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Reiner Knizia





Sometimes it's a wonder how Reiner Knizia always gets his ideas for creating new boardgames of all sizes and with different degrees of complexity and strategy, but with Chinesische Mauer (= the Great Wall) once again he has succeeded in creating a small low-budget game with interesting rules while at the same time releasing several other games of equally high standard…

The Chinese Emperor has identified the danger of the Mongolian tribes to the north of China, and thus he has ordered his Lords to start building a great wall of incredible length. Chinesische Mauer is a cardgame for two to five players, and the players take of the roles of such Lords, competing to gather Fame (victory) points by building on different parts of the Great Chinese Wall. For the game, each player receives an identical deck of 20 Wall-cards of which he must make best use during the course of the game. This deck of Wall-cards is mainly composed of walls (value 1), gates (value 2) and towers (value 3), but a few other special cards are included as well. To prepare for the game, each player shuffles his own deck of cards and draws a starting hand of five cards from the deck, putting the rest of the cards aside as his personal drawing pile. On the table, all available Fame markers (different values) are shuffled face down, and for each building site available in the game (their number depending on the number of participating players) two Fame markers are revealed and placed next to the building site.


A player's turn in the game is subdivided into three phases. The first phase always must be that the active player has to check whether he has the most valuable Wall-cards at any given building site. For this, he checks all the building sites for cards of his colour and adds up the values of his cards at each of the building sites separately. If he should have the most valuable cards at a site, he may take one of the Fame markers:

  • If it is the first Fame marker taken at this building site, he may put it onto any of his cards which he has played at that lot.
  • However, if the first marker already was used in this fashion either by the active player or another player, the active player now may take the second marker and place it directly in front of him so that it counts as victory points. At this time, the player who has taken the first Fame-marker from the building lot and placed it onto one of his cards now also may take his Fame-marker and place it in front of himself.
Thus, both Fame-markers of a building site always are collected by one or two players at the same time, although ownership of the first marker may have been determined by an evaluation much earlier. After both Fame-markers of a lot have been distributed, the whole site is cleared and two new Fame-markers are revealed to form a new building site.

The particular construction of this phase serves two purposes: on the one hand the winning of a Fame-marker only is possible if two evaluations have taken place at a building site. Thus, if only one marker was taken and there is a draw when the game gets to its end, this marker remains on the wall-card on which it has been placed and does not count as victory points. On the other hand, there are special Wall-cards which possibly may cover already placed cards, and here a Fame-marker on a card protects this card from being covered. Also, the special rule must be kept in mind that - once the first Fame-marker was taken by a player - that player will have to deduct the value of this marker from the value of his cards at that building site. This makes it much harder for a player to win both markers from one site in consecutive turns…

Having dealt with the first, evaluation phase, you might guess that the second and third phase of a player's turn are dedicated to the placement of Wall-cards. In each of these phases, the player now may opt either to play one or several identical Wall-cards at one building site, or to refrain from building and just draw a card from his stockpile. When the player has finished his third phase, his turns comes to its end and the next player's turn will start.

This way the game proceeds until either the last Fame marker in the game was taken by a player or one player uses up his full deck of Wall-cards. In the latter case, some final evaluations and distribution of Fame markers will take place, and in the end the player with the most valuable Fame markers will have won the game.

However, having outlined this basic playing mechanism, let me now turn to the special "Knizia"-twist which adds much spice to the game. Apart from 11 standard Wall-cards, each player's deck of cards also contains nine Special Cards, featuring one Nobleman, 5 Soldiers, 2 Riders and 1 Dragon. Each of these cards possesses a special ability which changes the normal course of the game:

  • The Nobleman reduces the value of ALL cards at a building site to ONE. Thus, when he is played at a site, all other cards of all players at that site receive a uniform value of one each, possibly devaluating cards of higher value at that site.
  • The Soldiers can be combined for a higher value, and the value of a Soldier-card increases by one for each Soldier the same player already has placed at the same building lot. So, the first Soldier at a lot has a value of one, the seconds Soldier a value of two etc.
  • The Riders are fast and flexible. They have a value of two, and a player may use his Riders in addition to other cards since it does not take a phase-action to play a Rider-card.
  • Finally comes the Dragon, and he may be used to cover any card at a building lot, eliminating this card (and possibly its special ability).

Chinesische Mauer is easy to learn and fast-paced, but the tactical value of the game should not be underestimated. What I really like about the game is the fact that - although it does not take more learning time than an average cardgame - upon playing it you quickly discover that it offers considerably more playing depth and atmosphere than other small cardgames like Kramer's Hornochsen. Although Chinesische Mauer has slightly less player interaction and not so many possibilities to release expansions, it is possible to discover similarities with Bohnanza from AMIGO, another cardgame which had successfully integrated a sophisticated playing mechanism and with much more playing depth than a standard cardgame. Chinesische Mauer succeeds especially well in integrating its background story, and coupled with a solid graphical design the game certainly is one of the best games available within its price-range.

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Copyright © 2012 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany