Marco Polo II: In the Service of the Kahn

This week we crossed off a game that has been on our ‘want to play’ list for a couple years, Marco Polo II: In the Service of the Kahn by Simone Luciana and Daniele Taschini.

We had all played the original Marco Polo game on years ago, but never in person. Our memories were vague and along the lines of “I remember it being really expensive to move and all the player powers were really powerful”

If you know how to play The Voyages of Marco Polo, you’ll have a very good grasp on how to play Marco Polo II. It’s still a dice worker placement game where you’re using your dice to collect resources and adventure across the land, hoping to be the one who accrues the most victory points by the games end.

In Marco Polo players have 5 dice that are rolled each turn. On your turn you can place your dice in any of the action spots. You can go to the Books to get resources, earn the Kahn’s favour to get coins and camels (very important resources for moving), acquire guild seals, move (which allow you to put down trading posts in the city your movement ends on, and acquire more contracts from cities where you have trading posts. Many cities also have an action spot that you can only take once you’ve placed a trading post in that city. Some action spots require more than one dice, and generally the pip value dictates how many times you can preform an action, or an action spot requires a die that has a certain pip value. Most action spots can only be taken by one player, but some action spots also allow you to place your dice on top of someone else’s, allowing you to take the action as well, but you’ll need to pay coins equal to the pips of the dice you’re placing.

I can’t authoritatively speak to the differences between Marco Polo 1 and 2 as it’s been years since I played the first one, but I can say that Marco Polo II: In Service of the Kahn felt evoked similar feelings to it’s predecessor, but didn’t have the same frustrations. Each of our individual player powers felt equally over-powered and being starved for resources was less because we rolled our dice poorly, and more because we chose to prioritize other avenues. If the sum of your dice are less than 15 when you roll them, you are entitled to compensation, in the form of camels and coins. There are also free actions that let you spend a camel to re-roll a dice. I enjoyed this flexibility as it felt less punishing.

Image credit @Taed via BGG

At the end of the fifth round the game slowly came to a close, and we all turned to the classic euro-game experience of converting everything we have to get the perfect combination of resources to desperately try and eke out just a few more points. What was surprising that the player who was almost 40 points ahead in the first few rounds came second, as there are some amazingly significant end game victory points to be awarded.

I would play Marco Polo II again. There’s lots of variability to explore, from 7 different player powers, to 25 city action cards that get shuffled and distributed randomly at the start of the game, and a stack of tiles that could significantly change what resources are available each round. As far as Euro resource management games go, Marco Polo II is a very solid game.

Maglev Metro

I also got to play Maglev Metro by Ted Alspach and published by Bezier Games again, this time on the Berlin side. This side of the map removes the Hub, turning your train line from half a dozen short spokes all coming from the hub to a single line snaking across the city.

I don’t know what it is, but I’m not comprehending the puzzle that is Maglev Metro. If you haven’t played Maglev Metro, it’s a pick up and deliver train game where you have a menu of actions. You start by picking up and delivering robots (copper, silver, and gold) that improve your actions and eventually allow you to unlock workers (Meeples coloured in Pink, Lilac, Coral, and Purple) to pick up and deliver for victory points. The player with the most points wins.

What sets Maglev Metro apart from other train games is your route is built on clear acrylic tiles. This allows you to stack your route on top of other players, creating and aesthetically pleasing and less confrontational game. No route blocking here!

Maglev Metro triggers my loss aversion pretty hard. With only two actions per turn the last thing I want to do is spend one of those actions rearranging my robots on my player mat. I would just so much rather pick up and deliver more robots. unfortunately for me, there just aren’t enough robots to go around so re-arranging the robots on your player board to unlock and improve actions is a must. For some reason this mechanic rubs me the wrong way, instead of it feeling like an action efficiency puzzle, I’m left feeling handcuffed and unable to do the things that I want.

In this game, one player refilled a station to it’s capacity, pulling out 6 purple workers when only one other player had unlocked purple workers in the first place. That player beelined and started delivering the workers to their destination before anyone else was able to fulfill the prerequisites required to ferry purple workers as well.

Maybe it was just luck, but Maglev Metro isn’t inspiring me to return to its puzzle. While I don’t think I’ll be requesting to play Maglev Metro again, I’d play it if someone else was particularly interested. Granted, I’ve only played it twice at four players, perhaps reducing the player count will result in an experience I enjoy more.