Sail to India Review

Sail to India is a new release in the US from AEG's Big in Japan line. The designer, Hisashi Hayashi, is no stranger to having his games imported to the US from Japan. His game Trains was a big hit at Essen in 2012, and was brought here by AEG in 2013 to critical and commercial success. Sail to India was released overseas last year and caused a lot of excitement.

Pretty much everything you get in the box.

Unlike Trains, Sail to India takes a minimalist approach to its design. Upon opening the small box, players will only find 28 cards, 52 cubes, and a 20 page rulebook. Does Sail to India rise above this meager component list to become more than the sum of its parts?

As you might expect, game play in Sail to India is fairly simple. As you might not expect, there are some novel ideas in the box that take a few turns to fully understand. The cubes in Sail to India are used to represent several different things. If they are placed beneath the location cards the cubes are ships, if placed on the cards they are either buildings or goods, if placed on a player's historian card they represent a player's victory points.

Those cubes sure are multitaskers!

On a turn, a player has two actions. The possible actions are:
  • Employ a marker - pay $1 to move a cube from out of play onto the Lisboa card (into play and available to perform other actions)
  • Move ships - move each ship cube up to your movement value, reveal any facedown location cards adjacent to any of your ships, and (optionally) convert ships to trade goods by moving those cubes onto an adjacent location card on the good pictured
  • Sell trade goods - sell as many goods as you wish and gain money and VPs based on the number of different goods sold
  • Build a building - pay $2 to place a ship cube onto a building space on an adjacent card - immediately gain that building's benefits
  • Acquire technology - pay the indicated amount to move a scientist cube from your Domain card onto an unoccupied technology
  • Increase ship speed - pay the indicated amount to increase your ship speed
One of the most interesting aspects of the game is that because cubes have many uses, but each player's supply is limited (especially in the beginning of the game), players need to balance what they are using their resources on. If a player would ever gain more than $5 on her wealth track, she would have to place an additional cube from Lisboa onto the wealth track to mark the money she has over the first cube's $5. But if she does not have a cube available in Lisboa, she will have to take it from elsewhere - maybe a ship, a building, or a trade good - but she cannot use any of her cubes that have not been employed yet and are still out of play. 

This simple constriction is the source of almost all of the interesting decisions in the game. Players need to manage the growth of their companies. Since the game puts limits on how broadly each company can effectively be, players have to decide things like, "Will having $6 in wealth be worth it, or could that cube which is only tracking $1 be better used elsewhere? Should I sacrifice that $1 to build a building I need, or should I discover a new location card and make that $1 cube a VP cube?"

While these types of decisions were very interesting to me, the game still fell a little flat. One thing I didn't care for in the game is that since everything is public, the game felt a little calculable. And with only two actions per turn, doing anything competent opponents don't see coming a few rounds away is almost impossible. While this is likely part of the design rather than an oversight, it is a part that I didn't particularly care for. 

Sail to India is certainly an easy game to recommend for board game enthusiasts who are interested in design and like seeing where the current trend of minimalism in design is going. It does a lot of interesting things with very few components or rules. The game will also appeal to those euro gamers who enjoy being able to "math-out" the very best strategy and know what the best move is for them each turn - and want to do so in a smaller, easier to digest package.

I have used the word "interesting" several times in this review, but I haven't used the word "fun" once. For me, that's where this game falls short. I think there is a lot to explore here, but for me, doing so was not especially enjoyable. Maybe I'm a victim of the hype or maybe I'm just done with micro-games - either way, I would give Sail to India a 6.5/10 - an innovative game that impressed me with its mechanisms, but left me feeling cold.

No comments:

Post a Comment