Welcome to Mt. Ryozen, where the view is spectacular and everyone is stressed! The atmosphere is very similar to your house two days before Christmas when the adults are furiously cleaning, trying to make it seem like it didn’t look like a post-tornado flea market just the day before, and the kids are constantly getting underfoot. That’s because The Phoenix Queen, who has been asleep for a generation, is going to wake up in just 3 days! After a big ol’ regenerative stretch, she will reward whichever clan has gotten their act together and acquired the most prestige. So put your toys away I’m not asking again!
How do you translate frantic guest-prepping into a board game, you ask? Ryozen does it through some clever worker-placement mechanics and an interesting rotating board. Situated at the center of the board is The Phoenix Palace, and surrounding it are 6 districts. Over the course of 3 rounds, 2 to 4 players will take turns placing workers in these locations to receive various benefits such as resources, new workers, revelations (action cards), and prestige. That’s pretty standard worker-placement, but this game is hiding a few tricks up its sleeves.
For starters, there’s an area majority mechanic. Each district, with the exception of The Phoenix Palace, has a finite number of worker spaces and some of the spaces will cost you. Additionally, every district provides rewards in 2 different ways: a day time reward and a night time reward. Any worker placed in a district earns you the day time reward, but only the player with majority influence gains a district’s night time reward. These always include either prestige, which moves you along the victory track, or moonstone shards, a set collecting mechanic which can earn you prestige in the end. But just because you have the most workers in a location doesn’t guarantee that you will have the most influence. Each worker is double-sided. On one side, you have your worker with their special ability. But you can forego that ability and “cloak” your worker which causes them to be worth 2 influence.
And of course each district provides you with very different rewards, including 3 different resources: gold, spark, and scrolls. The Rim and The Shrine help you build villages, gaining you prestige and gold. The Clan House lets you hire workers with special abilities such as cloaking your workers or knocking out your opponent’s workers. Springs provide you with special action cards called Revelations. The Gate holds event cards which will happen during the night phase, and sending workers there lets you eliminate the events that would most impact you. The Capital determines who wins ties. And the Phoenix Palace gives you any resource you choose and, potentially, a lot of prestige. It also rotates whenever someone enters, potentially affecting gameplay in the other 6 districts.
To give you a feel for how this brain-burner of a game plays out, I played a round with Francesca from Tabula games and a fellow tester named Chris who bravely took the lead on the first round. Every player starts with 4 Apprentices, workers with no special skills, and a Fighter. Chris started by placing an Apprentice on The Spring to snag a Revelation card. Feeling industrious, I sent an Apprentice to The Rim and built a village. Francesca, clearly feeling no sympathy for my fumbling, babe-in-the-woods strategy, immediately took advantage of my village and sent an apprentice to The Shrine, activating my newly built village and reaping the rewards. In this case, 2 spark. Turn 1, done.
On turn 2, Chris was still playing defensively and sent an Apprentice to The Gates, thereby negating an event card. Feeling the need for some money, I sent an Apprentice to The Clanhouse where I hired a merchant. When placed in a district, these workers give you 1 gold and one of any other resource. And because I was the first to place a worker here, I was able to hire the worker at a cheaper price. That’s because the Clanhouse has 5 slots from which to buy workers. The further to the left they are, the cheaper they are to buy, and my merchant was second in line. Francesca, interestingly enough, does the same. Seeing as how she’s a vastly more experienced player, this left me feeling pretty good about my choices thus far.
For turn 3, Chris…couldn’t…seem to leave the cards alone. Again, he headed to The Gate and removed another event card. However, with only 2 worker slots at The Gates, this assures Chris the Night Phase reward so maybe there’s method to his card-madness? Realizing I too needed to accumulate some influence, I sent another Apprentice to The Rim, this time for 2 gold. This forced Francesca off my tail somewhat as I had taken the only “+2 Gold” in The Rim. Instead, her Apprentice was forced to keep on truckin’ and ended up building a village, leaving us tied for influence on The Rim.
After Chris declared at the start of turn 4 that he was going to get another Revelation card, Francesca and I had a quick huddle to see if we needed to stage some sort of card-addiction intervention. We ended up deciding to let Chris be for now but agreed that we could revisit the topic. To further my influence gathering goals, I sent my Fighter to the Clanhouse. He easily vanquished Francesca’s apprentice and hired an Entertainer to replace my last available Apprentice. These workers are sneaky in that, when placed, they can flip one of your workers to their cloaked side to give you a surprise influence boost. This left me in control of The Clanhouse, but knocking out Francesca’s apprentice automatically sent it to The Phoenix Palace. There it would not only be rejuvenated by phoenix energy (I assume) for the next round, but it also counts towards influence needed for the palace’s Night reward. Hmmmm. This fun little design nugget meant that I would have to think twice before knocking out opponents willy-nilly. I also left Francesa with a free space at The Clanhouse which she used to purchase an archer. My initial character assessment of Francesca hadn’t picked up on any vengeful personality traits, but I was still a bit worried by that.
With each of us down to our last worker, this meant the final turn of the round. With no more open card-related slots, Chris had no choice but to send his last Apprentice to The Capital. This district determines who is the first player and, thus, the tie-breaker in a round. Seeing as how Chris was already the first player, this doesn’t do him any good. I too send my Entertainer to The Capital which lets me cloak my Apprentice on The Rim, giving me the most influence there and control of 2 districts. Much fist pumping ensued. Francesca had to also send her Archer to The Capital. Archers have the ability to knock out players in districts opposite them, and Chris’ card frenzy had made sure that he was the only target. Another Apprentice was rushed to the palace for medical care. But since Francesca held the tie-breaker spot, she would win the tie and reap the benefits of Phoenix Palace rewards come the night phase. Finally, the last remaining event card triggered and forced players to lose resources based on the number of villages they visited. Chris, having spent the game almost entirely at The Gates and The Springs, lost nothing. I only had to lose 1, but Francesca lost 2.
This left all of us on pretty equal footing. We all had similar amounts of influence given that The Capital awards prestige to anyone with influence there. Chris and Francesca both got a bit extra for having control of The Gates and The Phoenix Palace respectively, but I had managed to snag several moonstones from The Rim and The Clanhouse which could bump me up in the late game. Not to mention my resource lead over both players. Talk about balance! I have to say, I couldn’t hide my disappointment at the fact that we were only going one round.
If you want to go all 3 rounds, Ryozen will be going live on Kickstarter this February. Early birds can go to the Ryozen website to get a literal early bird reward – the Phoenix Queen herself! You hear that, wallet? Hit the gym! Looks like we’re buying another game.
by Zane Messina