The Voyages of Marco Polo
Designers: Simone Luciani and Daniele Tascini
Artist: Dennis Lohausen
Publisher: Z-Man Games, Hans im Gluck
Time: 40-100 minutes
I’ve waited a long time for a Marco Polo themed game that would pique my interest, The Voyages of Marco Polo manages to do that and more, which in today’s Cult of the New climate is quite a feat.
Coming from Hans im Glück Verlags-GmbH, renowned for such Euro classics as El Grande, Carcassonne and the recent Russian Railroads, I expected nothing less than a solid resource management game. I was quite anxious to try the game out when I heard about it and I’m glad that it has exceeded my expectations.
The game is a dice driven placement game in which the dice are used in a worker placement fashion. Each player starts with 5 dice which they roll and then apply 1 or more dice to an action. The bottom half of the board presents the actions that may be chosen. The top half represents the travels of Marco and or his friends and relatives.
Each player has a player board which holds contracts, resources, money and dice. They also start with 2 objective cards for trading post locations. Each player also gets a character tile which has a special ability.
There are several actions that can be applied, collecting money, gaining the favor of the Khan, going to the market to obtain resources (camels, spice, cloth and gold), gaining new contracts to fulfill, or traveling. The actions require different numbers of dice; for example, getting gold from the market requires 3 dice whereas getting camels from the market only uses 1 die. For actions that require more than 1 die, the lower valued die limits the action. If a player wishes to place their dice at the same action that another player has already taken, this is possible. It does however require payment in money equal to the value of the lowest die used.
In addition to these dice actions, there are free actions available every turn: completing a contract, taking 3 money, re-rolling, getting a die bump or taking an extra die.
The top half of the board is a map. Some routes require not only the basic travel costs to travel them but also extra camels or even extra money. There are oases which are stops along the path, cities which give a bonus as well as access to a new die action from a randomly placed city card and towns which provide income. As a player travels, if they end in a city or town,hey place a trading house to gain these extras. If a player makes their way to Beijing from Venezia, they earn bonus points at the end of the game. Some routes require not only money to travel them but also extra camels or even extra money.
The game is won with the most VP. VP are gained from fulfilled contracts, for placing all of your trading posts, from city die actions with bonuses for most fulfilled contracts and reaching Beijing. You may also convert money to points and leftover goods for points if you have a trading house in Beijing. You also earn points if you’ve reached your objective card destinations.
I have really enjoyed playing Marco Polo. I’ve played 10 times so far which is quite a lot for me in the short time I’ve had the game. While it seems that none of the mechanisms are novel, the game feels very fresh. I think it is because the game has tons of replay in it. The city cards are placed randomly and there is a good sized deck of cards to deal from provided variability not only in which cards come out but also where they are located on the map. The town tiles and their income are also placed randomly in the advanced game, providing more change. The main point of interest for me are the character tiles. There are several characters and players choose them in reverse turn order. Each character has a special ability. The interactions of the characters with the board set up is quite challenging. It may seem like certain characters are way overpowered at first but really they can all be exploited to your benefit if you can figure out the strategy needed, a great challenge. The game also only lasts 5 rounds so it is really over before you expect it. There are a lot of tough decisions packed in a tight time frame. There are definitely many routes to victory. I’ve also played with 2, 3 and 4 players and enjoyed all of my games. Already one of my best of 2015.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Joe Huber (6 plays): I wrote a full review of The Voyages of Marco Polo for The Gamer’s Alliance, so I’ll just summarize here – I really enjoy the game, but my hopes that it would grow to become an all-time favorite have faded. In particular, fulfilling contracts is too important to make a focus on travel viable as a primary strategy, which detracts something from the game for me. But at worst, it’s a game I’ll get a dozen enjoyable plays from – and it’s got a reasonable chance to be a long-term keeper. For now, it’s my second favorite game of 2015 so far.
Dan Blum (7 plays): I’m still enjoying this, but like Joe I am not sure that it will be something I want to keep playing indefinitely. However, it still might be, and it’s certainly a strong design that is well worth trying.
I disagree somewhat with Joe about whether focusing on travel is viable. You certainly can’t win the game without completing any contracts if the other players are any good at all, but I have seen a winner who completed few contracts and got most points from traveling. Like much in this game I think it is situational: some characters in the game are good for traveling and some aren’t, so if you have the only such character a travel focus is possibly viable.
Larry (5 plays): I’m still trying to figure out the best ways of playing each character, but so far, I’m enjoying this a lot. There’s many ways of playing the dice you roll each round and getting the most out of your character’s special abilities is a tough and very interesting challenge. So far, it’s my favorite game of 2015 and I like it more than anything I played from all last year.
Mary Prasad (3 plays): I really like the game play, although I wonder if one or two of the characters are more powerful than others. I noticed that some of this might have to mitigated by other players. For example, one of the characters gives one resource to its controller whenever another player uses the market – other players may need to minimize using the market in order to balance play. There are quite a lot of good and interesting character powers – I just haven’t played enough to know how balanced they are. So far I’ve enjoyed my games though, and plan to play it again. When I first played, I thought it was OK/good; with two more plays, I’ve moved it up to “really like” (sort of in between ratings).
Chris Wray (2 plays): I thought Marco Polo had some clever mechanics. It didn’t excite me enough to keep it, but I was impressed by my two plays. Like Mary I question whether the game is truly balanced: nothing seemed too out of line, but I could see a couple of characters that I thought had better powers than others.
I Love It: Lorna, Joe H, Larry
I Like It: Dan Blum, Mary P, Chris W
Not for me: