You’re an architect, and have been given the news that the Emperor of China is coming for a visit! Prove your skill and worth by building the best pagodas in honor of his arrival. Use resources (cards) at your disposal to raise pagodas from the ground up and earn points based on the floor you’ve worked on, and try to earn the most victory points by the end of the game (when 3 pagodas are finished). This 2 player game by Arve D. Fühler won game design contest for 2 players in 2013 by Pegasus Spiele, and has been brought to the U.S. by AEG. Let’s take a look at this tactical head-to-head game.
Out of the Box
Pagoda features some beautiful art on the cover by Arve D. Fühler and contains the following:
- 1 Game Board
- 55 cards (11 of each of 5 colors)
- 125 Wooden Columns (25 of each of 5 colors)
- 1 starting player marker
- 2 50/100 point tokens
- 2 Architect Boards
- 12 wooden markers (6 in each player color)
- 25 pagoda tiles (5 in each of 5 colors)
The game comes with some extra plastic baggies for storing the components after you’ve removed them from the chit boards.
Playing The Game
Place the game board in the center of the table, then give each player an architect board and one of the player colors (tan or brown). Put one marker on the 0 space on the game board’s victory point track, and place the others on the 5 left spaces of the architect board. Sort the pagoda tiles by color and place them in stacks on the side of the board, as well as a general supply of colored columns. Give each player one each of the 5 colored cards to place face up in front of them as their open display. Shuffle the remaining cards and put them next to the game board with room for a discard pile. Each player then draws 2 cards for their hand. Place the 50/100 point tokens to the side, and place them in front of you when you pass 50 and 100 victory points, accordingly. First player is the last player who ate with chopsticks!
On a player’s turn, they may do the following repeatedly and in any order, with only a few limitations.
- Column Construction – you must build at least one column per turn, but you are limited to a maximum of 3 unless the architect board says otherwise (more on this later). A rooftop (2 columns) is considered o be 1 column for the limit. To build a column, choose a card and play it to the building lot. To do this, choose from one of the cards in your hand or your open display. The open display is general knowledge, but the cards in your hand are kept secret until played. Take this card and place it vertically at a building lot. Place the appropriate number of columns (one per card played) on that lot. All columns on a floor must be the same color.
- Scoring – You gain victory points based on what floor of the pagoda your column was built on. Columns built on the ground level are worth 1 point, 2nd floor columns are 2 points each, 3rd floor is 3 points each, and 3th floor is 4 points each.
- Pagoda Tile Construction – you may build as many pagoda tiles as are legally available on a turn. There must be 4 complete columns on the previous floor to play a tile. To do so, place a card sideways on the appropriate lot that matches the color of the columns underneath. For example, if the first floor columns are blue, a blue card must be played sideways to place a blue tile on top of them. The color of the column spaces on this tile will determine the column color for the second floor. There are special rules for the 4th tile, which are seen in the next turn option.
- Scoring – Each pagoda tile is worth 1 point, regardless of floor.
- Special – When you construct a pagoda tile, you gain a special ability of that color. Look at the architect board, and take the marker on that color’s row and place it in the farthest right space. You may use these abilities once per turn. After each use, the marker moves one space to the left, so you can use the ability twice before it runs out.
- Roof Construction – To construct a roof, you must be able to not only build the tile (place the appropriate color card sideways at the lot), but also construct the rooftop. To build the rooftop, flip the tile so that the roof/one colored space is face up, and play 2 cards of the color specified by the rooftop for the two column pieces (remember that the rooftop counts only for 1 column to the construction limit).
- Scoring – constructing the roof (tile + rooftop columns) scores a total of 6 points (1 for the tile + 5 for the rooftop).
At the end of each turn, replenish your cards, starting with your 5 open display spaces, then your hand to 2 cards. Then turn passes to the next player. Shuffle the discard pile to form a new draw pile should the need arise.
It is important to note that a player may not end their turn without building at least one column. If a player finds themselves in the rare spot where they cannot play a column, they may take an alternative turn. To do this, discard any 4 cards and construct ONE column of any color anywhere on the board and gain the usual points, following all normal rules. Turn ends when you replenish cards. The only special abilities that may be used in an alternative turn are Fan (purple) and Dragon (yellow) – the rest are forbidden.
The special abilities are as follows:
- Fan (purple) – Used at the end of your turn, may replenish up to 4 cards instead of 2. This is the absolute most number of cards you may ever hold in game.
- Dragon (yellow) – At the start of your turn before any actions are take, discard any number of cards from open display and hand and replenish them.
- Bowl of Rice (green) – used during column or roof construction, you may use 2 cards of one color to build 1 column of any color. So, you can play 2 green cards to build 1 purple column if this ability is available.
- Buddha (blue) – Used during pagoda or roof construction, play 2 cards of one color to build 1 pagoda tile of any color. This works the same as the green ability, just only for pagoda tiles.
- Lantern (red) – Used anytime during your turn – construction limit is extended to 4 columns.
The game ends when 3 full pagodas have been constructed. The current player finished their turn normally. If the first player triggers the end game, the opponent gets one more turn for equal number of turns. The player with the most points wins!
If You Liked It Then You Should’a Put A Roof On It
Pagoda is wonderfully laid out – the components are of great quality, simple, and beautiful. The game was easy to pick up and learn, and I feel would be easy to teach to other players. Pagoda gets really colorful in the heat of the game with cards and pagoda columns all over the board, but the simplicity of Pagoda’s mechanics make this delightful and not chaotic.
We are big fans of 2 player games around the office since the two of us are the main writers here, and we agree that Pagoda is certainly a keeper. We’ve not kept a lot of tactical 2 player games around because they become dull after a while or we find them to not be fun time and time again, but this was not the case with Pagoda. No, it isn’t action packed and exciting like some other games, but the game really does make you think. In addition to gaining points for what/where you place columns and pagodas, you also have special abilities on your Architect board to consider. These can really change up a round and enable a player to take a whole new approach to the turn. I like that you can only use the ability once per turn, and that it is only usable twice before you place another pagoda tile of that color – it keeps the game balanced and the players on their toes.
If you like games where you actively work to mess up your opponent or can interrupt their actions, you’ll have to look elsewhere. There isn’t much to do for the inactive player when it isn’t their turn. That being said, turns don’t take a very long time so the downtime really is minimal. I like to plan my next move while my opponent takes their turn, adjusting my ideas as their turn progresses. Maybe I planned to finish 2 columns and place a pagoda tile on my next turn but the other player does that same thing. Now I have a little bit of time to create a backup option for my turn.
The game itself is very smooth and I enjoyed that I didn’t have to spend a lot of time re-opening the rulebook. The difficulty comes in your decisions on your turn. This is a great game to introduce younger kids to tactical board gaming because it has some adjustable difficulty scaling (you can remove the architect board completely or only completing pagodas to the 3rd floor) and the rules aren’t so expansive that young minds would get lost in the details.
It isn’t hard to see why this game won best 2 player game design by Pegasus Spiele – take a visually attractive game and mix it with strategic placement, and you have the blueprints for success. Pagoda has earned a place on our gaming shelf that would be hard to replace. Pagoda retails for $29.99, and we feel that price is well worth the experience inside the package. If your collection needs a tactical 2 player game that scales well across a wide range of ages, consider making Pagoda your next addition.
- Easy to learn
- Beautiful components
- Simple turns
- Lots of room for strategy
- Not much to do when not your turn