Full disclosure: A review copy of Dadaocheng was provided by Taiwan Boardgame Design.
I’ve got a few more titles to get through from Taiwan (and some more from NiceGameShop), but I’m tryna mix it up, so let’s get a bit more historical with the second edition of Dadaocheng! It’s allegedly a family game, but whoever designed it has a much smarter family than, well, me, so, let’s dig into it and see what’s going on with this puzzley game.
It’s the 19th century, and you’re helping run your own shipping and trading warehouse in Dadaocheng! Hence the name, you mutter under your breath while reading this review. And that’s fine; I deserve that. As you get resources, you have to make the tough choice between using them domestically or taking your resources abroad to get even more money. Only one player can become the grandest trader in Dadaocheng; will it be you?
Set the board in the middle of the play area:
Next, have each player take a set of player boards corresponding to the name of the warehouse they’re sitting closest to. If your Chinese is a bit rusty (I can’t read or speak it; typical American), you can also try to color match. There are two types of boards. The first (bottom) is the Resource Board, and the other (top) is the Shipping Board:
Give each player 9 player markers, and have them set one on each of the 9 spaces on the boards with white outlines.
Set the cubes aside, forming a supply:
Place one black cube from that supply on the calendar icon with a “1” on it on the board. Set the dice aside, as well:
Now, set up the rest of the board by placing the resource tokens randomly such that a few things are true:
- The sun must be on the face-up side. Always start in the morning.
- The four black resources must be on the corners.
- No more than three of a resource may be contiguous. Orthogonally contiguous; diagonally doesn’t count.
Next, place the Building Cards:
These can go on the side of the board. If you’re playing a two-player game, keep it to one of every Building Card except for the Mansions; keep two of those. Finally, set aside the 1851 Event Card; shuffle the others:
Place them in a stack with 1851 face-up on top. You should be all ready to start!
The game is relatively brisk, moving quickly over six rounds. In each round, each player will get a turn and work to try and earn victory points by gaining, trading, and shipping resources. When the game ends, the player with the most points wins.
Each turn has multiple phases. I’ll cover each.
This one’s pretty simple. Rather than messing with the discs during the Resource Phase, a player may choose any two Warehouse spaces and take all the cubes from that, going immediately into the Work Phase.
During the Resource Phase, players manipulate the grid of discs to try and get resources for themselves. How is this done? Each player gets two actions, and for each of those actions they may do one of the following:
- Swap: Exchange the position of any two resource discs.
- Flip: Flip a resource disc over to its other side. You can tell what’s on the other side by looking at the disc; the smaller color is the larger color on the other side (and vice-versa).
If you want to interact with a disc that has a cube on it, before moving or flipping it, move the cube to the Warehouse space corresponding to its column in your color. If that Warehouse space already has two cubes in it, you take the cube as though you had earned it.
Your goal, here, is to create a line of 3 or 4 of the same color. When you do, you flip them over (provided they have no cubes on them; if they have a cube on them, do not flip them). Then, claim resource cubes of that color: 1 if you made a line of 3, and 2 if you made a line of 4. If the newly flipped over discs have a space for a cube on them, place a cube of that color on that disc.
Here’s the thing, though: if, after flipping those discs, you still have a line of 3 or 4 on the board in some other way, you need to resolve that, flip the discs, and so on. You can chain-react your way to many cubes, this way. To prevent infinite loops, if all discs in a line have a cube on them, move the cubes to your corresponding Warehouse spaces and then flip them. If you try to do something fancy like make a T or an L, you may only resolve one of those lines.
Regardless of how you enter the Work Phase (via the Warehouse Phase or the Resource Phase), you must prune your resources before you’re allowed to do anything. You do this by checking your stores: on your player board, there’s a row that tells you how many Resources you’re allowed to take with you to the Work Phase. If you have more than that, return them to the supply; your choice. If you kept any black cubes, advance your Opium Penalty one space per black cube kept.
Now, the Work Phase! You may take any actions as long as you have cubes to do so. Additionally, to streamline the game a bit, the next player may start their turn (but should probably wait to do the Work Phase until you’re done).
- Exchange Opium: You may swap any black cubes for two of any other resources at any point.
- Wish at the City God Temple: Once per turn, you may spend a white cube to roll the die twice (collecting resources for each result) or spend two cubes of any color(s) to roll the dice three times (again, collecting resources for each result).
- Use a Building Card Ability: You may use each of your claimed Building Card Abilities once per round.
- Event Card Effects: Certain Event Cards also give you an action that you can do once per round.
- Resource Board Actions: You may spend resource cubes as depicted on your Resource Board to advance tokens in their respective warehouses. As you do, you will gain a variety of effects, including dice rolls, Building Card acquisitions, free Shipping Board Actions, and the like.
- Shipping Board Actions: You may spend resource cubes (or combinations of them) as depicted on your Shipping Board to advance tokens along shipping lines. As you do, you will gain a variety of effects and unlock additional shipping lines to try and advance.
End of Turn
Once a player has run out of actions to perform, their turn is over. They should return all unused cubes to the supply.
End of Round
Once all players have taken a turn, advance the black cube down the calendar by one space and reveal a new Event Card for the next round.
End of Game
Once the final round has ended, the game is over! Proceed to final scoring:
- Resource Board Score: You score points equal to the value below your leftmost token.
- Full Warehouse: If you have tokens on the rightmost space on the Resource Board, you gain 5 points per token.
- Shipping: Every space advanced on the first, second, and third line (from the top) gain you 1, 2, and 3 points, respectively.
- Orders: Multiply the number of orders you’ve passed with your player tokens by the number of mansions you’ve passed with your player tokens. Do not count any orders or mansions you currently have tokens on.
- Historical Event Cards: Any positive or negative points from Event Cards kick in.
- Opium Penalty: You lose 5 points per space you’ve advanced on the Opium Penalty track.
The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
The major thing is that unless all players are cooperating, the resource area can get pretty messed up at higher player counts (lots of entropy being generated if players aren’t moving “optimally”, whatever that means). I think given the challenge presented by the game, though, it’s very good that players are allowed to somewhat parallelize their turns so that they’re not quite waiting every time a player wants to manipulate the resource discs. Even then, though, there’s only so much you can do. At two, everyone’s almost always doing something. At four, two people are going to be waiting while the other two work on the puzzle. If you don’t mind that downtime, I think it’s a lot of fun! I will say though I prefer two, since it means I always get to be slowly getting things working.
- Before the late-game, you really need to max out how many cubes you can take into the Work Phase. This is the crux of it, since you need resources to spend them on various improvements, but you’re limited. Raise those limits as quickly as possible; towards the end of the game you’re going to be getting 7+ resources a turn if you get the board configured correctly. Leave as few of those on the table as you possibly can.
- Don’t take 5 Opium Penalties, but don’t take 0, either. There are plenty of effects that let you reduce that penalty, and often, it’s worth it to get some early-game advancement without being stymied by the low initial cube limits. Just don’t go off the rails.
- Building Cards can be incredibly useful; don’t underestimate them. The one that lets you modify dice values means it’s much more rare that you’ll have a bad roll at the temple, and that’s every round! Additionally, the one that advances your leftmost token? That can be activated at any time; that means you can wait until your tokens are in better shape, or use it to push through an expensive space and allow you to combo it even better. Getting a free white cube is nice, but remember that it happens before the Work Phase, so it counts towards your Work Phase limit like other cubes.
- You need to leverage the chain-reaction effects on your player boards. This is absolutely critical. You can do some serious damage if you start to be able to get enough free advancements on one board to start earning free advancements on the other board. It’s a satisfying flow.
- Chain reaction effects in the resource grid are also pretty critical. This is how you get a ton of resources; you get alignments that, when flipped, form new alignments that, when flipped, and so on. Just watch out! Usually if you can pull that off, your opponent can do the same thing. It helps to be the first one to get it aligned.
- A nontrivial amount of the game is figuring out how to get more resources during the Work Phase around your initial limits. This can usually be done via Opium, dice rolling, or some good combo potential to gain effective dice (or free movement on certain tracks of certain boards). It all works, but you need it to work for you.
- Don’t end the game on top of any Mansions or Orders. They don’t count if you’re not past them! It’s a decently easy rule to forget, so make sure you don’t forget it!
- If you aren’t sure what to do, try to advance that third shipping line. It’s 3 points per space, ignoring all other bonuses. That alone is pretty good, I’d say. If you can get more doing something else, though, do that.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I like that they gave the game an old-timey aesthetic. It looks like a game that came out in the 70s or something; it feels nostalgic while still being a very fresh and novel design. Maybe it’s retro? I’m never sure. Either way, I’m a big fan of it! It looks great.
- The puzzle around resource generation is very cool. I like that it’s both a spacial puzzle and a combo one. You need to be able to fire on both things simultaneously if you want to generate enough resources to really turn the game in your favor. Definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you can get it to work it’s immensely satisfying.
- Even what you do with the resources once you get them is really fun. There are even more combos to try and manage on your player boards, along with buildings and Events. It’s a busy game, but definitely one that’s doing a lot of things that I like! So that’s good.
- The solo puzzle is also solid. I tried it a few times at Big Bad Con in October (yes, it takes me a while to review things) and quite enjoyed it! I’m still not great at it, yet, but I will be!
- I also appreciate the historical aspect of the game’s genuine investment in Taiwan’s development. It’s got a lot of interesting facts and events on the Event Cards; a bit of history is never a bad thing to pick up when you’re playing a game. Just don’t tilt the game overboard in pursuit of some warped idea of “historical accuracy” (which, thankfully, this game doesn’t do).
- The discs are a very good weight. They feel nice to pick up and flip; it’s a good component. I also appreciate that they tell you succinctly what colors are on each side.
- I appreciate that you can somewhat parallelize the game. This game could take a while if you have players that take a while in the Resource Step. Allowing them to get started early makes the game feel a lot faster, even when it’s not fully their turn or your turn.
- I’m slightly convinced we played the game wrong since we almost never used the warehouses to gain additional resources. We didn’t, but, the warehouses just don’t see a lot of play from us. It’s just an odd consequence of how we’ve played the game, I guess.
- I’m mildly amused that the Event Cards have dates on them but since they’re randomized it’s highly unlikely that you’ll get them in temporal order. It’s like Time Chase, but less trick-taking and more a novel puzzle game set throughout Dadaocheng’s history.
- I have a similar problem with this as I do Hunker, amusingly; you can get to a point where the engine benefits both players extremely well, but that means that one player is still likely doing better than the other and it’s hard to get ahead if you’re already behind. There’s not always a reason to throw a wrench in the gears, which means that unless you know you’re ahead, you should be worried. Don’t let your opponent profit off of your hard work! It just can be difficult to know both how to know that you’re ahead and how to most effectively sabotage the machine if you’re not.
- Some of the Event Cards are just … bad??? They specifically just mess you up. They make orders less valuable, they cost you cubes; just nasty. That’s how it goes, I suppose.
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Overall, yeah, I like Dadaocheng! I think it’s a smart little puzzle game. It’s got a solidly challenging solo mode, it’s got some good spatial reasoning and combo puzzles, and it’s got a great look and a relatively novel (as far as I’ve played) theme! Those are all pretty high points in its favor, as far as I’m concerned. I don’t love some of the particularly nasty-to-deal-with Event Cards, but, what can you do? Pretty much nothing about that, unfortunately. My one challenge for this game is that I want to get better about manipulating the discs so that I have a good turn but I don’t leave my opponents with great options. I’m not altogether convinced that that is doable, but, I think it’s worth it to try. Plus, it gives me something to spend time playing the game shooting for. I think it’s a slick design, though; I really like how you go about getting resources and then flipping the tiles and getting more and so on. It’s really just a neat concept and I’d love to see what you could do with the same mechanic in other settings. Maybe it’ll happen at some point. Who knows. Either way, if you’re looking for a fun, puzzley game that isn’t going to take all day to play, or you want to try a game with a neat aesthetic, I’d recommend checking out Dadaocheng!