Samarkand: Routes to Riches Game Review

The Basics:

  • For ages 7 and up (publisher recommends 8+)
  • For 2 to 5 players
  • About 45-60 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Visuospatial Skills

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Moderate
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Obtain influence by marrying into merchant families, then expand their trading routes across the Orient (at least it’s not the Mediterranean)

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek approved!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

Samarkand: Routes to Riches is a network-building game designed by David Peters and Harry Wu, published by Queen Games in 2010. The game is played on a mounted mapboard of the Near and Middle East, divided into many land areas (and a handful of sea zones). Thirty-three of these land areas contain goods tokens (objectives) and for each token there is a matching goods card that could be worth up to 8 victory points (VP) at game end.

Ten merchant families, represented by different colors, each have two family members available for marriage and several camel tokens (cameeples?) to mark their trading routes. Unlike many other games, players do not begin with ownership or control of a color or family, but will acquire influence over one or more families as the game proceeds, and might well have to share that influence with other players.

Each players begins the game with 10 Dirhams (money) and 2 goods cards. Players take turns doing one of the following:

  • Marry into a merchant family by paying a dowry into that family’s treasury, thus earning the right to expand that family’s trading empire. In addition, the player will draft up to 3 goods cards, thus provide goals for additional VP. Up to 2 players may marry into the same family.
  • Expand the trading route of one merchant family (one into which the player has married) by placing one or two camels in areas adjacent to the existing trading route. No more than 2 camels may occupy any single area on the map. If the trading route is expanded into a land area with a goods token, the player takes the token (worth 1 VP), and if any player owns the matching goods card, he may sell it for 3 Dirham, thus forgoing the chance for VP at game end. If the trading route is expanded into a land area with another camel, a relationship is forged between the corresponding merchant families (if those families do not already have a relationship). This provides 2 VPs to the active player and a cash bonus to players who have married into one or both of those families.

Endgame and Victory

If any family has established relationships with 5 other families, or if all families have established relationships with at least one other family, then the game ends immediately. Victory points are earned for money, goods tokens, established relationships between families, and goods cards (each goods card earns from 0 to 8 VPs depending on whether camels occupy the corresponding land area).

Prediction

Although I have not played as often as I would like, I have long been a fan of train games (particularly of the 18xx variety), and particularly impressed by more recent and lighter incarnations such as Chicago Express. I could hardly believe that there was a game of similar ilk designed for children. I wanted this to be a game that I could enjoy with my own little geeks, but (ever the pessimist) I feared that it could not possibly live up to my expectations. Which just goes to show how much I over-think board gaming.

Those of you who have read my previous reviews know that my 7-year-old son is a keen boardgamer, but my 5-year-old daughter is less so. In the last few weeks, though, my daughter’s interest in the hobby has picked up considerably, and together with the great strides she has made in literacy and numeracy (and increased attention span) in the last 12 months, it is now possible to play more complex 30-minute games with her.

What’s more, this game has pink and purple camels (her favorite colors) and players get married! This game is even more appealing to young girls than My Little Pony Hide & Seek!

Final Word

Both of my children loved this game and were quick to grasp scoring and income/expenditure. We played three 3-player games in one weekend, and the scores at the end of the third game were within a 9-point spread, which is to say that it was close. It would take 8-10 minutes for a single person to set up the pieces before play, but this work was easily divided between the three of us so that we were ready to play in less than 5 minutes after opening the box.

In our experience, half or more of a player’s VPs are acquired from goods cards, so these have a major impact on how the game unfolds from the very beginning. This mitigates one perceived weakness of this gaming genre: limited replayability due to the absence of luck. I don’t subscribe to that theory myself: almost all games have some limitation to replayability.

The potential value of goods cards is greater than the bonuses that the active player receives for occupying an area with a goods token or forming a relationship between two families. Therefore, knowing when – more specifically, where on the map – to let other players do the work for you is key to success. This is also evident in Chicago Express and even more so in one of the simplest network-building games, TransAmerica.

To me, the 3-player game felt too open, with all 3 players working in separate areas of the board for much of the game, like multiplayer solitaire. I would be interested to see how this plays with 4 or 5 players, as I suspect this would be a much tighter, interactive, and competitive game. I doubt that the 2-player game would be worthwhile, although there are additional rules for 2-player games.

I believe the one on the right is imitating a camel

Gamer Geeks might yearn for a slightly more complex game, but for this age group and given the short playing time, Samarkand is still a satisfying experience.

For Parent Geeks, there is enough meat here, and yet it is almost short enough to qualify as a “filler”. Next time, perhaps Mom can join us, yet still have time to prepare a delicious roast dinner. Wow, do we enforce gender stereotypes in our household or what? I always enjoy watching my little geeks develop a strategy as their understanding of the game evolves.

Child Geeks will enjoy the components, especially the colorful camels, and will appreciate the game’s simplicity. Even setting up for play can be good fun!

About Meng

Board Game Fanatic, and Father of Two, Meng is an Australian who became hooked on board games at high school, with such classics as Talisman and Diplomacy. Years later, he rekindled his interest while living in the United States, both immersing himself in the local gaming scene and also taking advantage of mail-order to expand his collection to some 300 items. After returning to Australia in 2008, and with little time left after work, study and travel, the majority of his gaming nowadays is with his two young children. Hoping one day in the distant future to teach them to play a rollicking game of Die Macher, in the meantime he provides more age-appropriate fare and tries to discuss some life lessons along the way. Meng goes by the handle meng on Board Game Geek.
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4 Responses to Samarkand: Routes to Riches Game Review

  1. Jason says:

    Interesting. Didn’t realize this game was really aimed at children. It’s one I’ve showed my kids online, but they’ve showed no interest in – I’m fairly certain it’s the theme and gameplay. Thanks for the review.

    • Meng says:

      I’m using the term children’s game very loosely here: if a game is billed as suitable for ages 8+, then I consider it a children’s game, even though adults may enjoy playing it among themselves. By that measure, chess is also a children’s game, although I concede that no-one else would agree with that.

    • Cyrus says:

      Oh, I don’t know. Throw in Knightmare Chess on your next Chess game and see if the little geeks don’t take a new found interest in the game.

  2. Pingback: Father Geek’s Top 5 Games Played in 2012 » Father Geek

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