27th Jul2018

‘Century: Eastern Wonders’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

century-ew-box

I have fond memories of Emerson Matsuuchi’s Century: Spice Road, because it was among the first batch of board games that I reviewed for Nerdly. I’m also a fan of the game play, which has proven to be hugely popular among my family and friends, regardless of age or experience with board games overall. A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to receive a copy of the sequel, Century: Eastern Wonders, which is the subject of today’s review.

Eastern Wonders is interesting for several reasons, not least of which is simply because Matsuuchi’s first design was such a clean, simple and enjoyable experience, which always led me to believe that it’s sequel would be just as good. The other thing that makes this sequel unusually exciting is the fact that not only is Century: Eastern Wonders an exciting standalone proposition, it also acts as a fully integrated expansion for Spice Road. When combined, the two games create a third way to play, called From Sand to Sea.

Because of this potential for an interlinking experience and because of the overarching theme of trading in exotic lands, there are similarities between the games. Much as in Spice Road, Eastern Wonders centres around upgrading spices from the cheapest, most common kind to the most expensive and rarest. Whilst the original game did this by encouraging players to build a hand of cards that could then enable the upgrade process, Century: Eastern Wonders does the same thing via a modular board made of islands, each of which enables a different kind of trade.

Players each control a single ship which they will then sail around the board, leaving spices on each island if they want to move more than once, building outposts and trading accordingly. In the four corners of the map (assuming the basic setup) will be four ports, each of which will have an “order” token worth a set number of victory points. If a player can sail to that location with the spices shown on the order and fulfill it, then she will take the token and score that many points. Once a player completes their fourth contract, then the game end is triggered and the player who scored most victory points wins.

The game does come with a few other interesting wrinkles, as you might expect. Firstly, each player has a player card that is setup with all of the outposts in their colour in a grid formation. As they build outposts, they must be taken based on symbols that match on both the board and the player board. Unlocking complete columns provides bonuses of various kinds, including additional victory points, more space to store spices (the default is ten) and a couple of minor upgrades when trading or building. Further outposts placed after the first column also provide outright victory point bonuses, as shown on the player card.

Whilst I felt that Spice Road really came alive with at least three or four players, the effect of playing with low numbers of players in Century: Eastern Wonders is even more prominent. The board itself remains a consistent size regardless of player count, which is one factor, but another is the way in which outposts are costed when placed. The first outpost on any island is free, but each player who wants to place an outpost on the same island must pay one spice for each that is already there. This, as you can imagine, is far more of a challenge to navigate around at four players than it is at two (although the cost is doubled from one spice to two specifically in the two player game only.)

Even so, that’s only a mild criticism that mainly shows itself during the early game. By the mid to late phases, both players in a two player game will likely make good use of the board, especially once the “closed port” tile is drawn from the stack of order tokens and begins to circulate around the board. Targeting five or six completed orders is also a way to end the game between two evenly matched players, as the game doesn’t last more than thirty minutes at two and maybe forty five with a full compliment of four.

Ultimately, Century: Eastern Wonders is a pick and deliver game that really drives players to make the most efficient use of their turns. The player who completes their full order quota first often seems to win, but I’d also suggest that there are ways to negate that considering the available methods of accessing bonus points. Eastern Wonders demands that players both expand their network of outposts and fulfill contracts, since it is the former that enables for latter.

Now, From Sand to Sea (for those who have both Spice Road and Eastern Wonders) essentially takes almost the full set of rules from both games and combines them into something deeper and filled with choices. In this mode, players will still use the Century: Eastern Wonders board setup (with slight tweaks) but they’ll also introduce the Spice Road cards, which are now spent to enable movement of their boat. This mode allows players to sit back and use their cards to generate spices without adventuring nearly as much, but if that’s the path they choose, the board will fill with rival outposts and the opponents will reap the bonus rewards.

The combined game requires much more precise thinking (and I dare say a bit of experience) to play well, thanks to how many decisions it presents to the player. Action efficiency is more critical in this mode than it is in either of the base games because mistakes feel as if they compound quite heavily. Credit where it’s due though; Matsuuchi has managed to create a pair of games (and one that merges the two) across a total of about five pages of rules. As such, Eastern Wonders and even From Sand to Sea remain very accessible to all gamers.

As a huge fan of Spice Road, it’s easy for me to recommend Eastern Wonders. It’s a game that continues on the same theme (it is very similar to Spice Road and even shares some identical parts) and so won’t appeal to those who didn’t like the original, I don’t think. The combined game offers good added value for existing owners, but probably isn’t worth investing in both games for, on its own. I am now very excited at the prospect of what the third and final game in this trilogy will be like and I can only hope that it achieves as much as Century: Eastern Wonders.

**** 4/5

You can buy Century: Eastern Wonders online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator.

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