Posted in Enthusiast Games, Short length, Solo play review

At the Gates of Loyang – Solo play review

It’s a Rosenberg game, so expect vegetables – and you won’t be disappointed!

Summary:

At the Gates of Loyang is an Enthusiast level board game of Short length, playable by 1 to 4 players.

This review focuses on the solo play experience.

Gates of Loyang has a built-in solo mode, based on a ‘score achievement’ model – but don’t be put off by that if you prefer a different type of solo challenge – Loyang is a genuinely challenging and enjoyable solo experience.  A score of 15 or 16 is effectively a ‘fail’, 17 is a ‘win’ and 18 or 19 is . . . not achievable for me yet.

Here’s what we mean when we rate game ‘weight’ or level or game length.

The best bits of this game are the balance between Regular customers (who have to be served almost every round) and Casual customers (who are served once, when you choose to serve them) – this tightrope act is the essential challenge of the game. Regular customers are the backbone of your economic engine, but you can’t win without satisfying some casuals also.

The worst bit of Loyang is that you’re always one or two coins short of what you really want to do on your turn :).

Review:

As with many Rosenberg games, there is a simple and elegant setup for the solo ‘opponent’ and mode – here it is, laid out before play:

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The solo mode Courtyard (4 rows of 3 cards) presents options for you to buy from, transitioning between rounds.  Two Markets, Casual customers and Regular customers at right simulate a human opponent to interact with.

You develop your own farm based on the customers who you plan to serve, and play across 9 rounds.  Your farm develops each round – here is mine, after thefirst round:

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I’ve begun planting with wheat and radish (purchased from the store), made some minor progress on the “Path to Prosperity” (score 2), and have a Market and a Helper for future rounds

Each round will see you striving to advance on the Path to Prosperity – you must advance as you go, or it becomes nigh-impossible in later rounds. ¹ But you’ll need to spend coins on some cards from the courtyard, new types of vegetables (unless you can trade for them in the market; but anything you trade you cannot plant), extra fields if you can get them, and powerful ‘Two-packs’².

Speaking of planting, you must plant new vegetables, preferably of different types to satisfy a variety of customers, but you can only plant certain types in certain fields – and, of course, the most valuable ones go in the smallest fields.  Did I mention that you won’t know exactly when new prime fields will arrive, to be available for planting?

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Late game: biodiversity!

 

Regular customers are demanding and they won’t pay a premium, but they will pay round after round.  As mentioned above, balancing their needs with those of casual customers is the trick – fill the casual orders at the right time, and you could get a sweet bonus.

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Just how will you get that blessed / blasted beetroot when you need it?  Well, I have a spare wheat and few coins – can I buy a pumpkin (4 coins), trade it and the wheat in the market for a beetroot, and then fill a Casual order for 11 coins? Or would it be better to hire the Maid from the bottom row of the courtyard (2 coins), so that I can do a direct wheat-for-beet swap? If this sort of puzzle appeals to you, then you’ll thoroughly enjoy Gates of Loyang, as I do.

A tip: you get a new field every turn.  It’s nearly always a mistake not to plant it . . except when planting it would be the wrong thing to do, because you need those extra coins to hire that crucial helper for next turn’s regular customer demands; and you need to step forwards on the Path this turn . . . I suspect you will have gleaned the joys and tiny horrors of this game, by now!

The variety and interaction of the cards, the varying order in which your fields arrive, and the sheer challenge of getting past 17 or 18 on the Path of Prosperity make this a rewarding solo experience which you’ll want to replay.  Go on, you can knock off another solo game in 45 to 60 minutes now – sleep is for the weak! 😉

You can probably tell that At the Gates of Loyang is one of my favourite solo games.  The ‘solo mode’ is low maintenance and elegant and is not difficult to learn³. It’s also excellent as a multiplayer game, and though complex, it’s fairly easy to teach.  I rate it five beetroot / four broad beans!  I’d love a ‘carrots and kale’ expansion, but it seems unlikely…

BoardGameGeek rates this game as 3.14 out of 5 in weight, (at the time of publication of this review), though that rating doesn’t distinguish between solo and multiplayer games and so is not adjusted to reflect the changes involved in solo play.

Availability

Loyang was published in 2009 and can be tough to get – I picked my copy up secondhand.  Amazon is by far the best price available in Australia – about $75 – and OzGameShop is the only other option at present (about $110).

Footnotes:

¹ The first step forwards each round costs 1 coin, then additional steps cost the value of the space.  So, from 9 to 11 costs 12 coins (1+11) and from 11 to 13 the next turn will cost 14 coins (1 + 13) for 26 coins total across two turns – but if you try to go one step (9 to 10) in a turn, and then from 10 to 13 the next turn, it gets more expensive (1 + 1 + 12 + 13 = 27 coins).  This may seem a small difference, but every coin is crucial in Loyang! 

Achieving three steps in one round is tough.

² Two-packs are so (potentially) powerful that you’re limited to buying them once a round. But the cost might sink you.  Aaaaarrgghh!!

³ … once you get past a clumsy section at page 9 in the rulebook.  Clarification: There is no “Distribution round” in the solo game – the only cards potentially available to you are in the ‘Courtyard’ – you can buy 0, 1 or 2 and that’s it each round.

“I want to be with those who know secret things or else alone.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke

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