Gameday First Play – The Voyages of Marco Polo

Posted on by Jesta

Placing dice and travelling across Asia…

Also, the single biggest case of Player Power jealousy I have ever seen…

In 1271, 17-year-old Marco Polo started on a journey to China with his father and older brother. After a long and gruelling journey that led through Jerusalem and Mesopotamia and over the “Silk Road”, they reached the court of Kublai Khan in 1275.

In The Voyages of Marco Polo, players recreate this journey, with each player having a different character and special power in the game.

This is dice placement and resource management game but done in a very nice way.

You start off with a player area, some huts, a contract and 5 dice of your colour…

The Voyages of Marco Polo Player Area

Image from Board Game Geek

You also have a couple of Route cards and a Special player power which I’ll refer to later in more detail.

Everyone rolls their dice and in turn order, players take actions playing them onto spaces on the board as well as taking bonus actions.

The 4 simple bonus actions are take 3 coins (uses an unused die), re-roll a die, adjust a die by 1 or take a Black die (which is really an extra action in a neutral colour).  These need you to pay camels for… This is a resource in the game.

The fifth bonus action is to complete a contract which is something else I will explain later.

Now, bonus actions are good but your normal actions are better… (Obviously) Here is the section of the board dice are placed…

The Voyages of Marco Polo Play Area

It takes up half the board near enough but there are only really 5 spaces so here they are…

Take 1 of any Resource and 2 Camels… Only 4 slots here and the dice you play must be equal to or higher than the previously played die.

The rest of the slots can be used multiple times by all players, but only once per turn per player. (Unless you use a black dice which doesn’t count as your colour in this way) You ‘displace’ dice already there by paying the cost in money to the bank equal to the lowest value die you play. The first time I played my player power let me displace this way for free… (very good)

Gather resources… Get Camels, Pepper, Silk and Gold from the four spaces on this track. The way this work is you put a dice in that row for that resource and compare the number equal to the die value in the column. This works out how much you get, the higher the number the more stuff you get.

On the Silk track you need 2 dice and on the Gold track 3 and the value is taken on the LOWEST number you play… The second game I played my Player Power let me gain a resource any time another player used this action. (Players were VERY jealous to the point where they wondering if they should take something just to stop me getting something at times)

Take 5 Money… Let’s you take 5 money, simple. Just remember your cost for displacing the die already there, using a 4 will only get you 1 money…

Take Contracts… 6 start in the track and the higher the number you play the more you’ll be able to pick from. You can take 1 or 2 of them from the track but if you take 2 you have to clear any contracts you already have from your board.

Travel… You need 2 dice to do this and the higher the value of the lower die, the more you pay but the further you can move. Moving is key to scoring points so let’s take a look at the map on the board…

The Voyages of Marco Polo Map

You travel point to point down the roads and when you stop at a City you can put a Hut there… Some roads have a price in Camels or Money to pay and you need to be able to pay this to move.

When you place your 8th Hut you get 5 points and another 10 points if you place your 9th and final Hut.

The smaller places give you some income each turn and the larger ones give a bonus to the first player there while unlocking a ‘one use per round’ extra action space for those players with a Hut at that city.

Not only that, but at the beginning of the game you pick 2 from a hand of 4 ‘route’ cards, Ticket to Ride style that get you points if you visit them. Each card has 2 locations, visit both and get the points listed on the card, PLUS a bonus for visiting as many places on your cards as possible.(Maximum 4 places)

We also need to discuss those contracts. On your turn you can cash in Goods and Money to complete a contract. They will give you immediate points and a bonus such as resources, money, a black die, another contract or even movement etc

You do this for 5 rounds then scoring occurs.

You get those points for the Goal cards, plus 1 point per 10 money…

Special points are awarded for Beijing the quicker you are than other players to get there and it also gives you 1 point for every 2 goods you have left if you were in Beijing.

The player or players with most contracts gets 7 points…

That’s it, most points wins.

I love dice placement games as they add the randomness needed to a Worker Placement game to allow you to HAVE to play differently and adapt to your roll.

This game does it right. In say, Kingsburg, if you roll 1,1,1 and I roll 6,6,6 I will win (Well, I SHOULD win)… In this game and games like Bora Bora your lower value dice give you less, but have an extra value. In Bora Bora you can block off your opponents higher numbers , Marco Polo allows you to pay less to displace.

We saw this in my second game where one of the players powers was that they didn’t have to roll the dice, they just picked whatever side they liked as they needed to, and didn’t win 😀

Speaking of powers, they are picked in reverse turn order and are VERY powerful. Everyone wishes they had everyone else’s power. A bit like Cosmic Encounter, you always feel like you have the worst power at the table…

But, I admit, my two powers were great and I felt very lucky as some are average, or appear to be average. One lets you have 2 pawns on the map.. big deal… But, when travelling is so expensive, money is tight and you can get BIG points from your route cards (maybe a third of your total?), being able to split up and cover more of the map is fantastic.

Add to that moving West to East on the map is easy, but North to South is VERY hard to do so having one up one down works well.

My player powers made me played both games differently. As I didn’t have to pay to displace I just took resources as I needed them regardless of my dice, so I had resources and money. The second game with people giving me free resources means I didn’t need to use the resource track much, so I wasn’t paying to displace, so again I had resources and money freely available.

I think I’ve said enough, it’s very good game.

I look forward to playing it again with a less than spectacular Player Power (preferably not resource related) to see how I handle the game.

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