Century: Spice Road Review

Century: Spice Road Review

It is said that the early bird catches the worm. However, I’m one of those weird folks who, whenever anyone mentions worms, I immediately think of the sandworms in Dune. Huge great things with mouths bigger than the Channel Tunnel and with more segments than a Terry’s Chocolate Orange. To catch these worms would take a very big bird indeed and we’re not talking Sesame Street here.

For anyone familiar with Frank Herbert’s novel, I refer to the worms here due to the Spice Melange – a substance in the books that enabled long term space flight and which only grew on the planet Arrakis. The spices in the subject of this review are less potent and would barely allow you to make a tasty rice pudding, let alone navigate you across the galaxy. 

I’ll just come out and say it. Century Spice Road from Plan B Games is a surprise for me. And a very pleasant one at that. Steve talked about it in one of our recent podcasts and he liked it. So much so that before he’d finished banging on about it, I’d one-clicked it during the recording and waited to see what all the fuss was about. Turns out that our resident Welshman may have had a point.

Century Spice Road review deck builder

Century Spice Road is a deck-building game surrounding the trading of spices – Turmeric (yellow), Saffron (red), Cardamom (green) and Cinnamon (brown). Each spice is represented by the colour of cubes and the object of the game is to score victory points by trading these spices using action cards to enable the purchase of scoring cards.

Players have a choice of action on their turn and can choose to draft another action card to their hand, buy a scoring card, play a card or take a rest to recoup their spent cards. Simples. Five scoring cards to choose from and six merchant (action) cards to choose from, pick whichever one you like, but each merchant card further to the right will cost you an additional valuable cube, so choose wisely.

The deck-building really comes into its own if you can marry your hand, a couple of choice picks and then a powerful purchase after a bit of trading shenanigans, not unlike Del Boy in Peckham market. Turning one cube into many takes some doing, but is highly rewarding if you can pull it off. To sweeten the deal, some of the scoring cards have added coins (metal no less, which does add a lovely level of bling to the game) which increase scoring at the end of the game.

Century Spice Road review spice trading board game

The artwork on the cards is beautiful, the contents of the box is spot on – there are even 4 small bowls to hold the spice cubes in addition to the aforementioned metal coins so Spice Road really does look and feel value for money. Not only that, it’s remarkably straightforward, easy to teach and fabulously addictive. I’ve had the game less than two weeks and I’ve played it almost every day. I won’t go into whether I won every time, that’d just get embarrassing for all concerned.

Spice Road supports 2-5 players and lasts about 30 minutes depending on how much analysis paralysis players can get into, but it is true to say that the Spice does flow and once you’re used to it, a game can be done in as little as 20 minutes.

If you’ve heard anything about Spice Road previous to this review then you may have heard the term “Spendor Killer” being bandied round more than celebrity gossip on an episode of Loose Women.  And while Spice Road certainly does feel similar in many ways to Space Cowboys’ gem trading hit, I feel there is sufficient difference between the two games to leave room for both in your collection.  Even though Spice Road is still a relatively simple game, the decisions within it are much more substantial than those in Splendor. 

Century Spice Road review spice cubes board game

Never is this more noticeable than in the provision of those beautiful metal coins.  The first and second positions of the scoring cards provide you with extra victory points in the form of coins, with cards moving towards these positions as others are claimed. Grabbing a scoring card as soon as possible is no longer the optimal strategy, as waiting for it to slide into the coin rewarding position will garner you plenty more juicy points and so it’s important to keep an eye on what spices you opponents are collecting. Having someone swipe the card you were aiming for in Splendor is often merely a minor setback, but because it can take several turns to convert your spices it’s not so easy to change tack in Spice Road.  The result is that Spice Road is a much thinkier game.

If this review seems a little lighter than my usual verbose affairs, it’s because Spice Road is light, elegant and streamlined. It has everything it needs and not an ounce more. I’m struggling to find anything wrong with it, even the price at around £30 (RRP £34.99) is great value for the contents. There’s not an overwhelming amount in the box, but what you get is high quality, well presented and feels great. It even scales well for number of players so there’s no race condition or vacant board to fill. Just you, some cards and a few bowls of oddly coloured spices.

Spice Road has been on the shelves for perhaps 6 weeks at the time I’m putting quill to parchment and already it’s become one of my candidates for Polyhedron Collider’s Game of 2017.

I suggest you get out there and see what all the fuss is about.

This review is based on a full retail copy of the game provided by the distributor . 
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