CENTURY: GOLEM EDITION
(please note it says "GOLEM" not "Gollum" it isn't a LotR spin-off) is the latest in the range/series of CENTURY games from PLAN B Games.
This series is designed by Emerson Matsuuchi and to date is made up of CENTURY: The SPICE ROAD, CENTURY: GOLEM EDITION and just about to make a general appearance CENTURY: EASTERN WONDERS. This basically a card game and like many other cards games the artwork (Justin Chan and Chris Quilliams under the direction of Philippe Guérin) really draws you to the game, thus allowing the game mechanics to take hold of you and then you are hooked. On one occasion a member of our playing group stated aloud "This is the best looking and best produced game I have played for ages"
I have only played the GOLEM EDITION (reviewed below) but friends who have played this with me and who have already played The SPICE ROAD have told me that they are very similar. I therefore cannot suggest which one you should purchase or whether collecting the series is a good idea, I can only speak from my experiences of playing The GOLEM EDITION.
Plays with 2-5 players (okay with 2 but optimum for speed and time is 4) 8 years old and upwards About 45 minutes to play
Components: The contents of the box are often what draw you to the game. I have already mentioned the artwork, which is fantastic, but to get to the cards and artwork you first have to open the box. Immediately you remove the glossy card rules sheet you discover a purpose designed plastic insert with the cards in one section and an octagon plastic bowl sectioned into four separate segments and filled with beautiful brightly coloured large plastic gems. It is held in place by a strong, clear plastic lid (it is quite firmly fixed but I wouldn't recommend holding the box upside down too often). There are also 2 small stacks of metal coins, Copper and Silver in colour; surprisingly the Copper coins are worth 3 VPs each while the Silver coins only yield 1 VP each. There are 2 main decks of cards, each distinctive with either a Purple (Golem) back or a blue (Crystal) back. Rounding off the components are the Player's Merchant Caravan cards which consists of 10 small sacks, each one capable of holding just one Gem.
As mentioned previously, the Rules are on one single glossy sheet (25½cm x 16½cm), just two sides of rules and yet still managing to include a fairly large, strong title section and also game examples and illustrations. I know just how hard it is to write rules that are concise and brief and yet totally full as far as the game mechanics are concerned. Getting points across in short sentences and entire rules passages in two or three line paragraphs is generally almost impossible. I have known it to take half a page to write down what is perhaps a very simple rule but in a way that all players will interpret it in the same way - as it is meant to be understood.
Once played - never forgotten could be the mantra for CENTURY: GOLEM EDITION (or all editions if they are, as suggested, very similar). Setting up games can often be a long or fiddly process, but in CENTURY: GOLEM EDITION you simply shuffle both decks of cards separately, give each player a Crystal card and an Upgrade card (all start cards are marked with a purple edge) and then you need to select a first player for the first round. This is the most fiddly it gets for if you have less than 5 players you must ensure that the Caravan card with the Crystals marked on it is amongst the Caravan cards about to be dealt to the players - the player who receives it is the first player and play then continues clockwise. A number of Gems are given to each player depending on their position in the start line, less to the first player and one or so more to the players in order.
There are four Gem colours and they range in value according to colour: Yellows are the most useful and therefore generally the easiest to obtain, but they are worth nothing at the game end. With the use of the Upgrade card 2 Yellows can be changed to 2 Greens or 1 Yellow to 1 Blue. As you can see the upgrade process is from Yellow to Green to Blue to Pink. All Gem colours can be used to purchase scoring (Golem) cards from those on display or to gain different Gems by playing the Merchant cards from your hand and spending the required Gems in number and by colour. Okay I have jumped a little ahead of myself here so let's back up a step. The two decks are shuffled separately and a number of cards dealt face up to form a display next to each stack. Five cards face up for the Golem stack, with the required number of Copper coins and Silver coins stacked above the 5th and 4th cards (farthest away from the stack). The cards in the Golem display can be purchased by spending the Gems needed, giving the players points to the value of the card bought. Once a player has purchased 5 Golem cards the game ends once the current Round has been completed. No "One More Round" so the game can possibly just stop dead, but all players will have had an equal number of turns. This keeps you on your toes and prevents accumulation of cards (no hand limit) and a sudden end flourish. The other thing that prevents hoarding is that players may only hold 10 Gems in their Cravan, you must discard those not needed.
The Merchant card deck sits just below the Golem deck and has 6 cards face up running away from it in a display of cards available for adding to your own hand. Like numerous games where there is a display of cards the card n display at the farthest distance from the deck can be taken for free. Any other card can be taken but the cost is one Gem (of any colour) per card to the left of the one required. Players buying or taking a free card that has Gems on it also get any Gems that were on the card. When using Gems to buy VPs (Golem cards) if the card bought is under the Copper or Silver coin stack the player also takes one of the appropriate coins. If the Copper coins run out and there are still Silver coins remaining their stack is moved across from the 4th card to the fifth.
Turns are quick as players have only a few options. They can play a card from their hand and gain the bonus it gives (clearly marked) and usually gives extra Gems or allows the swapping of a certain number and colour of Gem/s for whatever the swap value is. Another option is to obtain a Merchant card by taking one from the display, paying Gems for it if necessary. The thrird choice is to pick up all the cards you have played from your hand and return them for use again from the next turn (you cannot pick them up and play one in the same turn). Each card you obtain from the Merchant display goes into your hand and from then on you have its effect/bonus available to you. No cards are played and discarded from the game. Timing when you pick up all your played cards is essential. As you don't have to wait until you have played them all out you can play a good one for its effect, pick it, and all others you have previously played, and then on the following turn you have your "good" card to play again. This has cost you to basically miss a turn but in most cases it is worth it, and besides at some points in the game the other players will also have to "miss a turn" by picking up their played cards; this adds so much additional thought to the game play.
The Merchant cards you begin with and those you pick up during play constitute your hand and it is these that you play in front of you to get whatever they are trading. Sometimes they are just giving Gifts, othertimes they require you to swap smaller value Gems in quantity for less in number of higher value Gems. You have to use the effect if you play the card but you don't have to play the card, you are never forced to play. Cards that give you the opportunity to upgrade your Gems can be priceless in the correct hands, so if one becomes available it is really well worth grabbing it if you get the chance. Although it is designed for fast play you can take it at your leisure and play to whatever you are comfortable with, but fast is a great grin bringer.
Once you have played a few rounds you should be zipping around the table. When we play now it is very nearly like having continual turns as they come around so fast. Keep an eye on the Caravans of the other players because if they are collecting Gems to purchase a card you have your eyes on. As soon as a card is bought or a card from the other display is taken it it immediately replaced, the cards sliding away from the deck to ensure the new card is nearest the deck when it arrives. The last time we played it we had a seven year old as one of the players and he easily grasped the concept.
This is another game where families who are not regular players of Euro style games can play and enjoy. There are no complexities, no dodgy rules to learn, you don't even have to remember the options available to you as they are clearly defined and easily found on the excellent rules sheet. First player to buy 5 cards stops the game (at the end of the current round) but doesn't get any special bonus for doing so. The players add up the value of the cards they have purchased plus one point for every Gem they have no matter what colour it is, except Yellow which are worth zero and finally 3pts (Copper) and 1 point (Silver) coins owned. There are no other mathematics involved than addition, cards do not count against you and there are no negative values. Gamers will see opportunities for tactics/strategies Families will sit around and enjoy the fun.
It is beautifully produced, elegant and tasty without being gaudy. The artwork has the look of animated cartoons which give the game an added friendly appearance. It costs around £30.00 in the UK and should be available in your local games store which you should be able to locate (UK only) if you click on the link. CENTURY: GOLEM EDITION certainly hits the right spot for gamers and families alike. A great game that is more than well worth the current price.