Big Trouble In Little China Game Review

Flash back to 1986.  A young man is reading Kung Fu Magazine and sees this cool new movie coming out with flashy martial arts and mystical elements.  He's a huge D&D fan and has been training in Hung Gar style Kung Fu for a couple of years.  His father takes him to see the movie when it comes out.

*BOOOM*  Mind blown. Action, humour, magic, and a wonderfully different world; this movie became deeply ingrained as a favourite.

Flash forward a few decades and Everything Epic advertises a board game that promises the movie in a box plus some additional content that never made it to the big screen!  Can the board game live up to the rose coloured memories?  Let's find out!

Game Overview

The players play as one of 6 characters from the movie.  Their overall objective is to defeat David Lo Pan in the Final Showdown.

During the game they move their characters around the Chinatown side of the board, fighting off minions, and trying to complete main quests and side quests to power up their characters for the final confrontation.  This is accomplished by rolling dice and using them to fight enemies, accomplish tasks, invoking mystical powers, and generally kicking butt!

Once the Audacity or Big Trouble tracks reach their end the game immediately flips over to the Final Showdown where the characters must make their way through Lo Pan's lair and stop him before time runs out!

What's in the Box?

There is a ton of stuff in this box.

Rule book and story book.  The deluxe edition comes with the expansion already included:

Lots of miniatures:

Tons of cards and counters:

Quality player boards with thick cardboard and slots for the dice:

A beautiful double sided board:

And a ton of sweet custom dice:

Component quality is high overall with wonderful illustrations that evoke the mood of the movie.

Setup

The game starts out with selecting your characters, their starting abilities, the available quests, sides quests, minions, starting audacity, and seeding the map with items, crates, and minions.

When selecting your character you take their board, upgrade tokens, 3 red dice, and pick their starting upgrade(s).  If there is a smaller player count you may also be selecting a companion (or several) to help you out. 

Here's the hero of the movie, Wang Chi.  At the 2 player count he can select two upgrades so he chose the Dragon of the Black Pool jacket ability and then upgraded it to the epic version!  His sidekick is Jack Burton who gives him a free hit in combat and an extra red dice.  (For a total of 4 which I forgot when I took this picture.)  He has 10 health and no starting chi at this player count.

The fate track and dice are also seeded.  Fate dice are extra dice you can grab to use during your turn but which are then rolled to see if they have a negative impact on your characters.

Pick one boss quest and one of the quests for the characters in the game.  (There are two per character)  Show the top two quests in the quest deck and seed the board with the markers for the start of those quest:

Create three piles of side quests and seed the board with the markers and crates shown on the top cards.  Crates may contain bonus items or traps!

For the minions you select a different selection of minions with different difficulties depending on the player count.

Here you see various levels of the Wing Kong Six Shooter.  (The top one is a "promo' level card that comes in the 6 demon bag.)

Pull the top Big Trouble card and put the minions shown for the player count on to the board. Do not advance the Big Trouble track or apply the effects this one time:

Put the audacity marker to the appropriate spot for the player count and the Big Trouble marker at the start of the track:

Here is our board at the end of setup:

Only 3 minions right now but that will definitely change.

Gameplay

To start every turn during Act 1 a big trouble card is drawn.  This will put minions on the board and will have an effect on the board or players.  It is often negative but sometimes good effects can happen.  Move the Big Trouble marker towards the centre the number of spaces on the upper left of the card.  

Then the players roll their red dice and slot them from left to right based on the symbol rolled.  Each of the player mats has an outline around certain dice slots which makes those slots EPIC.

Here you see that Margo's first slot for a "mind" dice is epic.  

These dice have a variety of uses in the game.  You can trade them in for a white (normal) skill dice or a yellow (epic) skill dice depending on the slot they are in.  (Note: Only the slot matters.  Margo can use her epic slotted mind dice to get an epic skill dice for a combat roll.)  They can also be spent using the face value to overcome some skill challenges.

From there the players decide the player order and off they go.  The actions they take in brief are:

- Move: Use a normal dice to move 2 spaces or an epic dice to move 3.  If you move through minions you take a damage for each one.

- Combat: Trade in your action dice to get skill dice and attempt to take out a minion.  If you have ranged combat they just have to be within line of site, otherwise they have to be in your space.  Roll your dice and if you have hits equal to or greater than the creatures defence it takes a hit.  One hit is enough for minions but a boss will take multiple hits.  A hit will give the character a Chi reward which works towards leveling up.

If the player misses the minion or boss can hit back which can have multiple possible effects.  Usually it's damage but some creatures will summon other creatures!

Player death isn't a huge deal in the game.  Once they hit 0 health the player draws a hell card.  Some of them are one time effects and others are permanent effects that are only removed at certain spots in the board or by gaining a different keeper hell card.  The Big Trouble Track also increments by one and the player gets their health back.  The player then continues their turn as if nothing happened.  

At first I wasn't sure about this.  Should there not be a bigger hit for dying?  But thinking in the spirit of the game this makes sense.  The characters escape by the skin of their teeth or are hurt and not quite at 100% but in an action movie like this they don't have time to stop moving!

- Skill check: Some quests require you to perform a skill check.  You trade in dice for skill dice and roll them to try to get enough hits to accomplish the task.  If you succeed you will move down a positive path in the quest, if you fail you will still move on but will receive a lesser reward.

-Task: Some quests require you to give up dice with a specific face to accomplish a task.  This one doesn't require any rolling but you have to have the right dice face to do it.

-Rest: Spend a dice to regain 3 health or 1 chi if you are at full health.

- Purchase item: You can spend a dice to get different items at different spots on the board.  (Pick up Chinese Fireworks.  You won't regret it.)

If the character gets to the end of their chi track they immediately gain a level.  Depending on the level they gain they have the option to pick another ability,  (There are 4 per character.), upgrade an ability they have, or, on some levels, get another die for their action dice pool.  (Pro tip: Always take the action die.)

The character can also take a variety of free actions on their turrn as many times as they can as long as they are not in the same space as minions or a boss.

Free actions include:

- Trigger a Quest Token: To start a quest the player who belongs to that quest must get to the first quest token.  (After than any player can continue the quest.)  They read the quest text from the quest book, make choices, and do various skill tests etc:

A full quest won't get finished in one go by one character.  Typically if you choose the harder test you will be rewarded with Audacity and some Chi.  At the end of the quest the character the quest is for will get a reward item which is usually VERY powerful.

This is the heart of the game and where a lot of fun can be had for fans of the movie. Most of the quests flesh out the movie further and explain how certain characters got certain things they had on screen.  (Don't want to say too much.) I found them to be well written, in the spirit of the movie, and a lot of fun.

If you want any hope to end Act 1 by filling out the audacity track you need to do these quests. The rewards will power up your characters quite a bit and make Act 2 easier.  

-Open Crate: If you stop your movement on a space with a crate open it up and get the reward (or the trap!)

- Use an item: Use one of those items you purchased or found in a crate.

- Trade: Trade items with another player in your space.

After the players have gone the minions move using some simple rules and will then attack the characters.  The minions always hit and the characters roll their defense dice to prevent the damage.  At higher levels a character with a lot of defence dice can withstand a ton of attacking minions.

Repeat this until the Big trouble or Audacity track hits the middle space.  When that happens immediately stop the game and proceed to Act 2.

Act 2

During Act 2 you setup the board depending on how the quests ended up in act 1.

Each quest has a card with a complete and incomplete side.  If the quest was completed you set up one way and if not you setup another.  I have noticed that if you complete the quest the result actually makes Act 2 harder.  I think this is a way to make sure the Act stays as balanced as possible.  

The characters will be placed at a variety of potential spots on the board depending on how their quests ended up which can really split the party depending on how things go.

Minions aren't the only thing that will be placed on the map.  Different traps, demons, and other things show up here including the 3 bosses from the movie. (Thunder, Rain, and Lightning) This makes sense as all of the truly weird stuff happens in Lo Pan's lair.

Lo Pan will always be in the middle floor.  To get to him you have to get keys equal to the number of players minus 1.  The keys are achieved by beating the bosses or completing the tasks shown on the cards.

You need to complete the quests and defeat David Lo Pan in a limited time.  5 turns in a 2 player game.

The tricky part is that once you get the key and defeat David Lo Pan once he turns in to his "made flesh" form and teleports to the top level.  He's much easier to defeat this time but you have to get to him and finish him off pretty quickly.

Most games I have played have always ended 1 turn before game over or were 1 turn away from a win before game over was hit.  Pretty well balanced I think!

Final Thoughts

I don't think it will come as any surprise that I really love this game!  How could I not?  It captures the feel and flow of the movie perfectly.  

On top of that though, it has high quality components and lots of them, fun game play that has a lot of epic rolls and frequently comes right down to the wire at the end.  For sure luck can completely screw with you in this game but good planning between players will help with that.  And if you don't accomplish any quests in the first act Act 2 usually eases up on you a bit.  

Win or lose though I always find I'm having fun with this game.  Hearing the quest text, having my epic rolls, or watching other players with their epic rolls, defeating Lo Pan on the last turn, or being defeated when he has 1 health remaining is always a fun time.

 

The last game I reviewed which is in the same genre to Big Trouble in Little China was #Zona: The Secret of Chernobyl (https://www.boardgameatlas.com/forum/Jor4ox40hp/zona-the-secret-of-cherynobyl-a-story-review

Zona is a more thoughtful slow paced cautious game.  You can't just run around tackling every problem because your resources are limited and you are in a race against other players to be able to succeed in the Sarcophagus.  You need to do the things you think you can do easily so you can get rewards while using the minimum resources.  This allows you to get more prepared for the end game. 

The event cards and art is dour and bleak which fits for the tough, bleak world.   It is an interesting world with mysteries to be discovered but what is discovered is usually not pretty.

Big Trouble in Little China however is a run & gun action movie.  Dying isn't a huge deal and it's common to be running around the map liike crazy to get to the next quest you need.  Or if you are setup well plopping your character in to a mess of bad guys to farm them all for chi and the power ups that will hepl you succeed in Act 2.  There is no time, or need, to be cautious.  You need to be bold, epic, and audacious!

The art style and quest text is fun and filled with humour and magic.  Even when you fail a test you still push your quest ahead and further towards act 2.

I can't really pick between the two.  It really depends on the mood I am in as to which game I pick.  I think BTiLC is a lot more FUN and EPIC but Zona is more thinky and challenging.



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5 days ago

Fantastic review. The components and dice are certiably beautiful. 

Supporter5 days ago

Thanks!  

Yeah, they really went all out for this game in my opinion.  It cost me quite a bit of money to buy it from Epic Games and get it shipped to Canada but to me it's worth it.

4 days ago

There's nothing I love more than custom dice and those are very cool.

Supporter3 days ago

They really are!  I was doubly lucky as some people received misprinted dice so they sent out extra dice to everyone.  Considering I wasn't initially impacted I ended up with double some of the dice!

Supporter5 days ago

Confession: I have no experience or knowledge of this IP. 

That being said, it does look much more interesting than I expected it would look.

5 days ago

Dude, you gotta watch the movie. Classic 80s action comedy.

2 days ago

I have yet to get this game to the table. I picked it up from Cardhaus a couple years ago for $68.  I am planning on putting on a "TV and tabletop double feature", where I invite some friends to come over and watch the movie on blu-ray and then play the game (or maybe we should play the game first). I thought about just putting the movie on in the background while we played, but it would just distract us from the game.

2 days ago

That sounds awesome! Hmm I might do movie first, unless it was later in the evening and people would be sleepy during the game afterward. 

Supporter2 days ago

Movie first if someone hasn’t seen it. That way the quests are more meaningful. :)

2 days ago

Yeah perfect

Supporter2 days ago

I think the movie first and then the game would work better as it would make the quest text more meaningful.

i was planning to do the double header too but it never worked out. Got some members of my group to watch the movie though!

Supporter5 days ago

Maybe I will sometime....

5 days ago

Highly recommend

Supporter5 days ago

A fellow connesieur I see!

5 days ago

5 days ago

Supporter5 days ago

So much awesome imagery in the movie. :)

5 days ago

These guys always crack me up

Supporter5 days ago

No need to confess.  Unless you are in your 40's or older you likely haven't seen the movie.  It didn't do that well on initial release.  

Nowadays it's still a fun movie.  It's got that cheesy 80's action movie feel and the special effects are dated at points but worth a watch in my opinion.  I haven't personally seen another movie that has captured the same world and feelings as this one.

For me, I just love the game and the movie and I felt like writing about it.  I doubt I'll get many reads (Zona didn't do great) but I'm writing it more for me anyway!

 

5 days ago

It's kind of a parody of its own genre, while still being part of the genre. Somehow it managed to walk that line perfectly.

Supporter5 days ago

My understanding (as a non-asian) is that it was actually culturally sensitive for its time as well which is good to know.  The fact that Wang Chi is the actual protagonist speaks volumes I think.

5 days ago

Yeah I love the dynamic between Jack and Wang Chi, with Jack seeing himself as the hero when he's actually the bumbling sidekick lol

Supporter5 days ago

Even when he saves the day you kind of know it's because of the potion Egg gave him.

Linked Games
Big Trouble In Little China
Big Trouble in Little China: The Game – Deluxe Edition