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



Aaron Haag


No. of Players:
2 - 5



About a thousand years ago farmers from the Chinese province Yunnan started to export their famous Pu'er-Tea into distant regions, and using the ancient Tea-Horse-Road the traders even came to remote Tibet and far-away India. This historic occurrence has been chosen by author Aaron Haag as a background for his new game Yunnan, and during the course of the game the players will literally feel the stresses and strains of the traders' voyages, since they will be hard pressed to coordinate their actions in a way which will best benefit their growing trade empires.

Each player starts the game with some money and three trader pawns, and in turn the players will be allowed to place their traders either at buildings in Yunnan in order to perform an action or at the market of Pu'Er where they can either sell tea or travel along the Tea-Horse-Road to distant provinces where tea can be sold with a higher profit. Already this mixture of travelling and other actions gives Yunnan a quite interesting feeling, because only the actions in Yunnan actually resemble a classic worker-placement mechanism. When it comes to the selling of tea, the trader pawns are used quite differently, because the players will try to get their traders into far-away provinces, and since this takes time it is quite usual that these pawns will stay on the board for a longer time. Of course, a trader pawn may always be called back from a province if the player needs it for a specific action, but such a decision comes at the price that all progress of this specific trader on the Tea-Horse-Road will be lost.


So, which elements are needed for the players to become successful in the Tea-business? As indicated, it is necessary to get traders into profitable (distant) provinces, but a player's travelling range is restricted by a horse figure which starts the game in the province closest to Yunnan. So, the horse figure needs to be moved forwards along the Tea-Horse-Road in order to increase a player's travelling range. However, the movement of the horse figure does not mean that any trader has yet arrived at a province (the horse can be seen as some sort of "scout"), and so a player will need to move his traders along the Tea-Horse-Road as well. Whenever a trader is moved into a new province, the player will need a transit pass, and the more passes he acquires the more quickly he will be able to move his traders.

A well-planned movement of the trader pawns on the Tea-Horse-Road is essential, because only traders standing connected to the player's trading network will be able to provide their full profits by the end of a round. If a trader is isolated, i.e. there is a gap of one or more provinces between the player's trader pawns, extra transport costs need to be paid, thus reducing the profits generated by isolated traders. At this point the game offers some means of direct player interaction, because a player is allowed to displace a trader pawn of another player if he ends his move in the same province and if the other player has less influence than the player who has made such a move. A displaced trader will be moved backwards for one step on the Tea-Horse-Road, and this may result in other traders becoming isolated from the rest of a player's trading network.

The players can use trading post buildings to establish permanent branches in some provinces, and these trading posts serve both as sales outlets (creating profits) and as relay stations within the player's trading network. However, if a trading post becomes isolated, the consequences are even more severe, because the trading post will fail to create any profit during the current round. Other buildings which can be erected are and bridges and tea houses. The former may be used to activate shortcuts on the map which lead to the more distant provinces, whereas the latter can protect a player from the dreaded Imperial Commissar who will travel to the province which generates most income and displace a trader from this province.

All elements which have been mentioned above can be obtained and increased by placing trader pawns at Yunnan. So, there are different locations which the players can use to obtain additional traders, transit passes, buildings or influence, or which can effect a movement of the horse on the Tea-Horse-Road which increases the players' potential sphere of action. However, all these benefits are not simply obtained on a base of "first placement wins", but instead the placement of a trader comes with a bid. On a certain bid level a player's trader cannot be removed from this location anymore, but if this bid level has not been reached a trader which has been placed at a specific location will be displaced and goes back to its owner's personal stockpile. However, in order to mitigate the effects of such a displacement, the player will get another chance to place his trader, even if he should already have announced that he has finished placing his traders.

At the end of a round, each player calculates the profits generated by his traders and trading posts, and he will take back all traders which have been used at Yunnan locations. Trading posts and traders on travels will remain on the board, and during the following rounds they can continue their travels from the province they have reached. The players will turn their profits into money which then can be used for actions during the following rounds, but they are allowed to invest a part of their profits into victory points. These are taken on a 1:1 exchange rate, and so a player will need to estimate how much money he might need during the upcoming round. At the end of the game money also can still be turned into victory points, but then the exchange rate is 1:3 and so it will be more valuable to invest during the course of the game. In addition, the players also will gain some victory points for the progress they have made at some of the Yunnan locations and for purchased tea houses, and victory will fall to the player who has established the most efficient organization for the export of Pu'Er tea.

Aaron Haag efficiently avoids any rules which might have introduced luck into the playing mechanism, and as a result the players will face a tough strategy game where everything depends on the players' timing and investment tactics. There are no hidden elements - money, abilities and victory points of all players are permanently visible. This allows the players to make well-informed decisions on their own actions, and it is up to them to take the risk of getting their traders displaced or becoming outbid at a Yunnan location. Such a total focus on planning and strategy can be really rewarding if all pays off, but frustration is close because just one overlooked flaw in a player's strategy can lead to a quite harsh cut in the player's profits.

Although the total volume of the rules still is tolerable, the hard-core strategic orientation roots the game deeply in the category of specialist games. Especially new players will need a game or two in order to come to grips with the interwoven mechanisms, and so these players will face an entry barrier which is considerably higher than in other ARGENTUM games. Although the main playing mechanisms are different, the levels of complexity and strategy found in Yunnan are quite similar to those found in Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar. Both games challenge the players to play at their best ability, and they reward the players not only with a good and atmospheric implementation of their background story, but also with a tight-packed strategic contest in which each player is keeping a suspicious eye on the progress made by his competitors.

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Copyright & copy; 2014 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany