Wait, a Caravan? Sale of the Century!
There have been times when I have picked a game solely on its theme. It has been so unusual or alluring that I have just gone out and bought it. I have also purchased games on the strength of its box art (so much for not choosing a book by its cover) and it tends to have a 50/50 hit rate. I’ve uncovered some truly hidden gems, and I’ve also ended up with a box load of tripe.
Back some time ago now, there was a game called “Caravan” and the same game was available with 2 different themes. One was set in the desert and involved trading spices and the other had a Crystal Golem on the front of it and involved trading other presumably arcane materials. Sadly, I never got to find out any more information about it because the company making it got sold in the great wash of board game sales and was liberated by another company.
Fast forward a little bit, Caravan got a name change, the Golem disappeared and they decided that it would definitely be set in the desert and involve trading spices. Now in its final incarnation, this interesting looking game became Century: Spice Road.
UK Games Expo and Beyond!
Century has had some hype follow it from its muddled beginnings and in the lead up to the UK Games Expo, Plan B Games announced that there would be limited copies available at the UK Games Expo, and they were not kidding with the term “Limited”. A very small number actually made it to the expo, and people were virtually frothing at the mouth trying to procure themselves a copy. It was like a scene from a cheap horror movie. Unsurprisingly, there weren’t any copies left to be found anywhere by Sunday.
If you’ve read any of my previous reviews then you’ll know that I’ve learned not to become a passenger on the hype train but after being initially interested and people going quite so crazy for it, I had to see what Century was about for myself.
So, how does it play? Very, very simply!
At the start of the game you set up by making up a point card row, a market row and your 4 spices in ascending order. Yellow, Red, Green and Brown which are Turmeric, Saffron, Cardamom and Cinnamon respectively. You also need to put gold and silver coins above the 2 leftmost points cards as a sweetener to net some more end game points.
*Before we go any further, I know that saffron is more expensive and harder to find that cinnamon and always had been but it was done that way in Century by Plan B because…. Reasons*
You then hand out a “Caravan Card” (nice to see they didn’t entirely lose their roots) and give each player 2 turmeric cubes. Each player will then get extra spice cubes given their start position and also 2 starter cards. The starter cards are 2 extra turmeric and an “upgrade 2 cubes” card. Once you have these, then you’re all set to go.
As you can tell, setup is a cinch and playing the game is equally as straightforward. On each players turn they get to choose one of 4 actions. Play a card, Acquire a card, Rest, and Claim a score card.
Playing a card is really as easy as it sounds. You play a card from your hand and use the effect on the card. This can be either to gain some more spices or upgrade them. One heavily overlooked rule that I found on my second play through though, is that with the any of the exchange cards (eg: exchange 2 red for 3 green) this can be done as many times as you’re willing or able to on your turn; you’re not limited to just doing the actions on this card the once. Had I have realised in my first game I think this would have changed the dynamic quite a lot.
Acquiring a card is interesting on its own too. The leftmost card in the market row is always free, which is my favourite price for anything, but what if you want one of the other cards further up the market row? As there’s no real need for money in Century (we live in a barter economy after all) if you want a card which is further in the market row, you have to sacrifice a spice on each card before it. That’s it. Just cough up some more spice. Great if you can do it. Once it has been purchased it goes into your hand for use on another turn.
Claiming a score card…. Well, I’m not sure I really need to explain this. The point cards have spices on the bottom of them. If you have the spices, you trade them in for point card. If there’s a coin above it, you can take this too. That’s it.
Resting is the only way to get your cards back. Once you have played your cards for their action they go into a discard pile in front of you. Resting is pretty much skipping your turn to get your cards back. This can be done tactically or it can be done when you run out of cards; the choice is yours.
The game finishes once a player has claimed their 5th or 6th point card dependent on the number of players. Once someone has gotten their last point card everyone else gets to play out their turn and then it goes to point scoring. The points you earn from score cards are displayed on the cards, the gold coins are worth 3 points and silver ones are also worth 1 point. Lastly, all spices which aren’t yellow that you have at the end are all worth a point too.
Splendorous? Or Game of the Century?
So there you go. Century is a truly simple game to play, but has it lived up to its preceding hype?
Let’s get something out of the way straight away. There’s an elephant in the room comparison that needs to be made. This game is a little like Splendor. Right, there. I said it. There have been a lot of comparisons between Century and Splendor… I’d be lying if I said that there weren’t similarities, but they are certainly not the same game.
After playing Century I spent a bit of time with the digital version of Splendor and it has a similar feel in so much as the engine building side of game where your purchases help you going forward to employ one strategy or another but if I were to draw a line in the sand, then Century for me is a better game.
Why Century over Splendor?
I like the fact that in Century, you can’t reserve points cards for one. For those that may not know, it’s something which can be done in Splendor to ensure that one of your fellow gamers cannot steal a card that you’re after. The absence of it in Century however, means that you can be (often unintentionally, but sometimes not so much) scuppered by one of your fellow gamers and there’s nothing you can do about it. I don’t think it breeds contempt between players as there’s a pretty good chance that you would have done the same thing to them on another turn and not realised, and this makes losing out that little more amiable.
I also really like the fact that you can use the activation on an exchange card multiple times. As I mentioned earlier, once I realised that this was a proper rule and not a house rule, it completely changed the dynamic of how Century played out. It made the choices of the cards played from the market a much more serious affair. If you grab cards just to fill out your deck in the beginning then this is all well and good, but once the helpful and more powerful cards come out, if they’re snagged by one of your competitors then you will be punished for not getting them, and it can be truly heavily punishing too.
The biggest thing which I love about Century though, is how quickly it plays. It feels like the rounds absolutely fly by. A game with 4 players takes around 25-30 minutes which is in the realms of being a heavy filler game as opposed to a main event game. That being said, it still feels like a fully fleshed out experience. Because you only each get a chance to take one action per round, and the actions aren’t very complex, this helps to make the game feel lightning fast to play.
Century: What next?
Plan B have not been very shy about their plans for Century. Inside the box they have actually said in no uncertain terms that they’re making another 2 versions of Century over the next couple of years. There’s Century: Eastern Wonders up next at some point next year and then there’s Century: A New World. Apparently they’re all going to be able to be mixed and played together so that is another thing which piqued my interest in investing in the Century theme.
End of the Century
So what do I think of Century: Spice Road overall?
I think Century is a genuinely decent game. As I have already mentioned, the speed at which it plays is something not really seen outside of filler games and the mental gymnastics that goes into both what you are doing, and what your opponents are up to keeps you honest. As to whether it is the “Splendor Killer” which is has been touted as… Well, I think that’s a matter of opinion. I’m not sure I’d see too much point in having Century and Splendor as they are similar enough, but for me Century feels the better fit for me and my gaming group.
Is it worth the Hype that followed?
Probably not. Century isn’t a game which is going to set the world of fire. It’s the board game equivalent of a plodder. It just keeps its head down and gets on with what it’s meant to do, and I have to commend it for that.
Overall, I give Century a solid 7.5 out of 10. If you have a copy of Splendor you may want to make a decision as to which game you’d like more and lose the other one. There’s definitely not room enough in my collection for 2 games as similar as these two.
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I am just a regular guy that fell into board gaming. That's why I am no longer allowed in my local Toys R Us. I'm a huge fan of deckbuilding games and games with unusual themes or mechanics. OK, maybe I'm not that regular after all.