#570 – Jiguan: The Eastern Mechanist

Box

2 – 4 players.
Play time: 45 – 90 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas

Logged plays: 3 

Full disclosure: A review copy of Jiguan: The Eastern Mechanist was provided by EmperorS4.

Continuing on from Geometric Art last week, we’ve got three or four weeks of EmperorS4, depending on how quickly I can get these reviews written. I’ve been a bit behind the power curve for the last few weeks and it’s hard to really figure out why (I’m kidding; I know why), but, working on making progress, even on this, Christmas Day. I like writing. So let’s move from the party game space to the strategy game space, as this one’s a bit heavier.

In Jiguan: The Eastern Mechanist, you play as a mechanist working on Jiguan specifically, a blend of science and mechanical engineering. Rather than building something boring like bridges, though, you’re putting your talents to use building giant mechanical beasts, which is awesome. Or it will be, once you finalize your blueprints and find the parts. Your opponents seek to do the same, but don’t worry, you’ll probably outperform them if you can move quickly enough and impress the right people. Will you be able to become a master mechanist?

Contents

Setup

Setup’s a bit of a doozy. You’re gonna want to set out the Pagoda Board:

Pagoda Score Board

And set out the Supply Area Board:

Blueprint Row

It’s double-sided; the other side is used in the Beginner Mode. Sort and shuffle the Blueprints and place them on the board:

Blueprints

Shuffle the Bonus Tokens and place one on top of each pagoda:

Pagoda Leader Tokens

Set out the Gear Supply Board:

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Then put one of the Airship Tokens on it:

Airship Tokens

This one’s the tough one. The gears have a I and II on the back (and a 3+ or 4+). Depending on your player count, separate them into I and II and put an equal number of Is on all the spaces on the Gear Supply Board.

Gears

Shuffle the Reward Cards: make two rows of the light ones:

Light Reward Cards

And two rows of the dark ones:

Dark Reward Cards

Give each player a Workshop Mat:

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Have them place player tokens on the 0s and then on each of the starting locations on the Pagoda Board:

Player Tokens

And then give them an Assembly Mat:

Blueprint Board

There’s also an advanced side for that mat:

Blueprint Board Advanced

Each player then takes two different Blueprints and two coins:

Coins

You should be all ready to start!

Setup

Beginner Mode

In Beginner Mode, you don’t use a few of the features. Only use reward cards with gears on them; distribute the others at random.

Shuffle the Bonus Tokens and place them on top of the Pagodas, but ignore the multiplier tokens. That’s about the only difference!

Gameplay

Gameplay 1

During a game of Jiguan: The Eastern Mechanist, you work to construct blueprints and leverage the beasts created to earn your place farther up on the pagodas! At the end of the game, the player with the most points wins!

The nice thing is that the game takes place over only two rounds, and each round is a repeated set of two potential actions. You may take either one on your turn.

Get Gears and Purchase

Gameplay 2

To start, you must take at least one gear, if it’s available. When you take a gear, you then take another gear from an adjacent space. If the space adjacent is empty and unmarked, you may take 1 coin, 2 Energy, or 1 point. If it’s marked, take the marked value. If there are zero gears left on the board when it’s your turn, it’s the end of the round; you may take two rewards, if you want.

Now, place the Gears on your Assembly Mat. If there’s no space, you may replace existing gears and remove them from the game; otherwise, place them on any empty spot on the mat. If they are the same color as a Blueprint or Mechanical Beast in that row, column, or diagonal, immediately gain 1 Energy (Blueprint) or 2 Energy (Mechanical Beast).

Gameplay 3

You may then Purchase.

  • Blueprints: Spend Coins and advance your player token on the Blueprint Track to buy a Blueprint. You must spend coins equal to the value of the next space on the track to advance it. You may take a Blueprint of your choice and add it to any open space on the Assembly Mat.
  • Rewards Card: If you want a rewards card, spend Energy equal to the number on the next space of the rewards card track on your player board to take a rewards card of your choice.

In either case, if you advance to the second from the right or rightmost space, immediately gain 5 or 10 points, respectively.

Complete Blueprints

Gameplay 6

When you have 3 Gears in a row next to a Blueprint and their total value equals the Blueprint’s printed number, you may complete it! If you can’t complete it, you may place coins on the Blueprint to increase or decrease its printed value by 1 per coin.

A completed Blueprint is flipped over, becoming a Mechanical Beast. This causes several things to happen:

  1. Immediately move up one space on that color Pagoda and gain the bonus printed on that space. If this means you’ve passed the third space on two adjacent Pagodas, gain an additional 5 points.
  2. Remove two of the gears used to complete the Blueprint. Set them beside your Assembly Mat; you can use them for cards later.
  3. Take a Reward Card from that beast’s color’s column (light or dark). If it has an immediate effect, resolve it.
  4. If you’re using the Advanced Assembly Mat and you completed a Mechanical Beast indicated on the mat, gain those points.

End of Round

Gameplay 4

A round ends after all gears have been claimed. When that happens, each other player gets an additional turn (the player who took the last gear does not). Then, move on to scoring:

  • Airship Marker: The player with the Airship Marker gets 5 points.
  • Energy Dots: Check to see which round you’re in. If you’re in round I, use the light multipliers; if you’re in round II, use the dark ones. Either way, count the energy dots you have of each color (on your Reward Cards, Blueprints, and Mechanical Beasts). Multiply that number times that color’s multiplier and score that many points. Note that light multipliers are considered a x0 in round II and dark multipliers are considered a x0 in round I, so they score 0 points.
  • Pagoda Bonuses: Check each Pagoda; the player(s) with the highest piece on that pagoda’s track will earn the bonus pictured at the top. Note that this happens even if that pagoda isn’t producing a multiplier, this round.
  • Rewards Card Scoring: Some reward cards give you one point per energy dot of that color. Score those in both round I and round II, if you have them.
  • Resource Conversion: You may also convert resources to points:
    • 1 Coin -> 1 Point
    • 1 Blueprint -> 2 Points

If this is the end of Round I, add the Round II Gears to the Gear Mat; play starts with the player who took the Airship Marker. If this is the end of Round II, the game ends.

End of Game

Gameplay 5

The game ends after you finish scoring the second round. At that point, you may do resource conversion:

  • 3 Energy -> 1 Coin
  • 1 Coin -> 1 Point
  • 1 Blueprint -> 2 Points

The player with the most points wins!

Beginner Mode

In Beginner Mode, the game is only played over one round. At the end, score as follows:

  • Airship Marker: The player who took it gains 5 points.
  • Pagoda Bonuses: Score only the dark Pagoda Scoring Tokens; multiply that multiplier by the current level your piece is on the Pagoda. No other bonuses are given.
  • Rewards Card Scoring: Some reward cards give you one point per energy dot of that color. Score those, if you have them.

Beyond that, play normally!

Player Count Differences

This is a game I actually tend to prefer at higher player counts, weirdly enough. Since you add more gears, you get the benefit of variance as player count increases, which means there may be a lot of gears available and none that you want. I think that sort of thing is fun. The game still moves at a pretty good pace at higher player counts, though it does take slightly longer. That’s just due to, I feel, a lack of scaling factor added to the game; it just throws on more gears. That said, it’s still pretty strategic at lower player counts, so it’s not like I particularly mind the game at lower player counts; I just like a bit more of the movement that comes with higher player counts. More reward cards get cycled, more blueprints cycle, more gears cycle. Beyond that, though, I don’t have a particularly strong preference on player count in any direction. I’ve had fun at lower and higher counts. Just watch out for the gears! It’s hard to tell which need to be in play for higher player counts.

Strategy

  • Try to get energy. It’s pretty useful to have purely for getting reward cards, yes, but it’s also very good for the reward cards themselves; there are plenty that require 5 energy to move up two spaces on the pagoda track. It’s very difficult, then, to buy those via spending energy, since you often can’t have enough to do both things. It also is a nice way to steal reward cards that your opponents want without having to do the heavy lifting of completing a Blueprint before they do. Anyways, keep a certain amount of energy liquid.
  • Don’t forget how the energy dots score each round. This is a decently common issue. White dots score first, black dots score second. No color scores twice. This can cause players to make mistakes if they assume something scores when it wouldn’t. Additionally, even if players know which is scoring, they risk overindexing on the early stuff when the later stuff will likely get them more points (since they have longer to solve it).
  • I usually go after the middle three pagodas, if I can choose. Then you have two chances at that five-point bonus, rather than one. Note that this may change depending on the placement of the x3 tokens; I do usually try to prioritize those, if I can.
  • Keep in mind what your opponents may want. There’s always a chance that you can mess up their long-term plans by snaking them out of a particular card or blueprint that you would otherwise want.
  • Don’t remove gears that you need to complete other beasts. Since you only need to remove two gears, you can often leave a gear behind that will be helpful in that position later, or use a Blueprint to clean up your Assembly Mat. If you remove those, you’re essentially doing double work to come back and place a new gear, but that might be worth it if you’re looking to get more energy from placing a new gear on that space.
  • It’s very difficult to pivot rapidly in this game. Be mindful of that. If you decide you want an entirely new color represented, you have to start constructing Blueprints and getting reward cards, both of which are going to take a nontrivial amount of time.
  • Especially towards the end of the game, it’s worth dumping gears from your Assembly Mat in exchange for points now. Usually you only want to dump gears you’ve already spent, but if you’re not going to / not able to complete Blueprints before the game ends, you can dump the relevant gears from your Assembly Mat for those reward cards. This allows you to spend the gears you’d otherwise not use at all.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • Really interesting theme. It’s about constructing robot beasts, which is cool as hell. It’s definitely not steampunk, but it has a similar energy to it, so I’m more interested in this. I’d love to see more games operating in this universe (similar to ES4’s Realm of Sand-adjacent titles).
  • The art is pretty cool, as well. It all looks super good! Very nice blend of sketches and colorful shots. The end-to-end experience of the game is very good, as a result of this.
  • I really like the puzzle around beast assembly. I think this is my favorite part of the game, personally. I like everything from the gear drafting to the energy obtained to having to take a full turn to actually assemble the beast and get reward cards. It makes me wonder if it’s possible to make a faster version of this game that isn’t just the Beginner Mode.
  • There’s generally lots to do on your turn. You can either assemble beasts or try to get more gears, and both of those are fairly deep processes. It means it’s simple to learn the rules of what your turn entails but you have a lot of options when you do make a choice. I like that they seem to have threaded the needle on that one; it’s tough to do!
  • The variable player powers are also interesting, as well as the Advanced Assembly Board. I don’t always use either, but I appreciate that both exist. There are a lot of variable modes in this game, to its benefit, and they don’t require that much overhead to fully explain.

Mehs

  • Some parts of the rulebook could use layout improvements. There are some inconsistencies in images and there are a bunch of inserted sections in the middle of lengthier thoughts, which breaks up the flow a bit. I still have trouble finding explanations of certain sides of boards in the rulebook, which can be a pretty big problem given the many variable modes.
  • It’s very difficult to tell what gears you need at any given time. The indicators are on the back and decently faint, and the player count indicators are in a very small circle on the back. Given that you have to sort 60 or so gears every game, this is a bit annoying as far as repeated tasks go.

Cons

  • I’m not 100% sure the pagodas really feel like they justified their inclusion. They’re nice and all from a sort of area majority perspective, but it’s another thing that’s kind of … there. Would be fine to just have it be a “gain X points” when a Blueprint is completed. The multiplicative energy dot scoring is worth the overhead, though.
  • The scoreboard divisions aren’t clear enough to indicate exactly what your score is at most spots. This just always generally annoys me, especially when pieces are moving around all the time. I just prefer always knowing exactly what my score is at any given time (and it can help some other players if they can see other players’ scores, though that can also slow the game down).
  • Setup is kind of a pain. It’s mostly due to the gears, but laying out the reward cards and the blueprints can be time-consuming as well. Such is the way with a lot of medium- to heavy-weight games.

Overall: 7.75 / 10

In Progress

Overall, it’s a bit heavier than my usual, but I have enjoyed Jiguan: The Eastern Mechanist! I think that this sort of thing is a nice rounding out for EmperorS4; generally I find that their lighter fare tends to be more my scene, though I’ve enjoyed their heavier stuff, as well. I think Trial of the Temples is a bit more my scene (it’s, I’d say, medium-weight, whereas this is medium-heavy), but it’s still something I enjoy. I think the thematic components of the game are most interesting to me, but the general colors and aesthetic of the game are also pretty great? I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff, anyways. I’m still not completely sold on the area majority element of the pagodas; I understand why it’s useful to include, but I think at lower player counts it doesn’t add much (since at two, it’s just … you or me). It would be interesting to see something similar to what Sorcerer City does at two players where you get a randomized element to compete against for the majority element. Still simple to track, but a bit less zero sum? Who knows. Either way, I do enjoy it; I think it’s just a tiny bit overwrought for its own weight. It’s things like the density of the setup process that make me enjoy it a bit less, along with the difficulty of making pivots. The variability of the setup is super interesting, though! They’ve got a lighter beginner mode, some additional advanced options, and the differences in the gear, blueprint, and reward card setup (along with the pagodas) really does allow multiple paths to victory each game. Personally, I’d even love a game that’s just gear drafting and trying to build out the blueprints; maybe a 30m version of the thing. That said, if you’re into heavier games or you just like a bit of area majority, a bit of drafting, and a bit of spatial reasoning, you’d probably like Jiguan: The Eastern Mechanist! I sure did.

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