The Century trilogy of games from designer Emerson Matsuuchi and Plan B Games are something of an enigma. Starting life as a planned trilogy of games with two different themes, spice trading and um... Golems. After retail pre-orders overwhelmingly favoured the spice theme, the Golems were dropped. But you can’t keep a good Golem down and eventually, after much fan pressure and many official denials, the Golems Edition was reborn. It now appears, again after many denials, that it will indeed be a complete trilogy too.
If you have played Spice Road you know exactly what to expect. The gameplay is literally the same. For those who don’t, the essence of the game is obtaining resources and then manipulating and exchanging them into other resources to fulfil orders. How this relates to Golems is unclear, but it’s certainly more interesting than spice trading!
You will use hand management to gain and use cards that let you turn lots of less valuable resources into a few precious resources and vice versa. Each turn, you will fulfil orders, gain new exchange cards, play a card or recover all played cards into your hand. The key is to get cards into your hand that give you flexibility to change resources at will. Easier said than done when each time you play a card it stays on the table until you pick up all your cards.
As per Spice Road, the components are great. In fact, we’d argue they are better in this version, with plastic gemstones replacing the wooden cubes and an art style reminiscent of manga replacing the rather uninspired trading scenes from Spice Road. Originally, the thing that stopped many buying Golem Edition was the uncertainty that there would be a ‘Golem trilogy’ but with the release of Golem Eastern Mountains this looks to be a non-issue.
Player Count: 2-5
Time: 30-45 Minutes
It’s hard to define what makes a game qualify to be hot, but Century: Spice Road has definitely had it. Maybe it’s the promise of gateway goodness, pretty components and fast play. Maybe it was the comparisons to the lightweight accessible darling of the board game scene, Splendor, or maybe it was just the certain je ne sais quoi.
Whatever it is, there is no denying that Plan B Games' Spice Road has made it’s mark as an accessible Splendor-like game with added depth. Does the Golem Edition change that?
Century: Spice Road started life as Caravan, the game was fundamentally the same but was planned to be released with two themes, the one we have now, and a Crystal Golem version that was sadly ditched. Now Spice Road is the first of the ‘Century’ trilogy. Then the internet spoke and the Golem Edition was reborn!
The game plays exactly the same way as Spice Road, but for those out of the loop let’s catch you up. You start the game by laying out a row of five goal cards, and six merchant cards. Goal cards offer you victory points for trading in various crystals and the two leftmost cards have lovely metal coins placed above them for anyone game enough to grab those cards.
When a card is gained the cards move left to fill the gaps and a new goal is drawn from the deck. Merchant cards allow you to gain and manipulate your crystals in order to earn those victory points. Most Merchant cards allow you to trade a number of crystals for another amount of crystals, for example you might be able to trade three yellow crystals for two green crystals, and you are able to do this as many times as you have the initial resource.
Other cards simply produce crystals and finally other cards allow you to upgrade crystals (Yellow-Green-Blue-Pink). The Merchant card on the far left is free, but any kind to the right of that must be paid for by laying one crystal of your choice on each card to the right of it. This is one of my favourite parts of Century - should I cough up my hard earned crystals to get that shiny card that would really help me, or do I use them to fulfil that points card and move closer to the end game.
Crystals for my Spice
Each player starts with one production card and one upgrade card, before choosing one of four actions each turn. Play a card from your hand and do what it says, this card stays on the table until you take the rest action which allows you to pick up all your cards into your hand again, with the remaining two actions being to take one of the two card types from the rows on the table.
All of this results in a kind of slow moving adaptable engine building game, which feels like a deck building game where you get to keep all your cards rather than ditch the guff ones. Comparisons to Splendor are rash on the one hand and apt on the other. There is a sense of gaining more valuable stuff as you go but unlike Splendor, at some point you are going to have to rest and start again. Splendor let’s you build your efforts as cards purchased become jewels for future buys, Century is more about using the cards you have to manipulate crystals to your wants, sometimes being thwarted by other players, but sometimes being the thwarter!
Keeping an eye on your opponent's crystal reserves is essential, because you may notice that they will reach your shared goal first and therefore be able to change your plans, or that no one else is anyway near that points card so you can start building for the next one too.
Despite the decisions on display I never felt under or overwhelmed. Whether my plans were in tact or had to be adapted there was nearly always something I wanted to do and more importantly was worth doing. At four players the game positively sprints by as players are a turn-taking blur of card and crystal grabbing before cashing in. Some players slow this down but by in large when your turn comes round you know exactly what you want to do.
So far so good? Right? Well….. there are a few niggling issues. The history of this game shows that the theme is lightly tacked on at best. They are called crystals but in play people just resort to saying ‘Chuck me a green gem’. The components, though lovely, don’t really add to the theme and for £30 it feels a bit like you are paying for plastic bowls and metal coins (nice as they are) and I wonder how this might have been as a £20 game with cheaper components, and a more appropriate box size, as just like Splendor there is a lot of room here when you remove the insert. However the insert is much better than the Spice Road version in terms of lay out and keeping all the bits in the relevant places.
While there is, in my opinion, more depth here than Splendor without much of a learning spike, this doesn’t lift it from a ‘gateway level’. If you are looking for something with a lot more depth you won’t find it here, and perhaps part of the reason is the biggest problem with the game - the balance of merchant cards. The production cards that essentially give you crystals are very few in the deck, worse still there appears to be only one upgrade card available outside of the starting cards. This means these cards are always targeted by crafty players and can be hard to compete against.
Lastly on the negatives, I have heard that this is not a great game for colourblind people, depending on the colours you struggle with.
Summarising the Golem Edition
In summary, Century: Golem Edition is a great game to play with game groups and newcomers alike, with quick, thoughtful play that is ultimately rewarding. It’s not a perfect game, but it probably deserves a modicum of the buzz it has created. Should you buy it over Spice Road? Well, we will save that for another article!