Century : Spice Road and Magic Maze

The quiz picture is I think a bit easy but may catch a few of you out.

The last quiz picture was of Bauernschlau  an area control game with a small memory element, it does not quite get the play I hoped it would but it is still a nice game and was a 1991 nominee for “Spiel des Jahres”.

A Player board in Helios which uses various methods for collecting victory points, a lovely game.

A Player board in Helios which uses various methods for collecting victory points, a lovely game.

Louix XIV an excellent resource and territory control game

Louix XIV an excellent resource and territory control game

Above and Below player board for the yellow player who seems to be struggling for goods (the main way to get victory points).

Above and Below player board for the yellow player who seems to be struggling for goods (the main way to get victory points).

The spotlight is on Magic Maze a new release from Ghenos Games, Pegasus Spiele & Sit Down!. The box contains lots of tiles with a 4 x 4 grid thereon, each square may be blank, contain a board element or be completely blocked, there are also quite a few walls drawn on all the tiles between the squares so that when tiles are laid together they form a maze. It is a co-operative game where the players are trying to maneuvre four coloured pawns around the board onto colour specific target spaces (there is only one for each pawn), once all four pawns are on their targets the players then try to manouvre all the pawns off the board through colour specific doors.

The start tile is in the middle, the exit door on the far right is for the green player

The start tile is in the middle, the exit door on the far right is for the green player

So far a very simple idea but what makes it fun is that each player in the game will get dealt a random tile which will have one or more basic manouvres on it (dependent on the number of players) from Move North, Move South, Move East, Move West, Use Escalator, Use Teleport, Explore, a player may move any pawn at any time in the game (there are no turns) but may only use the manouvres they have on their card, what adds a layer of difficulty and much frustration is that the game is played against a 3-minute egg timer and once the game is under way no one is allowed to speak, make a noise, give a non-verbal indication or make any attempt to communicate with the others in any way, however there is a giant red pawn which anyone may place in front of someone if they believe that person should be making a move, it is surprising how expressive the placement of that pawn can be, from slamming it down to repeatedly place it in front of someone with the rapidity of a woodpecker.

Some of the movement tiles used in our game

Some of the movement tiles used in our game

Yet another complication is that new tiles may only be placed by the player with the explorer icon and only if there is a pawn on its own colour explorer icon on the board and as pawns cannot pass through one another it is often awkward even from the very start to get the other pawns out of the way so that the correct pawn can get to the explorer space, and as one of the target icons or exit icons is often on the last tile in the deck it is important to explore as quickly as possible. Remember the 3-minute timer? It is possible to extend exploring time by moving any pawn onto an egg-timer element on one of the boards but as these are all one time use only, time can run out and in fact the egg timer is often forgotten as players try to keep pace with making their moves as quickly as possible.

An example of the problems that can arise, Orange is needed to explore the South doorway and is waiting for a move along the escalator to the door to its North. Green is waiting for purple to move so that it can explore the North west door. yellow needs to move East than an escalator to explore further.

An example of the problems that can arise, Orange is needed to explore the South doorway and is waiting for a move along the escalator to the door to its North. Green is waiting for purple to move so that it can explore the North west door. yellow needs to move East than an escalator to explore further.

We played the introductory game which was completed fairly easily then we went into the first and simplest scenario and ran out of time, with seven of us and 4 pawns moving in different directions it was chaos and with everyone concentrating on the pawns the egg-timer was forgotten, everybody wanted to try it again so we did and this time crushed it, what was fascinating was the run for the exit which was done one pawn at a time micromanaged with four different hands hovering within a few inches of it the whole journey until it was off the board.

As it has received a number of accolades from various corners of the board gaming community I was glad to play Century: Spice Road to see if it lived up to everyones high praise. In the box you get 4 small plastic bowls containing 4 different colour cubes (Yellow being the easiest to come by then increasing in rank to Red, Green and Brown) – these are finite for the game but playing 4 player we did not come close to running out of any particular colour, the other contents are 2 decks of cards, one pile being victory point cards the other being “merchant” cards, as with a lot of games at the moment this is a (yawn) deck building game, each players deck being a number of “merchants” cards, these cards either give you cubes or allow you to exchange cubes thus slowly by playing your “merchant” cards you can increase your holding.

The cute (but light) bowls which tend to move around each time you dip into them for cubes

The cute (but light) bowls which tend to move around each time you dip into them for cubes

On a turn you have 4 options, 1) play a “merchant” card from your hand into your own discard pile, 2) take a card from the “merchant” card line, the first is free however you must put a cube on each card you pass over to take a card further up the line, 3) collect a victory point card paying the costs shown and 4) you may pick up your discard pile to have a full hand again. The rules are that simple and are on one piece of paper, it is refreshing to find a game with a good clean mechanism that has the rules on one sheet; so many games these days come with both a rules manual and a glossary booklet.

Top row is the victory point cards, bottom row is the merchant cards, all currently showing some sort of trade.

Top row is the victory point cards, bottom row is the merchant cards, all currently showing some sort of trade.

So how does it play? It is smooth, clean and quick, there is only a little interaction in that you need to keep an eye on other players cubes to ensure someone else does not take the victory point card you are going for, other than that the game is easy and an ideal gateway game with very little downtime, each player is designing their own cube engine which no-one else can interfere with so on a turn you should already have decided what you will be doing next. I have heard this game compared with Splendor, they are two separate games, the mechanisms are not alike and there is room in most collections for them both and I would say that I would happily play Splendor as readily as I would play Spice Road again. In fact it has more in common with the great Sid Sacksons’ Bazaar  (aka BierBörse) than Splendor however the deck-building mechanism makes Spice road a much faster game.

Each player has a caravan card to store their cubes on, each caravan has a limit of 10 cubes

Each player has a caravan card to store their cubes on, each caravan has a limit of 10 cubes

So does it live up to the hype? Yes it does and I highly recommend you give it a go, though it is not in any way a replacement for Splendor.