Chinatown Review

3-5 Players
60 Minute Playing Time

Brief Overview:
Welcome to 1960's Chinatown New York - a place brimming with untapped potential awaiting the right investors to set up shop and enter the hustle and bustle of the Chinatown markets. You and your opponents will invest, trade and compete as you strive to come out on top as the wealthiest investor by building outlets from Chinese restaurants to photo labs, as you capitalise on this expanding part of the city.

Played over six years (each year representing a round), players will slowly make their mark on Chinatown by drawing random numbered plots of land as well as building cards with shops such as a Florist, a Tea House, Take Out, Jewellery, Seafood, Tropical Fish, Dim Sum, Antiques, Factory's, and a Laundry. The number of tiles taken each year will depend on the corresponding number of players as well as what year it is in the game.  Once each player has taken their plots of land they will place their coloured marker on each number to indicate to others who the plot belongs too. During the next phase, the aforementioned building tiles are drawn by each player and open trading begins.  Here anything goes - trade plots of land, building tiles, cash, or even future rewards.  The prices are determined by the supply and demand of the players and whatever negotiating skills you have.  Your goal is to collect a chain of the same building type (up to it's listed maximum), that can be built on adjacent plot to maximise the business and the return on your investment.

After the year's trading, players are able to build any building tiles on any plot of land they currently own, which will then generate them income at the end of each year.  You can build as much as you want and the more you build the higher the profits, but this also has the potential to lessen the value of the property to your opponents when it comes to trading.  Once all payouts for business have completed, a new round begins signalling a new year. The following years are played out the same until the final year of business, which concludes with the last payout and the wealthiest player winning.

My Thoughts:
Proclaimed as 'The Art Of Trading', Chinatown does not disappoint in that regard.  Aside from deciding which plots cards to keep (you normally draw a couple extra and have to put some back in the discard pile), Chinatown doesn't give you many choices to make and is all about trading.  There are some very basic decisions but they aren't much more then what building tile to place and when to go for the easy to complete set of three, or the harder but more rewarding places of interest that take up to six of the same tile to complete.  Once you are able to establish a basic plan, everything is about how good you can trade to get what you want.

Sometimes its building tiles, other times plots of land currently owned by your opposition - over the six years of Chinatown you will come across things you need, that you don't have.  It's then up to you to strike an open discussion and talk your rivals into seeing value in your offer of two restaurants towards their maximum potential so you can get that one plot that will complete your Laundry.  At the same time however, another player wants that exact same plot to complete their Seafood chain and is offering $40,000.  It's up to you to convince the player that yours is the better deal for them long term, and regardless of whether it is the best deal or not, your fate rests completely in the hands of the opposition. This is the main mechanic of Chinatown and if trading doesn't interest you then I'd suggest you will not enjoy this game at all.

I find the idea of Chinatown is great in theory but is flawed in execution. Trading is fun but lacks any real skill.  Most players will be able to do a quick calculation in their head to see what a good deal and a bad deal is, and even when you present a good deal there is nothing to stop a player from not trading, which occasionally is done just to prevent you from claiming victory.  Eventually you might find yourself with a plot or tile an opponent desperately wants, which may swing some momentum your way - but this is complete luck.  It's a shame as Chinatown is an easy to play game which on paper is excellent and I can see how people can have a lot of fun with this.  I want to like this more as I do enjoy it, but having to rely so much on my opponents and luck to win makes Chinatown a hard sell.  When the game is over you could claim your negotiating skills as the reason you won the game -  but I'd be willing to bet you just got lucky with the tiles and plots you were able to draw.

My Verdict:

All about trading which can be fun
All about trading which can be frustrating