Gather up your best looking pumpkins, and maybe take a leek or two (har), because today Gameosity is going to be spending some quality time At the Gates of Loyang. This competitive farming game for one to four players comes from the mind of Uwe Rosenberg (Agricola, Caverna, etc) and is published by Z-Man Games. But even if it’s from the undisputed master of table-top farming simulators, just how entertaining can playing the part of a Chinese vegetable farmer from 2000+ years ago really be?
Well if you’ve ever played any of this designer’s previous work, you know the answer to that question is a resounding “Very.”
Loyang shares some similarities with Rosenberg’s other farming games, but it’s definitely not a simplified Agricola. It’s actually more of an economic engine that lets you go from rags to unfathomable riches with a few turnips and a head of cabbage.
Okay that’s a little bit of an exaggeration but once you plant a few fields, attract a few customers, and start filling orders, you’ll be making a lot of money. Money that you’ll then turn into more vegetables for more orders and more money, or simply buy your way up the Path of Prosperity (i.e. the score tracker).
The core conceit of Loyang is its farming, which is blissfully simple. If you have a vegetable in your possession, you may plant it in one of your fields (making sure the field supports that type of veggie, as there are some limitations). Once you
place plant a vegimeeple in a field, you fill the rest of the empty spaces with the same type from the supply. Then at the start of every round you remove one veggie from each of your planted fields, and eventually end up with a buttload of salad fixins.
Acquiring vegetables in the first place can be tricky, but you’ve got options. Everyone has a Shop (player board) with a finite stock, and you may spend some of your hard earned money on your turn to acquire as many of them as you want, provided you’ve got the cash. You could always take out a Loan for five coins, but each loan you have at the end of the game is worth minus one point, and you can’t ever get rid of loans wince you take them. Alternately, it’s possible to end up with Market Stalls that stock three specific vegetables and will allow you to trade one of yours for one of theirs – such as exchanging wheat for beans. But all of this vegetable acquisition is meaningless if you don’t have anyone to sell your stock to, which is where your customers come in.
There are two types of people you’ll be forking crops over to in the name of money: Regular Customers and Casual Customers. The Regulars have multiple orders that you’ll need to fill each turn or risk making them angry and having to pay them out of pocket. The Casuals really don’t care how long it takes you to fill their order (or even if you do) and will just hang out. The catch is that Casual Customers will pay you less if you have more of them than Regulars – but they’ll pay more if you have more Regulars. It’s a bit of a balancing act.
Lastly, you have your workers. These one-off cards have all sorts of effects – things like being able to trade at another player’s Market Stall or instantly farming two vegetables from all of your fields. And if you’d rather play without the workers that can mess with everyone else, just remove all the cards with the red lantern symbol in the top-left corner. Easy!
What’s interesting about all of these customer, worker, and market cards is that they’re available from a sort of general pool at the beginning of each round. All players draw a total of four cards from the deck, and take turns placing one face-up in the center of the play area. When someone finally wants to take some cards, they must take one from the general supply and one from their hand. This leads to some pretty interesting moments where you might be forced to risk tossing a card you want from your hand in the hopes that it’ll still be there once your turn comes up again. Of course, someone else could grab it and ruin your plans. But then the last player to take cards will be the first player for the rest of the round, so maybe it was worth the sacrifice because now you can use that worker you’ve been holding onto since forever?
I really like At the Gates of Loyang. It’s like this weird puzzle full of vegetables and angry shoppers and shifty traders and making money hand-over-fist. The need to feed workers is also joyously absent, which means you only have to focus on your crops and your customers – none of that “Well I guess I’ll waste this action because I don’t want a begging token” nonsense. Players end up doing their own thing for the most part, which might bother those who enjoy a bit more conflict, but I like how direct player interaction is limited to a few workers and the quasi card drafting.
In other words, you should probably check it out. And if you’re so inclined, you can even buy it here.
What About Solo?
One of the things I’ve always appreciated about Uwe Rosenberg as a designer is that he almost always includes a solo option in his games, and At the Gates of Loyang is no exception. In fact, I actually prefer playing it solo – although it’s still very good with more players.
The basic game is the same when you play solitaire, but setup is a little different. Specifically, you’ll be drawing two Casual Customers, two regular Customers, and two Market Stalls and setting them aside to simulate a second player. Then you deal out 12 cards face-up (four rows of three) into a central offer, which is where how you’ll be acquiring your cards.
Being able to see all of the available cards for the round is definitely an advantage, but you may only take two of them per round and have to pay one coin each for anything in the second row, and two coins each for anything in the third and fourth rows. Only the top row is free.
It players really, really well as a solo game (I just love shuffling little wooden vegimeeples around!). So well, in fact, that I’d honestly be perfectly content with owning it even if I never played it with another person again. Yep, it’s that good.