Every woman, every man, join the caravan of…spice?
Blue Orange games have a knack for releasing deceptively clever yet accessible small box offerings. Just look at the popularity of the award winning Kingdomino or the two-player stacking action of Wakanda. Tan-Tan Caravan, the latest release from Russian design Trio Trehgrannik, fits snugly alongside the publisher’s back catalogue, but does it offer something deeper?
In stark contrast to their last game, Inuit: The Snow Folk, Trehgrannik have shifted the action from icy card drafting in the Arctic Circle to sweltering set collection in the markets of Morocco. The game sees players competing amidst the hustle and bustle of Tan-Tan market, trying to amass the greatest collections of local crafts. Remarkably, with just a set of cards and a small central board, Trehgrannik have condensed what could have been an expansive economic Euro into a modest, but undeniably brainburning thirty-minute experience.
Setup is a welcome breeze, with six of the game’s miniature cards being laid out across the board’s lower half and the remaining stack placed beside them. The cards depict various goods, from tasty local delicacies to precious jewellery, alongside pesky mice and powerful character cards. The lower section of the board represents the market, with the first card (known as the purse) dictating how much money players can spend on their turn. The remaining five cards have their costs displayed above them. The aim of the game, and its central puzzle, is to fill the caravan on the top half of the board as many times as possible. Being the first player to do so puts them at the front of the queue, ready to snatch the most valuable goods.
Gameplay is swift regardless of player count, with each turn offering the active player one of two options; buy goods from the market, or stock the caravan. Buying goods allows the player to simply add them to their hand. Stocking the caravan allows the player to then place these cards onto the caravan. Simple right? Well not
quite. The market in Tan-Tan Caravan is an intensely dynamic place, with each purchase resulting in seismic shifts in the value of goods, how much money will be available to the next player, and how full the caravan is. Planning when to fully stock the caravan is key, and this is trickier than you might think. If you’re not careful, those cards you spent a turn buying and a subsequent turn placing might end up scoring points for your opponent! It’s ludicrously frustrating in the best of ways.
This all adds up to a tense and strategically deep game; qualities which are arguably obscured at first glance by Tan-Tan Caravan’s light Euro aesthetic and sparse components. Its theme might not immediately bounce of the game’s tiny board, but taking a look at your opponents’ desperate grimacing faces as they eye up an increasingly bloated caravan comically reflects the intense rivalry occurring behind the scenes of a bustling market’s humid alleyways. Praise must also be given to artist Sylvain Aublin’s inviting illustrations, which help emphasise the game’s setting with their pastel hues and an impressive use of light and shadow.
Thankfully, the arguably tired theming of Tan-Tan Caravan gives way to a pleasantly presented and mechanically sound game which proudly takes its place in Blue Orange’s catalogue. It may not have the awards and colourful charm of Kingdomino, or fellow set collector Sushi Go, but its deceptive simplicity makes it an excellent gateway choice, perfect for subtly demonstrating just how clever games can be.
PLAY IT? YES
Designer: Alexey Konnov, Alexey Paltsev, Anatoliy Shklyarov
Artist: Sylvain Aublin
This review originally appeared in the December 2019 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.