A short disclaimer before you read my board game analysis
As an avid euro gamer and hardcore Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) LCG player, my reviews may reflect a preference for these styles, and I may not cover solo games/variants extensively. Please note that my personal remarks are based on my gaming experiences, and I aim to provide honest insights within the scope of my preferences.
Update 22/09/2020: From Bad Comet Games I got notified that their Kickstarter page is already previewed and it will be online on September 23rd. Click “Notify Me” so you guys don’t miss it. I will be back with the review when the end-product is distributed after the end of the funding period and shipping process.
A couple weeks ago, we reviewed Shaolia: Warring States. The core game got a positive response from us. After I shared the review to our fellow Indonesian board gamers in a Facebook group, someone bought it and was also impressed by the game. The rest is waiting for the Kickstarter to get online, planning to order the core bundled with Shaolia: Great Houses expansion. How great is that?!
A parcel arrived at my doorstep, and after a short inspection, I realised it was the prototype of Shaolia’s expansion from Bad Comet Games. I can’t wait to share with you what we think about the game. If you just want to read the review, you can skip and go directly to what I think about the game. Click here to jump.
The very first question all board gamers ask before buying every expansion offered to them. Yes, yes, I understand this one very much. This Great Houses box brings two new systems to the game. There will be Noble houses’ tiles and Quests. Besides, it also packs new Lv 2 and character cards, and five game modes. Behold, lone-wolf, because Gunho Kim also adds the solo variant here!
The rules stay the same. However, the new components bring out something new into the gameplay. The latest Lv 2 cards, for example, add another tactical and strategic decision with its multiple classes. It also grants the possibility to play combos to win the game. These cards can also be played in the previous game modes from the core game!
The new game modes in this Great Houses increase the replay value, which is already high in the first place. What I’m really excited about is the Noble Houses! But, before we delve deeper, let’s take a glance on the thematic story in this expansion!
The story of the Great Houses
It was told that the 11 loyal families nicknamed The Great Houses ended the long-lasting war and brought the 100-year-peace to the continent of Shaolia. However, one catastrophic event changed it all. The current young emperor was assassinated by ‘an unknown force’. After the heralds spread this bad news, many tried their chances to seize the empty throne. Once again, chaos and misfortune took over Shaolia.
Your task will be to stop this madness. Who will emerge victoriously and bring back the peace this continent and its folks deserves? (There will be one big surprise in the solo-mode, which I will spoil later on).
Are you stranded due to COVID-19 or any other reason? Don’t fret! Shaolia: Great Houses offers the lone-wolf one possibility to play alone. The game mode “The Usurper” narrates your quest to defeat the fallen 12th Great House. Yes, you read it right. Twelve noble families brought peace back then, but one went astray in their seek for power. Their failed coup attempt resulted in a mass execution. However, many escaped their fates, waiting for the right time to reclaim the throne.
How to play Shaolia: Great Houses
The rules from the core box stay the same. Don’t worry, you’ll find no hardship on how to play Shaolia: Great Houses. If you haven’t read about the core, we have reviewed it before as well. There will be some additional mechanic and setup. I will give an overview of that in this chapter.
Setting up Shaolia: Great Houses
Besides the usual setup, now you have to prepare and shuffle the Noble House tiles and Quest cards. Afterwards, draw four Noble House tiles and five Quest cards, placing them face-up on the table. Also, there will be another Quest tracker token for each player. Now, you can pick your game mode and use the Lv1 and Lv2 cards accordingly. The new cards can also be added in the game mode from the core box.
The other new stuffs
Besides the seven new Characters, the new Lv2 cards bring a new way to play the game. The new Gold Command now forces players not only to use the appropriate dice but also to pay gold to activate. Some of them will also have multiple classes. That means those cards can act both as defensive measures and resource generators, for example. Why is this important? We’ll take a look later.
Noble House Tiles & Quest Cards
So what are these Noble House tiles? Well, if players acquire this tile, they gain extra ability which helps to win the game. However, getting these tiles is not an easy feat. It requires players to pay the cost to get support from the Great Houses. This cost varies, but it will always involve the Quest we have fulfilled. This leads to another question: how to get the Quest cards?
The revealed Quest cards show what conditions the players must meet to take that to their hands. These Quests may be either immediately resolved or may need to be fulfilled several times. For the latter, players can place their Quest tracker on that Quest cards. By doing so, he/she prevents other players from accomplishing that exact Quest.
Players with that lone wolf trait will still be able to enjoy Shaolia: Great Houses. The Usurper is the game mode to play Shaolia solo-mode. When we want to play against the AI created by Bad Comet Games, you will set up this game the same way as when you want to play against player. However, we only need one Player board. Then, take out the Boss board. This will be your opponent.
The Boss’ board has two sides. The player can pick whichever based on the difficulty you want to play against. Place the Gauge tracker and the Locked card on the specified spaces. Shuffle the Boss’ Lv2 and Lv1 cards separately.
Then, place the Lv1 card deck on the Lv2 deck to build a Minion card deck. Put them beside the board. Here, you can create your own Lv2 card deck. You may also include Wonder cards, too. Besides, you can also pick your own two Trading post tiles.
The Usurper: Purchasing phase
The turn order stays the same. What’s different is the way we resolve the boss’ actions. Instead of using dice, we use that card deck. During the Boss’ Purchase phase, that player draws a card from the Minion card deck and puts it on the left-most Minion slot on the board. If there’s another card placed there, then it will be pushed to the right. The right-most one will be discarded when it is out of the board. The shifting process happens only when there’s a card on that slot. The Boss then skips the Building phase.
Action phase on solo-mode’s Boss
Please note that all Boss’ abilities are considered passive. It is resolved sequentially from left to right. If the slot contains no card, then the default printed ability on the board will take place. Whenever an ability with ‘Charge’ is activated, move the Gauge tracker to the right and resolve the effect.
The attack towards the player will hit according to the priority. The Minions will first attack the Defend cards, Lv2 cards on the board, and lastly, the Player’s Palace. They will never attack Lv1 cards.
When the player attacks and destroys a Minion card, he/she will take the loot according to the card’s level. However, that player cannot attack the default ability printed on the Boss’ board.
My opinion on Shaolia: Great Houses
Gunho does not disappoint with this expansion Shaolia: Great Houses. He didn’t just add more cards to play with, but he also pushed further by implementing a new mechanic. Remember that multiple classes I mentioned before? Some cards need to have synergy with these classes to activate the ability. That adds extra board management to consider when building and triggering them. The addition of this mechanic makes Shaolia becoming more strategic rather than just a mere tactical showdown.
The existence of Quest cards as the new resource is also exciting. The way we can get Quest is by fulfilling the conditions printed on it. It adds an extra thing to do on the player board. Those new abilities from Noble Houses are powerful enough and make the extra effort worth it. With this and the new Characters and Lv2 cards, Bad Comet Games has increased Shaolia’s replay value. The Great Houses expands the gameplay from the core box massively.
My experience against The Usurper
I am not a fan of solo-mode, but The Usurper was pretty fun. However, the difference in the difficulties between Normal and Hard is pretty steep. When I was building my own Lv2 card deck, I didn’t even bother to include any mono-Culture class cards. I only took offensive and defensive cards because the minions were either attacking or charging the Gauge tracker. The skills on the AI’s board were all about attacking so I didn’t have to think about Culture point at all. It would be nice if The Usurper could have another winning formula players need to take care of as well. Again, I need to mention that it was not a bad experience at all! I mean, this solo-mode was still quite enjoyable to play.
Minor problem with Quest cards
Let’s backtrack a bit to the Quest cards. As mentioned, some Quests need to be repeatedly fulfilled. There are Quest trackers used to mark how many times players have accomplished the objective. The easier quests need to be done several times, while the harder ones can be taken immediately after the condition is satisfied. For me, it is the way to balance the Quests, and it works.
However, with six Quest trackers available and only five Quests, we faced a problem during one of our games. It may not present so often, but there’s a possibility this will happen and ruin the gaming experience. So, all of the revealed Quests needed to be done multiple times and I put one tracker on each Quest card. Since the rule stated that once a Quest tracker from one player is placed, nobody else is allowed to do the Quest. That means, my opponent wasn’t able to do the Quest at all.
It may be interesting to reduce the quantity of the Quest trackers per player, perhaps into three. Also, players may move the tracker placed on a card to another Quest card when necessary, but they must pay a cost when doing so. With this additional rule, the players are forced to manage their priority.
The Shaolia: Great Houses’ copy delivered this time is a prototype only. That means, it is not finalised yet by Bad Comet Games and may still be altered. But, as a prototype, this one was already decent enough. If I bring it to your table and play, you’ll never notice that it’s still just a mock-up version of the game. 대박 –. I just wished The Usurper panel would be printed on a thicker board in the final version, and it would be perfect.
Shaolia: Great Houses is an expansion we need for the core game. The new cards are a nice extra for the game. But what’s more interesting is the new mechanic in this box. If you have the core box already, back this expansion on Kickstarter. Are you a starting player? Well, bundle it up, and you’ll not regret it.
I am a full-time food technologist during weekdays. However, when the calendar hits weekends, I transform into an avid board gamer. I am a hardcore Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) LCG player from Fantasy Flight Games (FFG). Current hobby: buying board games. My shelf of shame’s list is getting longer, thanks to you, Kickstarter.