24 August 2017
Cards, spice and everything nice fill this gorgeous Splendor-killer
There’s a wonderful moment in Century: Spice Road when everything comes together. You’ve spent the first few turns slowly filling your caravan with the dinky coloured cubes that represent the four spices – turmeric, saffron, cardamom and cinnamon – being traded, exchanging them for more valuable seasonings using upgrade cards and filling out your hand of dealers, who allow you to swap one combination of cubes for another. You may have even cashed in a handful of your spices for one or two of the scoring cards, perhaps claiming a gold or silver coin from the two leftmost slots for bonus points.
At some point during your first match – and a few turns into every game afterwards – the juggling of cubes and cards turns from a cautious step-by-step experiment into a fully confident spice-trading ballet as you lay down patterns of acquisition, upgrade and exchange cards to work towards the next rainbow of condiments required to score big.
It’s a hugely satisfying feeling as you race against your rival caravan leaders to build up the necessary spice, keeping an eye on their own stock of cubes and cards as you hope your card-powered cube-churning machine is more efficiently-constructed than theirs.
Fans of Splendor will find plenty to like here, as the battle to cash in colour combos has much in common with the popular 2014 gem-trader. For me, Spice Road excels over the older game thanks to its more interesting theme and gameplay that offers a far more engaging set of player options due to its combination of deckbuilding-lite drafting and resource trading, in comparison to Splendor’s more one-note collectathon. (Spice Road also supports one extra player and comes in a more travel-friendly box – small but meaningful differences.)
Although most of Spice Road’s conflict takes place in your own hand, light player interaction occurs as cards are collected from the central market. Trader cards are free to add to your deck, but those further down the line require spice cubes to be dropped along the preceeding cards to reach them, offering an advantage to rivals who collect cards piled with cubes on later turns. The cubes are considered to be unlimited – unlike Splendor’s limited treasury of chips – but certain score cards offer a small number of gold and silver coins that can swing the advantage for those who claim them first.
To get the most out of your time with Spice Road, we’d recommend playing with around three or four players, opening up the more interesting interactive aspects of the design while keeping play time a comfortable length.
These coins are metal (just try to resist that delightful clink) and, like everything else in the box, contribute to Spice Road’s universally breathtaking visual panache, from its gorgeous cards to the spices, which come with four diddly bowls to tidy up unruly heaps of cubes.
Century: Spice Road’s overall delivery is outstanding, offering plenty to chew on and decide in every turn while being easy to teach and understand, all wrapped up in a stunning, carefully-crafted package that makes every match feel like an event. It’s easily a superior successor to Splendor, and may well become the next card game phenomenon for those seeking meaningful gameplay without sacrificing looks – Spice Road is style and substance, perfectly combined.
Spice Road is a gorgeous triumph, offering looks and depth in a card game that can be taught to anyone in a matter of minutes. It never outstays its welcome and is hugely satisfying as everything comes together in a fully-formed experience.
Publisher: Plan B
Genre: Card drafting
Time: 30-45 minutes
This review originally appeared in the August/September 2017 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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