ChiZo Rising >> Fad or Fantastic?
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.