The China Card

The China CardThe China Card

The People’s Republic of China played a pivotal role during the Cold War. While the PRC’s influence was largely limited to satellites in Asia, the country was important to the uneasy balance of power that ultimately descended upon the post-WWII world. While beginning as an ally of the USSR, China became a counter-balance to Soviet influence in Asia during the later stages of the Cold War.

Time: Early War
Side: Neutral
Ops: 4
Removed after event: No

There are four main uses for the China Card:

1. 5 Ops in Asia

This is often the best use of the card in the Early War, when Asia is wide open and ripe for the taking.  Even if the key countries have already been taken, the 5 Ops of the card (possibly 6 if combined with Vietnam Revolts) can flip a 2-stability battleground that isn’t overcontrolled (i.e., if Thailand is 0/2, 5 Ops can make it 4/2).  At the very least, you can even turn India or the Koreas from 0/3 to 4/3.

As noted below, I try not to use the China Card on Turn 1 (as USSR) unless absolutely necessary.  On Turn 2, however, I often try to find a place for the 5 Ops in Asia if it has not yet been scored (and especially if it will be scored this turn).

Later in the game, this becomes less important, especially in the Mid War if Asia Scoring has already come and gone and there are more important regions on the board.

2. Protecting your hand

Playing the China Card allows you to hold one additional card that turn.  This is important for two reasons: sometimes you want to hold a second card and deal with it later, and sometimes you are forced to lose a card and therefore would not be able to hold a DEFCON suicide card to next turn.

The former most commonly refers to the US wishing to hold both De-Stalinization and Decolonization to Turn 3.  This is a very important reason why the USSR should not play the China Card on Turn 1 unless it can already account for one of those two cards!  (Turn 2 is OK because the US won’t get a chance to use it until Turn 3, at which point the question is moot.)

The latter usually means that the USSR wants to hold onto the China Card to protect their hand against Grain Sales to Soviets, Five Year Plan, etc.  This is the main reason to hold onto the China Card instead of playing it — whoever has it has hand flexibility and can plan his hand more effectively and reliably.  (In this sense it is like a Year of Plenty in The Settlers of Catan.)

3. A generic 4 Ops

Fairly common in the Mid War, if neither party is concerned about DEFCON suicide and Asia Scoring has come and gone.  (Or if it is being deployed to protect against DEFCON suicide, as above.)  If a critical region is being scored this turn, then it’s better to spend an extra 4 Ops this turn even if it means giving your opponent a 4 Ops card next turn.  Of course, you would prefer to use another 4 Ops card, but if the China Card is all you have, you shouldn’t hesitate to use it to sway a key scoring card.

This also occasionally happens on Turn 1 if the USSR is dealt a truly miserable hand and has nothing else with which to coup Iran.

4. As 1 VP at the end of the game

In reality, holding the China Card is actually worth 2 VPs, since if you don’t have it your opponent does.  By Turn 10 I am usually looking to hold the China Card at all costs, unless I have a very strong AR7 play worth more than 2 VPs that can only be done with the China Card.

How often the China Card is used tends to depend on how volatile the board is.  In a wide-open board, people will use it nearly every turn, pouring in every Op they can.  In a more conservative, less volatile game, your Ops from the China Card are not as effective, and therefore people tend to hang onto it for insurance.

China Card Events

Formosan Resolution affects the China Card in the Early War, but it’s rarely meaningful because controlling Taiwan is a big investment.  As USSR, though, I will try to play FR after I play the China Card (frequently on Turn 2).

The three Mid War China Card events each have a different effect depending on whether you or your opponent holds the China Card:

China Card belongs to
Cultural Revolution 1 VP Give to USSR face-up
Nixon Plays the China Card Give to US face-down 2 VP
Ussuri River Skirmish Give to US face-up 4 influence in Asia, no more than 2 per country

In general I am never OK with just handing over the China Card due to any of these events, and often OK with using the event to take the China Card if possible.  Of course, what I am OK with sometimes clashes with what I am forced to do, but all three of these cards are spaceable if necessary.

Cultural Revolution has the worst “friendly China” effect, so bad in fact, that I try to trigger it as US and avoid it as USSR.  As US there is no reason not to just play the China Card first, and then play Cultural Revolution.

Nixon is a decent “friendly China” effect, since 2 VP is the value of the China Card at the end of the game.  Of course, it is probably worth more than 2 VP since you have the option of using the China Card, so as US I prefer to use it to claw back the China Card after using it, rather than just 2 VP.  As USSR I would rather not trigger either of these effects, but if forced to would rather give the 2 VP than the China Card.

Ussuri clearly has the best of both worlds.  As USSR, I almost always space it, and as US, I try to play it while holding a face-up China Card — add 2 influence in each of 2 different countries, the USSR defends one, and the China Card takes over the other.

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20 Responses to The China Card

  1. trevaur says:

    Can you please elaborate on the situations in which you would use the China Card to coup Iran on turn 1? Would you use it if you have no other 4 ops? Or would you have to have no 3 or 4 ops to consider using it?

  2. SnowFire says:

    I’m a fan of couping with the China card against Iran on turn 1 if I don’t have any other 4 ops cards, unless I have a ton of 3 ops cards an am willing to potentially coup back & forth. Missing out on both Decol & Destal is pretty bad, but so is flubbing the Iran coup, especially in games with a +1 US handicap. Figured it was time to do some math, since I suspect the 2x hold case is fairly rare (what if it wasn’t drawn until turn 3 anyway? What if the US drew both on turn 1? What if the US also draws Blockade turn 2? etc.)

    * The Soviet player is playing the China Card no matter what. There’s a ~51.7% chance of the USSR drawing a 4 ops on turn 1 where play of the China Card is likely to be less important. Arguably those high-ops hands should just be thrown out as unlikely to merit a CC play, but I’m ignoring that.
    * If the Soviet player draws Blockade on turn 1 or 2, they will hold->play it on turn 2 to reduce US hand size. If the Soviet player draws UN Intervention turn 1 but no Blockade, they will blow it to draw more cards.
    * The US player will always attempt to hold Decol & Destal if given the China card turn 1 and they draw them at the right times. If the US player has one of them in his opening hand and Blockade, he or she will open without influence in W. Germany and headline Blockade.
    * If the US player has UN Intervention turn 1 but no Destal / Decol, they will blow it so they can draw more cards. Same with US drawing Blockade + a different Soviet 3 ops + no Destal / Decol turn 1. Not entirely realistic but whatever, craziest possible US about doing this.

    Anyway, since lots of this relies on finicky tiny probabilities where the Soviets draw one less card and the like, I cooked up a Python script to quickly investigate that just ran a ton of simulations. Here are the results, at 2 million runs per scenario:

    • SnowFire says:

      Don’t use China Card round 1

      31.68 One of Decol and Destal in American hand, but Blockade in Soviet hand / American hand 2, forcing either discard or W. Germany loss.
      22.16 Americans hold one of Decol or Destal.
      16.08 Russians drew one D on turn1/2, last waiting for round 3.
      15.30 Russians naturally drew both Ds anyway.
      6.55 Both Decol and Destal in American hand, but Blockade in either Soviet or American hand, forcing either discard or W. Germany loss.
      4.76 Both Decol and Destal in American hand; lack of China card forces one to be spaced.
      3.46 Both Ds were hiding in deck anyway for round 3!

      Use China Card round 1

      30.18 One of Decol and Destal in American hand, but Blockade in Soviet or American hand, forcing one of discard, W. Germany loss, or play of the China card.
      23.59 Americans hold one of Decol or Destal.
      17.07 Russians drew one D on turn1/2, last waiting for round 3.
      13.34 Russians naturally drew both Ds anyway.
      6.23 Both Decol and Destal in American hand, but Blockade in Soviet or American hand 2. If Americans hold both and play China Card, they lose W. Germany.
      5.08 Both Decol and Destal in American hand; China card allows double hold.
      4.51 Both Ds were hiding in deck anyway for round 3!

      So… a 5% chance of allowing the double hold. Additionally, the odds on both being buried in the deck go up slightly due to the loss of a card draw (by ~1%), the odds of the Americans getting a single hold off scot free go up by ~1%, and the odds of the Russians drawing 1 De- with the other being buried goes up by ~1%. The odds of the natural double draw for Russia go down by ~2% as well. The nastiest outcome is arguably the single hold case vs. Soviet Blockade which comes up 30-31% of the time, as the Americans are forced to choose between saving W. Germany and holding their De- card when the China Card wasn’t played, but the Americans can evade it via the China Card in the second scenario.

      Of course, there is a 16.7% chance of rolling a 1 on that Iran coup that is pretty horrible when it happens, for something to compare this all with when deciding whether or not to China on turn 1 or not.

      • Anonymous says:

        Nice analysis! You should post it on the forum.

      • ddddddd says:

        Nice work! Definitely post to the forums.
        I’d never really considered it before, but playing the China card for an AR1 coup isn’t so bad after all. I would love to play the China card for a AR1 coup in Iran and roll a 1. USA is out and there’s no coup-back. Rolling a 2 however…

      • Ryvin says:

        What can you say about this scenario:

        I as the US draw in turn 2 both Ds also I have the China Card available, USSR plays during the turn blockade in order to cut my handsize and forcing the spacing of one of the two, however I choose to lose my influence on W. Germany then use China to take it back and hold both Ds.

  3. In the games I’ve played, one USSR technique is to play first Formosan Resolution and then the China Card. This tends to drive the US player nuts, but that may be groupthink.

    • DanielB says:

      It’s annoying as the USA, but not crippling. To take advantage of Formosan, first you have to play 3 ops into Taiwan, then you have to make sure Asian battlegrounds are tied 3-3 such that it can give you domination (otherwise it only swings 1 VP which isn’t a big deal usually), then you also have to make sure you own more total countries in Asia than the USSR does or you won’t get domination anyway.

      So, having to lose the event by playing China isn’t something I’ll cry too much over.

  4. Rick says:

    Question about the China Card and Ussuri River Skirmish: If the USSR player played the China Card that turn so the US player has the China Card Face Down, does the Add Influence part of the event still occur or must the card be Face Up and available for play to get the influence?

  5. Javier Stokes says:


    first of all, congrats for the amazing work done in this blog. I bought it once month ago and I only played it with my own strategy. Now I found this website, I just realized I know nothing.

    I have a question: I really fail to understand why Cultural Revolution is something to avoid when you play as USSR. Or maybe I just didn’t understand what you mean by “friendly China”.

    Anyway, thanks in advance!

    • theory says:

      What I mean is, I don’t want to let it trigger. 1 VP is inconsequential. If I somehow know the US has Cultural Revolution, and I have the China Card face-up, I try to play the China Card before they play Cultural Revolution.

      • Ryvin says:

        Only situation as ussr where it is useful to activate the event is the following scenario:
        During Ar 7 us player make a play in Asia with direct influence placement or thanks to ussuri event in order to destabilize one or two country and leave me with the classic ussr dilemma between coup or repair the damage, with cultural revolution i can take back the china card and the 3/1 placement for example in Thailandia isn’t a problem anymore without the china card necessary to flip so i can coup!

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  7. If you used the China card to do a coup somewhere in Asia, would it still have a value of 5 as all the points are deployed in Asia?

    • theory says:

      Yes. And if you do it in Southeast Asia with Vietnam Revolts active, it would be a 6 Op coup.

    • DanielB says:

      Yep, and it’s also 5 realignments if you do all in Asia. And you don’t have to pre-decide. You realign one at a time and if your first 4 were all in Asia, you can get a free 5th one in Asia. Granted I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen this happen….

  8. Urza3142 says:

    I wish there was something on their this page of the Five Year Plan that details the interaction between each other. Knowing that you can hold the China Card, a score card, and Five Year Plan without accidentally killing yourself by playing FYP and discarding the China card is huge.

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