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Store:  Family Games
Edition:  Bazaar II / Samarkand
Theme:  Arabian
Genre:  Trading
Format:  Board Games


original German edition

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Ages Play Time Players
9+ 40 minutes 2-5

Designer(s): Sid Sackson

Manufacturer(s): Abacus

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Product Description

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.

Product Information

  • Designer(s): Sid Sackson

  • Manufacturer(s): Abacus

  • Year: 1998

  • Players: 2 - 5

  • Time: 40 minutes

  • Ages: 9 and up

  • Weight: 760 grams

  • Language Requirements: Game components are language-independent. An English translation of the rules is provided.

Product Reviews


Average Rating: 3.9 in 15 reviews

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Strategy more subtle than you might suspect
December 24, 2001

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:

  1. Purposefully flood the market in a good you notice your opponent is collecting. Your opponent is gathering up jewels? Sell two jewels and your opponent's jewels suddenly go down in value.
  2. Fill up a Bedoin camp and then use dice rolls to beat your opponent back there and collect the cards yourself for a mere ten piasters.
  3. Plan ahead--just get a couple cards for the immediate city you are heading towards and start building up six cards for the second city you hit.
  4. Make your opponent discard their large hands. Your opponent bought up a lot of cards? Purposefully run the deck out so they have to discard their excess cards.
  5. Use dice rolls to leapfrog a city you do not have good cards for.

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.

If you like this one, you might try [page scan/se=0630/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]Through the Desert, Elfenland, or Acquire.

Thanks Games Magazine, I would have missed this one!
December 01, 2000

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 humble game is, quite simply, Excellent.
January 21, 2000

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.

Light, enjoyable game of buying / selling by Sid Sackson
February 02, 1999

This is a game of buying and selling various commodities (wheat, grapes, lamps, carpets, camels, and gems, in respective order of rarity) for 2-5 players from designer Sid Sackson - released by Abacus Spiele and Rio Grande Games. Basic gameplay is as follows:

Each player has a pawn on a 4 X 5 rectangular board. The 20 spaces are divided into 3 different types of areas - Oases, Trading Camps, and Cities. At an Oasis you can buy cards for money (piaster) - mathematically, the more you buy, the more they rip you off. At the Trading Camps you can trade your commodities for whatever commodities that particular camp has to offer (there are 10 different camps, holding different commodities, and whatever you give to them they keep for trading with the other players). Here, the more you trade, the less they rip you off. Finally, at the Cities, you can sell off everything you've traded for - the amount you get depends on the commonality of the item you are selling and how many of that item you have to sell. Everyone begins with 200 piaster - whoever gets a total of 500 piaster first wins (300 profit - sounds easy enough, eh?)

Of the large batch of games I purchased following Essen '98, this is probably my favorite. Each turn is played very quickly: players decide where they want to go, want they want to buy / sell / trade, and their turn ends. Colorfully illustrated board and cards by Doris Matthus add even more to love about this delightful game. One gaming note: there is a rule which causes any commodity which has just been sold to receive a temporarily lower selling price - for example, 4 gems sold to a city which had just been sold gems would now sell at the price for which 3 gems would normally sell. This is most noticable when someone wants to cash in 6 cards for maximum profit - their profits are then cut in half. Sneaking in and selling 2 lamps when you see someone is about to unload 6 is a viable strategy. It's also quite deflating for the opponent (I've seen two of my opponents cry - if you've played, you know the feeling). All in good fun, though.

Superb game.

Samarkand works well for families
July 22, 2001

We've been playing this game as a family for about four years, and it's one that we keep coming back to. My family prefers games in which each player can make progress toward a goal, even though only one player can win. This reduces the hard feelings among the younger members of the group. Opportunities to ruin your opponent's position are not all that common, so there aren't too many 'pig piles'.

This was an excellent game for a seven- or eight-year-old (my son's age when he started to play). You need to do math only when you deliver goods, and if necessary, you can get help at that point. However, there's nothing like the motivation of beating your big sister to encourage the quick learning of arithmetic skills.

Experienced gamers may find this game to be a little too simple and somewhat luck-dependent, but I recommend it heartily for families with children in the 'seven-year-old and up' range.

Lighter fare, but sometimes that's a GOOD thing
June 28, 2001

Samarkand was designed by American game author Sid Sackson. While hardly a household name in this country, he is the hero of many of the Euro-game designers. He has been designing innovative games for many, many years now, and Samarkand is one of his lighter, nicer games.

Sackson's true classic is definitely Acquire. The game is nothing short of a masterpiece, and should be in every gaming closet. Samarkand, on the other hand, is more of snack than a full meal. It is a game of collecting and trading various commodity cards, trying to be in the right place at the right time to get the best price.

While there is nothing truly innovative about this game, there is still much to like about it. Especially good with the Isfahan expansion, the game is one of the best games for under an hour. The decisions range from the obvious to the excruciating, tending a bit more toward the former.

This game is an especially good game for introducing non-gamers to the joys of Euro-gaming. It has a tiny bit of the feel of a Monopoly game, with cards in hand, trying to complete sets, and piles of cash. Eminently approachable, it will give your friends a taste for the joys of the so-called REAL games.


Much better with more players
May 12, 2001

I first played this 2 player and, as one reviewer has mentioned, it is all too mechanical--you have the whole board to play with and little tactical thought is required. But with more players you need to put a lot more thought into what you're going to do, thinking a few possible moves ahead. This is a good, if fairly light, game which plays well with non-gamers.

Sackson does it again -- fun, satisfying, easy to play
January 30, 2000

I'm pretty stingy with 5-star reviews. Suffice to say that this is on the 'high side of 4' relative to many of the other games that I have given 4 stars to here (Thus far I'd rank it above Lost Cities, for example, to which I also gave 4 stars.)

Samarkand is a game of buying and selling commodities with the simple objective of getting to 500 piasters (money). You can buy goods in oases (not knowing what you'll get), sell them in cities, or trade them with nomads. With the nomads, you know what you're getting--you can trade goods you don't want for goods that you do, but you must always sacrifice quantity, giving up one more card than you get. The key to a big sellers' payoff is to sell a large multiplicity of a particular item--the more that you have to sell when you reach the buying city, the more you get per-item. So in that respect it's like many card games in that you're trying to collect multiples of the same 'card.' You can't sell all items in all cities. We have noticed that it's harder to get to the cities that offer the biggest payoffs (for diamonds, for example).

When one first learns the rules to Samarkand, they may seem arbitrary or confusing--'What's that? I can trade with a nomad after giving an offering, or I can give my offering and keep going, or if the nomad's stock is full, I can buy all the stock for 10 piasters without leaving anything?' Or--'Wait--if I move through a space normally then I can give my offering and keep going, but if I rolled the dice first, then I can't do that --how's that again?' But this is only upon reading the directions. We found that no one took any time at all picking up the rules very quickly, and thus moves happened quickly from the get go.

This isn't to say that a little 'paying extra attention' isn't in order from time to time, to make sure that your opponent didn't fail to notice that a nomad's stock was full, or that the arrow on the board didn't go in that direction. So while the rules are simple, one does have to stay alert and can't simply play reflexively.

So why is this such a great game? Because once again Sackson has ingeniously balanced the roles of skill and luck. As in Sleuth (his masterpiece IMHO), luck serves to make each game different from the last, but doesn't serve to persecute one player each game. And, also like Sleuth, it often comes down to one move--both players feel in the game, perhaps on the verge of winning, when someone finally wins. So you have to think carefully and be efficient. My girlfriend beat me regularly at first because I was being very careful to make the most efficient use of money, and of goods, but NOT of time. One must also make careful use of time, because one is essentially 'racing' one's opponent to get to 500 most efficiently.

We have only played this with two people, which I would imagine is a far less colorful game than it would be with more people. With two, it's fairly possible to plan which area of the board you will work in, and which items you will pick up. With more people in the game, it'd be much tougher to get the big payoffs, because it'd be much tougher to be sure that you were going to get the commodities that you see available on the board.

There are a number of designers of games these days who are justly praised for their creations, but this is a typical example of why I feel that Sackson is the best. It's not a pure skill game--one must react to the unique conditions of each game--but more often than not, the person who has played better will in fact win, and it's not simply a random event. And the game keeps all players involved to the end.

As we have played further, we have begun to understand the game's strategic quirks a little bit better. For example, it took me a few games to understand the weapon of the 'strategic depletion'--if (in the 2-player game) your opponent keeps hoarding cards in an effort to get to big payoffs, you can force them to surrender a good chunk of those cards by depleting the cards in the source deck. This and other strategic lessons occur to one as one plays the game more frequently. In contrast with other games, where I often feel as though there's a barrier imposed by luck on how well I can do, this is a game where one's sense of skill does correlate with one's results, although tinged sufficiently by luck to be interesting.

I rate this one of the finer games I have played in recent months, and recommend it highly.

Excellent Trading-and-Profiting Game
December 14, 1999

I just want to add my voice to the others and say that this is a fun game that I expect will get a lot of play and replay. For you husband-and-wife gamers, one nice thing about it is that it plays well for 2 -- not *quite* as well as for 3, 4, or 5, as a little extra chaos does add spice to the proceedings, but even with 2, you've got that same little challenge to solve of collecting enough of the right goods and getting them to the right cities often enough to make it to 500 piastres. There are interesting but not excruciating options along the way, and win or lose, you get a feeling of accomplishment each time you successfully bring a nice haul of goods to the city to cash it in. Samarkand is a light game but not a dumb game, good entertainment for 'serious gamers' and dabblers alike.

Get your just deserts
July 17, 1999

Samarkand is an unassuming and simple game. While it is a trading and collecting game in the vein of Bohnanza, all the trading is done with the cards on the board rather than with other players. As a result, players who are adept at trading in games such as The Settlers of Catan or Res Publica won't streak ahead in Samarkand.

You are a trader, moving goods from oases to cities via nomad settlements (they're not very good nomads since they stay where they are the whole game). Collecting six different kinds of commodity cards, you hope to sell a large group of them when you reach a city, because large groups of the same commodity are worth significantly more than small groups. Every time you land on a nomad settlement you can trade with the cards the settlement holds, hopefully increasing the value of the cards in your hand.

And that's basically the whole game. Interaction between players is there, but more subtle than most trading games. The rules have been carefully designed to give the game a good balance, and the cards and board are beautifully rendered by the prolific Doris Matthus.

Samarkand doesn't appear to be a great game on the shelf of your local (or Internet) game store, but it has a depth that is hard to appreciate without playing the game.

Too Many Choices or You Can't Always Get What U Want
February 13, 1999

Trade, Sell or buy your marketwares? That is the dilemna on each turn. Everything is expensive, and your return on investment is usually very low. On top of that, you can never get to the 4 market squares fast enough to sell your wares. Actually, the space on the board you want to move to is never easy to reach. This will drive you nuts (and you'll love every minute of it). Patience has its rewards. My 10 + 12 year old boys like it as much as I do. A keeper.

Humble solid family game
July 17, 2001

It is rare for me to write a corrective review. However, given the way I slammed Samarkand in an earlier review, I felt it was necessary to come back now with a different perspective.

When I first got this game, I mostly played it two players. And while it is not bad with two, I don't find it great with two--it seems too dry. But since I wrote my review I've had a chance to play it a few more times with varying amounts of players, and this game has started to grow on me.

I don't think it is a classic, but it almost has a timeless feel about it, which many games, including many of my favorites, do not have. Samarkand has a bit of a problem with playing against the system instead if against each other, but it is a simple little trading game that families can pull out and enjoy. Don't expect Big City or Settlers of Catan and you'll probably find a lot to like about this game as a light board game. Try to make this into a big game and you'll be disappointed.

by Dr Jay
Collect the objects that are valuable.
February 20, 1999

On first glance the board did not impress me. However, after hearing the reading of the rules, I took more careful note of Nomad Tents, Oases, and Cities. The arrows on the board gave our four players a fair amount of choice.

We soon learned Nomad campus gave us trade goods, oases gave us purchasing power, and cities gave us ability the ability to sell. Two hundred piasters as the beginning player balance seemed a mountain of cash, but soon our earnings were eaten up. Five hundred or more piasters won the game for a particular player. We learned we had to sell at least two of a commodity or risk severe penalities.

It was an irritant to always give a Nomad camp one gift of a commodity from your hand. However, the trade goods became attractive with jewels and fruit amply spread around the Nomad camps. I particularly liked a camp filling with four, five, or six commodities, including camels and wheat. Then, that camp must sell the player for 10 piasters the entire commodity lot. One player brought his seven wheat to market on two different occasions.

As the game progressed, you sensed two players were becoming close to their 500 piasters. Then, the rule of throwing the die and moving that exact amount became important. I tossed the die, paid the five piasters, and prayed for a miracle. The die spun to five, indicating a visit to a city to sell six rugs for 160 piasters. I was back in the game. The final scores indicate how close the players came in their money accumulation: 525, 405, 380, and 355 piasters.

One of the greatest concerns as players was how quickly a market at a city can become depressed. I continued to hold five rugs, but the rug market remained depressed. It is no fun near the end of the game to hold five fruit, and the route to the city market remains a long way. You watch the yellowish coin make market after market depressed.

We did find a slight problem with everyone getting a final turn when the game was already decided for one player. Because of its trading potential and constant player change in fortunes, I liked the game. One question remains: does the player have to give a gift if the Nomad camp is full? It appears the player draws two new cards from the deck and places them in the Nomad camp, but the game rules say 'oasis.'

Sadly disappointed
February 18, 2001

I had this game recommended to me by my good freind, Martinian, but sadly, I have not enjoyed it at all. For gamers, it is too light--for families, it's too mechanical. Some have said that you don't so much play against the other people as you play against the mechanic of the game--I agree. On every turn your decision is fairly obvious with no real tension or even fun in the game.

Some may be surprised that I am going to give this a 2. But consider how I rate games:

  • 5=play all the time
  • 4=like to play
  • 3=will play if asked
  • 2=don't like playing
  • 1=will not play

And I don't like playing this game. Sad, because the artwork is beautiful, the price is good, the theme is interesting. The game lacks. It simply isn't fun. I am a psuedo-gamer, and this game doesn't appeal to me; and I am also a family gamer, and this game still doesn't appeal to me. This and Lost Cities are the 2 games I wish I could exchange for something else. Pity.

Good, but no classic
December 13, 2000

This is a perfect example of just how unimportant the designer's name is on a game box. Mr. Sackson has produced some true classics. Most gamers know that. However, most conveniently forget when a game doesn't quite measure up, and this is one of those.

The game plays well enough, with limited decisions on your turn. However, it all feels a little too mathematical. So much so, that you can look at all the options (there really are usually only a couple of choices--and sometimes only one--on a turn), sum up the advantages and disadvantages, and decide accordingly. It's pretty easy to play on auto-pilot.

And that's not always bad. For example, if you're trying to get youngsters to join in the family gaming night, this is a great way to do it. It's pretty hard for them to screw up. But it's pretty hard for them to show flashes of genius, either.

Maybe if there were a few extra chips for covering market stalls, there would be more conflict and greater strategy. Or maybe if there were more difference in costs of cards at the oases? I don't know where the development team should have adjusted the game, but I do know that the sum total is a very abstract-feeling numbers game. And there are an awful lot of those to go around.

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