Review: Terracotta Army
Build the Terracotta Army to protect Emperor Qin Shi Huang in the afterlife.
Designed by Przemysław Fornal and Adam Kwapiński and published by Board&Dice
👤 1-4 players
🧩 Worker Placement, Rondel, Tile Placement
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.
—description from the publisher
You place warrior miniatures within the mausoleum during the game, forming groups. A group's miniatures may belong to multiple players as denoted by the player bases on those miniatures. Multiple groups 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 specific resource or type of statue currently being scored.
The game is played over five rounds and in which players will place their workers on the rondel to perform actions. At the end of each round interim scoring takes place. First, the inspectors will provide points to the row and column based on their current position. Second, the musicians will award points to players in their line of sight. Lastly, the round scoring is evaluated.
After five rounds, final scoring will occur, and the player with the most VP is the winner!
Besides Tiletum, Board & Dice released a second big box game in 2022, which looked rather curious. I had seen images of miniatures (which I think is a first for a Board & Dice game), and I was curious how those would fit into a complex Euro game that the publisher is known for.
The miniatures are actually what this game is all about. Terracotta Army is a heavy (is it the heaviest out there?) tile-placement game, but instead of tiles, you're placing miniatures onto a grid. You have two categories of miniatures: Warrior or Specialist. Warriors are divided into four types: Officers, Crossbowmen, Guards, and Soldiers. As players, you try to place these in a way to form groups and score the best at the end of the round. Warriors are owned by a specific player, denoted by the miniature's base. Specialists are divided into four types: Musicians, Footmen, Kneeling Archers, and Horses. You try to place these as best as possible to get the most benefits. These are not owned by any player, and all players can benefit from them. Each Warrior has a special power that can be used when deployed by flipping over a matching weapon token. The specialists also provide various benefits that should be carefully considered.
Knowing how each type of miniature works is essential to perform well in Terracotta Army; during my first teaching, I learned that I had a significant advantage over my opponents since I knew the rules well and was better informed about all the possibilities. Placing miniatures and what this implies should be the primary focus when teaching this game. Placing miniatures on the grid can induce some analysis paralysis since there is a lot to consider when placing (round scoring, group scoring, specialists, dominance, presence, etc.)
Besides the miniature placement, Terracotta Army also features a worker placement element that uses a rondel. When placing your worker on a rondel section, you can perform all three actions in that section (if you can). By spending two coins, you can rotate the inner or middle disc of the rondel to line up actions you want to perform. Usually, each section can only be occupied by one worker, but you can upgrade your worker (Craftsman) to an Artisan, which lets you place it into a section that already has a Craftsman. I liked this worker placement mechanic, and it works well. The decision of rotating the rondel is one you carefully need to consider since coins are also scarce.
At the end of a round, the clay you previously collected will turn over to its dry side. You can only use wet clay to create Warriors, so you either need to prevent that from happening by spending it in the same round you collect it or use one of the water actions to turn dry clay into wet clay again. Hired masters can also help you by protecting some of your wet clay or providing coins. This, combined with the miniature placement and worker placement mechanics, creates a real challenge for players playing Terracotta Army.
The Artwork en Components are suitable but not the best I've seen, but it does the job of portraying a Terracotta Army. The iconography is perfect, and I had no problems with it. The miniatures are a bit flexible, so you'll see some wonky miniatures with bent spears in your Army, but that's not too big of a deal, as I think they are very durable as well.
Based on the number of players (2/3/4), you'll have (5/4/3) workers available each round. This scaling makes you end up with an exciting mausoleum in each game, no matter how many players you play.
👍 A complex Miniature-Placement puzzle
👍 Worker placement / Rondel combo is executed well
👍 Challenging mix of mechanics
👍 Scales well to different player counts
➖ Can induce some analysis paralysis
➖ Miniatures can be a bit wonky (bent)
With Terracotta Army, Board & Dice has delivered another solid release for 2022. Bringing a complex euro game with tile-placement mechanics mixed with rondel worker placement is refreshing and challenging. The rules are straightforward, but with many scoring opportunities, there is much to consider and discover.
Looking for alternatives or similar games? Have a look at Tekhenu or Teotihuacan