In 1271, 17-year-old Marco Polo started on a journey to China with his father and older brother. After a long and grueling journey that led through Jerusalem and Mesopotamia and over the "Silk Road", they reached the court of Kublai Khan in 1275.
In The Voyages of Marco Polo, players recreate this journey, with each player having a different character and special power in the game. The game is played over five rounds. Each round, the players roll their five personal dice and can perform one action each turn with them. The five main actions are shown on the bottom part of the board:
- Get resources with 1-3 dice, depending on the value of the resource (camels, pepper, silk, gold). The first player for each resource gets them for free; the later ones have to pay according to the value shown on the dice.
- Take one resource of your choice and two camels. Each player sets the minimum value for the future dice.
- Earn money, with any one die netting you five money.
- Purchase orders: The value of one die unlocks the orders up to that number (shown on the spaces) and allows you to buy one or two of those orders. Orders are refreshed and placed at the beginning of each round. To fulfill an order, players have to spend resources for victory points, other resources, camels, and more.
- Travel: Two dice are placed to unlock the distance that can be traveled on the upper part of the board, that is, the map. Here, the traveler piece of each player starts at Venice and can decide between several routes eastward, all the way to Beijing. When a traveler stops at a city, they place a marker there, giving them access to a different additional action for the rest of the game.
After five rounds, the game ends with players receiving victory points for arriving in Beijing, fulfilling the most orders, and having reached the cities on secret city cards that each player gets at the start of the game; these points are added to the VPs gained during the game.
Auf den Spuren von Marco Polo should not be confused with Marco Polo Expedition, which had the same German title.
How to Play
At first glance, The Voyages of Marco Polo looks to have a steep curve. There are numerous action spaces,
random elements with the dice, asymmetrical player powers, and a game board that is different every time you play because of the random setup. Fortunately, as complicated as the game looks at first glance, it is actually quite easy to teach.
There are three things to keep in mind when setting up and teaching this game for the first time (and I recommend teaching in this order):
- The Movement Board
- The Action Spaces
- The Player Abilities
The goal, of course, is to get the most victory points. Victory points are acquired in a few different ways:
- Contracts – You’ll spend resources and camels to complete contracts throughout the game, some of them offering bonuses in coin and other resources on top of the VP you get.
- Movement – You can unlock victory points through movement by placing trading posts as you explore the game board. This is very hard to do so it’s going to depend on a few factors.
- Goal Cards – At the end of the game, you will get points based on which cities you visit corresponding to goal cards you receive at the start of the game. Again, very hard to do depending on which character you get.
The movement spaces make up the top half of the game board and consist of several cities between Europe and Beijing – each major city has a random one time bonus to the first player who gets there and an action space card that anyone can use once they build a trading post there.
The smaller cities have recurring bonuses that you’ll receive when you build your trading post and then every round afterward. They are very good.
Better yet, all three of these card types and tokens are randomized at the beginning of the game so there will never be a “good route” you can learn and follow. It’s different every time.
The action spaces make up the bottom half of the board and consist of several options including:
- The Grand Bazaar – You can spend 1, 2, or 3 dice and purchase camels, spice, silk and gold. The higher the pips on your lowest numbered die, the more you’ll get.
- Money – There is a space for a single die to snag 5 gold or an unlimited bonus action space for 3 gold.
- Movement – Movement is VERY expensive in this game. It requires two dice and the more spaces you want to move the more it will cost, all the way up to 18 gold for 6 spaces.
- Contracts – You can buy new contracts from the bottom of the board. These are relatively cheap but you’ll need to spend a die to do it.
Each of these spaces has a die slot and once that die slot has been used by a player, the next player to go there will need to pay extra coin to do so. It can get very expensive and so, while it restricts options like any good worker placement game, there are only a few spaces that restrict placement to one player.
Finally, the last thing you should review before starting is the player powers.
Don’t most games these days offer asymmetrical powers? Yes and some of them do it pretty well, but few do it as well as Marco Polo. This is where the real beauty of this game comes in.
These powers are so strong and so seemingly imbalanced that when you see them you’ll find it hard to believe they could possibly work without busting the game.
One character can choose any face on the dice at any time. Another never pays the extra cost associated with using a taken action space. Another still starts on the opposite side of the board, which essentially nets them 10 VP for free in Beijing. It’s ridiculous how overpowered these are, and yet they are perfectly balanced.
This is the part that requires the most emphasis because players will want to do everything and they can’t. They should build their strategy from the first roll of the dice to match their character. A character with an extra meeple neglecting movement on the board wastes that power.
Revisions and Expansion
The Voyages of Marco Polo: The New Characters