SILK published by DEVIR is a really enjoyable game. I will admit to being caught up in the enthusiasm of the designer, Luis Ranedo, and illustrator, Roc Espinet, who I met at UKGE this year and that is why I have left the game until now to review it. I had to give it time to clear the air from their energetic eager devotion to their game before putting my own thoughts down in writing.
The front cover illustration on the box is weird. There are probably many names for it but I settled on weird because that's what it is. We see some kind of happy hunter with a blunderbus strapped across his back and by his side is his trusty twin-horned something or other - it looks like a cross between a Ram, a Bear and a Dog. At their feet and in and around the background, are two six-legged bug-types who appear to have several swollen red sores on their heads and backs. Finally to the right and in the distance is a dog-tailed, hairy, black, four-legged creature with bright red eyes and a mouthful of shark-like teeth. The whole thing looks like the Picasso had painted the results of the nightmares that would have occured in its brain if Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol had a kid, it's weird!
To clarify for the game; the 'happy hunter' is actually a Shepherd, the 'horned whatever' is a Mastiff (if I had a dog that looked like this I would be very afraid), the 'Red eyed Black thing' is an Ookami (of course, I should have realised that) and the 'Red Spotted bugs' are (apparently) Silkworms. If it's not related to the Picasso/Dali/Warhol idea, then whatever Roc was smoking when he came up with them must have been really very good stuff indeed.
And so onto the game.
It is a 2-4 player game with players taking pieces in their chosen colour and playing them onto the tile-made grid-board in such a way that they score points for various movements and placements. Players each have 4 Silkworm Nursery pieces, 15 Silkworms, 1 Shepherd and 1 Mastiff plus 1 Score Marker, all in the same colour. Although it may look to some like a regular tile laying and land grabbing game it has more than enough differences to make it quite different each game in as much as there is no one specific way to play that guarantees success. To begin with the tiles are laid out face down in a five x five grid pattern and then turned over to keep that shape, ensuring that there is a small gap between every tile as certain pieces have to be laid inbetween while others are placed on the tiles.
The tiles (pasture tiles of different terrain) all have the same flip side, a brown muddy illustration with a grass green surround, while the terrain sides showed Dry Pasture (yellow), Normal Pasture with small Rocks (green & grey), Leafy Pasture (all Green), and one 'Normal' tile with the Ookami's likeness on it (this is not seen on the flip side).
The other components are four improvement tiles (2 at +10 and 2 at +5) and Action board (basically a reference sheet for the dice rolls) and one Scoreboard (0-50), the player's score markers have '+50' on one side and are blank on the other. Like many games, the object is to be the player with the highest score at the game end.
The rules for 2-player, 3-player and 4-player games are basically the same with small differences in the number of Walls, Tiles and Points requirements. With the 'board' set up in its grid, the tiles flipped so the Terrain types are visible, and the players ready to start, each of them takes their Shepherd and Mastiff, one Nursery and 7 Silkworms, leaving the remainder aside for use later in the game.
Once a Start Player has been decided the players, in turn, place silkworms onto the tiles, beginning with the Dry Pastures. Only three silkworms (of any colours) can occupy a single tile at any time during play and once each Dry Pasture has 3 silkworms on it then the other tiles receive silkworms, always keeping to the no more than three rule - less than three is okay.
SILK has a Paper-Scissors-Stone manner about it, with the result of an successful 'pushing' action bumping the forced piece/s onwards. Silkworms cannot bump anyone, Shepherds can bump Silkworms and Mastiffs but not other Shepherds or the Ookami. A Mastiff bumps the Ookami and Silkworms but not Mastiffs or Shepherds and the Ookami bumps Shepherds and captures Silkworms (they are placed in its lair on the reference board). Apart from Silkworms, anything bumped off of an end tile into empty space actually appears on the other end of the row/column as the 5x5 grid, for them, folds round. Silkworms that get bumped into the void are returned to their owners and can be used again.
When placing Walls and Nurseries players have specific rules as to where they can be positioned. This is always between the tiles (on the table not on the tiles) with Walls adjacent to a tile's edge and Nurseries at a crossroads of four tiles or on an edge between two. Walls are obstacles that only Shepherds can hop over, all other critters have to go round them. Walls are also used to create a long line that gives an additional 5pts to the first player who completes a 5 wall section plus there are points per wall piece each time another wall is added (after 2 wall sections have been laid). 10pts are scored by the first player to post walls that enclose at least three tiles. Like the Wall bonus there is a special tile awarded for being the first - unlike many games once you have this bonus you cannot lose it. There are also bonus point award tiles for being first to place all of your Nurseries (5pts) and 10pts for the first player to place all of their Silkworms on the board.
Players Actions are based on dice rolls. Both dice are rolled and the player looks at the reference board (showing actions for results 1-6) to see the actions available to them; they can do them in either order but they must take two actions. The die roll can be modified by spending Silk Points (moving their marker backwards on the score board), one point for each point of the die changed, spending as many points as necessary to get the result required. Manipulating the die or dice is not an action in itself it only leads to an action. This costs you VPs (Silk Points) but it is generally well worth spending them to gain more by taking a better action than the dice are giving you, especially when you can wrap around from 6 to 1 for one VP (obviously not from 1 to 6 unless you spend 5 points).
The terrain tiles are worth VPs when grazed by Silkworms. All Silkworms on a tile have to be moved for grazing, you cannot move some only, it has to be all. They can be moved to different adjacent tiles if the player wishes but can only be placed legally, ie they cannot be moved onto a tile where there are already 3 Silkworms but one of them can be moved to a tile with only 2 Silkworms or 2 to where there is one per se. Moving Silkworms onto the Ookami send them to their fate in the Lair (if still there at the end of the game they score against their owners). So when grazing legally all the Silkworms on the tile score points according to the value of the tile and then the tile is flipped over to being a Barren tile. Barren tiles have no value but Silkworms on it can be bumped.
Bumping and Capturing are fun and give the players the opportunity to mess with their opponents, but in a nice (cruel) way. SILK has all that is needed for a lightly strategic family game. It is pretty to look at, plays easily, the rules are not a massive manuscript but are long enough to cover all the necessary means for fun.
As previously noted, the pieces are some cause for amusement, but this only adds to the congeniality of the play. Players may be in opposition to each other but in the friendliest of ways. SILK is one of those games that is enjoyable to play and is fun to win but there is no loss of satisfaction when your marker isn't farthest along the track. SILK costs around £25.00 and is a worthy addition to anybody's collection. Great for younger players (the box says 10+ but 7+ games playing young'uns should have no problem playing it) and for families, plus it has a soupcon of core-game enthusiasm about it.