Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de

Terracotta Army

[Terracotta Army]

Przemyslaw Fornal, Adam Kwapinski

Board & Dice

No. of Players:



G@mebox author Frank Schulte-Kulkmann writes about the game:

One of the most wonderous archaeological discoveries has been the army of terracotta statues of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, and in the past I have been wondering if the story of this Terracotta Army ever would be chosen as a thematical backdrop for a boardgame. Looking at the statues, I assumed that a game using the statues would be something like Chess, because the different types and shapes of the warriors always reminded me a bit of Chess playing pieces.

Having made these assumptions, you can imagine that my curiosity was roused when I learned that Polish publisher BOARD&DICE indeed would be introducing a game named Terracotta Army at the SPIEL ’22 convention at Essen. Checking the game out in the novelty show of the convention, my initial curiosity was intensified even more, because the game and the playing pieces which I saw arranged at the BOARD&DICE stall were looking marvelous, promising an intensive and quite thematic playing experience.

So, is it really some kind of Chess which the players will be facing in Terracotta Army? The clear answer is NO, but with a tiny YES attached to it, because the game is not focused on moving the warrior statues as playing pieces, but nonetheless the positioning of the statues within the Emperor’s tomb is quite important.

But before going into details, let’s first have a look at the thematic embedding. In Terracotta Army the players take the roles of craftsmen who are working to create the statues for outfitting the Emperor’s tomb, and the game will be won by the player who is able to gain most fame (victory points) in the process. As it is, the game presents itself on its first level as a quite straightforward worker placement game in which the players have to use their Artisans and Workers to acquire clay and create statues, but already here the game literally features an interesting twist to the usual worker placement approach.

Instead of sending workers to fixed workshop areas in a Stone Age-ish style, the game designers Przemyslaw Fornal and Adam Kwapinski have decided to employ a three-level Action Wheel on which the players must place their Workers and Artisans. Due to the three levels of the Action Wheel, the placement of a meeple in a segment of the Wheel will trigger a combination of three benefits or actions, and here the players will need a keen eye for the best possibilities in any given situation because they are allowed to turn one of the levels by one segment before placing their meeples. So, there is a possibility to gain quite nice combinations of benefits if the Wheel’s levels can be aligned accordingly.


Click on image to enlarge!

Of course the possible actions which can be found on the Wheel are broader than just collecting clay and building statues. Other actions include the hiring and use of Master craftsmen which can give valuable in-game benefits (like additional income or the storage of wet clay at the end of a round), or the activation of Action Tokens which are associated to the different types of statues. In the course of the game these tokens can be spent to activate special actions when placing a matching statue, and some statues (the Specialists) only can be bought when a player can spend a matching token.

As you can see, Terracotta Army operates on a profound and sophisticated worker placement mechanism as a base for the round structure and the player actions. However, the game gets defty when we come to the thematic core, the terracotta statues. As indicated, the players have to collect clay and use building actions in order to place new statues into the Emperor’s tomb, and when it comes to building statues the players can chose actions which allow them to build two different categories of statues.

First and foremost there are the Warriors, four different types of soldiers which the players mark with a base of their player colour before placing them into the Emperor’s tomb. The tomb itself is a rectangular grid of 7 times 9 spaces, and even though a player is totally free where to place a newly acquired statue, a good placement of the statues is very important because the statues will be involved into multiple scorings during the course of the game. So, during the scoring phase at the end of each of the five rounds, a single row and a single column of the tomb will be checked by an Imperial inspector, and the players then will score points if they have statues or – even better – the majority of statues in the row or column where the inspectors are present. In addition, five Scoring tiles have been randomly drawn and revealed during setup, and each of these tiles lists special scoring conditions for the end of one round. So, for example additional points can be scored for presence or majorities of statues in one of the four quadrants of the tomb or for a specific type of statues in the whole tomb.

However, these end of round scorings are only part of the points and benefits which can be gained from placing statues. It the player who builds a new statue is able to spend an Action Token of the warrior’s type when building the statue, the player is allowed to score points directly upon building. For example, an Archer scores points for standing at a distance to other statues. An alternative is the use of the matching Action Token to activate a warrior’s special ability, and so the placement of an Officer allows the player to move one of the Imperial inspectors by one step, or a Guard will give a player the possibility to move one of his other warrior statues within the tomb.

Complicating things even more, all the player statues also will participate in an end game scoring which follows yet another set of scoring conditions, and now the players will look at groups of statues of the same warrior types standing together at the game’s end. The tomb now will be almost fully occupied with statues, and the players will get points for groups of statues of the same warrior type standing adjacent to each other, and bonus points will be rewarded to players who have placed the majority of statues within each of these groups.


Click on image to enlarge!

There is no doubt about it – the different scoring options and layers associated with the placements of the statues are tricky, and it’s quite a challenge even for a seasoned gamer to explain the whole scoring operation to new players. Remember my comparison with Chess? Yes, there is almost no movement of statues and another player statues cannot be taken or removed. But even when you take the dynamics out, Terracotta Army turns out to be something like a static Chess variant, because the placement of each and every statue is important to maximize a player’s yield when scoring victory points.

However, the whole operation turns into a real brainteaser when you take into account the second type of statues – the Specialists. Just like the Warriors, four different types of Specialists exist in the game, and even though these statues do not count for majorities, they have special functions which are of particular use for the players. So, a Horse figure increases the space requirement of one of a player’s Warrior statues to three spaces, making the Horse an interesting option to create new majorities or block the placement of other statues. The Kneeling Archer is another of these useful secondary statues, because even though he doesn’t count in scorings, his presence will function as a tiebreaker in a scoring. The Footman and the Musician on the other hand offer additional points in the end of round and end of game scorings, and so the whole range of Specialist statues greatly enhances a player’s tactical means and scoring possibilities.

If you boil it down to its central mechanisms, Terracotta Army operates on a light but varied worker placement mechanism which is enriched by a very extensive, in some aspects almost overboarding, area majority scoring procedure. Due to the varied scoring possibilities, Terracotta Army is one of these games where it is hard to predict the winner during the course of the game. Points are scored for various actions all along the way, and so the players do well to focus on short term gains while at the same time keeping the end of game scoring in mind. However, especially if played with three or four players the arrangement of the statues in the tomb and the majorities can shift quite rapidly, and so short term goals become even more important in this setting.

Terracotta Army is no lightweight entertainer, but it is a game which is mostly suitable for thinkers and tinkerer who like games which offer a multilayered challenge. The combination of worker placement and area majority is unusal at first sight, because it links two rather different core mechanisms which have rarely been combined. Imagine a game of Carcassonne using all expansions and including the additional challenge that the players have to build up an engine to recruit their meeples – that’s the type of game which I am talking about here. Due to this unusual combination and the multifaceted approach, Terracotta Army is not easy to grasp on the first go. However, once the first one or two games have been played, the players will come to terms with the scoring options and this in turn means that the game then can be enjoyed to its fullest extent.

[Gamebox Index]

Google Custom Search

Impressum / Contact Info / Disclaimer

Copyright © 2023 Ralf Togler & Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany