Our last session of 2003 and this time we return to Kosmos' Essen releases for The Bridges of Shangrila from another of my favourite designers, Leo Colovini. In this game about spreading your tribe of guildsmen over the villages of Shangrila, there are seven guilds and each player starts with one master from each guild placed across the 13 villages. Players can then do one of three things on their turn: recruit a new master in a village where they already have a presence; recruit two students to be attached to masters who are not current training a student; migrate students from one village to another, where they may become masters in their own right or continue training with another master of your tribe or be banished from the village by a stronger opposing master. The villages are connected by 23 bridges and each time a student migration takes place, the bridge they cross gets destroyed. Progressively, each village gets more isolated and, once completely cut off, a Stone of Wisdom is added to that village and no further activity can take place there. Once 11 villages have been isolated the game ends and players count up how many masters they then have, the one with the most being declared winner.
We played this slightly wrongly because there are 12 Stones in the box (there's one spare) and I mistakenly thought that the game ended when all the stones had been played. This meant that there was one almighty battle at the end in the last two villages with two equal forces of students (in which case defender wins). Although it got resolved properly, it seemed a bit strange and the correct rule makes more sense. I don't think the extra battle made any difference to the final scores but people may have approached the end-game a bit differently. Anyway, we all enjoyed this one especially Nige. He thought it one of the best games he's played this year. It is definitely a thinking game which will either make it attractive to you or put you off, as there was quite a bit of down-time between turns. It took us about 90 minutes to finish which was a bit long but it will undoubtedly speed up with subsequent playings now that we have a better idea of the way to play. I stuffed my position up on a couple of turns by forgetting what I had resolved to do from my previous turn. We all decided that this was because I had fallen asleep between turns (due to the extended thinking time). Mark G established a strong presence in the West and this enabled him to expand readily, particularly as the rest of us were concentrating on battles elsewhere. This brought him a deserved win.