Have you ever dreamed of being a trader in the medieval world, trading one type of
cube spice for another type, fulfilling contracts by turning in certain types of cubes spices?
Of course you have! Who hasn’t?
(Pipe down, you in the back. You know you’re lying)
With the 2017 game Century: Spice Road you can do that!
Century: Spice Road is a 2017 game designed by Emerson Matsuuchi, with art by David Richards and Fernanda Suárez and published by Plan B Games. There’s also Century: Golem Edition that plays the same and has the same designer and publisher, but with art by Justin Chan and Chris Quilliums.
I’m just reviewing the game itself, though I will comment on the component differences in another post.
This review was written after 4 plays.
In Century: Spice Road, each player starts with a caravan card that can hold up to 10 spices.
The cubes representing the spices are placed in separate bowls, placed in order of spice value (Old Spice is in the middle, I think). If you really care about what spices they represent (I guarantee you’ll start calling them “yellow” or “brown” when playing the game), they are as follows:
Yellow = Turmeric; Red = Saffron; Green = Cardamom; Brown = Cinnamon
The value goes yellow, red, green, brown, and this becomes important because of the conversion cards.
Each player will have two starter cards, one that will give them two yellow cubes and one that will let them make two cube transformations (either two cubes into the next highest or one cube into a cube that’s two higher).
On your turn, you can either play a card that’s in your hand, doing the cube action that’s on it, or you can take one of the other cards that are arrayed on the table.
These cards will do much more fabulous things than your starting cards, such as changing three red
cubes (sorry, I keep forgetting!) spices into three green ones, or three yellow into one brown.
You can take the leftmost card, or you can take one further down the line. But for each card you are skipping over, you have to put one of the spices on your caravan on the card. This is not only payment, but also means that whoever takes that card will get the spices as well.
Above the row of cards you can take, there are contracts that you are trying to fulfill with the spices in your caravan.
As a third possible action (instead of taking a card or playing a card), you can fulfill one of the four available contracts. You just turn in the spices that are required and put the contract face down in front of you.
The contract on the left will have a gold coin on it worth three additional points, the second from the left a silver coin worth one point. As contracts are taken, the others shift to the left, so a new coin is put out if required.
A fourth action, which you will have to do a number of times, is to collect all of your cards back into your hand. Once you’ve played a card, you can’t use it again until you do this action. Cards you take go directly into your hand, but once played, they’re gone until you collect.
And that’s it! As soon as somebody has completed five contracts (six in a 2-3 player game), the game ends and you total your score.
Whoever has the most points win!
Is Century: Spice Road a potful of succulent spices or is it actually a handful of unappetizing powder?
Yes, I know the theme is barely there. You are basically changing one colour of cubes into a different colour of cubes until you have the right colours to complete a contract.
But really, with artwork like this, who cares?
The artwork on the cards is magnificent and evocative. The components are great, with sturdy cards and nice hard cubes. The bowls for the cubes come with the game, which is really handy as well.
The playmat pictured above is extra and not needed, but it does look handy and can really enhance the look of the game on your table.
The gameplay is really easy, making the game a joy to teach. You either take a card, play a card, turn in cubes, or collect your cards. What could be easier?
Yet you are building a spice conversion engine, so you do have some decisions to make based on what cards come out.
Do you go for cheap volume contracts, or do you go for the big pointers?
At some point, you have to stop taking cards because your hand will get too full, and instead just start converting and producing spices. When do you do that? Do you have the cards that will enable you to do it and get your spices efficiently?
Turns in this game go amazingly quick. You play your card, get your appropriate spices, and sit back to watch others, but it’s already your turn again. What? Really?
Yet there is definitely interaction in the sense that you have to pay attention to what other players are doing. If you notice somebody converting spices to brown (to take that 20 point contract above) and they are a turn ahead of you, you probably should stop going for it and instead concentrate on another one.
I like how quick this game is (20-30 minutes, no matter how many players), I like that you have to figure out what your engine is going to be based on the cards that are available to you. I love the aesthetics of the game.
Some have called Century: Spice Road a Splendor-killer, as it involves a lot of the same things (collecting gems so that you can then take stronger cards).
I don’t know if it kills Splendor for me, but I do know that given the choice, I’m going to go with Century: Spice Road. The card mechanisms are just that much better for me (even though the Splendor poker chips are pretty damned cool). I like how the cards will let you convert spices rather than just standing in for different coloured gems like in Splendor. There’s card play rather than just having the tableau out in front of you.
This is a fantastic game, a great filler if you only have half an hour left in your game day or if you need something to play while waiting for Slowpoke Bob to arrive. Yet it doesn’t feel like a filler.
It feels like a chunky game where you have to think for a bit.