original German edition
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from 15 customer reviews
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Samarkand is a fast-paced trading game set in the exotic East. Sparkling jewels and valuable carpets promise large gains, but copper goods and grain can also earn important profits. All merchants know where they can trade with Nomads amd what goods they have available for those who are willing to to offer gifts for their hospitality. They also know where to buy the wares they want for the best prices. Finally, these merchants know which bazaars in cities such as Samarkand or Isfahan offer the best prices for the goods they have to sell. The merchants know which desert paths to use to travel amongst the nomads, oases, and cities and so can plan their trips to be efficient and earn the largest profit for their travels.
Reading the reviews for Samarkand, many people expressed the sentiment that this is a great family game, but not much of a strategy game. I disagree. While I grant there is a great deal of luck as well (which keeps it fun and not chess like), I also think there is a lot of strategy to this game. First of all, you get to choose where to start and what route you will take. You examine your hand and the cards on the table. You plan your route. Then you decide between three modes of movement: a die roll for the cost of five, moving an extra square for giving up the ability to trade at the bedouin camps, or a straightforward move of one. Then each place you go to has two options or a penalty. Then when you sell at the city, you get to move one of the two yellow markers that dictate which goods have flooded the market and which goods are more desirable.
Let me just give you a smattering of examples of some of the strategies you could use that are less obvious:
These are just a few examples of unusual strategies to throw in with the staple strategies which are already plentiful. I find this game excellent because of some of its more subtle aspects. For example, each commodity is unique in its value and frequency. The board is configured in such a way that there are pluses and minuses to any given route. By continually traveling the same route, you may give your opponent an advantage by filling up a Bedoiun camp for him or her. The game works well because you have options, but not too many options.
I try to keep up on all the games that are causing a stir. I love Sid Sackson's games (Acquire, Venture, Focus, etc.), but hadn't read anything about Samarkand. I played it last weekend. This game is simple, fun with many decisions. How could this game get little P.R., and a game like Tikal get so much good press?
This game is great in its own quiet, unassuming way. It doesn't try to be something more than it is; there's no doubt in my mind that it deserves its five stars. I think Ms. Pickett really captured the most important feature of this game in the first sentence of her review below.
Samarkand accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do, doing it with grace, charm, and excitement. The mechanism is deceptively innocuous. As the game progresses, it slowly dawns on you that this has some real smarts to it. Not Knock-your-socks off smarts like many of Reiner Knizia's games, but a simpler, more laid-back wisdom. If games were an Olympic ice skater, Samarkand would be a perfect, effortless double Lutz, as opposed to a visibly strenuous triple Toe-Loop like Tikal or Rheinlander.
Perfect for beer and pretzels, a relaxed evening at home or a game group when you don't want to go to the effort of a more convoluted endeavor, this game leaves a smile on your face, win or lose. As I play it, I still find myself thinking, 'This is such a simple game--how can I be enjoying it this much?' I think that beside it being a fun, attractive game, it engages your brain without taxing it. Bohnanza is another good example of this. The big popular games are so often the complicated games. When's the last time you played a game of Checkers? We immediately think, 'Oh, I couldn't possibly be entertained by that now that I've played El Grande...' I'll bet you'd be surprised. Sometimes a light meal is just what our brain needs.
Enter Samarkand. The pace is quick and light; if more than two people are playing you usually have just enough time to figure out what you want to do next and it's your turn again. The mechanism is excellent, the rules simple and direct. The components are very good, and the price is outstanding. I know we all know it, but I think we tend to forget: Bigger is not always better. All you gamers out there, and dabblers as well, give this one a try. You won't be dissappointed with Samarkand.
This is a more accessible version of an old, abstract game by Sid Sackson. In this 4 x 5 desert grid, goods bought at oases are sold in the cities. In between, there are nomad camps where at least two items will be displayed. Donate one of your wares to the nomads, and you can trade your others for theirs. The more you sell of an item, the greater your profits, so you will likely buy lots of the facedown commodity cards--or reach a nomad camp when it is full and purchase all its goods. Each of the four cities will only accept certain kinds of wares, and you may find yourself doing a little extra traveling to reach those you need to. Still, it will be a pleasant journey.
The word at Essen was that Samarkand is a re-issue of the classic 3M/Avalon Hill title Bazaar. As I haven't seen my games collection for a few months, I couldn't deliver a definitive verdict. I would say, however, that my recollection of Bazaar would suggest a decidedly abstract game, with the manipulation of various tiles paramount. Am I wrong?
In this colourful incarnation, players travel the 5x4 board (a Doris Matthäus special) trading with the Nomads, buying at the Oases and selling in the Cities. The method for each of these three operations is very similar, revolving around the play of commodity cards:
Although travel restrictions are strict, there are "free move" options, and payment of five Piaster allows a roll of the special movement die.
The game ends when one player has accrued 500 Piaster, which is usually shortly after the commodity deck has expired, and when players must then reduce their hands to twelve cards, thus temporarily replenishing the draw pile. Expect a frenzied rush to offload the last set of cards, the required city usually being one space too far away (well, in my case anyway).
I enjoy any trading game devoid of a heavy cut throat element, and at well under a tenner in Essen, this handsomely presented Sackson title proved compelling.