Trouble in Chinatown

Negotiation is a skill that is employed from an early age. A child will negotiate with parents for the latest mobile phone or bag of sweets while we adults negotiate for a better deal in working life, real estate and the price of consumer goods and services. In the game under the spotlight today, Chinatown, negotiation is the key mechanic.

The negotiation found in Chinatown is quite freeform. For those who like lots of structure, this can be quite jarring at first. You will be competing to complete a chain of retail outlets and you will be haggling for the best real estate in late 1960s San Fransisco’s colourful, you guessed it, Chinatown.

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The fascinating thing about this game is its ability to draw out those capable of intense, competitive play but still reward more subtle play styles from players less inclined to go down the whole Gordon Gecko path of “Greed is good!”. At times you will be desperate to sell a shop to another player while at other times you will understand the value of holding onto properties until others are desperate and willing to pay top dollar. The game could be ‘mathed out’  (but only to a certain extent) but we think its more fun to approach negotiation as an art or gut feeling. That’s probably why we’re always getting ripped off!

There may be problems with the negotiation-style mechanic in addition to how ‘wide open’ it can feel and one of those problems is how players interact in these sort of games. Players may allow personal feelings to inform their play, holding off negotiation with one player in favour of another and not solely with an eye to the bottom line. Plenty of games have been played by our group where players rivalled against one another for an entire game simply because an early deal went sour or they had a friendly rivalry existing outside of the game! So even when favourable terms were presented later on the ‘discrimination’ continued.

The biggest problem, which is now becoming a deal breaker after a few plays is that this now feels like a weakly disguised game of monopoly.  The initial ‘high’ of the broad approach to negotiation has started feeling not so much like a sandbox of opportunities, but like a chancey, random event every time we play, and that can be fun, but the shine is definitely off and I’m not excited about this one after 5-6 plays.

We can deal with random, we like random but only when it’s either happily undisguised or is balanced by other mechanics that leave players feeling a little more involved and in control of their gaming experience.

So, though we cannot thoroughly recommended the game, for those who enjoy the art of the deal it still has some appeal and it’s at least worth a few plays.

Unpaid review. No courtesy copy provided.

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