The game is very colorful and the rules are not numerous. If anything, they fall a little short in specifying one or two things, as we discovered. Basically though, we are competing to impress the eponymous Madame by sailing our junks over the sea and completing expeditions.
aarrgh shipmates. etc
Everyone plays a card and cards are simultaneously revealed. The highest number plays first, and - as long as the card played has a higher value than the last one on your journey - moves their ship forward: in a straight line if the colour of the card matches any previous card played on their voyage, or diagonally forward if it doesn't. If you can't or don't want to play a higher card, you play a low one: your expedition ends, and you grab some loot. The further you travel, the better the loot gets. Don't worry about getting home, because that happens instantaneously!
That's the essence of the game, but inevitably there's a few other smells in the wind. If you visit the islands, you get an encounter card, and these can give you a little fillip. If you manage to play cards with a set of matching symbols, you pick up a skill - these are handy in-game advantages. And if you get all skills, Madame Ching rewards you with captaincy of the China Pearl: master of pirate junks centuries ago, these days, worth 5 points at the end of the game.
Nobody made it to Hong Kong, which would have been worth ten points. For a while we couldn't see how it was even possible (thanks, rulebook!)
The first half of the game felt like an exercise in repetition. Play a card, move a ship. Pick up a card, and repeat. But we began to see the strategy of trying to build a hand that got your ship further - potentially sacrificing an expedition now in order to make good ground later. And the final throes of the game had a definite race feeling as Andrew and I sailed after Ian, hoping he'd fail to claim the last available expedition. He didn't:
(I think; I don't have the scores here)
We packed it away feeling a mixture of deflated, bamboozled and mildly intrigued. It was definitely not an instant hit, but I'm curious to try it again.
Then we bashed out a whole bunch of short games. Dice Heist, Love Letter, Push It all saw some quick-fire action. Best of all was the return of Bandu, which Andrew won after Ian and I toppled our fledgling buildings. I managed to dislodge the biggest piece in the game with possibly the smallest - with the tiniest of touches. Must play that again soon!