During the thirteenth century Marco Polo travelled through Asia as a merchant. After a long while from home, he safely returned to Venice in 1295, but they were at war with the Republic of Genoa. Marco Polo got prisoned by them and told all his wonderful stories to his fellow inmate, who wrote it all down in a book that is now known as The Voyages of Marco Polo. You can step into the footsteps of this wealthy merchant in this game from Simone Luciani and Daniele Tascini.
What do you get for your money?
You get a game board, a start player marker, 4 player boards, 10 character tiles, 6 town bonus tiles, 10 warehouse tiles, 44 contract tiles, 26 dice, 40 coins, 4 50/100-point tokens, 18 objective cards, and 31 large town cards. Also, 15 gold bar, 15 silk, 15 pepper bag and 28 camels tokens, 38 trading post and 12 wooden Marco Polo meeples. Plus, some overview cards and the rules of course.
How do you play the game?
In this game you are all characters who’ve travelled with Marco Polo. You try to fulfil trade contracts, gain goods and travel through half of the world to gain valuable points and privileges.
The game takes five rounds. During every rounds players take turns and place dice on certain actions spots and execute those actions immediately. After five rounds, you’ll check if the players have completed their end game goals and the one with the most points wins the game.
That’s the game basically. Now in a little more detail. At the start of the game every player gets a character that gives them a special power, a player board, nine trade posts, placed on their trade post track, five dice in their colour, some starting goods and money, a starting contract, two objective cards and two meeples in their colour, one placed on the score track and one placed on the board in Venice.
At the start of every round players roll all their dice. Then one after the other, the players place one or more dice on an action spot and execute that action. The value of the dice determines what you can do or how good the action is. You can always decide to do a lesser action if you choose so. And remember, per round you can only place your dice once on every action spot.
There are some spots where you have to place multiple dice, in that case the die with the lowest value counts. For instance, lets look at the picture below, you want to take silk from the market and you place a four and a six on that spot. This means you can only take three silk tokens and not four, as the ‘six spot’ indicates.
It will happen that an action that you want has already been taken. Don’t worry, you can still place your dice there. However, you must pay to do so. How much? Well, an amount of coins equal to the value of your lowest die.
So, you probably are curious about what you can do in this game. I’ll tell you. I begin with the most straightforward action you can pick. That is the take 5 coins action. Place a die and take five coins. If you are the first, of course, the second player must pay first.
You can also go to the market to get gold, silk, pepper and camels. To get pepper or camels you have to place one die. To get silk you need two of them and to buy gold you have to place three dice on the designated spot. The higher the value to more you get.
Then there’s the favour of the Khan. This action gives you two camels and a good of your choosing, but to get that, you have to place a die that has the same value or a higher value than the one before it.
Why do you need all these goods, I hear you think. Well, you need them, because you want to fulfil trade contracts. These contracts, once fulfilled, give you points, more goods and sometimes even other bonuses, like an extra die. To get these contracts you have to place one die on the specified spot and then you may take on or two contracts from below or to the left of the fields with the same value as your die. You must place these contracts on one of the two areas on your player board. If there’s no free space on your board, you can’t take a new contract. You must first discard one of them before you can take a new one.
Another important action in this game is travelling. You do that by placing two dice on the travel area, pay the travelling expenses as indicated and move your meeple around the board along the trade routes and place a trading post in the town you ended your turn in. You can end your journey in an oasis, which just is a resting place between two cities, a small town, which gives income at the beginning of a round if you’ve placed a trading post there. Or, you can place a trading post in a large town. If you are the first player who does so, you get a warehouse tile. These tiles are randomly placed on every large town at the beginning of the game and they give you a little bonus. Another important bonus you get from placing a post in a large town is that you, from now on, can use the action space of that town.
Those were all the actions you can do on the board. You also can do several extra actions before or after you place you dice. You can fulfil contracts, take three money by placing a die on the pouch on the board, re-roll a die for one camel, reduce or increase the value of a die by one for two camels, or buy an extra black die for three camels.
At the end of the game, after the fifth round, player get points for having a trading post in Beijing, for their money and for their goods if they have a trading post in Beijing. The player with most fulfilled contracts gets an extra seven points and then every player checks if they have fulfilled their objectives. On every objective card you find two locations. When you have a trading post in both locations you get extra points, plus you get even more points when you’ve built posts in different towns depicted on the objective cards.
Like many other games, the player with the most points wins The Voyages of Marco Polo.
The Voyages of Marco Polo is a very solid worker placement game. You use dice as your workers, nothing new here, but the action spots are never blocked by other players, because you can always pay money and do the action anyway. This means that, as long as you have money, your plans will never be completely ruined.
You have to be a bit lucky when rolling your dice, but, as long as you have some camels at your disposal, you can re-roll or change the value of a die.
In your first game you are advised to play with a set of predetermined characters, which is fine, but I do think once you’ve played it, you should start playing with all the characters. This makes it more interesting, because all of them have different special powers and you really need to change the way you play to fully take advantage of their power. Some characters, like William of Rubruck, require a little more work than others, like Mercator ex Tabriz, whose benefits come easily.
The advanced game also has one other benefit and that is it offers a lot more variation. There are more characters to choose, the small town bonuses are placed randomly and, although it’s the same as in the basic game, the large town cards are randomly assigned to a town.
The main focus of the game lies on fulfilling trade contracts, you just cannot ignore them, or otherwise you miss out on a lot of points and goods.
Travelling is also a way to score points, or open up the possibility to score points by placing trade posts in large towns. However, you can, because you can only do every action once per round, basically travel five times per game. So, when travelling is your main focus, you have to find a way to travel more than that during a round and you can do that by acquiring and fulfilling, the very important, trade contracts.
What I love about this game is that you really need to decide where you want to focus on. The game only takes five rounds, and believe me, they are over before you know it. So, you have to look at the board, the cards that are on it, the bonuses you might want to get and plan your moves ahead. You cannot go with the flow and see what happens.
Like I already said, the game is over before you know it, sometimes really before you want it to be over. You just warmed up and you already hear the bell for the last round. That’s a minor drawback.
The game scales perfectly and if you are familiar with it, you can play a two-player game in little more than half an hour and a four-player game in one and a half. So it packs a lot of strategy in a short playing time.
Flavour and Theme
Does the game has a Marco Polo, explorer, flavour? Yes, I do think so. You are travelling from one city to another, trading all kinds of commodities, basically very similar to many other worker placement games. It’s a similar dish with a new Marco Polo sauce.
The Voyages of Marco Polo is very good-looking. Not only in terms of the looks itself, the illustrations and components are very nice to look at, but also in terms of functionality. I think the different action spaces are very clear, you just immediately know what t do.
Quality of the components
The quality is good. You have nice cardboard pieces, a solid card quality, lovely wooden components and some unique Marco Polo meeples.
I really like this game. I love dice placement games in general, but this one is also very fun. You can always do something. You sometimes have to pay a little more money, but at least you can’t be completely blocked by your opponents.
I don’t say that every dice placement game should do it this way, because the whole blocking your opponent aspect is also kind of characteristic of worker placement games, but this one feels less stressful, because of it misses that aspect.
I also really like the different characters. It’s very fun to try to make them work for you in their special ways.
I don’t thinks it’s an innovative game, it’s a just a good combination familiar mechanisms. However, that doesn’t really matter to me, Marco Polo packs a lot of strategy and fun in a pretty short playing time and because you can only place your dice on an action spot once, it doesn’t matter that much if you play with four or two players. OK, you can do a bit more with less money when playing with two, but what I try to say is that is scales well. It’s fun with every player count.
So, for people who like a nice worker placement game or even for people who want to try this type of game for the very first time, I would recommend The Voyages of Marco Polo.