Fans of Great Western Trail may want to check out Gugong, by Andreas Steding (Hansa Teutonica, The Staufer Dynasty). They don’t share any theme or mechanics, and yet somehow one makes me think of the other.
In Gugong, you and up to three others are Chinese families during the Ming Dynasty vying for the Emperor’s favour. You accrue favour by various means, but they all involve bribery--i.e., offering one of the Emperor’s minions a Gift Card in exchange for the one in his location. This (usually) enables you to take the action in the location--and, if the card has an action on it, you get to do that one, too. Each action in turn has two options: a cheaper one which is kind of lame and a more expensive one which is kind of neat. Guess which one you usually won’t be able to afford.
Actions include travelling around China gathering swag for the Emperor (you get a cut); helping to repair the Great Wall (and making Mexico pay for it); buying up jade (the more the better); intriguing at court (which can be used to replenish supplies or even get jade); acquire decrees (special powers and/or endgame bonus VP’s); approach the Emperor’s Palace; or set sail down the river to get cool stuffs.
You definitely need to get to the Emperor’s Palace by the end of the game’s four turns--otherwise your score is zero and everyone laughs at you. You also want to do everything else. But you can’t. So the trick is to do as much as you can as efficiently as you can, and as there are many different ways to score VP’s you have many paths to victory.
There is also a great single-player mode with an Automa who cheats in delightful ways and as quite challenging.
So why the comparison with Great Western Trail? Both games throw a lot of different mechanics into the mix--some original, some less so--and try very hard to make it all work thematically, which it does on the whole. The artwork is excellent, the rules are clear and error-free, and the components are excellent.
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