Sail to India is a game about discovery, wherein Portuguese explorers are looking for alternative routes to the East Indies, motivated by the trade of gold, spices, and goods. Each player takes on the role of a noble supporting the explorers in their efforts to gain the greatest wealth and prestige throughout their journeys.
The Board and Components
This game really doesn’t have much in the way of components. There is no traditional board; instead it’s made up of a row of cards containing the Lisboa card and 12 coastal town cards, as seen below. Three cards start the game face-up, while the rest will be flipped up during the game.
There are also three technology cards that are placed near the Lisboa and coastal town cards. These represent technologies that the players can take actions to gain during the game.
Each player will start the game with a historian card and a domain card, as well as 13 cubes and a player aid. Three cubes are placed on the technology space of the domain card, one on the ship speed of one space, and one on the communal Lisboa card. The remaining cubes are set aside as a stock.
Players gain either 2, 3, or 4 wealth to start the game (based on turn order). This is indicated by taking a player cube from the stock, and marking the appropriate space on wealth track of their domain card. If a player gains more than 5 wealth, a second cube would be added to the track. For example, 6 wealth would be one marker on the 5 space and one marker on the 1 space. If a player doesn’t have a cube in reserve when they need one, they must remove a cube from Lisboa and add it to the wealth track or sacrifice the wealth instead. If a player were to go from 6 wealth back to 5, the cube is removed from the 1 space and placed back on Lisboa.
Victory points work the same way. If a player gains points, they must add a cube to the VP track. If they go above 5 points, a second cube must be added (or the points forfeited). Due to wealth and VPs, players must be wise about using and managing their cubes as the game is played.
A turn in Sail to India is comprised of the active player using two actions points. Their options for actions include:
1. Employ marker – pay one wealth to take a marker from your stock and place it on Lisboa.
2. Move ships – ships are represented by player cubes placed below coastal town cards.
Moving a ship means taking a ship from the sea next to a coastal town and moving it up to the number of spaces indicated by the player’s ship speed. Ships may move closer to Lisboa or farther away. With this action, any number of ships may be moved. When a ship moves to an undiscovered coastal town, their movement must stop there. This can only be done once per turn. 1 VP is gained by flipping (discovering) an undiscovered coastal town. Ships may also be moved from Lisboa to space below the adjacent coastal town card. At the end of this action, the player may take any number of their ships from the sea area of the respective coastal town and move it to one of the coastal town card’s trade goods. The marker is now considered a trade good. Each space can only be occupied by one player cube.
3. Sell trade goods – return one or more of your trade good markers to Lisboa, earning wealth and points based on the trading chart. Rewards increase with the number of different items sold. Multiple goods may be sold with one action. If you have a cube on a marketplace, it counts as a permanent trade good of the indicated type.
4. Build building – pay two wealth to take a marker and place it on one of a town’s unoccupied buildings. The marker must be in the sea area of the card or on the card as a trade good or other building. After building the building, you may use its effects. Churches provide 2 VP, marketplaces provide 1 VP and a permanent resource, and strongholds provide 1 VP and an additional starting place for ship movement.
5. Acquire technology - pay wealth equal to the desired technology’s cost and move a cube from the technology area of your domain card to the technology. This can only be done three times per player per game.
6. Increase ship speed – pay two wealth to increase your ship speed one space. When taking the ‘move ships’ action, each ship may now move an additional space.
Once a player has taken two actions, the next player (clockwise) will act. This will happen until the game end conditions are met.
End of game
The game end is triggered when the last coastal town, India, is discovered or when two or more players have no markers remaining in their stock. Each other player then gets one final turn. Points are gained in the following ways:
- As indicated by the player’s historian card
- 1 VP for each marketplace and stronghold owned
- 2 VP for each church owned
- Any VP for technology cards owned
The player who scored the most VPs wins the game!
Cube Management – This is an interesting dynamic. It feels a bit like Carcassonne, in that you need to make sure you have cubes (or meeples) left over for more valuable actions down the road. If you know you’ll soon be gaining victory points, you need to make sure you have a cube in your supply to place on the VP card. Cubes can always be returned from Lisboa, but it’s a waste of actions to do so.
Compact but strategic – I’d be hard pressed to come up with a game that packs more strategy into such a small box. For just 24 cards and 52 cubes, there’s not much to criticize here.
Varied strategies – In my first game, it appeared that the player with the heavy exploration strategy would win; to the point where the game seemed broken. But we played it through and he ended up coming in second place. We were all shocked! There are multiple strategies in this game that can win, which is one sign of a good game.
Card size and design – The cards are nice and large. It’s very easy to distinguish building and good types. The art is fairly simple, but nice. They could have included some additional coastal town cards to add a variable setup, but that might unbalance the game (to have more of one building type than another, for example).
Tweener – It’s too long to be considered a filler game, but it’s not quite deep/expansive enough to be a feature game. It doesn’t often hit the table. If I’m itching to play a cube-pushing euro game, Sail to India isn’t going to be near the top of the list. If I’m traveling light and want to pack some games along, it might make the list. Very situational though.
Boring – I wish I didn’t feel this way, but I do. This is a well-designed game, mechanically speaking, but it’s just not that fun. I don’t find anything I do to be particularly exciting. The theme doesn’t really come through, and there aren’t many majors, game-changing, jaw-dropping plays to be made. It’s just a very methodical grind. Push cubes, flip cards, gain goods, sell goods, gain wealth, spend wealth, gain technology. Like I said, I just don’t find it fun or exciting.
Ultimately, I think this is a well-designed game that I just don’t want to play very often. The strategy is there, but the fun isn’t. That might be a strange criticism coming from someone who is primarily a euro gamer, but there’s something lacking in Sail to India. If someone in my game group suggested it, I probably wouldn’t turn down an opportunity to play. On the other hand, it’s not one I bring to our meetups eager to shop around.
How easy is the game to learn?
The rules are pretty simple. They can’t really be too complicated with the limited amount of components. The way the wealth and VP track function is a bit counterintuitive at first, since they use the same cubes the players will use as ships.
Will it be easy to find players?
This isn’t always true, but when I hear ‘micro game’ I tend to think something has been sacrificed to gain this characterization. I think Sail to India has a good deal of strategy to offer, but there’s not much to draw new players in. Theme? Not really. Cool components? Not really, just cubes and cards. Mechanics? They’re solid, but not…exciting. It’s often a hard sell for me.
Is the reward worth the time spent?
Mostly, yes. Because multiples strategies are possible, it feels good to have chosen one and forged your own path through the game. The fact that each player will have a relatively unique experience makes this game pretty rewarding. And it only takes about an hour!
How much fun is defeat?*
Losing can still be fun, because, as stated above you can still have played a unique and fun strategy. Often, you don’t know you’re behind until calculating the final scores, so it keeps players pretty engaged throughout. It’s hard to be really bad at this game, as it’s fairly accessible to new players.
*I think one of the best ways to evaluate a game is to consider how much fun it is to lose. The goal is to have fun whether I've won or lost!
If you enjoyed reading this review, feel free to check out my other game reviews HERE
Nice succinct review.
I'm a real fan of Sail to India because of the amount it packs into the box, and the cube management part is genius. But I've had it fall really flat with some people, and had a couple of games where the end-game seems to get drawn out for ages.
I think it comes down to whether you feel the cleverness of the design is worth cutting it a bit of slack in terms of gameplay.