I will say outright that since acquiring this game I have not won a single game. After many, many rounds of difficult learning curve I found myself winning a couple of games. Yet, I still find myself compelled and intrigued by the game, hoping that I will experience some kind of revelation where the strategy will make itself known to me. Perhaps it’s an exercise in futility, perhaps it’s an exercise in superstition. What worries me is I am consistently defeated on the *easiest* setting of the game. Buyers beware, this is not a game for the beginner gamer.
Conveniently, there is a intro blurb in the rules documentation that will explain the theme and concept of the game, like so (click for larger version):
So you are one of four taoist monks, attempting to thwart the incarnation of Wu-Feng from terrorising the village. The village itself is composed of a 3×3 grid of buildings, which can be rearranged in a modular fashion. Each of the buildings has a special power that can aid you in the fight against Wu-Feng. Around this grid of buildings are the player boards, and all four will be laid down regardless of how many monks are in the game. The unused boards are neutral boards, and (like your own board) will represent one of four directions where ghosts will vex and curse your village.
Ghosts come in one of two varieties, they are either haunter ghosts, where they advance towards the board and (if they successfully reach the board) will cause it to flip over a tile in front of them. If three tiles are flipped in this manner, the monks lose the game (as you will find, one of a number of ways to meet defeat). The other type of ghosts are tormentor ghosts that have a special effect on them that plagues you or the village.
To defeat these ghosts, monks must move to a tile adjacent to that ghost, and attack it. You can use a combination of dice and tao tokens (and other special effects, coming from the village and monk special powers) to attempt to defeat these apparitions. If you can manage to survive this onslaught long enough, eventually the incarnation of Wu-Feng will appear (the 10th last card of the ghost deck), which is effectively an uber-powerful ghost that will test you at a likely critical point of the game.
I won’t go into detail about all all the aspects of gameplay, but will instead direct you to a series of four videos produced by a person on Board Game Geek. It will give you a really good summary of the game and introduce you to all the elements of the game:[More videos at the end of this review]
The reason this game is such a challenge is because of the complexity of all the elements. There is a very large scope of actions and activities that a tandem of players can do. The fact that there is a constant onslaught of ghosts that you struggle to keep up with to banish just tends to overload the game. The winning strategy of this game revolves around players actually working together in a cooperative fashion and using their resources carefully and cleverly. Sometimes the best move is to do everything in your turn to aid another player before a ghost acts in a terrible and critical fashion. The other strategy that works (I am lead to understand) is for the various monks to specialise in a particular colour of ghost.
What stands out about this game is that they bring the complexity of this game successfully to the iPad. The graphics are a perfect port of the board’s own graphics. This is a great choice as part of the enjoyment of this game is the lavish graphics. There are a number of places where they’ve been more efficient with the space of the images, which help to reduce crowding of the board. A good example is the haunter ghosts; on the original game, the player boards are taller and the haunting movements spill out from off the card onto that board. In this port, all those spaces are well within the confines of the square spaces reserved for the player boards.
Additionally, there is a spy-glass that allows you to get a quick brief on any aspect of the board to quickly revise your knowledge of the game. Understandably this is vital for making coherent decisions at the start of your turn. Effectively, each turn you’ll need to make strategic decisions and try to take into account all the variables and mentally figure out the consequences of your actions.
Oh yeah, they fixed the issue below with the latest update (October, 11)
One of the aspects of the implementation that I don’t quite agree with is their multiplayer functionality. The original board game can accommodate up to four players, and even includes a modification for a solo player mode (although you can just as happily play multiplayer and just control all the monks by yourself). This port allows only two players or the solo player option. Admittedly, with more players you are getting more ghosts, but I think you would have much greater versatility in being able to react to the higher numbers of ghosts that appear with more players. In any case, the option to control all four monks would increase the variety of the game. Considering there is a lack of online multiplayer ability, I think the assumption by the designers is that you’d just have two people playing across from each other with the iPad table style. So points off for underestimating your player base.
9/10: It’s very hard to give this game a score. On the one hand I see a lot of promise in the game. I’m also one of those masochists that has thrown myself at the game numerous times just to show that I can do it. It is one behemoth of a challenge, and I intrepidly anticipate hitting that extremely steep learning curve necessary to defeat it. It’s appeal is NOT for the casual gamer, and if you’re not after deep strategy stay away.
Edit note: after a few play throughs I can win about half the time. In taking the time to actually learn the game, I’ve found it to be really enjoyable.
Edit note: With the release of four player mode, the game is even more awesome!
Also, just to prove that it is not impossible…