Proud Balmain Board Gamer
This is the third in a series of reviews focused on how well multi-player games scale to two. Much more comprehensive reviews are written by Claudio212 and Endersgame covering all aspects of gameplay.
Although best by vague familiarity (like playing “Acquire Ticket to Stephenson's Baron Desert Express”), Samarkand is a beautifully produced and quick train shares/merger game played out with a middle-eastern theme of with camels replacing trains and families replacing companies. In total the game for two takes 30-45mins; as advertised on the box.
Set-up is a bit fiddly, although by not setting out the goods’ tokens (but don’t forget to take a point when the first camel goes down on that good) from box fart to game start – including rules explanation – is around 10 minute or less. Unfortunately with two there is just as much set-up to do – so the many hands make light work principle doesn’t really apply here.
Two player rules
Samarkand has pretty simple rules: on your turn you can either place camels or buy stocks (sorry… marry into a family). For two players the variant has initially only one stock (member) of each of the ten families available. Once a family member is taken/married, a new tile is drawn from a bag and only goes into play if it belongs to family that has already seen one of its members married. Otherwise it is discarded.
This variant does a couple of interesting things. First, it makes in unlikely that (early on in the game at least) both players will marry into the same family. Second, it also means that one knows early on which families only have one share up for grabs.
Scoring is quite heavily oriented to mergers between families you are married into or for placing your family’s camels on good spaces whose card you own. Thus with a bias towards creating only one share per company (certainly early on in the game), all 2-player games I have played to date have largely been multi-player solitaire affairs (so to speak). Both players trying to maximize their score in one part of the boards with the families they have chosen. The relative freedom in discarding goods cards (also only starting with two) further allows one to specilize in one’s own part of the board.
Nevertheless, it is a pretty good game – there are very few stock/merger games out there that work well with two. It’s certainly more penetrable than Stephenson’s Rocket, and more 2-player friendly than Acquire. However, having played both the 2-player and 3-player games, I would definitely say that the 3-player game had greater tactical richness.
Is this game worth purchasing for 2-player alone? If you are wooed by beautiful production, an interesting theme, a stocks/merger game playable by two and don’t want too much direct confrontation, then yes.
My principle mode is 2-player and for me it is a keeper, rating a solid 7/10. However, I suspect that I will be looking increasingly for a ménage-a-trois in Samarkand.
Nice review. My feelings about 2P pretty much on the money. I've played most of my 20 or so games with my wife. I like it okay to pass the time. Just the other day, though, she declared it her favorite of my 'big' board games (as distinguished from card games like San Juan).
That said, I think it's a hoot with four or five players. Very tight hand limits and more shared interests make things quite fun.
I'd agree with Claudio. with more than 3 players the game becomes a lot more interesting and more of a 'hoot'.
with 2 or even 3 it's a pleasant and attractive enough multiplayer solitaire pastime, especially with younger family members or those who don't want a fight.
If you wanted it to be more interactive and agressive it'd need a smaller board. Since you can't do that I'd recommend monkeying about with the rules for the cards; possibly allowing discard of only one card or possibly non, or drastically reducing the hand limit.
This size viola da gamba is like a cello with frets. I started playing at age 48.
I really enjoy this with two players. When the game is zero-sum each player must be more careful about joining families. The awarded dirham may go to the entire opposition, not just one of two or more other players. There is also the possibility of making a family "friendly" by buying into it after the other player or "rich" and exclusive by buying in twice (or not, depending on the tile draws, which can strongly influence your tactics). I wish more games with special two-player rules worked so well!