The Cardboard Hoard: Review of Century: Spice Road
Century: Spice Road, formerly known as Caravan, is a “themeless, soulless cube pusher,” according to its designer, Emerson Matsuuchi. Published by Plan B Games, Century: Spice Road is the first in a planned trilogy of Euro games from Matsuuchi, with each tackling a different century in world history. While it may not be what people expected as the follow-up to his Specter Ops design, Matsuuchi shows he is equally skilled working with wooden cubes as he is with thematic miniatures.
In Century: Spice Road, players are caravan leaders travelling the silk road to trade spices and earn “fame and glory,” a.k.a. the highest victory point total. The game’s four resources, from least valuable to most, are turmeric (yellow cubes), saffron (red cubes), cardamom (green cubes), and cinnamon (brown cubes). Players will start with a caravan card, which allows them to hold ten spice cubes, and two cards -- one that allows them to take two yellow cubes from the supply, and one that allows them to upgrade two of their cubes to better spice cubes from the supply.
During a player’s turn, they will take one action from four available actions. They may:
• Play a card from their hand and get the benefit it provides.
• Take a new card into their hand from the market row.
• Take all the cards they have played and put them back into their hand.
• Claim a scoring card, which requires they spend the amount of spices listed on that card.
The cards in the market row all feature one of three actions. Spice cards let players take spice cubes into their caravans from the supply. Upgrade cards allow them to upgrade less valuable spices to more valuable spices. Exchange cards let players trade in a certain set of spices for a different set. For example, a card may allow a player to trade one red cube for three yellow cubes.
The market row will always contain six cards, but only the left-most card will be free to take. However, players will have the option to spend one spice cube for every card they want to skip, leaving those cubes on the skipped cards, making them more enticing for the next player to take.
The row of scoring cards will always contain five cards, and the left-most card will have a stack of three-point gold coins next to it, while the second left-most card will have one-point silver coins next to it. When a player fulfills a scoring card and claims it, if it is in one of the first two columns, they also take one of those respective coins. All the cards, like with the market row, then slide to the left, making timing when to claim scoring cards important.
A game, which takes 30-40 minutes, concludes at the end of a round where a player takes a fifth scoring card. The value of each scoring card is then added, along with the value of bonus coins, and one additional point for each non-yellow cube a player has.
Pros: Plays lightning fast with very little down time, due to only having one action each turn. More depth than appears at first glance, due to the many ways to optimize an engine to acquire and upgrade cubes. Elegant design, with a very short and easy to understand rule book. Beautiful components, with cups for each type of the wooden cubes, metal coins, an insert that stores everything nicely, as well as an optional playmat that is included with a pre-order from Plan B Games’ website.
Cons: Not in any way thematic, by the designer’s own admission. The playmat is not included with the game, other than as a pre-order perk, or later as an expensive add-on. The insert will not fit sleeved cards.
Century: Spice Road is an excellent light Euro game that lives up to the hype of being a Splendor-killer, and I would go so far as to recommend it to people that didn’t enjoy Splendor. Its quick-playing nature, and the constant forward progression, allowing players to do more and more each turn, hit all the right reward centers of the brain. It is the kind of game that players will want to play again as soon as they finish a game, to see if they can improve their engine or try a different tactic to optimize their score. I highly recommend this for anyone that enjoys lighter fare and can overlook the barely present theming.