China, 1570. China is under the reign of the Longqing Emperor, of the Ming Dynasty. The Emperor has inherited a country in disarray after years of mismanagement and corruption. The country was famous for its very intricate bureaucracy, but this also led to a lot of corruption. However, the Longqing Emperor tried to eradicate corruption as much as he could, by simply having it officially prohibited, and punishable by death. This measure seemed successful at first, but as we all know, it is not so simple to keep perfect control over one’s “loyal” subjects. At the imperial court, the highest officials would pretend to uphold the ban on corruption, and instead of simply accepting money, a new custom saw the light of day: the exchange of gifts. If a petitioner visited an official to present a request, they would also present a gift. And naturally, the official would return the honour by presenting a gift in return. If the gift of the petitioner was something quite valuable, like, say, a Jade statue, and the return gift from the official was a cheap paper fan, it was hard to regard this as an act of bribery. However, both knew very well how valuable the symbolism of said item could be…
Gùgōng uses this extraordinary custom as its basis. Players take on the role of powerful Chinese families trying to gain influence and power by exchanging gifts with officials. The gift cards you offer as a player have to be of a higher value than the one you receive, forcing you to make strategic choices regarding which actions you want to take each turn. You will travel around China, sail down the grand canal, purchase precious jade, help construct the Great Wall, secure advantages through decrees, influence the game through intrigue, and ultimately, receive an audience with the emperor. If only 1 player succeeds in doing so, he wins. If several players succeed, the player with the most victory points among those players wins the game.
Promo video used for a crowdfunding campaign. Some components may differ.