Chinatown is my all-time favorite game and to be completely frank, I just wanted an excuse to talk about it more. What better way to do that than with some strategies on how to make yourself a better Chinatown player!
First things first, know the game. There are eighty-five (85) shop locations spread through six (6) city blocks. There are twelve (12) different types of shops, with there being three (3) options per size.
The Photo, Sea Food, and Tea House locations require three (3) tiles to complete.
The Florist, Jewelry, and Tropical Fish locations require four (4) tiles to complete.
The Dim Sum, Laundry, and Take Out locations require five (5) tiles to complete.
The Antiques, Factory, and Restaurant locations require six (6) tiles to complete.
Each business will have an extra three (3) tiles, which makes the first tier of Photo, Sea Food, and Tea House as the only businesses that can have duplicates completed sets on the board.
Counting shows us that there are ninety (90) location tiles total so in the best case scenario where players are able to fill the board , five (5) tiles would not be placed.
But not all tiles can be placed in a game. For a three-player game, eighty-one (81) shop tiles and seventy-five (75) location cards will be drawn. A four-player game sees those numbers reach eighty-four (84) shop tiles and seventy-six (76) location cards and a five-player game has a distribution of eighty-five (85) shop tiles and seventy-five (75) location cards.
This basically means that you have to go into Chinatown knowing that not everything will be in play and as this isn’t a perfect world, you may not be able to place your businesses the way you want to and instead have to place them where you can.
Let’s jump into the gameplay tips:
Select building lots that are adjacent to someone. Real estate is paramount to victory and my philosophy is that unless the location cards are exactly what you need to complete a large business (a five or a six shop but preferably only for a six), grab lots adjacent to other players to wheel and deal. Just because something is of little to no value to you doesn’t mean another player won’t pay a king’s ransom for it. You always want a bargaining chip to barter with since you never know what other players are going to grab location and business wise. Plus, goodwill trades are great ways to establish relationships early in the game.
Try to pick lots that are centrally located. Avoid corners and edges until you’re certain that spot is a high commodity. Boxing yourself in limits your reach which in turn limits the amount of possible trade partners you have. Also, in the event that you cannot negotiate a trade, having a centrally located tile might let you expand on your own whereas a corner location might leave you boxed in, wasting a tile for a lousy one business shop.
Don’t be afraid to use your money. Money is a commodity, just like locations and shop tiles, with the only difference being that money is how you win the game. The old adage of having to spend some to make some rings true here and players should not be afraid to sweeten the pot to place a business that will net them more money over the course of the game. Since businesses and their income is public knowledge, it can be relatively easy to come up with an amount suitable for an offer.
On the flip side of that, don’t be afraid to sell items for money. Not everything has to be a 1:1 swap. Sell that tile you’re not using or that location that’s not beneficial to you. Get something in return.
Trade quickly. Once trading begins do not be afraid to make the initial offers and get the ball rolling. You can see what other players have and you don’t want someone else to trump your offer or before someone else makes a deal that impacts what you’re trying to do.
If there’s a deal you want/need to make, do it that round. As much negotiation and bartering Chinatown offers, the locations and tiles are still randomly selected and leaving the fate of your enterprises in the hands of random selection is something I cannot advise for. If there is something you need, do what you can to strike a deal. The only time’s I advise against this is the very first round (unless this deal completes a business). You would hate to be in a position of power one round to only have your commodity worth nothing the next due to the random draw.
Don’t be afraid to interject into other trades. Just because two other players have figured out what they’re bartering over does not mean there’s no room for a third. Maybe someone is hesitant to do a 1:1 deal with you as you appear to be in the lead but as a throw-in for another deal, they might be more welcome to that proposal.
Be creative. If you can trade it, it’s on the table. We’ve had games where trades have boiled down to grabbing a drink for someone but I want to focus strictly on game components. Last game, we had a player, henceforth known as ‘John’, need one last location to complete a six shop. He was able to facilitate a trade with two other players, mutually beneficial for all, with the caveat that if they drew the location card he needed in the next round, they would keep it and hand it over to him as part of the prior deal. Now, this is nothing really new. Future deals can be struck but keeping to them is difficult so what he did was negotiate collateral into the deal. Both players paid him money on the off-chance that they either reneged on the deal or secretly discarded the location. In a bit of an anticlimactic nature, he drew the location himself and both players had their money returned, but it was an interesting new wrinkle in our trade developments.
Never outright say no. As the Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase taught us, everyone has a price. Be willing to negotiate.
Make your first priority a six (6) shop building. They are worth the most money and if you are able to gain a majority of the shop tiles early, it will keep other players from trying to also work on the same shop.
If you do end up on the edges or in the corners, those are good places for three (3) shops as other players are less likely to keep those location cards as they know they’re not truly beneficial to others.
Always complete a business. Putting down a completed three (3) is better than an incomplete four (4), especially if you’re left hoping for the chance to pick up another location or shop tile.
Lastly, don’t build too early. Just because you have the space and income is enticing, that real estate that is currently available for a Photo shop might be better suited for a Factory if the stars align. You would hate to end up with a completed five (5) or six (6) but nowhere to place it as your Photo takes up prime real estate.