Hello, and welcome to my review of Central Market. Here is roughly how the review you’re about to read is laid out, and what you should expect from it. “Getting to know Central Market” chronicles my exploration of the game, step by step from the moment it gets into my hands. In other words, you are tagging along the review process as it happens. First impressions concerns itself with the thrills of unboxing a new game, handling the components, looking at the art, and sometimes figuring out how the hell all of this is supposed to go back in the box without throwing out the insert. Reading the rules covers the experience of the rules from the rulebook. How easy is it to learn? Does it sound like fun? Around what mechanics will the meaningful decisions happen, from the looks of it? Actual play is all about hitting the table, and seeing if the promise of the components and the rulebook are fulfilled – whether or not the theme feels pasted on, how much of the game’s dynamic is emergent and how much could be figured out right away from the rulebook... that kind of stuff. Finally, The Bottom Line is where I try to recap the above and where I share a little bit of my thoughts on the game in hindsight.
The review you’re about to read has been written from a comp copy provided by the publisher.
No meeples were harmed during the making of this review.
As a final disclaimer, I’d like to point out that this is my first board game review, although I have some reviewing experience in another subset of the gaming hobby. I tried to come up with a structure and point of view that made my review relevant despite the horde of reviews already out there – hopefully I’ve succeeded. Whether I have or haven’t, however, I’d love to get honest feedback so I can get better.
Central Market comes packed in a small box, just a bit bigger than two standard deck of cards aside one another along the longer edge. The box itself is sturdy, and easy to open. The insert is functional, and all you’re missing is a single small baggie for the cardboard counters once the game is punched.
The cover art, unfortunately, looks somewhat odd and off-putting. That weird look is a trend that carries across part of the art on the cards, as well – “somewhat odd and off-putting” sums up my reaction to every card featuring a character. The vegetable cards, however, are utterly delightful to look at, and make me feel like taking a stroll at my local farmer’s market. The vegetable art makes up the main bulk of the cards in the game, so the weirdness of the character art is quickly washed away by all the pretty vegetable pictures.
The components of the game themselves are of good quality. The card stock feels fairly sturdy, and the cardboard chits are thick enough for what they seem to be used for. In terms of usage, however, some of the cards end up being useless in the actual game. This is obvious just by reading the list of components: there are “colour reminder” cards, for instance, even though the scoring board cards already feature each player’s color. This said, there’s too few useless cards to affect the game’s price point (in my best guesstimate anyway), so it’s no big deal.
READING THE RULES
The rulebook is very well written, and explains the flow of the game very thoroughly. The game itself comes across as very auction-like, albeit an auction from the seller’s perspective in a buyer’s market. In other words, you’re the one doing the selling, and you’re trying to price your product low enough that the buyers will buy what you have to sell instead of buying next door from another player. An additional challenge comes the idea of limits. In any given round, only 10 kg each vegetable can be sold, and you can only personally sell 10 kg of vegetables of any type. Just from reading the rules, it is obvious that the price-setting will have to be balanced against the constraints posed by those limits. At first glance, that dynamic seems to be at the heart of the game’s meaningful decisions.
Each player also has access to three single-use special actions – the “Cheat”, the “Tourists” and the “Rot”. Despite the rulebook’s best effort at clarity, all three come across as fiddly and hard to memorize. Their actual use looks straight forward enough, but the game is very nitpicky about when they can and can’t be used. In the end, their impact on the flow of the game is hard to foresee without the game hitting the table.
While most choices relating to the price-setting and the use of special actions look like they will be tactical in nature, the game also adds a layer of strategy by letting you set cards aside each turn to be used in the last round – thus letting you shape some kind of long term strategy for your final push. While the mechanism itself is a nice way to diversify the decisions in the game, it feels like there’s a lost opportunity in terms of theme. Since you’re saving vegetables for a later round when the only vegetables that will be available are those that you’ve set aside, the mechanism begs to be called “canning” and the last round could easily be referred to as the “winter round”. None of this is game-changing, of course, but it would’ve taken the (already strong) theme one step further.
The theme stays very much in the forefront while playing the game, and Central Market never feels abstract. This is mostly thanks to the art, and even the weirdness of the character portraits eventually fades away. While in no way abstract, playing the game feels very “mathy”. In itself, this is neither a good nor a bad thing, but the way income is tracked makes the math more complicated than it should be. Income is tracked on a single card, with two different tracks for the tens and units, using two cardboard chits that are slightly too big.
The tracking of income could’ve been made much simpler by using a single linear track for income points across two cards, which could’ve been done at no additional cost by using the “colour reminder” cards for this instead of their current use.
Mathiness aside, play reveals a much deeper game than what was apparent at first glance. The way the price-setting and the weight limits interact produces a lot of meaningful decisions, as expected from reading the rulebook - perhaps even more so. The three special powers end up being more important to the final result than expected. However, the amount of constraints on when they can be played adds a kind of complexity that’s not especially fun – like rules lawyering, almost. This is in stark contrast to the complexity present in the rest of the game, which is very fun to play around with.
Finally, there is one crucial aspect to the game that didn’t seem all that crucial from reading the rules, and that’s how victory points are awarded. Basically, points are awarded each round depending on how you rank on income earned (in a three player game, for instance, first place would get three points, second place two points, last place one point.) At first glance, this is a small thing – but in actual play, it means that you can experiment with different tactics each turn and still have a chance to catch up if something you try doesn’t work out. This provides a lot of breathing room to the game, and allows players to toy around with how the mechanics unfold.
THE BOTTOM LINE
While it is obvious as you play Central Market that it has its flaws, most of those flaws are very hard to pinpoint precisely. What remains is a vague feeling that the game could be tweaked. I suspect that the game’s charming theme - which blankets its mechanisms so well – might be the reason why the flaws are hard to pinpoint. This is not necessarily a bad thing.
That being said, beyond the fact that it is not perfect, Central Market is a game that provides plenty of interesting choices. In that sense, it packs quite the punch for the size of its box – most games this size tend to be fillers, this one most definitely is not. Finally, setting prices from the point of view of the seller makes the game feel unique compared to most other auction games.
There are some games that you really need to try, even if they’re not your type. There are some games that you really need to avoid, even if they’re exactly your type. Central Market lands somewhere in-between. If you’re smitten with the farming theme, if you’re looking for a game that’s easy to carry around but packs more punch than a filler, or if you’re a strong fan of auction games, then seeking out Central Market is probably a good idea. Otherwise, it’s possible that its redeeming qualities won’t be enough to balance out the game’s flaws.