Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Wu Hing: The Five Elements Review

Wu Hing: The Five Elements, developed and published by Kudos Games.
The Good: Well thought out mechanics, fairly easy to learn, excellent AI opponent, helpful user interface, good graphics and music for the genre, multiple viable strategies, multiplayer on the same computer, games are short
The Not So Good: Internet multiplayer would be a great addition
What say you? A simple but deeply strategic board game with skillful AI and high replay value: 7/8

Board games translate very well into computer games. The game has already been fleshed out, typically they are easy to learn, and multiplayer on the computer has its benefits. Plus, you don’t have to worry about losing any plastic pieces underneath the couch. Taking this cue is Wu Hing: The Five Elements, based off of the Bruce Willis action movie. Oh wait, that’s The Fifth Element, my bad! In Wu Hing (a close relative to William Hung), you place hexagonal game pieces on a board, trying to match elements while eliminating your opponents’ pieces at the same time. Will this computer board become a family favorite, or get thrown into the back of the closet right next to Tickle Me Elmo?

For a board game, Wu Hing features some good graphics. The backgrounds are interesting and fit the Chinese theme of the game well, the pieces are easy to identify, and the effects when pieces are removed from the board are nice. The user interface also clearly indicates the relationships between all of the pieces and shows a running score (important for racking up bonuses) all from the main screen. There really isn’t anything else you would ask for in a game like this in terms of the graphics. In terms of the sound, while the background music is good, the sound effects can get annoying during extended game sessions. You do have the option of turning them off, however. Both the graphics and the sound of Wu Hing are well done, and they deliver a nice game atmosphere.

Wu Hing is a strategy board game based on the Five Elements from Chinese philosophy. The game is for two players and each is given a set of tiles with five elements on them, each with access to three at a time. You can score points by placing two elements next to their creation; for example, placing two earth tiles next to a metal tile will remove the metal tile and score you some points, depending on the value of the metal tile (either 1 or 2). You can also destroy the opponent’s tiles using the destruction rules: the same two earth tiles can be used to destroy an enemy water tile, removing it from play and earning you points. Additionally, you have the ability to transform tiles to your side if they are adjacent to two of the same element. Wu Hing also includes three special tiles: a wild card, the ability to switch sides on a specific tile, and moving a single tile to a new location. While it may sound like a strange game, it’s actually very fun and it requires a lot of thinking. You spend your time scouring the map for places that you can use your three available tiles, either destroying enemy tiles or forming your own. Since the game gives bonus points for both creating and destroying a single game element (in addition to creating or destroying all five elements), having a varied attack can result in more points than just using those same two fire elements over and over again.

The game is easy to learn but the mechanics are varied enough from game to game to create a somewhat new experience each time. You can set up different rules dictating where pieces can be placed (adjacent to existing pieces or anywhere) that greatly affect the flow and strategy of the game. There is also a solitaire mode where you try to eliminate fixed enemy pieces the fastest, but it’s pretty forgettable. The AI is an excellent player, and on the highest difficulty settings, you must plan your moves very well or suffer extraordinary defeat. The AI can also be scaled down to where they “miss” certain opportunities at capturing pieces, so the game can be as easy or as difficulty as you’d like. Of course, human opponents will always provide a good competitor, so multiplayer is available using the game computer. I would like to see Internet multiplayer for this game, as it lends itself well to pick-up-and-play as the games are generally short in length (less than 10 minutes).

Wu Hing should appeal to anyone who enjoys playing board games. While the game is easy to learn, there is significant depth to the mechanics of Wu Hing that should keep you interested in the game for quite a while. Wu Hing requires real skill to play effectively instead of just chance, and every game is different. The AI is a quality foe as well, and almost makes the exclusion of Internet multiplayer a non-factor. The game’s high quality graphics and sound seal the deal. Wu Hing: The Five Elements features high replay value, especially for a board game, and its low price makes it even more desirable. Strategy gamers and board game aficionados should not hesitate to pick up this title and the family friendly nature of the game makes it appeal to an even larger audience.