A mahjong variant called Tien Zi Que is given new light in The Battle of Red Cliffs by Sunrise Tornado Game Studio. Brought to life through Kickstarter, players collect and score cards in a “set collection” mechanic over a series of rounds to create a Master Set of cards for end game scoring. The amount of points that a player earns over the course of those rounds will determine where they fall on the score board at the end of the game. Players may also try their hand at this in its solo version where they race against the clock (via the score board). Let’s take a look!
The Battle of Red Cliffs comes in a small rectangular box (4″x7.5″) and comes with the following
- 132 cards (includes playing cards, event cards, 9 player aids, discard pile cards, trash pile card, and mini score cards)
- 1 Score Board
- 7 Player Score Markers
The art style on the cards is beautiful and intricate, with heavily manga-inspired tones on the Beauty and Tien Zi Que cards.
How to Play
To set the game up, you’ll need to determine how you’re playing.
If playing individual competitively, 2- 7 players can do this. Two player teams can be formed for 4, 6 or 8 players. Or three player teams can be formed with 6 or 9 players. There is a solo play game as well, which will be addressed a bit later.
Take the 2 Discard pile cards and the Trash card – place these in the center of the table next to each other. Each player/team then selects a color to represent them and place it on the lower right hand corner of the score board. If they’d like, they can use the mini score cards instead. Give each player a Player Aid card (used for scoring). In any game with 2-9 players, each player gets 2 Tien Zi Que (TZQ) cards, and the remaining cards (including Events) are shuffled face down into a draw pile next to the Trash pile. Next, draw 2 cards from the deck and place them face up in the Discard Pile spaces. No wild cards (“0” or TZQ) can be placed in these spaces – they always go to the Trash pile. Play begins with the youngest player.
For round setup, in the first round each player draws until they have 6 cards in hand. In subsequent rounds (starting with first player) players may discard 1-2 non-wild cards and draw back up to 6. If an Event card is drawn in the first round, draw another and shuffle the Event back into the deck. If ever the draw pile is depleted, shuffle the two Discard piles and Trash pile to form a new draw pile and set up new cards face up in the discard piles as before. Don’t show your cards to anyone, even to team members.
Now for turns. During a turn the active player draws 1 card from the draw pile. Then they get 2 actions per turn. They can
- Play a set
- Discard a card
Lastly they draw from the draw pile until they have 6 cards again.
When an Event card is drawn, resolve what it says then draw another card. The Event cards goes to the Trash pile. If the active player has 5 or more score cards at the end of their turn, then the round will end after the last player finishes their turn for the round and triggers the end of round.
A special action that may be taken at the beginning of the turn by one player is Peng! This is an interrupt that allows the player that Pengs to make a trips set by taking a card from one of the Discard piles and adding two cards from their hand. The player then chooses one of the three cards to keep as a score card and places the others in the Trash and Discard piles accordingly. Anyone who Pengs doesn’t refill their hand on their turn and only one player (with priority to the active player) may Peng on a turn. You can employ an optional rule to not allow Peng with 3 or fewer players.
After all players have taken their turn, the round ends. Use the Player Aid card as a reference for scoring. Adjust score tokens on the score board and continue. The player with the lowest score is the starting player for the next round. Wherever you end up on the score board, if you don’t clear that Rank, you are “returned” to the base level. See the photo below for clarification.
The game ends on the following conditions:
- Individual : a player reaches 20 points on the Score Board
- Two player teams : a team reaches 30 points on the Score Board
- Three player teams : a team reaches 50 points on the Score Board.
The player or team with the highest score wins!
The solo game is set up the same, except that a second token is placed on the score board as the timer, and Event cards are removed from the game. the TZQ card is another timer. Anytime a TZQ card is drawn, place it aside and draw another card. Move the timer token to the next level on the score board. Peng is not a usable action, neither are Set actions from Beauty cards. When the timer reaches rank 5, the game is over and you lose. If the player reaches 50 points before the timer reaches rank 5, the player wins.
The Battle of…What?
I liked the strategy that goes into this game, though it took a while to get used to the scoring system. Once I had that down, it became a fun puzzle game, sometimes having to change my goal to accommodate for what cards I could get. That being said you’ll have a very different outcome in every game as it is rare that you can get the same scoring combination that you’ve achieved in previous games. I didn’t like the team play so much, and felt that individual was better than teams. Though the solo game takes the cake for me – we’ll talk about that in a moment.
I do have some beef with the way the game was portrayed on the box. If you’re looking for a game that has anything at all to do with The Battle of Red Cliffs, you will have to keep looking. There is really no connection between this historical event and the game. Even further, the anime-style of art on the Beauty cards threw me off. They didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the game. The abilities of the Beauty cards are fun in game, but the art feels very out of place. Also there is very little in this game with a “mahjong” feel – it is more along the lines of rummy.
Lack of theme aside, I feel that the game is good for those that like card puzzle games and are looking for a challenge. I like the player aid cards as I needed them frequently for scoring reference. A lot of frustrations arose in our games because the more players there are, the slower the game is and the inactive players will find themselves really bored. We feel like the Peng option absolutely should only be for 3+ players.
My favorite way of playing this game is actually the solo mode, and is one of the first games I’d prefer to play solo. That being said, it is difficult as you’re racing a clock and the TZQ cards don’t help you. I think this game is much more ideal as a solo game than a competitive one with more players. I only won in one of my solo games, but I liked the pace I set for myself and the challenge of competing against the deck. I tend to prefer 2+ player games because I like the social aspect of tabletop gaming, but with this one, I’d rather play alone.
The Battle of Red Cliffs retails for $25.00 and can be found online or at your FLGS. If you have a friend who owns this game or there is a copy at a local game store, I’d advise grabbing a few friends to try it out before purchasing it for your collection. I can personally take it or leave it, but those who really love set collection games may really enjoy this.
- Fans of set collection and rummy will like this
- Great solo-play game
- Has team play to accommodate large groups
- Not much to explore – lack of theme
- Game box/title/description is misleading
- Lengthy with lots of players
- Lots of downtime – lack of focus with larger player numbers