Marco Polo Board Game
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- 2-4 Players
- 60 minute playing time
- Great strategy game
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At the end of the 13th century, Marco Polo sets off with his father and uncle on a long voyage to the East. They will journey far and wide, master the mercantile trade, and gain favor with the great Kublai Kahn. Will you follow in the footsteps of the great Marco Polo or carve your own destiny in the annals of history.
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But luckily that old friend has also been on a few new voyages recently, learned a few new tricks and a few new tales to tell.
If I were to make a comparison, I'd say this game is an interesting, entertaining fusion of Ticket to Ride and Lords of Waterdeep. (I've heard Lords of Waterdeep is itself a simplified version of Agricola---or maybe it was Caylus?---but having never played either Agricola or Caylus I can't really comment on that).
At its core this is a worker placement game, but Marco Polo adds a few fun "twists" to the tried-and-true formula that comes together into a fun, strategic game that hits the "sweet spot" between challenge and accessibility.
The comparison to Ticket to Ride comes from the aptly titled "Voyages" portion of the game. You take the part of one of Marco Polo's traveling companions, where you must travel from Venice across Asia to the forbidden city of Beijing, stopping at well-known "Silk Road" cities along the way.
As you travel, you'll leave behind trading posts, which unlock action areas and resource bonuses---not unlike purchasing new buildings to place within the city of Waterdeep if you're a Lords of Waterdeep aficionado.
The main resource-gathering mechanic is classic worker placement; the catch is, instead of using good 'ole wooden "meeples" you're using dice as your workers---and the NUMBERS ON THE DICE play a huge part in determining how to maximize your resources.
At the start of each round (there are 5 rounds total in each game) you'll roll your color-coded dice. Based on what you roll and where you place your dice "workers," the level of resources and actions available to you changes. This is a fun mini-game unto itself, because the lowest rolls on your dice typically control what you have available.
If a resource-gathering space requires the use of two dice, and all you have is a six and a four, the lower of the two controls the effect of placement. When you roll a couple of sixes in one round, it suddenly becomes a test of maximizing your available placements. Though the dice do bring an element of chance to the proceedings, the game includes built-in mechanics for aiding players whose dice betray them.
In addition to traveling and unlocking cities, you'll spend your four core resources (gold, silk, spices, and camels) to complete specific merchant contracts which contribute to your point total.
Points can be gained by completing contracts, by being the first to reach Beijing, and through special action spaces. In addition, as a nod to Ticket to Ride, you can earn bonus points by placing trading posts in up to four specific cities along your routes. Which cities you need to unlock are based on quest cards dealt to you at the start of the game.
Depending on which of Marco Polo's traveling companions you draw, you'll also have a specific "enhancement" which allows you to "break the rules" in specific ways to help you win. Some allow you to automatically draw extra dice/"workers" each round; some let you avoid paying coin penalties for using occupied spaces, etc.
All in all there's nothing really revolutionary, daring, or exceptionally novel about Marco Polo that hasn't been done in other games, so if you're looking for some unique "hook" that hasn't been done before then this won't fit your bill. But if you're looking for something engaging, moderately challenging and fun, The Voyages of Marco Polo delivers an experience that rises above the mere sum of its parts. I wholeheartedly recommend this game; I've been a huge fan of Lords of Waterdeep since it arrived on the scene, but I can quickly see Marco Polo supplanting it as my favorite "worker placement" Euro game.
Rating: 5 stars
Time to play:
-For your first game, depending on number of players, plan on at least 90 minutes.
-For experienced players, I can easily see a 2-player gaming taking around 45 minutes. 3 or 4 player games with experienced players would probably take 70-80 minutes.
I'd rate this a slightly-above-moderate level of strategy and complexity. It's slightly more complicated than Settlers of Catan and Lord of Waterdeep, while not quite reaching the level of games like Terra Mystica and Puerto Rico. For me, it's right in the "sweet spot" of a game I can play with less board-game-inclined friends and family while still giving me enough strategy to be satisfied, without scaring them away with the complexity of something like Terra Mystica.
In Marco Polo, your workers are dice, which you roll at the beginning of each round and then place for actions. The number of pips on your dice determine the strength of your reward. The trick is to strategically place your dice to accomplish your goals while blocking your opponents from accomplishing theirs. In this game, you send your traveler(s) out to visit/discover new cities while collecting and managing resources which will allow you to complete contracts for victory points and resources. Traveling some routes are free while others cost camels or lira to travel over. Additionally, each player has up to four secret cities s/he is trying to visit for extra game-end victory points. The game is asymmetrical with each traveler having its own, unique, power. The powers seem to be crazy strong and will play a role in determining your strategy. This is one of my favorite aspects of the game.
Other things I like about this game are:
* the artwork - the board and components are beautifully crafted
* the game mechanic - I love combining dice rolls with worker placement
* playing time - I've played six 2-player games and one 3-player game with an average play time of about an hour. I love games that are a bit weighty in their play but those types of games often take up to four hours to play. This game plays much faster but still delivers a great gaming experience.
*the variety of choices - what should I do on my turn? There are so many options: should I travel to gain end-game VPs by visiting my four cities? But to do that I need resources, so should I collect some resources? Or should I complete a contract for some VPs and resources? Maybe I should just go get some gold or camels so I can travel longer routes.....
I haven't yet discovered anything I don't like about the game. Maybe, after more plays, something will occur to me. For now, the game seems to have the potential to remain fresh and exciting for a long time!
KingsburG, Catan with exopansions, 8 box dominion...start there. you need a lot of more thought here.