Terracotta Army

Terracotta Army

RRP: £57.99
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RRP £57.99
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Emperor Qin Shi Huang has passed away. To protect him in the afterlife, a great army in the form of statues of faithful warriors must be assembled to stand guard in the Emperor’s tomb. You will be among those tasked with building this magnificent army. In Terracotta Army, you represent talented craftsmen and artists laboring to build the wondrous assembly of statues. During th…
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Category Tag SKU ZBG-BND0067 Availability 3+ in stock
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Awards

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • High levels of player interaction
  • The three action wheels are a cool mechanism
  • Plenty of modular ways to score
  • 'Presence’ rewards
  • The Warrior Organiser is a neat system

Might Not Like

  • Doesn’t have a solo mode
  • Minis might arrive bent (but there’s a fun, easy, fix for that!)
  • No guarantee on the Inspectors movement
  • Reacting on your turn can cause Analysis Paralysis
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Description

Emperor Qin Shi Huang has passed away. To protect him in the afterlife, a great army in the form of statues of faithful warriors must be assembled to stand guard in the Emperor's tomb. You will be among those tasked with building this magnificent army.

In Terracotta Army, you represent talented craftsmen and artists laboring to build the wondrous assembly of statues. During the game, you collect resources, upgrade your workers, and seek favor with the Emperor's advisors. Your goal is to play a crucial role in the process of creating the terracotta army, and your success is measured in victory points (VPs). During the game, you and your fellow players build the army together, but after the fifth round of the game is over, only one of you - the one with the most points - will stand as the winner.

During the game, you place warrior miniatures within the mausoleum, forming groups. A group's miniatures may belong to multiple players as denoted by the player bases on those miniatures. Multiple separate groups consisting of the same type of miniature may exist within the mausoleum.

You will have many opportunities to score points based on domination and presence. To achieve domination, you must be the only player with the most of the specific resource or type of statue currently being scored. (If you are the only player, you have domination.) To have presence, you must have at least one of the specific resource or type of statue currently being scored.

At the end of the fifth round, the player with the most VPs wins.

You’ve got to be a pretty big fish to earn yourself a terracotta army constructed in your magnificence. Such an honour went to Qin Shi Huang, first emperor of China, when Qin took the throne, aged 13. Over 8,000 sculptures represented his army, and it even included musicians. All got buried with him as a form of stupendous funerary art. This meant Emperor Qin would have appropriate protection in the afterlife.

In Terracotta Army, 2-4 players take on the roles of rival craftsmen, constructing this wondrous army. Can you juggle worker placement, resource management, and area majority/control? Oh, and there’s also the tricky task of preventing your precious clay from drying out…

Terracotta Army, despite its historical setting and having a T-title, is not part of Board&Dice’s T-Series. (Terrific titles include Teotihuacan, Trismegistus, Tekhenu, Tabannusi, and Tiletum.) Instead, it’s the brainchild of Przemysław Fornal and Adam Kwapiński. But does it share similar high levels of satisfying, strenuous strategy?

Wheel Meet Again Some Clay

Over the course of five rounds, players aim to add statues into the Mausoleum to score Victory Points. You earn points when you build and place Warrior Statues straight away. Further end-of-round points are up for grabs, with area majority rules impacting proceedings.

No two games of Terracotta Army play the same. Set-up sees modular scoring objectives creating differing priorities across the game. There’s also end-game scoring, depending on the final layout with regards to Warriors inside the Mausoleum. Straight away this provides a classic conundrum: do you aim for cheap and steady points throughout? Or blow your opponents away with massive end-game scoring?

Players have a set number of Craftsmen meeples for worker placement each round. Your turn starts by placing one of your meeples at a vacant spot around a large action wheel. This wheel is three concentric circles, held in place with a plastic pin. The smaller, central wheel rotates, as does the medium-sized middle one. The outer circle does not; it’s printed on the main game board, itself.

Each wheel has 12 action slots around it. On your turn, you may spend two coins to rotate the central or middle circle one notch. You do this to line actions up so they sit parallel to one another. Thus, when you place a worker, you get to perform three actions – one from each wheel – in any order of your choice. Can you line up these wheels so you can squeeze the most out of every turn? Will you have enough coins to afford to move the wheel to grant you the potential to get what you need on your turn? That’s the $64,000 question…

The central wheel moves clockwise. The middle wheel moves counter-clockwise. The chance of the exact three actions lining up the same as before lessens, since they travel further apart in different directions. Once a Craftsman worker gets placed around the wheel, no other Craftsman can sit there later on in the round. A second, larger, Artisan meeple can. You need to unlock these massive meeples to gain this flexibility. Blocking rivals from triggering certain actions can occur. Why? Because the wheel can only move one notch, even if you can afford more. And if the neighbouring spots already house meeples… You get it. You’ve played worker placement games before, right?

If you’ve enjoyed any of the Board&Dice titles before, then you can rest assured. This is a challenging mid-heavy Euro. You’ll want to do everything, waste nothing, yet the game forces you to juggle numerous balls at once. What are the key actions you can take on these wheels, then?

Money Makes The Wheel Go Round

Some spaces grant you 2/3/4 coins from the supply. Money isn’t just for moving the wheel, though. You have a diverse range of options on which to spend your cash. Building Specialist (non-Warrior) Statues cost coins. Investing in Master Tokens sets you back increasing coins, too. These give you superb game-long abilities, as well as vital round-end income. Building Specialist Statues, and (re-/)triggering Masters are actions on the wheel, too. All these actions need a judgement call with regards to strategic timing. The Masters are helpful, but the more you visit, the more their cost rises.

Other spaces grant you 2-4 Wet Clay from the supply. This is vital, since there’s a constant desire to collect more clay. Various action spaces let you pay 2/3/4 Wet Clay to build a Warrior Statue. Of course, you’d rather pay two Wet Clay for the best exchange rate. But can you afford to rotate the wheel to take advantage of that? Is the spot available, right now? You can already appreciate that selecting an action to earn an earlier spot in turn order can become important. You’ll want to gain open access to the best actions, already lined up at the start of the next round!

When you build a Warrior, you pay the stated Wet Clay to the supply. But beware! Your clay won’t remain wet forever… At the end of each round, all your remaining Wet Clay dries. (You flip the tiles over.) You can’t sculpt anything with rock-hard clay! This means you can’t hoard a bucket-load of clay for too long. Good thing is then that there’s two action spaces on the wheel that let you flip all your Dry Clay to their Wet side! (The icon is a large vase, filled with water, one assumes.) This is a great method of theme-meeting-mechanics, providing a game-long puzzle.

Worker Clay-cement

The crux of Terracotta Army is building Warriors inside the Mausoleum. It’s a 7×9 grid, with no two Warriors permitted to share the same space. There’s four different types of Warrior, all in even quantities. Building Warriors scores you points; the earlier you build them, the more points you’ll earn. (They start out at 8VP each, but the last ones score a paltry 3VP each.)

The Warriors themselves stack housed within an Organiser tray. It’s four parallel troughs for the minis to sit in. They’re secure with regards to transporting the game. The tray offers high functionality as well as providing neat aesthetics. To show a Warrior is yours, you add a base to it of your player colour before placing it in the Mausoleum grid. You can place the Warrior anywhere within the Mausoleum, but you need to keep an eye on multiple factors…

You aren’t always looking to build the Warrior type that is worth the most points, per se. (There’s nothing to stop you from attempting this strategy, of course!) The five end-of-round scoring factors are public throughout the game. All forms of scoring come in two classifications: Domination, and Presence. Domination means being outright leader for this scoring category. Presence means having at least one item applicable. One end-of-round scoring tiles, for example, rewards having the most Warriors within a certain quadrant of the Mausoleum. It’s a straight-up area majority scoring system. The points you can earn are all printed on the board, and on the Warrior Organiser.

The round-end scoring methods are public each game, with zero hidden information. This sees a scrap for places begin within the Mausoleum from the first whistle! (Or, for building particular Warrior types. Especially if a goal is ‘have the most Warriors [of this type] inside the Mausoleum’). Like other Euros, it’s important not to get too trapped in focusing on one objective. Terracotta Army is a point-salad experience. You score points for doing all manner of things. Which are the quickest, or best plans long-term? That’s for you to discover as the game evolves…

Weapon Chits: To Activate, Or Not To Activate? That Is The Question

At the end of each round, two ‘Inspector’ pawns also score. They count Warriors in one of the nine rows and one of the seven columns within the Mausoleum. You want to have the most Warriors (of any type) in that row/column, to claim 7VP for Domination. Having any kind of Presence in the row/column (at least one Warrior) gets you 3VP. These Inspectors can and will move as the game progresses – there’s ways to manipulate this, though!

This can give an advantage to the last player. They could have the ultimate say in where an Inspector remains for scoring. Or, they could place the final Warrior in this zone as the deciding miniature. On an equal note: this can prove irritating for players earlier in turn order. There’s no way they can guarantee where the Inspector will score. This evens out the vibe for being last place with regards to options around the wheel.

Weapon chits are another reason you might want to build one Warrior type over another. You have four weapons, one associated with each Warrior type. It’s not mandatory that the corresponding weapon chit is active (flipped upright) when you build the Warrior. You’ll want it to be, though, because then you can trigger bonus actions upon placement. Afterwards, you flip the weapon chit back to its inactive side. Problem is, you need to trigger an action on the wheels to activate specific weapons in the first place. So, do you build half-cocked, and aim for quantity to race ahead with the area majority? Or go for ultimate efficiency, squeezing every last point out of your precious Wet Clay? Building only after your weapons get activated?

Like so many facets of Terracotta Army, the weapon chits are all about great timing. Some allow you to move the Inspectors. Others let you move previous-placed Warriors into new locations. (Handy to nip in for Domination for the Inspectors or end-of-round scoring!) The Archer’s weapon chit scores you extra points for every empty space there is between it and the next Warrior in that row. (Imagine it firing a terracotta arrow into a rival Warrior for VPs!) Meanwhile, the Soldier’s weapon chit provides you with free, extra coins. And you know how important they are…

Specialists: Adding Grey Clay Layers Of Player Interaction

Having activated weapon chits not only lets you take bonuses for the four Warriors. They’re also required if you want to build the four Specialist Statues. (They also cost coins.) They’re not claimed with a coloured base, meaning everyone can find a use for them. Kneeling Archers act as a tie-breaker for whomever built it (assuming they placed it facing one of their Warriors). Super-handy for claiming Dominance!

The Musician acts like a static Inspector marker, for the entire duration of the game. At the end of each round, every Warrior scores 1VP for being in the same row/column as this Musician. My brother-in-law waited for me to spend my precious coins and active weapon to place a Musician. Then he placed his own Warriors in the Musician’s row/column and absorbed a lot of points off it each round. Both sneaky and cheeky!

The Footman is like a loose version of the Monastery tile in Carcassonne. There’s an incentive to surround it. Only, every Warrior around it contributes! At the end of the game someone scores 8VP for Domination; 2VP for Presence. The Horse is the only mini that isn’t 1×1 in size – instead, it’s 3×1. One of your Warriors can stand on it, and the Horse then counts as the same Warrior type. It eats up a lot of space, so it’s crafty for leaving fewer opportunities for rivals to sneak into area majority battles.

At the end of the game, you score points for all the groups of connected orthogonal Warriors of the same type. A group classifies as at least two adjacent Warriors. (This makes the Horse a useful ally for spreading a Warrior group out across the Mausoleum.) Domination earns the player 5VP for the group, and 2VP for having Presence. It’s frustrating that these particular scoring values aren’t mentioned on the board. Every other scoring method is. Why not this one?

Minis And Art: Fifty Shades Of Clay

The miniatures themselves are a fantastic mold; the level to detail is superb. Alas, many of the minis in my copy arrived with bent spears and halberds. My guess is due to them being squished the wrong way inside the Organiser. However, one YouTube suggestion was placing the plastic minis in boiling water. Sure enough, they returned to their original non-bent form! Placed in cold water afterwards firmed up the positioning. This turned out to be a therapeutic exercise, and a fun science experiment! I appreciate that you might not have the time nor patience for such an endeavour, mind.

They’re approximately 40mm tall – bigger than the 28mm industry standard. The four types of Warrior Statues come in four shades of brown: umber, caramel, tan and dark russet. One irony is: if you’re a mini-painter aficionado, would you want to paint these statues? They’re already in ‘terracotta’ colours. A simple coat of wash would suffice, if anything at all.

The Organiser delivers… in theory. Its iconography is handy for scoring. It provides a secure house for the four types of Warriors, but I am wary of the models bending again. Having Specialist Statues relegated to mere ziploc baggies seems underwhelming as a comparison, though. Players’ two types of workers are bland Carcassonne-esque meeples. The Craftsmen workers are small (10mm), while the Artisans tower over them at 20mm tall. The Craftsmen are a bit too small for my liking, but there’s a clear contrast between the two. Bigger equals more powerful! At least their colours pop against the backdrop of the wheel.

Talking of which: your focus for the main board are those wheels. Their iconography is consistent throughout. They have a pleasing level of friction to their rotating ability. It’s a 15-second assembler job, and doesn’t need dismantling after each play. The board is 50 shades of beige, but feels appropriate given the era and theme. As a comparison, when players build a statue they place a plastic square base on them. This distinguishes the ownership at a glance. The Mausoleum looks an impressive – albeit, cramped! – colourful sight for final scoring.

Final Thoughts On… Terracotta Army

There’s no solo mode, but given the nature of Terracotta Army is area majority, this makes sense. No programmable bot player could compete with a human player in this regard. High levels of player interaction runs throughout many facets of Terracotta Army. There’s direct battles of Domination all over the place! Some players will enjoy the fact that they only need a minimal amount to sneak in for Presence points.

This might peeve players that put more effort in though, only to get pipped to Domination. That’s the risk you take, though! You have to pick your battles and not fall foul of tunnel vision. There’s plenty of other points available in different avenues. Leeching off Musicians proved fascinating, as did the Horses gobbling up space. (They only count as a single Warrior, despite taking up 3×1 squares.) All the Specialist Statues provided wonderful intrigue within the Mausoleum.

The quantity of meeples players have differs as per player count, with regards to scaling. The number of spaces available around the wheel is always 12, each round. This gives the First Player battle a far greater precedence in a four-player game, compared to a two-player experience. You have more workers (five per round) in a lower player count game, which lessens the tension. Because you have far fewer workers (three) in a four-player game, you have to ensure every worker counts! I felt like a three-player count was the sweet spot.

Will Analysis Paralysis Defeat This Army?

With any player count, it can have a potential negative impact, though, with regards to analysis paralysis. You can never plan your turns in advance, like you might in other Euros. Here you need to react on your turn, read the wheels and decide in the moment. On the other hand, the first player has a wide option of choices, with twelve possible outer spaces. And then the option to move either wheel, resulting in copious decisions! Both sides of this coin can slow proceedings. The box suggests 90-120 minutes. I’d suggest more like 150 minutes, and up.

Often, toward the end of the round (when free spots are scarce), you might not be able to trigger all three actions. It’s the outer circle’s actions that cause the headache here: half of them are ‘Build a Specialist Statue’. If you don’t have the coins and weapon chit, you have to forgo this action. The other half of the outer wheel’s actions are activating singular specific weapon chits. Sometimes you have to suck it up and accept that two out of three ain’t bad…

It’s interesting that there’s two outer wheel opportunities for ‘activate crossbow’ or ‘activate halberd’ weapons. They’re associated with Crossbowmen/Kneeling Archer and Guards/Footmen. Thus, these Warriors have a greater chance at getting built, sooner. On activating weapons: one Master Token location (the Blacksmith) allows you to ready all four weapons. This is powerful! All six Master abilities seem appealing, but to trigger them all you need 21 coins!

With a modular scoring system, there’s plenty of replayability here, and strategy-galore to explore. The end-game scoring isn’t the clearest to gauge at a glance, since most games see the 7×9 Mausoleum full of minis. This goes double since some Specialist Statues qualify as tie-breakers. Depending on layout, there can be significant extra Dominance/Presence end-game scoring. Good news here is that no player is ‘eliminated’ in the VP chase if they’re lagging behind for the game’s duration. You can still sneak a win!

Terracotta Army feels on par with the likes of Tekhenu, Tzolk’in and Teotihuacan in terms of complexity. The three action wheels are a fantastic, fascinating mechanism, providing a wonderful puzzle. At the same time, they could prove frustrating for others (long-term strategy gamers, yes, you). Myself? I loved the challenge it presented, but I am of the school of enjoying longer, heavier, crunchy games. Some area majority games can prove frustrating, in particular when you put in so much effort and gain nothing to show for it. Here, having mere presence still rewards you something, which leaves a far better aftertaste. You didn’t muddy your hands for nothing.

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • High levels of player interaction
  • The three action wheels are a cool mechanism
  • Plenty of modular ways to score
  • 'Presence rewards
  • The Warrior Organiser is a neat system

Might not like

  • Doesnt have a solo mode
  • Minis might arrive bent (but theres a fun, easy, fix for that!)
  • No guarantee on the Inspectors movement
  • Reacting on your turn can cause Analysis Paralysis