Century Spice Road, Catch the Moon, Sagrada games review – fiendish fun
A mission to track down exotic spices, building increasingly unstable ladders to the moon and designing glorious stained glass windows feature in our regular roundup of new board games.
In the latest edition of our board game roundup we’re crossing deserts in search of precious spices, building unnervingly wobbly ladders to the moon and creating beautiful stained glass windows using our wits, intelligence and a big bag of dice.
Century: Spice Road
Designer: Emerson Matsuuchi
2-5 players, 30-45 minutes, ages 8+, RRP £34.99
Century: Spice Road casts players as 15th-century traders traversing the known world in search of cinnamon, turmeric, cardamom and saffron. And while that might seem like an extraordinary effort just to pick up the ingredients for a homemade curry, it turns out to be completely worthwhile.
The game sees you make contact with merchants willing to trade different types of goods, and over time you’ll establish a mercantile network that lets you stock up on cheaper spices before converting them into the most prized and precious known to humanity. You’ll build up your supplies before eventually cashing in, selling to wealthy buyers before your competitors have the chance to elbow you out of the way.
It’s slick and fast-paced, and the fact that players only take a single action on each turn ensures that the game never gets bogged down in lengthy contemplation. But this speed and simplicity mask some real depth. The small actions you take on each turn link together to create some powerful effects, and before very long you’ll have built a supply chain so efficient it would make Jeff Bezos green with envy.
It feels similar to 2014’s Splendor, a brilliant game of renaissance jewel merchants where players battle to corner the market in exquisite gemstones. But while Splendor was a stripped-back exercise in minimalist design, Century: Spice Road has just a little more meat on its bones. It’s also the first in a planned trilogy of games, each of which will be playable as a standalone title, but which will work together to form a mix-and-match super-game using elements of all three. That’s an appealing prospect, because this first release is a very promising start.
Catch The Moon
Designer: Fabien Riffaud and Juan Rodriguez
2-6 players, 20 minutes, RRP £21.99
A Jenga-like stacking game, Catch The Moon puts a dreamlike spin on the familiar tower-toppling concept. Rather than plain old wooden blocks, players compete to place rickety miniature ladders one on top of another in an effort to reach the moon in the night sky.
In theory, that should be pretty straightforward. The irregularly shaped rungs slot together to create an ever-expanding cluster that reaches higher with every round. But things are complicated by a wooden die that dictates how each player has to place a ladder on their turn. You might have to link it between two previously placed ladders, or balance it precariously on top of only one. You might be forced to position it so that it becomes the highest point on the structure. And with the stack becoming less and less stable as the game goes on, the tension mounts dramatically with every tilt, shake and wobble.
It may not boast particularly innovative gameplay – if you’re looking for a fresh take on stack-building, try 2016’s Junk Art, which comes with an impressive assortment of game modes – but Catch The Moon is a beautiful piece of physical design that grows into something that looks like it could have come from the sketchbook of Salvador Dali. It’s quick, simple and fiendishly fun.
• Catch The Moon will be released later this month
Designers: Adrian Adamescu and Daryl Adams
1-4 players, 30-45 minutes, RRP £39.99
Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia basilica is famous for its breathtaking stained glass windows, and now they’ve inspired a game where players compete to create beautiful displays of their own. Each round of Sagrada sees players roll a random selection of coloured dice from a bag. You’ll take turns choosing one at a time to incorporate into your window, scoring points for placing dice in certain configurations.
To make things more challenging, though, you won’t be able to place dice of the same colour or number next to one another. Each player works to complete a different design, and the result is a game that feels a bit like sudoku on steroids. You’ll have to spot ways to maximise your score while avoiding painting yourself into a corner and ending up unable to finish your masterpiece.
It’s a head-scratching and constantly evolving puzzle that squeezes a lot of depth out of a simple set of rules. It also benefits from some real variety, with different window designs and special power cards ensuring that every play-through gives you a fresh challenge.
There are a couple of downsides. For one, there’s almost no interaction between players, and it’s easy to become engrossed in your own game, ignoring everyone else around the table. Things can also slow down considerably as players mull over the options available to them, leading to some long waits between turns. But if you’re looking for a game that’s simple yet cerebral, this is a tight and elegant little brain-teaser.