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At the end of the 13th Century, Marco polo returned from his expedition to faraway China. The new Silk Road, as it became known, brought all kinds of treasures to Italy.
As this game of trading begins, each player has a hand of 3 Movement Cards. There are good and bad cards, which may benefit either the player or his rivals, depending on the play. A player may use his cards in different ways. If he has less than three cards in front of him, he may play a card and follow its instructions. If he has cards on the table (played earlier), he may use one of them to move a rival Merchant. Markers on a compass card (along with the card) lay down the rules for moving other players men. Finally, the played card is discarded and the marker on the compass card changes position.
No Merchant may be more than 10 spaces ahead of other Merchants. Plus, players may only play cards which can actually move a man. It should be noted that traveling as a group (with the right cards) puts the men in one's group further ahead. At the end of his turn the player restores his hand back to three cards. Only once in the game may a Trader stop at a Market by discarding a special card given before the game. Only the three Traders in the lead make money at a Market Fair, and the amount of Silver they receive is stipulated on the card. The first Fair doesn't really offer much for trade, so if you can wait, you'll receive a bigger pile of Silver. Consider, however, that the journey is more difficult when one is heavily loaded. Said in another way: He who makes an early break for the Market gets to Venice sooner, with a possible greater income at the Trading Posts along the route.
Each player's wealth is registered on the Wealth Track. The long way to Venice leads through all the Trading Posts. Part of the road before a town is marked with ascending numbers. The first to arrive receives the best deal. The following traders each receive payment in accordance with their "Travel Space". After each evaluation the marker moves along to the next Town, enticing the player with the prospect of further wealth. The game comes to an end as soon as the first Merchant reaches Venice. Traders with heavy purses collect additional silver, but the unlucky player who still has cards in front him (Market or Movement) finds he has a hole in his pockets!
Seidenstrasse is an exciting Trading and Racing game with lots of player-interaction. Card play is critical. Playing the wrong card too soon gives rivals unintentional advantages. In every turn you have to counterbalance your own interests with those of your rivals. An early Market Day may only give you a few coins, but the following travels to the next Trading Posts could be highly profitable. But it is not always the one in front who wins!
"Die Seidenstrasse" is "The Silk Road", the overland trade route from China to Venice. Players take the part of merchants travelling this road in a loose caravan, trying to beat each other to the various markets on the way. It is an entertaining scenario and one that I'd expect Mike to love. "What do you mean, it looks as though it fell off the back of a camel? This is quality workmanship. Dust off that sand and you will see that the condition is immaculate." The game is a card-driven race game where the object is not so much to be the first to reach Venice, though there is a good profit to be made if you are, as to be the wealthiest at the finish. Money can be made at all the big trading cities on the route -- Samarkand, Bukhara, Baghdad, Byzantium and Venice -- and also through some side deals and the odd carboot sale. So what you have is a series of linked mini-races with the stakes gradually getting higher as you near the end.
Using cards to generate movement along a track is an idea that has already given us a number of fine games, enough for it to come as a surprise when someone comes up with a significantly original way of handling it, but that is what Hartmut Kommerell has managed to do. He has also, in my view, done a pretty good job of tying in the mechanics with the theme. The way that the cards affect different parts of the caravan is credible in terms of the story line and the idea that it is the first merchants into town who make the most money is also realistic.
Each player holds a hand of three cards and playing one of them is one of the three things you can do in your turn. They are nicely varied, giving you a reasonable choice of tactical options, and they come with a bit of a story line to justify their effect on the caravan. Once you have played your card and followed its instructions, you place it not on to a discard pile but face-up on to the table in front of you. If you already have three cards on the table, you may not play another from hand until you have given one of the three to another merchant.
And that is the second option you have each turn: take one of the face-up cards in front of you and give it to one of the other players. They then follow its instructions and only then does the card go to the discard pile. Each card thus gets used twice, once by its original owner and once by somebody else. It is a clever way of increasing the interaction and injecting the combination of rivalry and mutual dependence that is appropriate to the game's theme.
The third option you have is to hold an impromptu bazaar, the aforementioned carboot sale. Each player starts with a card entitling them to do this, but it is a one-use thing and the circumstances need to be right for you to want to play it. Early on it brings a little money and conveys a movement bonus; later the money goes up, but the movement bonus is replaced by a movement penalty; and in both cases none of the money comes your way unless you are near the head of the caravan.
I am beginning to sound like Mary Poppins with all the "Well done, children"s I am handing out this issue, but as I said in the editorial, this year's Nuremberg has turned up some good games and this is another of them. I have played it with two groups and it got the thumbs up from both. It has lots of flavour and some entertaining tactics. In the letter column Harald Ewald sums the game up as "very luck dependent, but fun" and I agree on both counts. In a game such as this one, the difference between winning and losing is going to be largely a matter of who gets the use of what cards and when, but I don't mind that. In common with the rest of my group, provided I have interesting tactical choices and provided the luck element is in keeping with the theme, I am well content. Both those provisos are met here: after all, if you are travelling in a camel train through Central Asia, how you fare is going to depend on a mixture of luck, in the shape of chance encounters and good and bad weather, and how well you cope with the events that occur. That mixture is what the game delivers.
The only drawback is the one you may have already spotted for yourself: cards mean text and the text is German only. I am sure that a translation of the cards will be available shortly, but provided at least one person at the table can read simple German, you can manage without. We did. You are only holding three cards, it doesn't matter if other players know what they are and so when you draw a new one, you just show it to the person who can cope and get them to explain it. This, of course, does slow the game down, particularly in this age of the short attention span, when the person doing the explaining is likely to find themselves having to explain the meaning of a card several times over to players who found that the distractions inherent in a bowl of crisps had caused short term memory loss. A significant slowing down is not something that the game needs and so I suggest that players are given notepads on which to scribble the meanings of their cards.