Editor’s Note: My full review of Silk Road will be published soon. What follows is an abbreviated version.
There have been two games in which I have been somewhat involved from their inception and through their development, culminating in their ultimate publication. One was my good friend Ty Douds’ Victory and Honor, one of the best trick-taking games in existence. The most recent is Silk Road, which began life many years ago as Valencia. Conceived by my good friend Ted Cheatham, Valencia was originally an abstract in search of a theme. When Ted devised the Valencia theme, my wife Gail actually created the artwork for the prototype. Eventually, Ted collaborated with well-known French designer Bruno Faidutti, and the result was Silk Road, which has been published by
As the name suggests, Silk Road is set along the historic trade route of the Far East. The caravan travels from city-to-city, beginning its journey in Changan and concluding thousands of miles later in Antioch. With each city visited, players will select one of the action tiles, which will enable them to purchase, swap or sell commodities in various combinations. Players best beware, however, as the dastardly thief can foil one’s plans, while the Grand Vizier can grant great wealth to the player with the most of the commodity he seeks.
After selecting the caravan leader via a quick auction mechanism, that player moves the caravan to a city that falls next along one of two paths. He selects and executes an action tile at that location. Then, the caravan leader keeps one of the turn tokens, and passes the remainder to the player of his choice. That player then chooses a tile and executes its action before passing the remaining tokens onto another player of his choice. This continues until no further turn tokens remain. The one player who did not receive an action tile receives the caravan leader token and begins the next turn. This “choosing the next player” mechanism is highly original, and can help serve as a method to reign in the current leader. There is the potential for one player to be constantly targeted, but in practice, wise players will choose to target the perceived leader rather than constantly abuse one player.
The action tiles are the heart of the game. Some will allow a player to trade one type of commodity for others, sometimes on a favorable 1-for-2 basis, while others will allow a player to sell or purchase commodities. When selling, the first good is sold for 4 silver, while each subsequent good is sold for one less. Purchasing works in the opposite direction. A maximum of four goods can be sold or purchased per tile.
• The game continues until the caravan reaches Antioch, whereupon victory points are earned for commodities, commodity majorities, and coins.
Resource management is important, particularly in the timing of the conversion of cash into commodities, and back into cash. Cash is needed early in the game for the acquisition of commodities, but in the second-half of the game, but conservation of cash is more important as the game enters the second half. Whenever a player can sell commodities, or trade one for two, it is a wise course of action.
While the decisions to be made along the way are not often taxing or difficult, one does derive the feeling that your actions are responsible for your ultimate fate, and that wise moves at the right time will spell the difference. Some of a player’s plans can be hindered by the passing of the turn order tokens, and a perceived front-runner will likely be passed-by when passing the turn tokens. However, the clever balancing mechanism of making this overlooked player the caravan leader on the following turn appears to be ample compensation.
Silk Road is a game of decisions and resource management that is easy to learn and play. The rules fit easily on the front and back of a single page, and the game plays to completion in just over an hour. While the system includes familiar mechanisms such as quick auctions, it also has some clever and fresh innovations. It is a game that can be played and enjoyed by both families and serious gamers, which is a big plus. I’m happy to see this entertaining game finally published.
The caravan was led along the Silk Road by Sheila, Ray, Elena, Gail and me. I managed to capture a narrow victory over Gail.
Finals: Greg 38, Gail 35, Sheila 26, Ray 23, Elena 22
Ratings: Gail 7.5, Greg 6.5, Sheila 6.5, Ray 6.5, Elena 5