Note: This review originally appeared on The Opinionated Gamers at https://opinionatedgamers.com/2017/04/24/century-spice-road-...
Designer: Emerson Matsuuchi
Publisher: Plan B Games
Players: 2 – 5
Ages: 8 and Up
Time: 30-45 Minutes
Times Played: > 17
Century: Spice Road — a game designed by Emerson Matsuuchi and published by Plan B Games — will be released in the United States in June. Plan B had a few copies flown into the Gathering of Friends, and the game was an immediate success, becoming one of the most-played games of the Gathering.
This is the first game by Plan B Games, and they have subsequent titles in the “Century” series for 2018 and 2019. Each game will be stand-alone, but they will also be “mixable.” Each is set in a different century with a slightly different theme.
So far Spice Road is my favorite game of 2017 (although we still have several months left), and I could see this being a hit of the summer.
Players become caravan leaders in the spice trade, competing to earn victory points by trading in spices (represented by cubes) for Point Cards. The game will end in the round when a player has taken their fifth or sixth Point Card, depending on the number of players, and at that point the player with the highest score will win.
Depending on turn order, each player starts with a fixed number of cubes. There are four colors of cubes in the game, yellow (the lowest value), red, green, and brown (the highest value).
On a player’s turn, he may take one of four actions:
1. Play. Play a Merchant Card from his or her hand.
2. Acquire. Acquire a Merchant Card from the row of available ones. There are six on display, and the first card is free. To get later ones, the player must put cubes on all earlier cards (kind of like in Small World). When a card is picked up, the others shift down.
3. Rest. Take all previously played cards back into his or her hand.
4. Claim. Claim a point card, paying the number of cubes. There are five point cards on display to buy. The first one in the row comes with a gold coin (worth three bonus points) and the second row comes with a silver coin (worth one bonus point). When a card is picked up, the others shift down.
The game is centered around acquiring cubes or converting them using the Merchant Cards.
There are three types of Merchant Cards.
1. Spice Cards. These simply give you the cubes shown. Each player starts with a Spice Card that will give them two yellow cubes when played.
2. Upgrade Cards. You can upgrade a cube one level. Yellow upgrades to red, red to green, and green to brown. Each player starts with an Upgrade Card that will let them do two upgrades.
3. Trade Cards. These allow you to exchange cubes for other cubes. You can do this action as many times as you’d like when playing the card, provided they have the cubes available. Players don’t start with any Trade Cards.
There is a 10-cube limit in each player’s caravan.
In a two- or three-player game, the game will end at the end of the round when the sixth point card is taken. In a four- and five-player game, the same happens after five cards. At that point, players get the points shown in their Point Cards, plus the value of any coins, plus one point for each non-yellow cube.
My Thoughts on the Game
Century: Spice Road it is tense, addictive, and incredibly fun. This is a phenomenal family-weight strategy game, and it is one of my favorite games of 2017 so far. Every group I’ve played with has enjoyed this, and I expect Spice Road to be a big hit over the next few months.
Spice Road offers interesting decisions from the first turn. You need to build a hand of cards to efficiently acquire, upgrade, and convert spices cubes. You’ve got the basics in your hand at the start — you can get two yellow cubes and upgrade them — but you’ll need to buy better Merchant Cards in order to have any shot at winning.
So the question becomes which Merchant Cards you need… and at what price. You’ll need cards that work well together, but you also need versatility to adapt as new Point Cards come into the market.
The result is a tense “will I or won’t I get what I need” race for Merchant Cards at the start of the game, followed by a race for Point Cards towards the game’s midpoint and conclusion.
The tension comes, in part, from the fact that you can’t take just any Merchant Card, nor can you take just any Point Card. Cubes are prized resources, and you have to pay what you’ve accumulated to get the newer Merchant Cards. Similarly, those coin bonuses on Point Cards (3 points in the first column, 1 point in the second) can be the difference between winning and losing, so you have every incentive to plan for the same cards as your neighbors, creating a race for certain cards.
Despite that depth and interesting decision space, gameplay is extremely fast-paced. Rather than making big, sweeping moves, players accumulate the resources necessary to buy the Point Cards via micromovements. The result is minimal time between turns, even at a maximum player count of five. Though the box says 30-45 minutes, most of my plays have come in under half an hour. And the game works equally well at all player counts, though it is a bit more tense with four or five.
And the game is easy to teach. Players only have four possible actions on their turn, all of which are intuitive and easy-to-understand. The rules are well written, and they cover on a single sheet of paper (on both sides). I can teach the game in two to three minutes.
The production value is top-notch. The artwork on the cards is striking, and the plastic cups holding the cubes come in the box. I’m not one to buy player mats, but this one is attractive and functional, so I recommend it: the cards — which regularly slide down the table as gameplay progresses — glide along the player mat.
If there’s one downside to the game, I could see it getting stale after a couple of dozen plays. I’m at least fourteen plays in, and I still love the game, so maybe that concern won’t materialize. And even if it does, I suspect the other two games in the Century line will freshen this up.
Overall, I’m extremely impressed. This is a beautifully-designed game, complete with a streamlined combination of strategic and fast-paced gameplay. Throw in the high-quality production value, and confident Spice Road will be a big hit in the gaming community this summer.
Melting souls with cuteness since 2007
I don't think the fear of "stale" is going to materialize.
This is the kind of game you like forever or you don't. Like cribbage, bridge or poker.
Games tha distilled their mechanics to their basic elements.
I find the more convoluted sandbox games are the one we get tired of quicker. Discovering those games is super-fun. But dominant strategies set in after a while and they become more repetitive as they usually allow you to play the same way every game... for over an hour (or three).
Games like Century, it's hard to say there's a dominant strategy asbit is simply "be efficent in your card picks". Nothing less nebulous can be said. And the game is much quicker than those other games... dullness doesn't have time to set in.
I bought this game on the strength of your review and it did *not* disappoint.
What I love most about this game is the pace. It's relentless without being frantic, as everyone is able to take their turn and plan for the next one very quickly.
The transparency that this game offers is also a plus. At all times you can see what spices your opponents have, and can anticipate their upgrade engine based on the cards they've taken and played in previous turns.
All of this combines to create a wonderful tension with everyone competing for the same set of cards (both to play and for scoring), and this escalates as the game's end draws near.
Best of all, the stellar game play is matched by the quality of the game's components. The artwork on the tarot-sized cards is magnificent, the spice cubes are bright and engaging, and the metal coins provide a real sense of accomplishment when you manage to snap them up in the game. Plus, SPICE BOWLS!!!
Can't recommend this game enough. Grab it!