What first caught my eye about Marrakech was a combination of low price and interesting components. A game about being a rug merchant that used real pieces of fabric as part of the playing pieces and one that I could pick up for under twenty bucks? While I try to never let chrome make my decision for me, there were enough decent comments about the game to make me take a chance on it.
It never fails to amuse me how money can so often be the crucial deciding factor when it comes to my decision to pick up a game. If Marrakech had cost ten dollars more, then there’s a good chance that I never would have bothered picking it up. I have to admit that I have definite thresholds when it comes to buying a game. That said, my dad’s old advice “If you wouldn’t buy it for a quarter, why are you going to bother buying it for a nickel?” comes to mind. The initial wave of me clearing out stuff from my collection was junk I had grabbed just because it was cheap.
So, I have become more cautious. After all, even if I’m able to get a game for free, it will still take up space on the shelf. If it never gets played, then that becomes wasted space. There is no such thing as a completely free item. Still, Marrakech had enough checks in the plus column for me to take a chance on it.
And I’m glad that I did. Marrakech is actually a quite decent little game and it has already seen some repeat play at the table.
First off, yes Marrakech does a real nice job with its chrome. The only thing dull about it is the board. Apart from that, the coins, the die, the Assam pawn and particularly the carpet pieces are all very nice. Since all the pieces are either wooden or use muted colors, the game has a bit of an old-fashioned feel but it is still all done well enough to make you smile.
The carpets get an extra plus for each color having a distinct pattern as well. The colors are different enough already that even my very color-blind eyes didn’t have a problem with them but it’s still a thoughtful touch that I appreciate.
At first, Marrakech seems to be pretty simple. It definitely has simple rules. Each player starts off with fifteen pieces of carpet and thirty coins. On your turn, you roll the die, move Assam that many spaces, and place a piece of carpet beside him. The carpet pieces take up two squares and you can reorient Assam 90 degrees before you roll and move him.
Don’t worry. It’s not quite that simple and not nearly that nice. First of all, you can cover up other folks’ carpet. You’re not allowed to place a piece directly over another but you can cover half a piece or two halves of two different pieces. Since part of the endgame scoring depends on how much your color is showing, that’s a big deal.
[It is worth noting that making the carpet out of real fabric isn’t just appropriately thematic. It is actually mechanically a good material choice. Cardboard or cardstock would not handle the uneven stacking as well as flexible fabric does.]
But not necessarily as big a deal as the penalty for ending Assam on someone else’s carpet. If you do that, you own them money. How much money? One coin for every square that that particular group of carpet is covering. That could be as low as one but it could be a whole lot higher. I’ve seen it go as high as nine.
The game ends when the last piece of carpet is placed. Your score is coins in hand plus squares covered by your carpet. Ties are broken by number of coins.
Marrakech is a pretty quick game but at the same time is a bit of a pressure cooker. The early turns are pretty innocent as you making your initial placements. Indeed, when I first played the game, I found myself wondering if it would turn out to be a boring bust. However, very quickly the board develops into a maze of traps and webs as you try to create your own blocks of carpet while trying to cut apart other players’ turf.
The role of luck isn’t as strong as it looks at first. The pips on the die are 1-2-2-3-3-4, which helps flatten out the curve. You can figure out the odds of getting the roll you want or need pretty easily and orient Assam accordingly. While Assam’s position and orientation do limit your choices, you are still left with legitimate choices and some degree of control.
I often judge a game by how much fun and how thoughtful-provoking it is compared to the time it takes to play. For instance, Advanced Civilization take a long time to play (a long time in my book at any rate) but offers constant choices. On the other extreme, Pico 2 offers only a few choices but you can play it in the blink of an eye. And, in both cases, the choices you make are crucial to winning or losing.
When judged by that standard, Marrakech ended up coming out ahead of where I had expected. It plays out in fifteen to twenty minutes but offers you enough control and choices to make that a meaty fifteen to twenty minutes. The random element of the die roll isn’t overwhelming but it does keep the game from getting bogged down by analysis. Plus, there’s plenty of room to play nasty.
I bought Marrakech because I thought the carpet pieces would be neat. However, the fact that it is a fun and tense game has made it come back to the table. It isn’t the game that we show up to play but it is a game that we’ve taken to grabbing while waiting for everyone to arrive or to wrap up the night. It may not be a game that has changed any of our lives but it is a better game than any of us expected.