Confucius the board game is a complex 3 – 5 player Euro game that attempts to depict the maneuverings among the Chinese family in the Chinese Imperial bureaucracy. Since the Imperial Bureaucracy hasn’t really changed since the time of Shi Huang Thi; the game itself could be set in nearly any period of Chinese expansion. Overall, Confucius is an interesting game that alters depending on the number of players and the experience of the players involved. It certainly does what it sets out to do, which might make the game too complex for some game groups.
Appearance: The artwork in Confucius is inspired from traditional Chinese artwork, so whether it looks good depends on personal artistic taste. Having grown up around this kind of art, I don’t mind it at all and it does lend the game a distinctive appearance. The board itself is very functional, making the overall appearance and game simple enough to work.
Rules / Ease of Learning: Let’s be clear here, Confucius is a complex game. This game is targeted at serious gamers (or should be at least) and as such, the rules are long and quite involved. While the game itself is relatively simple and fits into place quite well once you start playing, it does take a while to get through the rulebook. However, the rulebook is quite well laid out, most questions are answered in it and we found referencing it very easy.
In Confucius, players are rival Chinese families attempting to increase their influence in the Courts. As such, they have one of three avenues open to them – control of the three Ministries (Military, Domestic and Trade), military conquests and trade to distant lands. Each of these options provides various victory points and additional benefits including lower costs and Emperor Reward Cards.
Throughout each round, players receive a number of actions equal to the number of gifts given and received. They then may play these actions on the board; choosing from the possible actions which include : buying / securing influence in a ministry, buying junks and armies, launching invasions or voyages, setting up individuals for the Imperial Exam and forcing an Exam to buying / giving gifts or receiving additional funds.
The biggest complexity in the game comes from gifts. Gifts have a variety of effect on those who receive them, some of which can be game changing. It forces players to aid your candidate during Imperial Examination, limits the amount of influence an individual may have in a Ministry and dictate what kind of gifts you can receive in turn. In fact, the gift giving aspect of Confucius is a very subtle and evil way of managing others. It reminds me so much of dealing with my family.
Gameplay: Confucius is a complex game to play but fun. The game definitely changes with the number of players involved – the limited number of spaces in the various ministries / voyages / foreign lands increases the competition among players, while the free flow of gifts increases the complexity as well.
There are numerous strategies to winning, and it is quite possible to hinder other players with gifts. While the ministries might be the highest point areas in a game, they are also the most contested, dictating players look at conquering foreign lands or conducting voyages to gain points. In addition, the use of gifts can severely hamper a ministry strategy at the same time.
However, having no presence in the Ministries can make other strategies more difficult as the cost of purchasing increases significantly. In addition, multiple actions are needed to not only raise armies / buy junks, but to send them on invasions / voyages. It makes the game very well balanced and again, complex.
The only major complaint is that players have to continuously double-check on the gifts that they have received / given as this can dictate their options / strategies. While the gift grid used is very handy for this, mistakes can be made, slowing the gameplay down significantly.
Conclusion: Confucius ranks in my mind up there in terms of complexity with Le Havre and Louis XIV. I actually prefer Confucius over Le Havre due to the higher level of interaction from the gifts. This is a great board game for serious board gamers who have 3 – 4 hours to play but certainly not for beginners or those looking for a lighter game.