Skip to main content

Kashgar: Merchants of the Silk Road

Last month I added Kashgar: Merchants of the Silk Road (designed by Gerhard Hecht and published by Grail Games) to my board game library. This deck building game originally debuted in 2013 to much acclaim, winning the 2014 Fairplay a la carte award, but an English language version only became available in 2018.

20181123_203206In Kashgar, players take on the role of spice dealers traveling the Silk Road with caravans, seeking to enlarge their caravans, build up supplies of gold, spices, and mules, and fulfill orders for their trade partners in Kashgar (a city in China). Each player begins with 3 caravans (decks) splayed face up before them in a tableau. Each caravan starts with 2 member cards: a Patriarch card (of course!) laid down first, and a random starting card, slipped behind and under the Patriarch card. Each turn, a player selects one card to activate, choosing from a pool made up of the front card closest to the player in each caravan. On the first turn, that’s any of the Patriarch cards. Caravan member cards may have multiple actions on them, and multiple types of actions – ones that can be performed and then the card must be discarded (Parting actions) and ones that can be performed and moved to the rear of the caravan (Caravan actions).  20181123_210633Only one action can be selected per turn. Actions may target one or more player’s caravans (example: destroy a card from one of your caravans), a player’s supplies (increasing or decreasing one or more of them), the standard draw deck (drawing 1 or more cards to add to one’s tableau), the special card draw deck (drawing 1 or more cards to add to one’s tableau), the discard pile (drawing 1 or more cards to add to one’s tableau), or the order pool (fulfilling orders if the player has the required supplies to pay the cost). Players continue alternating turns until a merchant has accumulated 25 victory points in their tableau (VPs are printed on select cards and orders), triggering the end of the game.

Components include thick cards for the various decks; player boards; and wooden tokens representing spices, gold, and donkeys.  All pieces are well crafted without any print or production defects. The cards should be sleeved for frequent use to ensure longevity.  20181123_204440

The theming is tight and implemented well. Many, if not most, of the caravan member card actions make sense in light of their roles. For example, the Farmer lets you fulfill a wheat field order for free. The movements (front to back) are appropriate given the context of caravans.  The artwork carries the theme beautifully with colorfully illustrated cards that evoke the setting in time and place.

The gameplay doesn’t disappoint. In a creative twist, Kashgar turns standard deck building games upside down – literally. Instead of your draw deck being face down in front of you, shuffled and mysterious in its order of contents, it’s laid out before you face up in your caravans. You might think that because you know what cards are going to be available for activation before you begin your turn, that the game play would be easier than in other deck building games. You would be wrong. Yes, the surprise aspect (and associated panic) of whether you’ll be able to get the card you really want or not has been removed but in its place is the responsibility of planning your current and future actions to ensure everything lines up so that you can perform the most effective sequence of actions. Should you activate a card in a caravan that targets one of the draw decks? It will give you access to new actions and possible victory points, but it will add another card to that caravan, making every other card in the caravan one turn further away in the future. Maybe you should fulfill an order if you have the supplies? But that might decimate your gold and what if the only card in your tableau that increases gold is buried directly under another card that requires gold to perform its action? Decisions, decisions. Due to the visibility of player decks and the associated increase in available information to consider when making turn choices, Kashgar is subject to some analysis paralysis; perhaps a bit more than other deck builders.

Win Condition: hold the most victory points at the end of the game.

Inputs: orders fulfilled; points accumulated in caravan through member card acquisitions.

Strategy Tip:  Bigger caravans are not necessarily better –they provide variety at the expense of less frequent access to each member card in the caravan.

We’ve played Kashgar with hardcore board gamers and we’ve played Kashgar with gamers who usually lean toward lighter games. In every game, the players loved Kashgar. Several of our friends ordered the game soon after playing it at our house. I think the broad based appeal of the game stems from the ability to win it using several different strategic approaches. Players who favor a deep analytical approach can carefully calculate each potential move and invest the time to plot the most effective action while players who favor a more relaxed approach can build a simple engine to play the caravan members off each other for successive advantages and let their turns run a bit on auto pilot. Either strategy can win the game, depending on the specific circumstances of a particular run. The variety of win paths also lends to Kashgar’s replayability (along with the size of the main deck and the random starter cards).  It’s definitely a game my husband and I will be replaying with each other (it plays great at 2 players) and with other members of our gaming group. As soon as Grail Games puts out an expansion, I’ll be all over that too. Kashgar is available through Amazon as well as other vendors.

-------------------------------------------------

Publisher: Grail Games
Players: 2-4 (We played with 2, 3, and 4)
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): about 35-45 minutes per game
Game type: deck building

Jenni’s Rating:                                          

review-OUIOUIOUI

Rating scale:
OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.
OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.
OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.
NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Board Game Review: Brass Birmingham

Here’s a story of a lovely lady (spoiler: it’s me) and her pride and how it has led to the discovery of the single greatest board game I have ever played. It’s probably also a good primer for other reviewers on increasing your reach.At GenCon this year, I was perusing the wares of the various booths and my eyes caught a glimpse of two beautiful game boxes. Each had crisp metallic lettering with an old world feel and artwork that radiated European class. I made my way to the booth and waited patiently to speak to to the team manning it as there were many buyers lined up to purchase the games. I didn’t know anything about the games (Brass Birmingham and Brass Lancashire), or the publisher – Roxley Game Laboratory – but I knew I wanted to review one or both of the games. Almost every board game love story I star in in can be summed up this way: I am seduced by the artwork or theme and then I stay for the right mechanics. When the lead rep spoke with me, he gently rejected my request. He …

Spirit Island Jagged Earth Preview: A First Look at the New Kickstarter Expansion from Greater Than Games

Exciting news this week! The Spirit Island Jagged Earth expansion launches on Kickstarter October 16th, 2018. I had the chance to preview and play this upcoming release from Greater Than Games multiple times this week, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

Update: the Kickstarter is live here.


Our Spirit Island collection keeps growing. First there was the base game, which debuted in 2017 and turned the traditional narrative of the conquering colonists on its head, allowing players to take on the role of island spirits determined to keep the colonists at bay through any means necessary to preserve the serenity of the island. My husband and I picked up the game at retail (having missed the Kickstarter window) and fell in love with it immediately, enthused to work together as powerful spirits and put the invaders down. Next, we added the Branch and Claw expansion. This expansion (also part of the original Kickstarter) expanded the board, added new spirits and powers, new blight card…

Board Game Review: Brass Lancashire

A few months ago, I fell in love with Brass Birmingham (you can read that review HERE). I fell hard. It was an all time top 10 best games ever kind of love and so when Roxley Game Laboratory offered to send me Brass Lancashire to play and share my thoughts, I was a bit hesitant.  Is there even a chance I could enjoy it as much as Birmingham? Lancashire was the original game designed by Martin Wallace, and while it’s been updated for the most recent release, I was concerned it might prove to be an older, tired version that couldn’t compete with Birmingham.

My concerns were unfounded. Brass Lancashire is fantastic. Playing Lancashire after playing Birmingham is a bit like dating someone and then dating their sibling. Sure, there’s a resemblance, but the kissing feels different.
The artwork for Brass Lancashire is beautiful, radiating a classic style evocative of the theme (industrial era production). The artists have shown great attention to detail such as the raised gold lettering on …