Harry Wu &
David V. H. Peters

Queen Games

No. of Players:
2 - 5



As playtesting of the new QUEEN-GAMES title Samarkand has revealed, there is a yet unknown similarity between camels and railroad engines: both of them are playing a major role in boardgames (co-)designed by Harry Wu!

As a matter of fact, the players in Samarkand have not embarked on a mission of railbuilding in America, but instead they have become merchants who want to establish profitable trading routes in the Middle East. Thus, the gameboard shows a map which broadly includes an area going from Egypt and Byzantium in the West to India and China in the East. Ten different merchant families have their ancestral seat in different cities sprinkled across the map, and each of the families has a camel of the family colour standing at their home cities. In addition, the gameboard also features a total of 33 different types of trading goods, and at each featured area a matching trading goods marker must be placed. The players however do not start with any playing pieces of their own on the gameboard, but instead each player receives a starting hand of 10 coins and two cards depicting different kinds of trading goods.

As it seems, it has become a common mark of Harry Wu's games that players need to invest in intermediaries if they want to perform any action on the gameboard. In Samarkand the merchant families have taken the role of these intermediaries, and a player needs to marry into a family if he wants to place camels of that family onto the gameboard. In comparison to Chicago Express, the players do not face an auction but instead they have to pay a fixed sum to make such a marriage and take a family member tile. However, only two of these tiles exist for each family, and so only a maximum of two different players can marry into a family. In addition, a player who initiates a wedding will receive a dowry of up to three additional cards with trading goods.

Each turn a player can choose between two different kinds of options: marrying into a family (as outlined above) or placing one or two camels of a family onto the gameboard (provided the player possesses at least one family member tile of this family). The first camel goes for free, but if the player wants to place a second camel in the same turn one coin must be paid for this additional placement. In addition, there are some general rules which must be observed when it comes to the placement of a camel. For one, new camels only may be placed in areas next to an area which already contains a camel from that family, so that in effect the camels of a family will slowly spread around the family's ancestral seat. In addition, each area on the gameboard only can contain one camel from up to two different families. If a second family places a camel in an area, it becomes blocked for all further placements for the rest of the game.

The first player to place a camel at an area featuring a trading goods marker will receive the marker (which is worth one victory point by the end of the game), and in addition that player has the chance to sell the matching trading goods card for three coins if he should have the card at his hand. However, the placement of camels at areas with trading goods also is important by the end of the game, since then a matching combination of trading good card and camels may bring the players a considerable yield of victory points. Thus, victory points will be received if a space featuring a trading good is tapped by the placement of one or two camels. The player who holds the matching trading good card (and has not sold it) will receive one victory point for each camel placed there, but this will be increased to four points per camel if the camels belong to families from which the player has acquired a family member tile. So, the selling of a trading good card may come quite handy if a player is running low on money, but since money only translates into victory points on a one-to-one base it may be more valuable to hold onto a trading good card in order to receive more victory points at the game's end.


A further gain which can be made through camel placement is triggered by making connections between different families. As indicated, each area on the gameboard can hold one camel from up to two families. When the camels of two families meet for the first time, the player(s) who have acquired family members of the family which has been used to make the placement will receive three coins for each family member. On the other hand, the player(s) with family members of the family to which the connection was made will receive one coin per family member. And as a further bonus, the player who has made the connection will receive a connection tile, and that tile has a value of one victory point by the end of the game.

The game ends when either all 10 families actively have made at least one connection, or when one family has made its fifth connection. Now the victory points will be determined by counting money, trading good markers and connection tiles, and finally adding points generated through trading good cards tapped by the placement of camels at the matching areas. As usual, the player with the highest score wins the game.

As playtesting revealed Samarkand is orientated towards the pursuance of short-time goals, whereas strategic planning is less pronounced. On the one hand, the players will keep an eye on each other in order to spot possibilities to make valuable family connections, but on the other side the players also may try to gain as much value out of their trading good cards as possible. Only the first two of these cards are randomly drawn, but as indicated the rest is received as a dowry upon making a wedding, and here a player has a chance to refuse cards which only would block his maximum hand capacity (because the matching trading good areas simply would be out of reach of the player's families). This mechanism of superficial "card control" invites the players to plot a few turns ahead, but because of the limited number of actions during a turn (marriage or one or two camel placements) there is a good chance that long-running plans may be spoiled by unexpected actions of the other players.

If a comparison to Chicago Express is made, this reduction of long-term strategy leads to a somewhat more equalized gameplay which gives players who have fallen behind a chance to catch up again, but on the other hand the drawing of the trading good cards still is the weakest element because of the shifting luck upon drawing these cards. To reduce a high risk in the second half of the game the players will try to marry into their first two or three families as fast as possible, and this in turn leads to somewhat comparable openings from one game to the next, so that the re-play value of Samarkand will suffer a bit on the long run. Here the graphic design of the whole game offers no consolation either, since the gameboard is rather colourless and a bit dull to look at. Okay, it may have been wise to reduce the level of details for the sake of keeping a good overview, but nonetheless it seems that the graphic design of the game was not finished. Thus, Samarkand unfortunately falls behind the much more sophisticated Chicago Express on all levels, and due to the similarities between both games the assumption cannot be refused that Samarkand was a way to use up some rules which might have been included in an early prototype of Chicago Express.

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Copyright © 2010 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany