Zong Shi Review

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 next interesting thing about Zong Shi are the Exchange tiles.  Each work (and elder) requires a certain combination of resources.  For example, the Merchant Statue requires two Gold, one Jade, and one Ivory.  Exchange tiles allow you to substitute materials.  For example, if I had a Gold/Jade Exchange tile, and I wanted to build the Merchant Statue, I could substitute any of the Gold for Jade and vice versa.  So, if I wanted to, I could build the Merchant Statue for three Jade and one Ivory.  This element of the game is neat, and is also useful strategically, as having a lot of Exchange tiles will allow you to focus on getting materials, without having to worry as much about which materials you are collecting.  I'm not really sure how thematically it fits in.  (You get these at the "pawn shop" - is there a dealer that has an infinite supply of each of these, and you bribe him to let you trade?  If he has an infinite supply, why does he care about your bribe?)  But, either way, I like this element of the game.

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
However, though I enjoyed Zong Shi, there are a couple of cons that I should mention.  First, the Exchange tiles can wind up causing you to spend quite a bit of time calculating, especially if you only have a few of them.  They give you flexibility, but the flexibility causes some processing to occur in your brain.  So, you will spend a decent amount of time looking at what resources you have, what you can turn them into, and trying to match that up with the project you are wanting to begin.  You'll have to do this processing both when starting the project itself, and when planning to try to get the resources or Exchange tiles that you need.  This doesn't necessarily take a long time, but it can occasionally slow the game down.

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.


  1. Thanks for the review of a game I have seen in passing but never really looked at.

    The only game I can think of that uses a Master/Apprentice mechanic is Leonardo da Vinci, where the Apprentices contribute 1 unit of work per turn but the Master contributes 2. It is an unusual mechanic for sure.

  2. Ok, thanks for the help. I thought that someone had told me that there was at least one other game that used something like that, but I didn't know what it was. I haven't played Leonardo da Vinci, so that would explain it.

  3. I was a playtester on Zong Shi and was quite happy with the results. This is a great review! It captures my feelings about Zong Shi as well.