Round and round I go
He who has no vision for the small things also blinds himself to the greater design.
In the Year of the Dragon is a game of careful planning, where every obstacle is laid out before you at the start of the game, and you must navigate those obstacles to avoid disaster. It is a game where your plans go awry, and when that happens, someone gets sacked.
It is also a very Stefan Feld sort of game. Stefan Feld's games have two hallmarks that set them apart from other Eurogames.
First, you don't get to freely pick your actions, though there's almost always some way to mitigate this. In Oracle of Delphi, for example, you need to match what you want to do with the color on one of your dice. ITYOTD is actually more forgiving than most of Feld's oeuvre, because you can always do what you want as long as you can pay for it.
Second, there's some sort of upkeep that will punish players who ignore it. In Notre Dame, plague rats will overrun the city if left unchecked. Some of these games lean harder into one of these points than the other. ITYOTD is basically all upkeep, all the time. More on that in Events below.
We will not be playing ITYOTD on these forums, but we will do our headhunting here. The game can take up to five players. If fewer than five sign up, I will slot myself in. The game is at its best when competition is tight, after all.
Photo by Antony Hemme
The game as it is played
Players start with 6 yuan (that's Chinese for "money") and two 2-story palaces.
Each round of the game consists of four phases:
- Action: The possible actions you can take are divided up into groups. If you're the first to take an action group, it's free! If you want to take an action in a group another player has taken, you must pay 3 yuan. More on Actions below.
- Person: Play a person card and take a matching person into your palace. If all of your palaces are at capacity, you must fire someone (possibly the person you just took).
- Event: Something happens! More on which below.
- Score: All empty palaces lose one floor, then players score 1 point per palace and 1 point per Dragon (on Ladies and privileges).
At the end of the game, you score 2 points per remaining person, 1 point per 3 remaining yuan, and Buddha points (more on that in Persons below).
Photo by Rik Van Horn
Now hiring: Persons
You need to keep your palaces staffed, if for no other reason than that they mysteriously decay when left empty. At the start of the game, you will take two different young persons, making sure you don't take the exact same pair of persons as anyone else. Thereafter, the persons in your palace are determined by the person cards you play. You have 11 person cards: one for each type of person and two wild person cards. (That doesn't mean that the person is wild. It just means you can use it to take any person.)
Most of the persons come in old and young flavors. Old persons are more skilled but less popular: they will provide more of whatever it is they do, but they will advance you fewer spaces on the person track, which determines player order. First, here are the exceptions -- these persons are always young. In parentheses is their person value. (Important: A lower value does not make them any less of a person.)
- The Builder (2) has a single Hammer. This helps you build more palaces when you build.
- The Taxman (3) has three Yuan. This gets you more yuan when you take the yuan action.
- The Lady (1) helps you score, because she has a Dragon on her fan. That's a point per turn she stays in your palace!
The following people come in young and old flavors. In parentheses are the young person value followed by the old person value.
- The Soldier (5, 3) has 1 or 2 Helmets, which help you throw parades.
- The Pyrotechnician (5, 3) has 1 or 2 Fireworks, which produce more fireworks when you take the fireworks action.
- The Farmer (4, 1) has 1 or 2 Rice, which produce more rice when you take the rice action.
- The Scholar (4, 2) has 2 or 3 Books, which produce more points when you take the books action.
- The Healer (4, 1) has 1 or 2 Medicine, which are used automatically in times of Contagion.
- The Monk (6, 2) has 1 or 2 Buddhas, each of which is worth points equal to the height of the palace the Monk lives in. (Monks don't actually do anything, but everyone likes having them around.)
Anytime you add a person to a palace, including at the start of the game, you advance on the person track according to the person's person value. (Note that if you take a person who you immediately fire, that person was never placed in your palace.) There is a limited number of each person tile, and fired persons do not return to the person pool (presumably, they were given a generous severance package).
Note that you have 11 person cards for 12 months. There is no hiring phase in the final month.
Photo by Rik Van Horn
Keeping up with the times: Events
The Year of the Dragon is divided into twelve months -- imagine that! Each month will have an event, and generally, those events will require you to do something or pay the consequences. The events are distributed at the start of the game; you can use your oracular powers to determine what will happen each month from the start of the year. Aside from the first two months, you will never see the same event back-to-back.
It is important at this point for me to emphasize that ITYOTD is a peaceful, pleasant game where no harm befalls anyone. This is canonical. Please don't try to suggest otherwise.
- Peace: The first two months are guaranteed to have this event. Nothing happens.
- Tribute: The Emperor demands 4 yuan. For every yuan you can't pay, you fire one of your staff to demonstrate your commitment to fiscal responsibility.
- Contagion: A plague rages across the empire. You need 3 Medicine to avert the crisis. For each Medicine you can't provide, you fire one of your staff in a fit of grief.
- Mongols: The Mongols have come to watch your parade in a peaceable manner. Each player scores 1 point per Helmet. The player or players with the fewest Helmets are ashamed of their parade and fire someone, blaming that person for the bad performance.
- Drought: You must supply rice to each of your palaces. From each palace that ends up with no rice, you fire someone. I'm honestly not sure why; this is very petty of you.
- Festival: The player with the most fireworks gets 6 points. The player with the second most gets 3 points. Any player who gained points this way discards half their fireworks (rounded up). This is a happy month, as your palace workers are unlikely to be fired! (Note: you must have fireworks to gain any points from this event.)
Photo by Rik Van Horn
Taking care of business: Actions
Each round, you can take one action if you like. If you'd rather not, you can pass. If you pass with fewer than 3 yuan, you go up to 3 yuan. That's handy, because that's exactly the number of yuan you need to take an action in a group another player has taken. You can also avoid paying by going to a different action group or being the first player!
What's this about "action groups"? Well, each round, the seven actions are bunched up into a few different groups. For example, Build and Privilege might be one action group, Yuan and Rice might be a second, Fireworks and Books a third, and Parade on its own as a fourth. The groupings are shuffled each round.
- Build: Build 1 palace floor plus 1 for each Hammer your persons have. Palaces can be up to three stories tall. remember that each palace you have is worth a point at the end of each round! But also remember that palaces decay at the end of the round if no one is in them and that you need to supply rice to each palace in Drought months! So vertical versus horizontal is a tricky decision.
- Privilege: Pay 7 yuan for a big privilege (which has 2 Dragons) or 2 yuan for a small privilege (which has 1 Dragon). (In the original release, the big privilege cost 6 yuan, but opening with a large privilege was such a dominant strategy that they bumped the cost.)
- Yuan: Take 2 yuan plus 1 for each Yuan on your persons. You use yuan to buy privileges, pay taxes, and use visited action groups, and 3 yuan is worth 1 point when the game ends.
- Rice: Take 1 rice plus 1 for each Rice on your persons. You use rice during Drought months, and each rice and fireworks is worth 2 yuan when the game ends.
- Fireworks: Take 1 firework plus 1 for each Firework on your persons. You use fireworks during Festival months.
- Books: Gain 1 point plus 1 for each Book on your persons. You use points to... win the game. You can get a lot of points out of this if you invest in it, but it's not easy to do while keeping up with the demands of the empire.
- Parade: Advance 1 space on the person track plus 1 for each Helmet on your persons. (This is a practice parade that does not impact the Mongols at all. They only show up to see end-of-month parades.)
Photo by Jeremy Likens
Putting it all together: A sample setup and first round
Federico is randomly selected to be the starting player. Noting that both Contagion events are coming up early, he takes a young Healer and Soldier, putting him at 9 on the person track.
Helen is next. She likes the healer, but she wants to have turn priority. She takes a Healer and a Monk, reaching 10 on the person track.
Seamus is last to go. He would like to take Healer and Soldier, but Federico already took that combo. He takes Healer and Pyrotechnician instead. That puts him at 9 on the person track, but since he got there last, he beats Federico in turn order.
The first round starts: the actions are shuffled and revealed. The groups are [Build, Rice], [Privilege, Parade], and [Fireworks, Books, Yuan]. Helen is first to go. She takes Build and builds a third palace, which will score her an extra point each month. Seamus takes the Privilege action and pays 2 for a small privilege, which will score him an extra point each month. Federico doesn't want to take the fireworks, books, or yuan actions, and if he passes now, he won't get any yuan (he already has 6). He decides to pay 3 yuan and take the Build action, like Helen did.
It's time to hire. Helen plays her Healer card and takes an old Healer, which (along with her young Healer) keeps her safe from Contagion but only advances her 1 space on the person track. She puts him in her new palace to keep it from decaying. Seamus takes a Builder, putting him at 11 on the person track, the same space as Helen. Federico sees an opportunity to take the initiative, so he takes a second Soldier. The new player order is Federico-Seamus-Helen.
Since there's Peace in the first month, we skip to scoring. Each player earns 3 points: Seamus has two palaces and a privilege, while Helen and Federico have three palaces.
Meet the players
- Karzac will start us off.
- aturtledoesbite goes second.
- Patrick picks third.
- Sarcasmorator is fourth.
- rkdn42 takes up the rear. Last to pick is most likely to start the first round, though!
Check the calendar
Here's our events schedule for the year:
Peace - Peace - Contagion - Mongols - Festival - Drought - Contagion - Mongols - Tribute - Festival - Drought - Tribute
With both Contagions early in the year, Healers are bound to be attractive opening picks, but we'll see what our players decide, starting with Karzac.