Hamburgum and Chang Cheng

Back in early January, I’d taken some time to pull the shrink and sort out the bits in my copy of Hamburgum. Well, it’s been roughly three months and I haven’t managed to get it to the table yet and I’m a bit bummed. So today I decided to pull it out again, and play a four player game solo to not only teach myself the game again but to get a better feel for how the game works.

The game has several noteworthy features; the first being that there is no luck/randomness and no hidden information in the game. There are no cards to shuffle, no dice to roll, no tiles to flip up. On your turn, you’ve got to decide what to do based completely on your own wits. Win, lose, or draw…it’s up to you.

The second noteworthy feature is the rondel. In the upper left-hand corner of the board there exists a circle divided into named segments: guildhall, dockyard, trade (x2), church, sugar, cloth, and beer. Each player has a token on one of the segments representing your position and on your turn you can move your token clockwise around the rondel stopping on the segment named for the action you wish to take. You can pay victory points to move farther but you get to move up to three segments for free. The rondel is a very clever mechanic for keeping your options naturally limited yet all options are available to you albeit at a cost.

Hamburgum’s design is based on what I would describe as a victory point tree. At the root, you’ve got the three product types: beer, sugar, and cloth. You must periodically stop your rondel token on these items to produce the appropriate type of good. Although it’s not the only way to make money, you must produce goods and ship them to market on subsequent turns by stopping your token on the trade segment. A small chart on the board tracks the value of goods when shipped. Moving up the victory point tree, to ship goods you’ll need ships. Stopping your token on the dockyard allows and caching in ‘lumber’ allows you to build ships. There are only three harbor spaces for ships and the space is limited. As ships fill up the docks, other ships get pushed towards the open see and eventually go back into your hand to be built again. The farther a ship is away from the dock the less good is can carry. So, although you may have goods to ship, you may not have the necessary ships to take them to market.

Moving farther up the victory point tree, to build ships to allow you to obtain cash for you goods, you’ll need ‘lumber’ and to get lumber you’ll need to have cash to buy it. When you stop on one of the two trade rondel segments, you’re allowed to either buy materials or ship goods. Materials available are bricks, lumber, and a church bell (you’re only allowed one of those at a time). Another chart on the board details the cost of buying those goods. So we know lumber is good for ships but what else is it good for and what the heck do you do with bricks and that bell?

Another segment on the rondel is the guildhall which lets you build buildings and place a citizen token on the board. On the right side of the board are stacks of different kinds of buildings that can be built and there types are depicted on the board in a network of connected locations including the churches. When you build a building you’ll need a brick and a piece of lumber. You place the building in front of you and you place a citizen on the board covering the kind of building you’ve built. Sounds pretty easy but there’s a bit more to it than that. The goal is to build the churches and you’re limited to what buildings you can build during the early part of the game by rules governing the connectectness of your citizens. You’re only allowed to build buildings if the placed citizen is connected through one of the lines on the board to one of your existing citizens or back to a church you’ve donated to.

So moving to up almost the top of the victory point tree we have the church donations. The church rondel segment allows players to donate to one of the churches. The value of the donation is variable. At the beginning of the game, all churches have five donation tokens stacked in a specific arrangement along the bottom of the board and the first donation (a brick) grants the player the top donation token (5 victory points). Subsequent donations to that same church allow the player to take one of the remaining donation tokens but the cost of the donation goes up each time (brick and stick, brick and stick plus $20, brick and stick plus $40, brick, stick and bell, plus $10 x # of citizens). So now you see what the bell is used for…that final donation to the church. When all donation tokens have been made, the church is finished and the purple church token is placed on the board. The player making the final donation gets a bonus in victory points: 8 for the first church, 7 for second, …

So why do you want those donation tokens? Well, at the top of the victory point tree are those tokens. They provide victory point multipliers to other things you’ve collected or done during the game. They grant, for example two times the number of ships you have in the harbor, four times the number of citizens you have in that church’s region, 1 times the number of specific building you’ve built, etc. They work a bit like the cards in Stone Age. When you collect specific cards you try to maximize the other feature the cards multiply for you. There are additional rules concerning when you exercise this multiplier since you are not always allowed or it may not be in your best interest to wait until the end of the game.

The game is over when all churches are built. You count up your multiplier points sell your leftover goods and building materials for victory points and the player with the most points wins. Although I only played a solo game I can see that I’ll like it. There are some tough decisions to make and the rondel is just damn clever. Donations at first may seem like more of an end game tactic but you can’t ignore them or set them aside. The game hinges on those donations. As an added bonus, the board is double-sided so if you get board with one side, you can always play the game with a different layout. The game also comes with a different stack of one type of building you can use as a variant. Although it probably sounds rather complicated, it is rather easy to play once you get the hang of it. Clocking in at 75 minutes it’s surprisingly short for what it is.

I did make a few mistakes during play which isn’t surprising given the number of bits you contend with. I kept forgetting to place a citizen on the board when I built a building. This is key to not only tracking the validity of your move (until you’ve completed a church) but the number of citizens on the board as well as their placement affects other players in not only limiting their moves but also the payout of some items. I also paid out the donation tokens incorrectly by not limiting their impact to their source church region. That was a huge mistake but now I know. The rules also state some limitations on when you’re forced to exercise a donation token (cash it in for victory points) and was assuming that all ‘building’ tokens were of a different type. However, after some digging on BGG, I realize that you should consider all buildings, regardless of their ‘style’ as of the same donation token type. In other words, you cannot possess an unexercised sugar production building donation token and a brewer production building donation token. Since they’re both of type ‘building’ you must cash one of them in for victory points.

Okay, I’m rambling, I know but it’s my blog so I can do what I want here. I recently won a game in a BGG auction and was glad to have it arrive late last week. Chang Cheng is somewhat of a sleeper on BGG. Published in 2007, the game pits 2-4 players for 60 minutes in a contest to build the Great Wall of China. Player attempt to earn more victory points than their opponents by paying more wall segments in the different regions on the board. Chang Cheng is a relatively standard area majority game but there are some twists.

Most notable are the modular boards and the three-dimensional wall segments. Regardless of the number of players the game starts out with two, randomly chosen boards placed side-by-side. Each board is divided into regions requiring different number of blocks to complete and each region is worth a specific number of points depicted on the board. However, when the board is placed on the table, small chips are randomly chosen and each region receives a chip designating some additional points the region will be worth in this particular game. As the building of the wall progresses, some regions will have all of their block segments filled triggering and immediate scoring of the region. The player with the majority of blocks in the wall of that region gets the points for the region.

Now, if that’s all there was to the game it would stink badly. However, lucky for us, there’s more…much more. Each player begins the game with wall segments, a tower, a double wall segment, and a set of identical action ‘cards’ which look like big tongue depressors. And on your turn you can place these cards in different regions of the board (face down). When you score a region, you turn up the cards, evaluate them and then decide who has majority. The cards allow for special things to happen before scoring (e.g. act as if you’d laid another block in this region, make the region worth two less points, cancel another action card, swap two wall segments, …). In addition, the cards have a pecking order requiring a particular order to the evaluation. It reminds me somewhat of the hidden territory cards in Mission: Red Planet with a hint of the special tiles in Samurai.

You must play your cards wisely throughout the game since once played you can’t play them again. And since everyone starts the game with the same set of cards, there is a meta-game aspect to knowing what card you might want to play in a region to counteract a card laid by another player.

On your turn, you can do one of several things: place two regular blocks in two different regions, place two cards in two different regions, place one regular block and one card in the same region, place your tower or your double block. The tower has a special rule that if possible you must reserve a spot for a like colored regular block next to the tower.

Seems pretty straight-forward right? Place your cards and blocks along the boards and grab your points after resolving the cards. But…there’s more. After the first three regions are scored, you add another module board opening up new regions for the game. When four players play, a fourth board is added when the next three regions are scored.

So, that’s got to be it right? Nope. At the end of the game, the Mongols attack. On the other side of the wall, there are regions depicted much like on the Chinese side of the wall with the exception that the regions on each side of the wall don’t directly align. As each board is added to the game a set of chips are randomly chosen and one is placed in each Mongol region. These chips always represent negative points. Who gets these points? The player(s) who majority in the region depicted on the Mongol side of the wall. So winning a region on the Chinese side puts you in contention for being the majority holder when the Mongols attack but given that the regions don’t align you may be able to finagle the cards such that you still win but other players take the Mongol hit instead of you. Of course, the other players are trying to do the same to you.

Chang Cheng feels like it’s a neat game. Simple to teach and it looks gorgeous when done. There are no turn summary cards but I printed some off from BGG and glued them to some extra chipboard I had from making my Tigris 2-player board. Although mechanically simple to play, playing well may be rather difficult. There are numerous random features of the game that it may be difficult to determine a smart move over just a valid move. Certainly some real plays of the game will expose that pretty quickly.

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