An interesting "little" game that I've had the opportunity to play recently is Zong Shi.
In Zong Shi, you are attempting to impress townspeople with how amazing you are. Generally, you do this by building amazing works, but you can also do it by sucking up to the elders, and running a sweet pawn shop. Each round consists of players alternating placing their two workers - the Master and the Apprentice. Basically, the Apprentice can do anything that the Master does aside from working on a project - but he gets less of a reward for doing each action. The different actions include starting a project, going to the temple to draw "scrolls" (cards), going to the pawn shop to get "Exchange tiles", visiting the marketplace to collect resources, and visiting the town elders to get victory points. However, if your Master is working on a project, then he will not be able to perform any other actions (so he will pass on his turn). The game continues with players selecting these actions until one player has completed six projects. Then, everyone gets one last turn, and the player with the most victory points wins.
The first pro that I have for Zong Shi is that I like the Master/Apprentice mechanic. There may be other games which give you workers of different skill levels, but I do not remember any that I have played. I think that it adds an interesting layer of strategy to figure out which of your workers you are going to place each round to try to maximize your Master. The Apprentice can be useful when you only need to do something small - collect a single resource, visit a single elder, get a single exchange tile. However, you are always better off sending your Master - or, more specifically, you would be better off if you could place two Masters instead of using an Apprentice. But, your Master can only be in one place at a time; and that place will often be in your workshop working on one of his projects. And thus, the player who is able to best utilize both his Master and his Apprentice will probably claim the victory.
|Some of the Masters have been playing in paint|
The final pro that I will mention for Zong Shi is that there are multiple paths to victory. In the last game that I played, I successfully completed six projects before anyone else had built four, and so I was the one that triggered the end of the game. However, none of my projects were especially valuable. Another player had visited all of the town elders, and most of the other players had more Exchange Tiles than I did. At the end, the player who had visited the town elders and completed a Masterwork project (a big, expensive project) was the winner, even though he had only completed two projects. So, "multiple paths to victory" may not be the best way of describing Zong Shi, but the player that best capitalizes on his opportunities should be the winner - and how those opportunities present themselves will not always look the same. (One thing that I will note strategically - as someone who generally loses at this game, I highly recommend building Masterwork projects. That is the only area of the game where you can repeatedly score eight victory points.)
|The first player Buddha looks nice|
The other con that I will mention is that some of the cards are simply better than others; and some strategies also seem especially strong. For example, there is a card that allows your Apprentice to start on a project (instead of your Master). That is amazing, as it frees your Master up to do all of the other actions for a few rounds (its like having two Masters). Another card allows you to start on two projects at the same time! That is also wonderful, because it is like giving your Master several extra turns - and can also help you end the game more quickly, if you are trying to do that. These cards are drastically better than a random resource from the bag (which is what one of the other cards gives you). Now, I'm not saying that any of the scrolls are useless - at the right time, any of them can be useful. But some of them are (in my opinion) far better than others. And, similarly, allowing one player to complete multiple "Blacksmith Tools" projects (this allows them to complete their projects one turn faster) also seems like it could allow an experienced player to have a significant advantage. (Though, it does not guarantee victory, as I completed two of these and still lost, due to not using them to build Masterwork projects.)
Overall, I give Zong Shi an 8.5/10. I enjoyed the game, and I think that it added some nice new elements to the "worker placement" genre.
If Zong Shi sounds interesting, then you might also check out Kingdom of Solomon, Le Havre, and Caylus.
I would like to thank Gryphon Games for providing me with a review copy of Zong Shi.