As the board gaming world continues to flourish, we are more than ever presented with large, complex games consisting of amazingly detailed miniatures and hundreds of cards and dice. Games that can easily take up three to four hours of our day, not to mention hundreds of pounds out of your pocket. Don’t get me wrong, I love these longer, strategy-heavy games, and to back that up, they make up a large part of my board game collection. The problem with these games is that it is almost impossible to introduce new people to our hobby with games such as War of the Ring or Twilight Struggle.
Enter the gateway game, a game that will typically take 20-40 minutes to teach and play and consists of very few rules and player options, as well as being light in strategy and playable by almost all age groups. Games such as Ticket to Ride, Forbidden Island, Carcassonne, as well as a very obvious one that I will mention later, are all considered gateway games and are arguably some of the most popular games from any category in the entire hobby.
Today’s review is courtesy of Plan B Games and, not only is it their debut game, it is a game that will go toe to toe with its aforementioned predecessors. This is Century Spice Road; let’s take a look to see if it can trade punches with the big boys.
Plan B Games claim that Century Spice Road will be the first in a series of games that will see players travel the famous silk roads to deliver spices from the far reaches of the continent for fame and glory. Sound good? Let’s not get too carried away with the theme aspect, if there is one thing that gateway games can struggle with, it’s the theme, and if I’m honest, Century is no different, and I will explain why later.
The aim of Century is to use one action each round to either play a merchant card from the player’s hand, purchase a merchant card, fulfill the requirements of a point’s card or rest and take all cards already played back into your hand. The game will finish when a player has five points cards, and those points will then be added together along with a few other factors, and the player with the most points wins. That’s how simple these games can be.
So, what can we expect to find in the box?
The 1-5 player game rules are printed on a single piece of double sided cardboard and perfectly explain everything that players require to play the game. They go through play step by step whilst using coloured pictures and diagrams to help the limited information sink in.
Century consists of three different types of cards, all of which are tarot size and have simple but colourful artwork on them. The first type of card is the caravan card and simply acts as a player board where you will store your spices.
The second is the merchant card that players can claim throughout the game and will offer a variety of alternative options when played, including adding spices to your caravan, trading spices held in your caravan for alternatives or upgrading a lower grade spice to a rarer version.
The third card are the points cards, which will each have costs on them that players must meet to purchase them. The cost comes in the form of the four different spices which are yellow, red, green and brown. Yellow being the most common and brown the rarest, meaning the points cards requiring brown spices will generally give more points than those needing yellow.
The spices themselves come in the form of coloured wooden cubes which are held in four plastic spice bowls. Also included are twenty metal coins that will give players extra points when earned throughout the game. The spice bowls and coins could easily have been left out of the final print, and had they not been included, I don’t think anyone would have cried out for them as they do not affect the game itself. What they do, however, is massively improve the aesthetics of Century, making it a much more pleasant and tactile experience, so hats off to Plan B Games.
Set up will take less than five minutes; the top six cards of the merchant deck will be displayed face up, above them will be five points cards with gold coins placed above the leftmost card and silver coins above the one to its right. Players will be given a random caravan card, one of which will have a first player symbol on it, and a set number of spices (depending on turn order) will be given to each player. The last part of set up is to give each player a generic ‘create 2’ card (gives two yellow spices when played) and ‘upgrade 2’ card (allows two upgrades of spice, yellow-red-green-brown when played) as a starting hand.
I’ve already gone through what actions players can take on their turn, so now I’ll explain why these are important. Buying (drafting) a merchant card will give you more options as the game progresses. Some will simply give you a set number/colour of spices to add to your caravan, four yellow ones, for example. Others will allow you to swap spices for others, which is important as players can only hold ten cubes in their caravan at any one time.
To buy a card, players will need to place a cube on each of the cards to the left of the one they want to take. For example, if the player wants to take the rightmost card (closest to the deck), then they will need to give up five cubes in order to do so. On the flip side, if a player wants the leftmost card, it will cost nothing. When a card is taken, all remaining cards move down to the left, and a new card is drawn from the top of the deck. This is a mechanic used in various games and is designed to progress play by giving players a variety of options; for example, a certain card being left on the table due to what it offers or that it simply doesn’t fit a player’s strategy on that occasion. Due to this, it will begin to stack cubes over the course of several rounds as it moves to the left and will soon become an attractive option to players simply for the amount of cubes that they receive for buying it. Added to that is the fact that the player will never be required to play the card due to the rest action which allows players to take all used cards back into their hand, although it does mean that the player effectively misses a turn.
Strategy will vary from player to player, which is something I really enjoy about this game. I have found myself constantly upgrading spices over many rounds to focus on the higher scoring cards just as much as I’ve tried to end the game quickly by purchasing the lower cards as soon as possible. Those are two of the extremes, but there are certainly plenty of other ways to play that may change from game to game, meaning replay value in Century is very good.
When playing Century Spice Road, comparisons will always be made between it and Splendor due to the similar mechanics, victory conditions and theme. Some people will challenge that last comment, and quite rightly so, stating that Splendor and Century have two completely different themes, but I will argue that they both have exactly the same theme, that being very little. Plan B Games can add all the ‘silk roads, trade spices, established trade routes, fame & glory’, etc. that they like, but it does not hide the fact that Century could easily have had any number of different themes, and it would not have affected gameplay or the feel of the game. This game could have been set in space, 19th century Britain or 16th Century Europe, and it would have made no difference whatsoever. This is a common issue for gateway games, so criticism should be kept to a minimum, I feel.
Designer – Emerson Matsuuchi
Artist – Fernanda Suarez
Publisher – Plan B Games
Release – June 2017