Review: Gugong, Gain Audience with an Emperor

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Gugong is a Euro game designed by Andreas Steding where palatial power is gained not through assassins, political backstabbing, or marriage contracts but through gift exchange. With a flick of the sleeves, gifts are exchanged.

The game offers a a brief history of the game. Longquin Emperor of the Ming Dynasty came into his reign saturated with corruption and mismanagement.  Unlike his father, Longquin Emperor resides in the Forbidden City, now called Gugong (“Imperial Palace” or “Former Palace”). To reform the government, he brings back talented officials to bring honor and stability to the reign and to uphold the ban on corruption. Despite their promise to uphold the ban, there are other methods to gain requests such as valuable gifts.

 

Envoy game pieces and their corresponding servants.

 

To play Gugong, players are powerful Chinese families as designated by different colors, Over the course of four days, you try to gain power and influence through gifts and to gain audience with the emperor.

We were given this game awhile ago to review but it took so long to review. It took a long time to garner interest from friends to play. It took hours to learn the game. It took months to process and appreciate it.  Mostly because we took just a blind leap into the game without any preparation whatsoever.

 

Horsemen pieces of the families

The game was attempted  to be played on a Friday night. All of the players including myself were worn from a long day of work yet we were all excited to play. At a glance, we are all pretty casual players and had some experience with Euro games. Euro games are games mainly created by European designers that have little to no combative features or player elimination.

Overall, it took a dismaying two hours and a half of setting up the game and attempting to understand the game. A significant amount of the time was understanding the game pieces and trying to reading the instructions. It was a definite bonding experience and working as a team.

After the introduction page, there is a two page graphic of the board and the pieces. The image of the pieces are very tiny and hard to differentiate on the board. There is no particular of placing the pieces but it helped to go from the left corner and counter clockwise.  It took awhile to realize that the pieces and the player boards are  color coded into five colors. The artwork by Andreas Resch is gorgeous but the symbols designating placement (located on the upper right of the card) are either faint or not very obvious.

The Destiny Die and a sample of the gift cards to be traded

There is no shortage of symbols in this game. Pretty much 80% of the pieces and board are symbols.  The rulebook is page after page of symbols to explain the card actions, game actions, and game movement. Some of the symbolism was not quite intuitive such as point collection symbols. The rulebook was almost shredded as we flipped back and forth trying to decipher the meanings.

We all did become increasingly frustrating trying to understand the game, so we headed to Youtube and found reprieve from Meeple University (video below).  With that video, it lifted a lot of the confusion.

There was a beautiful moment when it all clicked and the game proceeded pretty rapidly as we tried to gain audience with the emperor and juggling all of the favors. We had fun but lesson learned, this was not a Friday night game for first-timers.

The Yellow player game board

Then it took some time to realize that there was a solo gameplay option. Which was fantastic to get to understand the game. The game comes with an cards for an “A.I.” agent named Meng. There is a slight variation in the phases but otherwise, the gameplay is the same. The game board is two sided: one side is for 1-3 players, the other is for 3-5 players.  Funny enough, I still lost with the solo variant as I completely forgot about gaining audience with the Emperor!

For those new to the game, playing the solo variant first is highly recommended. That way you can become familiar with the pieces and gameplay.  I would also recommend playing the game earlier in the day with plenty of snacks.

A large table is also very recommended. The game board is pretty large, about 28 inches long. There are multiple pieces to keep track of along with the player board. Most of the portions of the gameboard was understandable but the Canal portion still befuddling. For the 3-5 player board, the canal has two routes.  It was hard to cement the dynamics of the canal movement to understand movement of the ship at the end of the route. This was still confusing for the solo variant. According to the rulebook, the ships moved one place after the night phase but at the end of the route, the ship would be lost at sea. It was assuming that the ship only had so many chances to obtain the actions. We were also uncertain about the initial placement of the ship once the canal action was gain. Was an empty ship first place and then servants added. Or did the new ship came into harbor with the player added?Hopefully the deluxe edition or new versions of the game were clearer on this potion.

 

Portion of the gameboard with a focus on Palace of Heavenly Purity

 

Overall, it is an interesting game. Once everyone gets on board, the game can fly by pretty rapidly. Despite the rocky beginnings, all of the players did have fun and wished to play again. The game that was provided for review is the standard version but there is a deluxe version. The deluxe version comes with more detailed game pieces. As a bonus suggestion to playing the game, it was also a wonderful excuse to stream some classical music from the Ming Dynasty court (video below) to give it that more authentic feel.

Gugong is available now from Tasty Minstrel Games.

Game Details:

Players: 1-5 players

Age: For players 12 years and older

Estimated game time: 90+ minutes

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