Posted by: gschloesser | August 11, 2011

Silk Road

Designers:  Ted Cheatham and Bruno Faidutti
Publisher:  Z-Man Games
3 – 5 Players, 1 hour
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser 

There have been two games in which I have been somewhat involved from their inception and through their development, culminating in their ultimate publication.  One was my good friend Ty Douds’ Victory and Honor, one of the best trick-taking games in existence.  The most recent is Silk Road, which began life many years ago as Valencia.  Conceived by my good friend Ted Cheatham, Valencia was originally an abstract in search of a theme.  When Ted devised the Valencia theme, my wife Gail actually created the artwork for the prototype.  Eventually, Ted collaborated with well-known French designer Bruno Faidutti, and the result was Silk Road, which has been published by Z-Man Games

As the name suggests, Silk Road is set along the historic Silk Road of the Far East.  The caravan travels from city-to-city, beginning its journey in Changan and concluding thousands of miles later in Antioch.  With each city visited, players will select one of the action tiles, which will enable them to purchase, swap or sell commodities in various combinations.  Players best beware, however, as the dastardly thief can foil one’s plans, while the Grand Vizier can grant great wealth to the player with the greatest quantity of the commodity he seeks. 

To begin the game, each player receives three randomly-drawn commodities, as well as an initial treasury of ten pieces of silver.  Tiles – one less than the number of players – are placed randomly on each of the 18 cities depicted on the board.  The start player receives the caravan leader pawn and a number of turn tokens (one less than the number of players).  The caravan then sets-off from mysterious China, and players seek wealth and riches. 

The first step of a turn is determining the caravan leader, which is not necessarily the player holding the leader pawn.  Each player can make one monetary offer to purchase the caravan leader token for the turn.  The current caravan leader can either accept the highest bid, receiving the money offered and surrendering the leader and turn tokens, or keep the caravan leader token, paying the high bidder an amount equal to his bid.  

The caravan leader now moves the caravan token to one of the next cities along the route, as indicated by the arrows depicted on the board.  He then chooses and executes one of the action tiles available at that location.  In addition, if there is a pre-printed action listed next to the city, he may also execute that action.  These cities are particularly valuable, and often result in elevated bids from the players during the first phase.  

After making a selection, the caravan leader keeps one of the turn tokens, and passes the remainder to the player of his choice.  That player then chooses a tile and executes its action before passing the remaining tokens onto another player of his choice.  This continues until no further turn tokens remain.  The one player who did not receive an action tile receives the caravan leader token and begins the next turn.  This “choosing the next player” mechanism is highly original, and can help serve as a method to reign in the current leader.  There is the potential for one player to be constantly targeted, but in practice, wise players will choose to target the perceived leader rather than constantly abuse one player. 

The action tiles are the heart of the game.  Some will allow a player to trade one type of commodity for others, sometimes on a favorable 1-for-2 basis, while others will allow a player to sell or purchase commodities.  When selling, the first good is sold for 4 silver, while each subsequent good is sold for one less.  Purchasing works in the opposite direction.  A maximum of four goods can be sold or purchased per tile.  

There are also a few special tiles, such as the thief, which allows the player to randomly steal a commodity from behind an opponent’s screen.  The Grand Vizier allows the player to choose a particular commodity, and each player simultaneously reveals the amount of that commodity that they possess.  Silver is awarded to the top two players. 

The game continues until the caravan reaches Antioch.  Players then receive victory points as follows: 

  • 5 points per gold coin
  • 1 point per silver coin
  • 1 point per goods token
  • 2 points for the most tokens in EACH commodity.  If tied in a particular commodity, no player receives those points. 

Resource management is important, particularly in the timing of the conversion of cash into commodities, and back into cash.  Cash is needed early in the game for the acquisition of commodities, but in the second-half of the game, but conservation of cash is more important as the game enters the second half.  Whenever a player can sell commodities, or trade one for two, it is a wise course of action. 

While the decisions to be made along the way are not often taxing or difficult, one does derive the feeling that your actions are responsible for your ultimate fate, and that wise moves at the right time will spell the difference.  Some of a player’s plans can be hindered by the passing of the turn order tokens, and a perceived front-runner will likely be passed-by when passing the turn tokens.  However, the clever balancing mechanism of crowning this overlooked player the caravan leader on the following turn appears to be ample compensation. 

Silk Road is a game of decisions and resource management that is easy to learn and play.  The rules fit easily on the front and back of a single page, and the game plays to completion in just over an hour.  While the system includes familiar mechanisms such as quick auctions, it also has some clever and fresh innovations.  It is a game that can be played and enjoyed by both families and serious gamers, which is a big plus.  I am happy to see this entertaining game finally published.

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Responses

  1. Nice quick middle weight game. Has the interesting turn order mechanic where the active player chooses who goes next. At the price it originally it should have included camel figures instead of the big logs. 7/10


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