.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Thinking Out Loud

Thursday, October 06, 2005

ChiZo Rising >> Fad or Fantastic?

At GenCon earlier this year, several new games caught my eye -- Beowulf, Descent, Axis & Allies Miniatures... But one of my fellow BoardGameGeeks, Kevin Bender (futurescaper) strongly recommended a new collectable tile-placing game called ChiZo Rising. I forgot about the game while at GenCon, and didn't pick up any starters.

Eventually, after GenCon, I sifted through my notes, fliers and other marketing bits and came across an ad for ChiZo Rising. I hopped on BoardGameGeek and the ChiZo website for more information. Nothing really caught my eye, but based on Kevin's recommendation, I found a retailer and purchased 2 starters and 2 boosters -- more than enough for two players to enjoy the game and get a feel for the experience.

My starters, unfortunately, overlapped quite a bit. Horse-Ram-Tiger and Rabbit-Ram-Tiger... Based on the distribution of tiles and significant overlap, the first 3 games felt a bit static. But even then, there was enough gaming goodness that I knew I wanted to get a greater selection of animals and really see how ChiZo Rising performed. I got in touch with Kevin, and we were able to arrange a trade, sending my Horse-Ram-Tiger set to him for a series of animals he had in his collection to help balance out mine: Ox, Monkey, Snake, Pig, Dog and Horse -- giving me 9 of the 12 total Chinese Zodiac animals to choose from.

Last night, Michael Silbey (armadi) and I stayed up 'til 2:30 AM after a night of regular gaming just to try out the new animals. We "drafted" animals to form our decks, 3 animal types per deck. And it was awesome. So much more strategy and interaction revealed itself with a greater mix of animals. Different combos appeared. A feel for the strengths of different animal types started to become apparent.

I really want to get the last three animals missing from my collection -- Rat, Rooster and Dragon. Then we can mix and match from all 12 animals, or play 4-player games with ease. I really see a lot of replay value in the game, and imagine it would work just as well with 3- or 4-players. I'm really looking forward to playing more ChiZo Rising!

Bottom Line: ChiZo Rising - 8.5/10. Fun game with some novel twists on the classic tile placement and customization hooks. Lots of opportunity for customizing your "deck" of tiles and working off the neat abilities of the animals. One of the most pleasant surprises over the last year. Beautiful, solid components. Simple, deceptively deep an engaging gameplay, and lots of decision making. Love it.

Unfortunately, poor random picks of starters with a lot of overlap can result in very static, lockdown play as neither player wants to move lest they open up huge scoring options for their opponent. Greater variety in animal types between players = much greater gameplay dynamics. After playing with more animals, my only real complaint is in their marketing and packaging, making it difficult for collectors to actually get all the animals.

The more starters you buy, the less likely you are to get what you need, which is really a shame. If they simply created 4 starters with 3 animals each, I'd buy all 4 in a heartbeat and supplement the starters with scads of boosters. As it is, I have no incentive to buy a starter, as the odds are very, very slim I'll pick up one of the new animals I need.


  • ‘Changes in the Past Year’

    If the reviewer is still playing the game, then he knows that some of the problems mentioned in the review have since been corrected. It is important that readers are aware of these changes, so that they are not put of from the game for the wrong reasons.

    ‘Identifiable 2-Player Starter Kits’

    Temple now has 2-player starter kits, which are in 4 identifiable configurations - so you know what basic animals you are getting. Admittedly, the individual boxes (each 2-player set includes two boxes) look identical, which is the problem with the single starter boxes. But, getting the two-player kit gives you more tiles and a broader selection to work with, gives one person enough to bring in another potential player. “Hey, John, want to play a new game with me?”

    The 2-player starter kits are two boxes, each come with 32 chosen tiles for the configuration: 7 each of 3 basic creatures, and 11 special effect tiles suitable for those creatures, as well as 2 x 8-tile boosters, which are random; bringing the total to 48 tiles per box (like the single starters,) and 96 tiles per set.

    It appears from the kit that I opened, and a Grand Spoiler sheet that another player created, the kits are identical within each configuration – as far as the 32 chosen tiles are concerned. So, every Teeth & Claws Edition will have the same 64 chosen tiles.

    Temple has also release basic animal tile sets, each containing 7 tiles of any one basic creature. Apparently, customers were having a difficult time getting enough basic creatures from the original starters and boosters. It looks like Temple listened to that criticism and moved to correct it. Unfortunately, the basic creature sets are a little expensive in comparison to the other items. Most players are suggesting just buying additional 2-player starters that have the configuration of animals you want.

    ‘All My Basic Pigs Look the Same’

    Additionally, the basic creature tiles have brought another criticism from the community – the single illustration used for a particular basic creature. This has been pointed at in several posts on the forums, by various players (me included.) Some of the responses from Temple staff seem to indicate that they are listening, and possibly considering making such a change. Nothing definite, but they have certainly told us that they are listening to our complaints and suggestions, and want to hear more of what we think.

    As the reviewer indicated, his first few games seemed a bit static because of the selection of tiles from the starter sets. While this should be corrected by the new kits, there is still the possibility of the Playing Area being visually “boring,” despite how well illustrated the tiles, and how beautifully done the game is in general. With there only being 12 basic creatures, and most players using 3 types or less, a game can end up having a lot of identical tiles in play. Even though the play of the game - in the placing, moving, and removing of the tiles - can “break-up” the picture; there can still be a homogenous look to the tiles in play, and so render the game’s feel to “same ol’ – same ol’.”

    ‘No Other Significant Changes’

    A new problem has developed since the first reviewer’s posts: There have been no new additions to the games. This has been one of the biggest issues mentioned in the forums, causing concerned among hard-core fans of the game as to whether or not it is “dead.” It also may be the cause behind another concern: Some distributors have dropped the game from their lines. This has impacted European players the most. Again, Temple staff have recently posted reassurance in the forums. They are working on the next edition, and hope to have it out some time next year. In the area of Collectible Card Games (which seems to be the closest thing to what ChiZo is,) this is too long of a period without expansion. Some players may have left the game completely. Others, who do not want to give it up, still feel there is little hope. But, even among those, and especially among the die-hards that haven’t given up yet, the game will still be played even if it publishing stops.

    Temple has created a game that is individually configurable (like CCGs,) but can act as a stand-alone game given enough tiles in a collection. Buy all 4 of the 2-player kits, and you have enough for 8 players, allowing a large group of friends to do 2-game sessions. There’s definitely enough to build a large 4-player game. And, there just might be enough to build 12, single creature “decks.” You may not have all the tiles published, but you would have enough to play some interesting games.

    The lost distribution may as well be affected by low sales. Many stores are reported have highly discounted prices, even close-outs on the game. I have even found this to be true on many Internet retail sites. I discovered the game from a retailer that does not have it discounted. In fact, it still has a retail mark-up that is higher than buying from Temple directly. This game is well done, simple to play, but complex in strategy. Plus, it’s different enough to be interesting, especially for jaded, former CCG players. And, it touches a subject not widely done or understood – but rich with possibilities. There is no reason for it to be selling poorly, other than poor marketing. And, for these kinds of games, marketing is largely word-of-mouth.

    When Magic: The Gathering came out, it wasn’t known. Where I am, there was no marketing. We got into it by word of mouth. It was late 1993, in fact. Only a few hobby shops had it, and in small quantities. And, it wasn’t selling out like it did in late 1994 when it boomed. A couple people in my group of friends found it, tried it, and introduced the rest of us to it. We liked it, and started buying the cards. We were the first to “buy-out” shops’ stocks. But, we still didn’t know many people playing it outside our group (though that was growing.) There were no tournaments, no in-store demonstrations. It was word-of-mouth. Of course, we were in the game early. We were playing with Alpha and Beta cards. Yes, we played those ultra-rare, Alpha editions cards. We didn’t know. These weren’t collectibles yet. In fact, it was the growing of collectors, and so the growing “value” of the cards, which made many of us leave the game. We just like playing it, and didn’t like having to pay robbery prices just to get enough cards to play with, because big-money collectors were buying out stores’ stocks by the pallet.

    I’m kind of glad this hasn’t yet happened to ChiZo. Unfortunately, the opposite is happening right now – which can kill a good game. I know from the forums that many of the players are trying to fix that, introducing new people to the game. I’m new to it myself, discovering it on my own. But, I know I will do my part to spread it. I bought a 2-player kit for a friend for Christmas. Haven’t given it to him yet, but I’m sure he will like the game enough to play it, maybe buy some more tiles, and even get his wife into it. I can’t say he will get into it like he had with Magic: The Gathering. But, he and his wife like games, and often find “new” and interesting ones. But, he might buy more than what is needed for about 4 people to play.

    And that may be the biggest flaw in ChiZo. Its greatest strength is also its weakness. The game is designed so well, so tight, that it stands so well alone, without much addition. That may well be the reason it has low sales. Not everyone needs their own set. One person can buy enough for a small group of friends to play, without spending much more than a really good board game. And, without any expansions in over a year, there really isn’t anything for Temple to market with, to get repeat and growing sales.

    Sorry that this turned into more of a review and not just reply to the original review.


    By Blogger CorMak, at 5:26 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home