You’re gonna need a bigger oxcart
Never let it be said that American games have a monopoly on drama. Where countless US releases offer players the chance to pilot starships or battle their way through monster-infested dungeons, new Eurogame Vejen lets you and your friends… buy and sell goods in the Middle Ages while plodding around on ox-drawn carts.
It’s not a prospect that immediately gets your blood pumping, but beneath this docile facade lies a game full of careful planning, economic wrangling and reacting to changing circumstances.
You’ll start from modest means, with just a handful of coins and some big ambitions – and an ox. Over the course of 12 rounds you’ll travel between the towns of Denmark and Germany, buying fish and grain in some locations, selling iron and lumber in others, setting up a network of storehouses and attempting to save up enough to bling out your cart with sturdier wheels or some extra storage space.
While it might sound simple, though, life as a wandering trader is far from easy. As you criss-cross the border between the two countries, you’ll deal in two currencies – Danish kroner and German thaler. Their values fluctuate as you play, meaning that with some judicious forward-thinking, you might be able to buy low and sell high, turning a tidy profit. But there’s also the risk that you’ll invest in resources only for the financial markets to turn against you, leaving you with the bitter prospect of making a loss on a trade.
There are a handful of things you can do to turn events in your favour. Trading goods between far-flung cities lets you charge higher prices than shuffling between more closely-located ones, with the promise of exotic goods encouraging customers to pay more. Upgrading your cart allows you to travel further on your turn, seeking out places where your wares will fetch the highest price. Investing in a sailing ship lets you skip between ports, avoiding slow overland routes. Building mills means you can convert basic items into more lucrative manufactured goods.
The result is that each round hopefully sees you becoming wealthier and more powerful. You’ll also navigate a series of random events, with storms impeding sea travel, plague cutting off your passage through cities or spikes in demand for certain goods providing rewards for players who can amass them in the greatest quantities.
It makes for thoughtful fun. But while Vejen is an economic Eurogame to its very core, its turn structure sees players alternate taking a single action at a time. It means that play progresses fairly quickly, with rivals trying to chain together individual actions for the greatest cumulative effect.
There are a couple of potential flat points. The values of currencies change randomly, and if the cards decree that they don’t move much throughout the game, it feels a touch anticlimactic. There’s also a lot of iconography to get your head around. But Vejen combines a respectable cerebral challenge with a level of complexity that isn’t too intimidating for folks new to the heavier side of the hobby.
PLAY IT? – PROBABLY
If Vejen’s bone-dry theme doesn’t immediately discourage you, you’re probably the type of player who might enjoy it. Its fluctuating currency system sometimes fails to fire in interesting ways, but it rewards long-term planning while forcing players to adapt to unpredictable events.
Designer: Thomas Nielsen, Kai Starck
Artist: Alexander Jung
Time: 1-2 hours
This review originally appeared in the June 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.