REVIEW: Century: Eastern Wonders

Designer: Emerson Matsuuchi, 2018
Publisher: Plan B Games
2-4 players, 45-75mins
Reviewed by Alex Bardy

I really liked the original Century: Spice Road game (quite a lot in fact — you can read my review of the game here: REVIEW: Century: Golem Edition), and although this second instalment promises more, it turns it into a different game, and not necessarily a better one…

The original game had you playing cards to place spice cubes into your caravan, playing cards to upgrade or swap those spice cubes for colours of greater value, purchasing new cards for your hand, or using cubes to satisfy the requirements of a relevant ‘scoring card’ and thus earning VPs for those cards at the end of the game.

Billed as a sequel, Century: Eastern Wonders offers an alternative game in which a tiled map (randomised at the start) is utilised in a similar manner to the upgrade cards from the original game, so instead of using cards you’re moving your ship across a board to a tile that offers a particular upgrade or beneficial exchange that you wish to use (these are hex-shaped and referred to as market tiles, incidentally). This of course, adds an altogether different element to the game, and allows players to utilise the same market tiles and the benefits thereof just by moving their ship onto them. Of course, it’s not quite so simple, but that’s the crux of it…  The other selling point of this game is that it can be combined with the original version to offer a comparatively different experience called Century: From Sand to Sea… I’ll get to that one in due course, too!

As well as a randomised board map at the start of the game, Century: Eastern Wonders also gives players a separate board with which to keep track of their spices and outposts. The hut-shaped outpost pieces are built across the map, and you need to build one of these on a market tile in order to take advantage of that specific benefit or upgrade.  The first outpost on any market tile is free for the first player to reach that hex, but players who wish to utilise the same market benefit have to pay additional spice cubes to the bank for each other player with outposts on that hex, so it does become progressively more expensive as the board starts to fill up with outposts…

In addition to the above, players ending their move on the same hex as other players’ ships must pay those players additional cubes, too. On the flip-side, you can also move more than one hex during a turn, but this time have to deposit a spice cube on each of the hexes you’re passing through, which are then available for other ships to collect as they pass through those spaces…

Where the game gets more interesting is in the manner that you build your outposts: each of the outpost rows on your player board are marked by a trade symbol, and not only do you have to match the trade symbol to that shown on the market tile you wish to build upon, but there are bonuses to be had for successfully working through each column of your player board (by building an outpost with each different trade symbol and thereby emptying that column). Available bonuses include additional VPs at the end of the game, a free spice cube upgrade when you build an outpost, an additional red spice cube to the normal pair of yellow ones you get for using the Harvest action, additional ship movement, and additional cargo space; it’s fair to say that all of these are worth pursuing, but you can choose only one each time you remove a complete column from your player board.  And in case it’s not already apparent from the photos, you get additional VPs at the end of the game for all the outposts you’ve built, anyway…

Century_EasternWonders2.png

Also, instead of chasing scoring cards (as in the original game), in Century: Eastern Wonders you’re trying to make it to one of the Ports that are placed in the corners of the board, which serve the same purpose. Only three Ports are considered ‘active’ at any one time for the majority of the game (but they are changed every time one of them gets claimed), and the game ends when any player successfully claims four Port tiles…

It feels like there is plenty of room for tactical moves and strategic planning, but in practice you are fairly limited once you’re ship is on the board: do you spread your wings and try and build an outpost on as many hexes as possible before everyone else gets to them, or do you try and plan which tiles to build on so you can nab those juicy bonuses and take advantage of them before everyone else gets wind of what you’re up to?  In truth, it doesn’t really matter because things even out very quickly once the board starts to fill up with outposts.

Unfortunately, moving across the map, building outposts, and using the Market tiles slows the core of the game down considerably, and anybody who has played the original will likely feel the same way: it drags the game out just for the sake of it. And although there are some tactical decisions to make in the early stages, it soon becomes a real chore to navigate across the board, especially when the aim of the game is to get to the Port tiles and claim those VPs before your opponents do.

In the original Century: Spice Road, there was an element of forward planning to be done, because the scoring cards shuffle along for potentially more VPs (with coin bonuses to be had), and the cards available for purchase also got shuffled along and became cheaper. Unfortunately, in Century: Eastern Wonders it’s more a case of grabbing what you can as soon as you can, because Ports don’t usually hang around for very long, and it’s certainly not helpful if your ship is at the opposite end of the board at the time one turns up that you can claim… The box suggests a game can be finished in 30-45mins, but we’ve yet to play a game that didn’t stretch to at least double that length of time: the fastest game we had was about 1hr 10mins, and we’ve played it quite a lot in the last few weeks…

I did say I’d cover the combined Century: From Sand to Sea game, which effectively uses the cards from the original game and the market tiles from this one to offer up a different game experience — a commendable aim for sure, but I think many who wondered how this would work in practice are probably going to be disappointed…

Indeed, apart from a slightly different and smaller starting map, this really doesn’t add much to the game at all: you have cards in your hand and can buy more cards as per the original game, you have less outposts to build, and you can use the cards in your hand either to extend your movement or to take advantage of the individual benefit that card provides, and I’m afraid that’s really it!  You also get to optionally choose either a free card for your hand (from the selection on offer) or a bonus tile when you empty each column as per the normal Eastern Wonders rules (excluding the first one, which just gives you a free card)…

In summary, it’s hard to knock Century: Eastern Wonders for what it tries to do, but it’s also easy to feel cheated by the claims it makes: this tries to do something different with a proven formula, and although navigating your way across a board probably sounds like fun (and full of tactical decision-making), in practice it’s just more of the same, albeit a long-winded way of going about the same job.

My group agreed we’d be happy to play it occasionally, but it doesn’t come close to the streamlined brevity of the original game… which is a real shame, frankly.

Century: Eastern Wonders at Amazon.co.uk

 

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