the region that produces goods during a player’s turn, also for when a random region is needed for certain Events.
- 2 Regular Dice: These are your standard D6, though then numbers are in Chinese. 1-3 are easy enough to figure out, but if you don’t know 4-6, you’ll need to learn those. Or just use your favorite standard dice instead.
- 5 Silver Storage Pouches: When a player stores their silver, they put it into these pouches to keep track. Very handy to make sure you don’t accidentally start spending your saved silver during the game.
- 5 Exchange Rate cards: Different regions buy good for different prices. These cards help you keep track of what price your goods will fetch at the various ports.
Setting Up the Game:
Set up for the game involves setting up the board and separating out all the pieces. Players pick the family they want to represent and take the appropriate boat and house markers. All the port cards are shuffled, and some are dealt out to the players (3 players = 5 ports each, 4 players = 4 ports each, 5 players = 3 ports each). Those represent the beginning of your trading empire. The remaining ports are set aside. Players receive goods equal to what all their ports produce in rice, silk, and iron. The Event cards are shuffled and separated into a stack of 3 and a stack of 4. The 3 Manchu Move cards are then shuffled with the stack of 3. Then, the stack of 4 Event cards goes onto the stack of 6 you just created. That is then placed at the top of the game board. This is to guarantee at least 5 rounds (there is no Event card in the first round of play) before the first Manchu move card shows up, and nobody knows when the 3rd one will flip, thus starting the invasion. With that done, each player is dealt 2 Fortune cards while the rest of the deck is placed on the board. Finally, players place their boat at a port they control to signify where they will start the game.
The first thing a player does on their turn is roll the Region die. The color that comes up signifies the region that produces goods that turn. Every player who has a port or ports in that region gains resources from them, even if it’s not their turn. So it’s a good idea to have a port in every region, if possible, so you know you’ll always be getting some sort of resource.
Once goods have been distributed, the player whose turn it is can decide whether they want to move their ship to a new port or to Fujian. Players can move up to 3 spaces on the board. However, if you move between two ports controlled by the same player, they can impose a tax, taking one good of any type from you. Once you’ve moved, you can sell goods. Different regions will purchase goods for different prices. For example, you can sell 2 silk for 1 silver in Sumatra, but it takes 4 silk to get 1 silver in Siam. Iron can only be traded at ports labeled as Arsenals. Iron is always traded 2 Iron for 1 Silver, regardless of region. You don’t have to only trade at ports you control. It can be one controlled by another player, or one that’s not controlled by anyone. Also, you can only sell up to 12 pieces of your goods, no matter what price you get for them. So it promotes trying to get to the right port to get the best price for your goods, but sometimes time requires you to sell goods at a less-than-optimal price.
But what about expanding your trading empire and bringing more ports under your control? There are 2 ways a player can do so. The first is simple: if a port doesn’t have any house in control of it, it can be purchased for 2 silver (but only if you have your ship at that port). Just pay your 2 silver to the bank and you get control of it and the resources it produces. If the port is controlled by another player, however, you must incite a rebellion. First, the attacking player must spend 1 rice and 1 iron to initiate the rebellion. Then, they may wager resources in order to add to their die roll. For each rice or iron they spend, they can get +1 to their roll. Once they say how much they are going to spend, the defender can also spend resources to affect their die roll. But for them, they can spend iron for a +1, or they can spend silk in order to negate an equal number of rice their opponent spent. For example, say an attacker spends 3 iron and 3 rice. Their opponent could spend 3 silk to cancel out the 3 rice (or 1 or 2, if that’s all they wanted to spend/all they had), but they can’t cancel out the iron. They could spend their own iron, though, to add to their roll. Once both players have said how much they are spending, each rolls 2d6 and adds any bonus to their roll. The player with the highest number takes control of the port (with ties going to the defender). If the attacker wins, they gain control of the port and can sell goods on their turn. If the defender wins, the attacking player can’t sell goods that turn, and the defending player gets half the iron (rounded up) that was spent during the rebellion attempt.
Provinces work a little differently from ports. First, they aren’t distributed at the start of the game. They can only be purchased. Second, you cannot cause a rebellion in an opponent’s province. To buy a province, a player moves their ship to Fujian and pays the associated silver cost for it (each province has their cost listed on the board as well as on their card). A province always produces goods on a player’s turn, regardless of what region they roll. Note: a province only produces on that particular player’s turn, and not on every player’s turn of the game. Provinces not only provide goods, but also a bonus. White provinces let you move an extra space during your turn. Light grey gives you a +1 bonus to port defense rolls. Dark grey gives you a +1 bonus to port attack rolls.
Controlling certain provinces also allows you to store silver at various points during the game. If you control a white province, you can store silver at the end of any of your turns. If you control a light grey province, you can store silver only when the Manchu have taken over the white provinces. If you control a dark grey province, you can only store silver when the Manchu have taken over the light grey provinces. So it’s a good idea for a player to buy a white province early so they can make sure their silver is safely stored.
Fortune Cards can have an effect on almost all aspects of the game. One of the most interesting types of Fortune cards create alliances between players. Mostly, these come in the form of extra goods produced for the two players involved in the alliance. Other players may know an alliance has been made, but aren’t always told what the alliance does. Alliances last until one player in the alliance causes a rebellion in another player’s port. They’re an interesting twist thrown into the game that can turn the tide of the game, in terms of a player’s strategy.
Ending the Game and Scoring:
All of this joyful trading and sailing and rebellion-ing is only a temporary thing, though. The Manchu are coming. When the 3rd Manchu Move card is flipped from the Event deck, it signifies the start of the last 3 rounds of the game. The turn order is reversed for these last 3 rounds (so the first player is now the last player and vice-versa). First, the white provinces collapse and any bonuses and goods from them are no longer received. The next round, the light grey provinces fall. Finally, the dark grey provinces are captured and the game ends.
So how do you decide who has the most influence at the end of the game? That’s decided via a handy chart. You gain influence from owning ports (with a bonus for owning all of the ports in a region) and trade routes (owning two adjacent ports), having saved silver, having goods (though having silver is much better than having raw goods leftover), and even having leftover Fortune cards. The player with the highest total at the end wins and can now serve their new Manchu leaders.
So what do I think about Fujian Trader? Well, I’m generally seen as a bit of a gaming curmudgeon. While there a lot of games out there, and many that I think are good, there’s only a very few that I want to own copies of and actively seek out games of. Fujian Trader is one of those games. The mechanics are very simple, but give you a lot of options for what you want to do on your turn and what strategies you want to employ to get silver. The game can be a bit long (our first game took 3 hours), but it didn’t feel like it was that long. It was more like, “Ok, we’re done. What time is it? Oh man! It’s been 3 hours!” It went by very fast because we were having such a good time. I can’t wait for this game to come out and plan on getting a copy as soon as I can. The game is up on Kickstarter. Go check it out.