The Road to Canterbury was published via Kickstarter and I was an eager backer. The funding campaign touted very high quality components, an awesome theme, and fantastic gameplay. Reviews at the time were also very positive. But does it live up to the hype? Not completely. It’s still a great game, one that I can play often with the Wife. While it is fun to play, you shouldn’t expect choirs of angels to sing when the box is opened.
The Basics. The players take on the role of the Pardoner from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The goal, then, is to tempt the pilgrims on their journey into committing the seven deadly sins and then to helpfully sell them pardons. The one with the most coins at the end is the winner.
Play starts with three pilgrims on the road to Canterbury. Players can play a Sin card to tempt them and pile their consciences with sins. They may then draw either a Sin card, a Pardon card, or a Relic (special power cards). Sin cards add sins, Pardons forgive those sins in return for a tidy profit.
But, in addition to the tempting and the pardoning, there are a whole host of bonuses going on. When you tempt someone to sin, you get to place a cube in the wheel of sin. First player to have cubes in all seven sins gets a bonus. Second player a smaller bonus, and third player a tiny one. Also, at each pardoning, you can put a cube on the pardoned company. At game end, whoever has the most cubes also gets a bonus (and second, and third).
The Deadly sins are especially deadly in this game. Once a particular company acquires seven, their representative pilgrim is killed. Whoever has the most cubes on the Pilgrim moves one to the Road to Canterbury and gets a bonus. At game end, there are additional bonuses for most houses on the Road to Canterbury.
The Feel. Road to Canterbury is a light strategy game, probably on par with Carcassonne. It has a simple ruleset that is relatively easy to grasp, but definitely has tactical decisions throughout. For example, I have killed the first Pilgrim even when another player will get the cube on the Road to Canterbury. Because their cube comes off the company. That means now I might have the majority of cubes in that company. And that eventual bonus (15 coins) is worth more than the one time bonus on the first Road (2 coins).
The game plays about equally well with two and three players, so it is a good go-to game when someone arrives early, or anytime three people are together. It’s unfortunate that it does not support a fourth player (as it would make a great couples’ game), but such is life.
On the plus side, Road to Canterbury is very enjoyable. Most of the game is about timing and watching what cards your opponents draw. While it can be lucrative to stack repeated sins on one pilgrim in order to pardon them for a high profit, there is also the risk that another player can swoop in and pardon those sins before you. You only get to play one card each turn, so it’s either sin or pardon, not both. Judging that timing (and whether your opponents have the proper pardon cards) is critical.
Games tend to be short(ish) at about thirty to forty minutes. And, in that time, you get the full light euro experience. Although it is lighter, Road to Canterbury remains a strategy game. If you fling your cards randomly, you will lose. So it will also maintain the interest of more experienced gamers.
Additionally, the theme is just fantastic. It’s irreverent without being sacrilegious. For fans of the Tales, it captures a lot of the humor related to the pardoner. And, in my plays at least, the players really get into the role of tempting and selling pardons.
On the negative side, it does something that I typically don’t like in games - almost every decision you make gives you points. Pardons - points. Most pardons on a company - points. Kill a pilgrim - points (or an extra turn). Get on the road to Canterbury - points. Play all the sins - points. Most blocks on the road - points. In fact, because the third player also receives a bonus, every move is about maximizing points and calculating out opportunity cost. That can be difficult for some math averse types.
Because of that, new players can feel a little clueless as to which action is best. After all, they all give points so they must all be good, right? Nope. Some get you more. And, for repeat players, you rarely get the sense that you made an awesome move. Sure that play got me 15 coins, but my next best alternative would have gotten me 12 so it wasn’t all that great.
Components: 3.5 of 5. In the Kickstarter campaign, the promise was for super high components, art, and even the box. In fact, the box is the same awesome sturdy thickness as that on Pastiche. It comes with cool cloth bags to hold and hide your coins. The cubes are fairly standard and serviceable. The board and art is fantastic, and the insert holds everything snugly. But, for all the goodness, I has a serious drawback: the cards.
The cards are small. But more importantly they are flimsy. Now, they are made out of good material, and I wouldn’t expect much in the way of scuffing or damage in repeated plays. But they are very thin. So thin that even normal shuffling (which occurs during every game) is sufficient to bend the cards. They are easy enough to bend back into shape, but with my OCD, it bugs the heck out of me. Because the cards are the essential component, it was a bit disappointing. But, taken as a whole, the game has some seriously good pieces to it.
Strategy/Luck Balance: 4 of 5. Though on the lighter side, Road to Canterbury is a strategy game at heart. And, generally, luck is a very low factor. You will feel very much in charge of your own decisions. However, luck is present. Especially in selecting relics. You blind draw them. Most are situationally powerful - so if you are in that situation, hot diggity. Otherwise, meh. But a few are always helpful. Relics can be an essential asset, as long as you are lucky enough to draw one that will aid you.
Mechanics: 4 of 5. This game plays wonderfully. Everything makes sense and most of the rules are intuitive. The way that the pardon cubes, dead pilgrims, and road to Canterbury interact is excellent. However, I always have to refer back to the rules on two issues. One, tiebreakers. There are a lot of instances where two players are tied for most cubes on a pilgrim. Always, I have to refer back. And the second is placing cubes in the wheel of sin. It matters beyond the initial bonus, but for the life of me I can never remember why (looked it up - another tie breaker).
Replayability: 3 of 5. The replayability of this game comes largely from the fact that it is short and sweet. The game plays identically every time (with only very minor variations in when Pilgrims show up), so you will have a very similar experience. That said, the experience is a good one. And there will be differences in the cards you draw and the strategies that are available to you. Plus, as a two to three player game, it is easy enough to crack open with a significant other giving it replay value.
Spite: 3 of 5. There are very few "take that" cards - and they are all Relics. Even so, they tend not to be that damaging. After all, if you go from first place on a bonus to second place, you really only lost eight coins or so (depending on the bonus). But, the timing game can feel very spitey. Sometimes a player will build up several sins on one pilgrim hoping to reap a large pardon reward. Then some other player gets there first and the first player feels like all their time and effort was wasted. While not exactly "spite," it can lead to that same demoralized feeling. But, it’s part of the risk/reward aspect of the game’s actions that players must take into account.
Overall: 3.5 of 5. On balance, The Road to Canterbury is enjoyable. The theme, while not always tied solidly to play, is a hoot to enact. "Oh, Mr. Miller, don’t those cakes look delicious," he says as he plays a greed card on that pilgrim. The game is a fun one, providing enough engagement to be entertaining for experienced gamers while remaining straightforward enough to be accessible to casual gamers. I would recommend this to anyone looking for light strategy. Just don’t expect this to be without its gaming sins.
(Originally posted, with pictures, at the Giant Fire Breathing Robot)
La Garenne Colombes
Hauts de Seine
Thanks for this great and insightful review. Much appreciated that you gave us the sins and defaults of this game.
I was doubtful about the replay value but even if you mentioned that game plays identically every time, there is some factors to have a different gaming experience each time.
In this regard, are the 7 pilgrims enough to bring variability ?
The theme looks very interesting, enjoyable and fun to play.
I have ordered it yesterday as i missed the Kickstarted project. Can't wait to play it.
- Last edited Mon Jan 23, 2012 2:26 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Mon Jan 23, 2012 2:26 pm
The 7 Pilgrims add very marginal changes each game. Their "preferred sin" really only makes a difference when "Death" cards are drawn. Otherwise, it could really be any pilgrim.
That said, I do like the game and I hope you have a good experience as well.