Dale Yu: Review of Marrakesh


  • Designer: Stefan Feld
  • Publisher: Queen Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Age: 14+
  • TIme: 90-120 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by Queen Games

Marrakesh is labeled #4 in the Stefan Feld City Collection from Queen Games.  Earlier releases in the series were all new envisionings of previous games: #1 Hamburg (nee Bruges), #2 Amsterdam (nee Macao), #3 New York City (nee Rialto).  As far as I can tell, Marrakesh is a completely novel game.  The cube tower looks familiar – as it was seen in Amerigo – but I can’t really detect any other influence of that older game here.

Briefly:  There is a lot to be done in Marrakesh, a city in Southwestern Morocco – known as “The Pearl of the South” – that was founded in 1070 AD and is one of the country’s four royal cities.  In this game, you will use your assistants to increase your influence on the Koutoubia mosque and in the Bahia Palace.  Profit from the wisdom of the scholars, captured on valuable scrolls. Roam the souks to haggle with the merchants over precious luxury goods.  Go to the marketplace, find oases in the Sahara, and navigate the Tensift river. But don’t forget to pay the people and provide sufficient dates and water! The player who succeeds in doing this best becomes the new “Obermufti” of Marrakesh.

The game board is placed on the table – it has many areas including the palace staircase, the mosque staircase, the river, the souk, the academy, and the workshops.  The scrolls, exchange offices, luxury good tiles and river tiles are set up on their respective spaces. 8 city gates are placed next to each workshop space.  Assistant pawns for each player are placed at the start of the river track, the mosque stairway and the river.

Each player gets their own player board which has multiple areas for workers.  Oasis tiles are drawn and placed on this board. An audience disk is placed in the bottom right.  A supply board is placed above the player board and this is where personal resources and claimed oases will be kept.  Three provision tiles fit at the top; flip one of your choice face up to start the game. Each player starts with 1 water, 1 date and 1 dinar.  Each player also gets one keshi (octagonal piece) of each of the 12 colors, and these keshis are kept behind a player screen.

To outline the game – it is played over 3 seasons. Each season has 4 rounds, and each round consists of 4 phases.  There is a scoring period at the end of each of the three seasons, and then an end-game scoring bit at the very end.  

The four phases of each round:

1] Select Keshis and Deploy Assistants – each player chooses 3 of the keshis from behind they screen; and then when all have chosen, each player placed one of their assistants onto their player board into the area that matches the color of their selected keshi – each color has their own particular area for the most part, though the red one is wild, and three colors all go to the souk.  Then someone collects all the keshis and tosses them in the cube tower; which will cause some number of them to emerge from the tower into the collection area; the keshis should be sorted by color so that all players can see what is available.

2] Claim Keshis and Deploy them – in turn order, each player chooses a color and takes up to 2 keshis of that color and places them on matching sections of their player board (red ones are wild and go on special red spaces in each section).  You can only claim a keshi if you can use it, and you must take one on your turn if possible.  Continue around the table until all keshis are taken; it is more than likely that the number of keshis to each player is uneven.

3] Use your Assistants – In turn order, each player uses their 3 assistants – each having two options. First, you can take a new keshi from the supply of the corresponding sector’s color and deploy it.  If there is a bonus for placement, take that now.  In the souk, you can choose any of the 3 colors. Second, you can choose to take the sector action; the strength of which is determined by the number of keshis in the sector

  • River (blue) – for each keshi, move 1 step on the river track, then may choose to pay water to move further. Points awarded to getting the the end faster. At the end of each round, you may take a bonus from any space their fisherman has passed
  • Date orchard (green) – gain a date per keshi. On deployment, gain 1 VP.
  • Souk (yellow/purple/orange) – for each assistant present, either use the exchange office to trade in a keshi for resources OR acquire a luxury good by spending keshis.
  • Main square (pink) – rotate the audience disk clockwise one section, then choose one keshi and get its bonus once for each spectator on the disk in that segment.  On deployment, you get the associated bonus once.

  • Mosque (black) and palace (white) – in each, move one step up on the corresponding stairway per keshi. Each time an assistant crosses into a new segment, take a dinar bonus, and also the bonus found on the line that connects the segments of your two staircase assistants.
  • Madrasa (grey) – acquire a scroll; if you have enough keshis there and dates in your supply. Buy  as many scrolls as you like.  Dates are spent, scholar keshis stay on the board.  Scrolls provide bonus abilities/effects that could be instant, ongoing, or used at the end of a round or season – the gold icon tells you what the timing is.
  • Medina (beige) – for each available keshi, you may buy a city gate from a workshop and place it on your board. Cost and VP bonus/malus for each gate found on the corresponding workshop. You get a keshi of the gate’s color, and a 2VP bonus if the color of the gate matches the adjoining sector’s color. Take a keshi from the large area and man the newly placed gate.
  • Sahara (brown) – first the deployment bonus; each type you deploy here, you discover an oasis tile.  There are deployment bonuses for the final oasis in the path.  If you take the sector action, you claim oases – pay the resources shown next to the tile and then move that tile onto the storage area on the right of their supply board.  If a keshi is standing on the space where the oasis tile is placed, that keshi is immediately deployed.  
  • Water vendor (red) – there is one red space in each of the sectors of the player board.  Anytime you use an assistant in a sector with a water vendor; take a water as a bonus.

4] River bonus / End of Round – When all players have used their assistants, look at the river. Each player can take a bonus if their assistant has passed it on the track. You may choose any one bonus that is behind you.  The fishermen maintain their current positions. Pass the start player marker (but not the season marker)  Repeat this x 2.

End of season – after 4 rounds have been played, the season ends.  You will know this because the players will have no more keshis available behind their screen. There are a few steps at the end of the season:

  • Evaluate the river – the player furthest on the river gets a bonus shown on the tile at the end of the river.  (At the end of the third season, bonuses for first and second). Discard the tile, then reset all the fishmen back to the start.
  • Provide for the Citizens – Pay the resources shown on revealed provision tiles. If you cannot pay the costs, you LOSE ALL YOUR RESOURCES and then take negative points for ALL TILES (even the ones you could have paid off). Each player must one flip over one face down provision tile to make their costs higher for the next round.
  • Set up for the next round: flip new exchange office tile up, reveal the new river tile, give each player one of each keshi color, pass the season tracker to the next person – who also takes the round tracker as well.

Repeat this cycle three times (including the scoring at the end of the third season), and then move into the end-game scoring

  • Each completely filled sector (8 keshis of matching color + 1 red keshi): 10 pts
  • Score your three highest oasis tiles
  • Points for remaining resources – 1 pt per every 2 resources

The player with the most points wins. Ties in favor of the higher assistant on the palace staircase.

The game also includes 5 expansion modules if the base game becomes too commonplace for you.  We have not yet felt the need to explore these as repeated plays of the base game have been more than enough for us to chew on thus far.

My thoughts on the game

Well, this game has all the characteristics that you would expect in a Feld game.  There are seemingly endless ways to score points.  There are penalties that plague you every round if you don’t do certain things – and the game always tries to steer you away from getting rid of the penalties.  There’s a rondel in the game, with activation bonuses, of course.  In general, as you’re playing it, you have a limited number of actions and about 15 tracks or mini-games to compete in, and you feel kind of overwhelmed in your first few games as your brain tries to figure out just what the heck it is supposed to do with all these different things thrown at you at once.  My guess is that at least half of the audience of this review already know whether they will likely adore this game or not; that is how polarizing I’ve found Feld games to be amongst the gamers I know….

Interestingly, I’m generally not a fan of the Feld-game, but yet, I enjoyed this one a lot.  First off, it is visually stunning, and the colorful boards and wooden bits are a joy to see.  The cube tower is interesting, and it does serve as a nice randomizer.  Be sure to sit it far away from me as I’m likely to jostle it accidentally, and if I cause keshis to fall out early, it’s hard to figure out how to reset the tower.  Just saying.

The game gives you a bit of time to plan (when you see what colors are going to go into the tower) and then throws a curveball at you when you’re left to see what colors have actually emerged from the tower after they are dumped in.  To keep you on your toes, the drafting mechanism makes you really think hard about which keshis you prioritize. 

Once you have chosen your keshis for the round, you activate your assistants – and in typical Feld style – you’ll likely trigger other actions or rewards as you go.  It can be a bit daunting at first, but honestly, all of the individual actions are quite straightforward, so once you’re a bit of the way in, they should all make sense.   

The pacing of the game starts out slow, as many of your actions are smaller as you do not yet have a lot of keshis in any area to power them.  Additionally, most of the bonus icons are triggered only after you have made some progress in a sector, so you’ll have time to get used to things.  Which is good, because some of the later turns in the game can get pretty complicated, especially if you’re able to chain a number of bonuses together.

I’m usually not one for doling out strategy tips in my review, but I will say that I found it super helpful to take provision resources and quarantine them away from my active area during the round.  The reason for this is that the penalty for missing a feeding is severe – you lose all your resources – and it can be a huge blow if you thought you had it covered and simply miscalculated by a resource.  Of course, YMMV – but don’t be the guy or girl who miscounts; it’s painful and might be enough to cost you the game on its own.

The rules are well done, and it was quite easy to learn this fairly complicated game by reading carefully through everything.  All the rules were in the places I expected them to be and appropriate example illustrations where needed.  Additionally, there is a nice secondary rulebook that has all of the tiles with pictures and text explanations.  This helped explain all the tiles when they first arrived, and then as a ready reference to be passed around.  Though it seemed like a little overkill, it was nice to have EVERY tile listed, not just the tiles that the designers thought people might have problems with.

As expected from Queen, the components are high quality. The player boards are a nice 2 level affair, and this helps keep all the Keshis in their respective locations. You’ll definitely need a large table or two to hold all the boards that you need to play this game!

The massive box is absolutely necessary given the size of the boards, but it will honk off the OCD people who are collecting the Feld city set as this box is not the same size as #1, #2 and #3…  For me, this game would have to go on the special shelf for oversized boxes, sitting quietly next to Millenium Blades, Suburbia Collector’s Edition and Too Many Bones.  It doesn’t bother me at all, and even if I had #1 and #2, it wouldn’t bother me… but I’ve seen so many Kallax squares filled with Alea games all lined up in a nice row; to the point where German boxes have been purchased if only to continue the numeric pattern of the boxes…

That being said, this game has since moved onto the trade/sell pile because Queen has just announced a Kickstarter for a new edition which is in a more traditional sized box.  I have very much enjoyed the game thus far, but in my volume limited game collection, this game takes up the space of 3 or 4 games, and frankly, it’s not good enough for that volume cost.  I am, however, pretty excited about getting a copy of this game in a more traditional box size.  Yes, I know this means that the components will be smaller/thinner/less impressive; but in the end, I’m a gamer concerned more about gameplay than component awesomeness.  

Marrakesh is definitely a grand game, moreso in this deluxe edition – and it is one worth trying.  Even for a Feld-neutral gamer as myself, I really did enjoy this, and it is likely going to end up as one of my favorites.  While there are many different things going on here, they are woven together nicely as a whole; additionally, the flow of the game is such that the gamers are engrossed in it the entire way through – which is definitely a great trait for a game that might push the two hour mark!  

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Dan B. (3 plays): My views are pretty much in line with Dale’s in this case. I am not a big fan of most of Feld’s more complicated titles, but I like this one well enough because the parts are relatively well-integrated into a cohesive game, which isn’t always the case. I also agree that the enormous version currently available, while nice, is too large (and too expensive) for me to want to own. I mean, I probably won’t get the new version either, but I’d at least consider it.

Craig M. (1 play): I used to lean much more “Feld positive,” but that needle has been steadily moving towards negative. No need to further belabor Dale’s spot on comments on the quality of the production or its “supersized” nature. I do think this is Feld’s best effort in several years as it does feel a lot more cohesive, but it still leaves me wanting something different at the end of the game. I’ll happily sit for another play, but won’t actively look to make that happen. 

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale, John P, Dan B.
  • Neutral. Craig M.
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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