Rocky Played Sail to India
“You can play this game but unfortunately we sold out and don’t have any more.” This is what the demonstrator at the AEG booth at Gencon 2014 said to me regarding Sail to India. If a game was this successful at Gencon that it had sold out on the first day, well that was something I wanted to look into. Sail to India wasn’t a game that I went to Gencon having never heard of. In fact, I had watched several YouTube videos on how to play the game and it was one of the games I went specifically wanting to try.
It was Sunday of my first Gencon ever and I had did it right and bought the four day pass (technically five if you included the blast we had on the Wednesday when we arrived). I had stayed up until four in the morning playing “Are you the Ultimate Werewolf?” and if you missed my review of this gem you can find it here. I had been given the ultimate present from my wife the night before, $150 cash to buy whatever games I wanted. OK, let’s say a really good present from my wife. Any games I wanted. Any. Needless to say, I didn’t want to squabble my newfound treasure on a bunch of games I would never play again so I knew I wanted to spend ALL of the remaining day trying out new games and then buying the ones I really liked. That’s why when I was told they had sold out on the first day I came really close to checking out the other games from AEG; Love Letter, Thunderstone Advance, etc. But there were already two other people who wanted to try it as they had heard good things too. So I sat down with the two random strangers, a husband and wife, as well as the instructor for my first game of Sail to India.
When we played I actually thought that we didn’t have all the pieces because there are so few. There are effectively only two components to this game (if you don’t include the rulebook). The game comes with various cards and 52 wooden cubes (13 each of three different colors). That’s one of the beauties of this game. The simplicity of the parts doesn’t take away from the complexity and fun of the game. Your markers, the wooden cubes, represent everything from historians, scientists, bankers to ships and gold. We played the first two rounds of the game before something amazing happened, but before I tell you what let me explain the basics. To offset the advantage of going first or second you have more gold. I was second so I got two gold, the same as the first person and then the third player got three gold and the fourth got four. There are 13 (10 in a three player game) cards representing the journey from Lisboa to India. Lisboa as well as the three starting preferred “coastal towns” are face up and the remaining nine “undiscovered coastal towns” were shuffled and face down representing the unknown towns we would run into on our way to India. There are three “technology” cards that each have four different technologies (for a total of 12 different technologies) that can be purchased for some type of game effect, All players are given their own Player Cards which consists of two cards that track Victory Points (VP), gold, ship speed and a place for your “scientists”. We placed five of our color markers on their starting positions; one on Lisboa, one on the gold amount we start with (for me two), one on the our starting ship speed (which is always one) and the last three represented our “scientists” that we would use to buy the previously mentioned technology. The other eight markers are set aside in a pool that you will use when you “deploy markers.”The last step to set up the game is to give those that would like it a “Cheat Card” which is a two sided card that has a lot of useful things on it.
I’m not going to explain how to play; the included rulebook does a great job of that. I will tell you that the object of the game is to have the most Victory Points at the end of the game. This game is about resource management. I’m not talking about sitting down with an abacus and finding the optimal path to India (because you couldn’t do that anyway because of the “unknown” face down cards as well as the actions of the other players). I’m talking about the fact that you get two actions every turn to manage your resources, whether they’re your ships, scientists, bankers or something else. You available actions each turn are as follows:
- Employ a marker: This is the only way to get markers from your stock and you have to pay one gold to put one of your markers from your stock onto Lisboa, it now becomes a ship.
- Move ships: You can move as many of your “ships” as you want up to their speed for one action. Once a ship gets to a coastal town you can leave it below the town and it remains a ship or you can move it onto the card to represent a trade good (each town has two buildings and two trade goods on it). A ship moved up to a trade good is no longer a ship and becomes a “trade good marker”.
- Sell trade goods: If you have “trade good markers” you can use your action to sell them (and move your trade good markers back to Lisboa thereby making them ships again) using the trading chart. The more of different types of goods you sell the more wealth and victory points you receive. (Selling only sugar would get you one gold but selling spices, jewels, coffee and sugar would get you four gold AND one victory point).
- Build a building: Each town has two buildings that have different effects. Use an action to use one of your ships to become a building. That marker is no longer a ship and now moves up to the building to represent ownership.
- Acquire technology: Spend the gold and move one of your scientists (you always start with three and will never have more than that) from your technology area to that technology. Once you own a technology, you never have to pay again or use an action to use it unless it says otherwise.
- Increase ship speed: Pay the corresponding amount of gold to move your “ship speed” marker up by one.
- There are some things that don’t require actions: Return any of your ships, trade good markers, buildings, bankers or historians to Lisboa OR use the effect of a technology.
So that’s it, six actions and two free actions of which you get two actions a turn and as many free actions as you’d like. It’s a simple concept but a lot of fun. I compare this game to Lords of Waterdeep (another resource management game where the person who finishes with the most victory points is the winner) both in concept and in its complex simplicity, easy to learn but harder to master.
So what was the amazing thing that happened to me at Gencon? After play testing the game a man approached me who worked for AEG and was John Goodenough, the Developer and Art Director or David Lepore, the Producer of Sail to India (sorry, I’m not sure which one as I met a lot of people that weekend) and told me, “Now that you’ve play tested it you probably want to buy it.” To which we all agreed. “We found one remaining box buried under some of the other games so we have a few available.” All three of us bought one and when we walked up to the counter he put the remaining games from this missing box on the shelf and the workers at the booth looked at him just as baffled as we had and he told them how it was under some of the Thunderstone Advance boxes (which did well too and that’s why they got down to the missing box). I left that booth really happy with my new purchase and have since played this game three more times (believe me, I’d play it more if I could), but as I looked back, the box of Sail to India Games were almost empty again and for good reason.
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