Traders of Osaka
- Designer: Susumu Kawasaki
- Publisher: Z-Man Games
- Players: 2-4
- Ages: 13+
- Time: 30 mins
- Times played: 2, with newest edition, a review copy provided by Z-man. At least 20 games with original language independent release from Japan, 2006.
So, as the saying goes… it’s hard to keep a good game down (or something like that). Z-Man Games has just released a re-theme of the 2006 game, Traders of Carthage. I originally came across this game at an Essen fair many many years ago, and I loved it when it first came out. Heck, I probably wrote a review about it on this great gaming website called BoardgameNews.com. Of course, that site has been lost to the abyss of neglected and deleted websites, and I can no longer find that review.
This new version, actually the third edition (as there was a EN reprint of the original in 2008, also by Z-Man), has a different theme and title, but it is identical in rules and gameplay as the original. I was delighted to hear that it was being reprinted as I had always remembered it to be a great game. The original version was one of the games that was lost in the “Great Basement Flood” of 2011, and I hadn’t played it since. However, as gameplay is identical to the previous editions, I have eschewed my usual rule of playing a game three times before a full review as I feel I have enough experience with the original version from years of play.
In the game, players are merchants who are attempting to ship four different types of goods from Osaka to Edo. Each of the goods is designated with a color, and there is one ship matching each color. (Apparently, traders back then didn’t like to have varied cargo manifests…) In the original game, it is from Alexandria to Carthage instead. Players affect how quickly or slowly the ships move and, each time there is a scoring, they can trigger a Black Wave that may cost players their goods if the corresponding ship is in a space vulnerable to the wave.
The game has a small board that shows the route the ships will follow, marking safe ports and dangerous waters. In either version, the board simply shows the 6 spaces on the track from start to finish. The board also has areas for the draw pile and discard pile and to show where the Market and Farm cards are laid out.
The game also contains a deck of 108 cards that have two uses – the cards in your hand act as money while on the board they represent goods. The game also includes achievement tokens which are collected when goods are sold, and they also increase the value of future shipments. Each player also has a trader piece to indicate a player’s scoring pile and a reservation piece for players to mark cards in the Market that they wish to purchase or take in a later round.
At heart, Traders of Osaka is a set collection game. Players try to collect sets of goods and sell them when the matching ship gets to Edo. When goods are sold, players will keep some or all of those cards under their trader marker, and these cards are worth points at the end of the game.
During the game, the cards represent goods when laid on the table, and they represent gold when played from their hands. Deciding how to use the cards and when is the crux of the game. On a player’s turn, they can do one of three things: Buy Goods,Take Coins or Reserve Cards.
There are always at least 5 face up cards in the Market – and each card has a gold value in the corners and indicates how much a card is worth (either 2, 3 or 5). When a player buys goods, they must buy all the unreserved cards in the Market PLUS any cards with his own reservation marker on them, using cards in hand to pay. The player must discard cards from his hand of equal or greater total value to the cards he is buying in the Market. No change is given for excess coins spent. If a player cannot afford the whole Market, they are not allowed to do this action.
Any cards purchased this way are laid out, face up, in front of the player. These goods are now aboard the ship of the matching color. The player then moves each matching ship either 1 or 2 spaces towards Edo (1 space if 1 card of that color was purchased, 2 spaces if 2 or more cards were purchased). If a ship moves onto Edo, a payout occurs, and a Black Wave is triggered (more on both of these later).
To take coins, the player simply takes a single card from the Market and placing it in his hand. He is not allowed to take a card which has been reserved by another player, but the player may take a card with his own reservation marker on it. That card now acts as money, its value indicated by the gold value in the corners. This is the only way players can increase the amount of money they have.
If the Market is now empty (on only contains cards with reservation pieces on them), the cards in the Farm (three face up cards) are moved down to the market. Two additional cards are drawn from the draw pile and are added to the Market. Finally, a new Farm of three cards are drawn and placed face up on the table.
A player may Reserve a card by placing his Reservation piece on any unreserved card in the Market or in the Farm. This card is now unavailable to all other players. The Reservation piece is now committed to that card and can’t be taken back until the owning player acquires the reserved card either as money or as a good. The owning player may take the card on his next turn or leave it, assuming there is another legal play he can do. A player only has one Reservation marker, so once it is played, a player may not reserve another card until he has taken his previously reserved card.
After taking his turn, the next player takes his action, and so on until the game ends.
If a payout occurs, each player that has good on that ship takes part (i.e. anyone who has a card of matching color in front of them on the table). Each player scores their own cards through a slightly convoluted mathematical calculation. First, the player counts how many of that colored good they have. Then they note which of those cards has the highest value. They take that highest value and add 1 to it for each Achievement token they have of that color. This new modified value is then multiplied by the number of cards in the set, rounding up to the nearest 5. For example, if a player has 4 yellow goods and the highest valued card is a 3 (and no yellow achievement tokens), they would multiply 4 by 3 to get 12, which then rounds up to 15.
The player then takes that scoring value and divides by 5. The result indicates how many cards of that set the player keeps. Keeping with the example, the player would divide 15 by 5 to get a result of 3. This means the player keeps 3 out of the 4 cards from the set. Players keep the lowest valued card first and work their way up until they have the reached their limit. These cards are placed face down near the players with their trader piece on the pile, indicating this is their scoring pile. At the end of the game each card in the scoring pile is worth 1 point.
This procedure is completed for each ship that reached Edo – it is possible for multiple ships to reach the last space at the same time. Then those ships are moved back to Osaka, ready for another voyage. Each player that had a payout then takes 1 achievement token for each color they scored (not each card they scored).
When during a payout, any player that scores and has matching achievement tokens to the scored goods will add the amount of tokens they have to the highest value card in the set. They then figure out how many cards they keep. To go back to our previous example, let’s say that the player has 4 yellow cards with the highest value being 3, but he also has 3 yellow achievement tokens. The player would now calculate his score as (3+3) x 4. This gives him a total of 24, which rounds up to 25. After dividing 25 by 5, the player can keep 5 cards. If a player gets to keep more cards than in the set, as in this example, they keep the entire set and draw cards from the top of the draw pile to make up the difference. These drawn cards are kept face down and are added to the score pile.
After the payout, any ships that are in the two Black Wave spaces are overwhelmed by the water and are sunk. Players who display cargo cards matching this color may now discard cards from their hand which have insurance symbols on them in order protect their goods on those ships. Each card has 0, 1 or 2 insurance icons on them. When you discard a card with 2 insurance icons, two goods of that color are protected from the Black Wave. The player may choose which two cards are protected – they are turned sideways to show that they are protected. After all players have finished discarding cards (which is voluntary; players are not required to protect their goods), the overwhelmed ships are moved back to the nearest safe port (Anori) for repairs and may move again towards Edo from this point.
The game ends once a player has 8 or more Achievement tokens. The winner is the player with the highest score (number of cards in their score pile). If there is a tie, the tiebreaker is the number of Achievement tokens the tied players have. If there is still a tie, then the game ends in a tie.
My thoughts on the game
So, I really liked this game when it first came out, but like many other games, it was lost to the sands of time. Very few games in my household are still played 9 years after their release, and this was no exception. To make matters worse, it was water-damaged in a basement flood, so I didn’t even have a copy of it to play anymore. However, once I received the newest edition, it quickly hit the table, and I have remembered just how good of a game that it is.
The game is all about hand management and timing. The restrictions on buying and drawing cards make many of your decisions tough. First, if you want to score points, you have to buy cards from the Market. In order to do that, you need to have enough money in your hand to buy. If you don’t have enough money, then you’re forced to draw a card from the Market. This, in turn, drops the price of the bundle for the next person, making it more likely that they will want to buy the Market. Alternatively, you could use your Reservation marker to save a card for you. But, you must remember that you only have one marker, so you need to be judicious in its use. Additionally, playing your marker in the Market still makes the Market cheaper for everyone else as they simply ignore your reserved card.
Once you are able to buy cards, hopefully they will match whatever pattern you are striving to have. Ideally, you’d like to be able to buy cards that will score immediately – so that there is no chance that you lose them to the Black Wave. You should always be mindful of where the ships are on the board. If they are in a vulnerable space, you may need to take a turn to draw a card that provides you some insurance against losing valuable cargo cards previously collected (especially if they are 4s and 5s!). I sometimes like to try to draw a few extra cards before I buy so that I don’t have an empty hand for any potential scoring surprises. Of course, by trying to draw the extra cards, I might be letting a great opportunity to buy cards pass me by!
The artwork is well done – East Asian in style, and a nice re-theme of the game. The box is small, and the small board could have honestly been even half its current mini size as you really only need the 6 spaces to show where the ships go. Rules are nicely formatted, and we haven’t had any questions that couldn’t be answered by the rules; though, of course, I’m pretty familiar with the game from its prior incarnation(s). I’m glad that Z-Man has decided to bring this great game back to the market, and I feel confident that it will find new supporters for this new version.
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers
Lorna: The original was one of the early games coming from Japan that got me interested in the designers there. From one of my first reviews on BGG “There is some interesting hand management in saving cards in hand as income for purchasing goods or using cards to keep the pirates from stealing your goods. Trying to anticipate a selling phase is also key, as are avoiding the pirates and trying to keep your opponents from selling at the wrong times. The game plays very quickly and makes a nice filler type game.”
Joe Huber (12 plays of the original Traders of Carthage): While I’ve not seen the new edition, this is a really enjoyable game, and one that I’m glad to see back in print. It’s also very evocative of the Japanese design style – small and fast, but clever and with unexpected depth.
Michael W: I also haven’t seen the new theme, but am a fan of the game. My sweet spot for it is with 3 players, but 4 works well too (haven’t tried with 2). It packs a solid amount of gameplay in the <30 minutes it takes to play.
Dan Blum: I haven’t seen the new edition either, but this is a good solid game I’m always happy to play, even if I am no good at it.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Dale Y, Lorna, Joe H.
- I like it. Michael W., Dan Blum
- Not for me…