Full disclosure: A review copy of Marrakech was provided by Hachette Boardgames.
As a Christmas miracle of some kind, I’m just writing writing writing through the end of the year. It’s a pretty relaxing way to spend the holidays, especially since the weather across the country is getting progressively more and more terrible (as of writing). Not too bad out here, thankfully. But it’s going to be a few more days of just photography and editing, back and forth for a while to try and get ahead on these reviews ahead of the big #1000 (and some January travel). It means there’s going to be a lot of new games on the site, though, so look forward to that. Let’s see what’s going on with Marrakech!
In Marrakech, players take on the role of rug sellers trying to make a name for themselves in town. Assam, one of the locals, is looking to buy a rug, and you think that you can sell him one, provided you can get him close enough that he’ll really get to see the goods. Everyone wants that, though, so he’s going to be spinning around quite a bit over the course of the game. Earn some money, place some of your rugs around, see where things go! Will you be able to peddle your wares the best?
Player Count Differences
From your perspective as a player, not much changes with additional players in the game. What’s interesting is at two players, you each play with two different sets of rugs, drawing one at random each turn. It’s an interesting challenge, since now you’re tasked with making large sets of rugs without necessarily messing up your other set of the other color. Thankfully, it gives you more safe places to move after you’ve rolled the die, so you may be more able to avoid your opponent’s rugs (and having to pay them). With more players, you’ve got more unsafe spots, but that’s okay! You may find that your opponents can’t necessarily get as big of an area covered in rugs (since there are more players playing between each player turn). The challenge of more players is that you may end up seeing an inadvertent kingmaker emerge. If one player keeps wandering into another player’s rugs, there’s not a whole lot that you can do. You can’t really steer any other player on your turn; you can only hope that you can successfully take more of their money than your opponents do. I tend to prefer the game at two, as a result; having the game be effectively zero-sum does wonders for the strategy of it all. More players isn’t bad, but losing the game as a result of factors you can’t control doesn’t always make for the funnest outcome.
- Your ideal state is one with a ton of your rugs connected in a large group. The larger the area, the easier it becomes to trap your opponents at any point in that gigantic area. Plus, the bigger it is, the more they have to pay you. You earn some points for having your rugs present on the board, yes, but the more persistent points and the more easily-gained points come from getting your opponents to pay you on their turn. Plus, it takes points away from them, which is always ideal.
- Keep in mind that a big group can be split apart by another player, but if you make the group large enough, they have to be inside of it to break it up, and that usually means they’re paying you. If they split your big rug area apart, then even landing on it isn’t going to cost them nearly as much, so you have to make it extremely risky or pricey to go after your rug zone.
- Keep probability in mind before you decide how to rotate. There are six faces on the die, so, which is the most likely to appear when you roll? Based on that, where do you think it’s going to be easiest to point yourself towards? If you can lock that down, you can hopefully luck out and not end up spending all of your money paying your opponents.
- You can use the edges of the board to your advantage, especially if you don’t want to end up on an opponent’s space. If you have a safe space on the edge or the corner, you can usually direct yourself toward it (especially the corners) in the hopes that you’ll use the board edge pathways to land on that space at least once. The corners, in particular, let you land on the same space twice, so you can use that to potentially eliminate 50% of the options and stay safe.
- If you’re stuck, try to aim for the smallest group of your opponent’s rugs so you can at least keep some of your money. Sometimes you have no good movement options! If you think that’s the case, at least direct yourself into the smallest area of your opponent’s rugs so that you don’t lose too much money. It’s not ideal, but sometimes you just need to make the best of a bad situation.
- You can also sacrifice a bit of your money to put your opponent in a spot where it’s hard for them to avoid your rugs on their turn. If you set it up correctly, you may have to spend some money, but you may be able to trap your opponent such that their only movement options lead directly into your rugs! That’s ideal.
- In a two-player game, you need to make sure you keep your two rug types separate; you don’t want to cover your rugs with your other rugs, after all. You’ll be effectively drawing rugs at random from a shuffled stack of both colors. This means that you can’t just try and build one massive area of rugs; instead, you want to try and divide and conquer on two fronts. Either way, your opponent pays you, but you don’t want to cover one of your rug areas with the other color rug and split your areas up. Instead, try and keep them separated, so you can maximize profit if your opponent lands on either of your colors.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Surprising nobody, the best part of this game is the tiny rugs. They’re so pleasant! A fun component goes a long way in board games; otherwise, we’d just be playing video games. They’re light and soft and they stack nicely, which is very fun. It’s just a novel little thing to spice up a game.
- I usually don’t like area control at all, but this was surprisingly pleasant. I think, here, you’re doing a bit less explicit area control and more making an unsafe area for your opponent and hoping they’ll wander in. For some reason, that spot of separation is enough for my brain to not directly associate it as “area control”, I suppose. I think the strategy is a bit different, as well, though at a high level I’d still classify Marrakech as area control.
- I appreciate how the two-player game forces you to stay out of your own way, to some degree. I really like two-player games where you control two different colors. On the surface, it seems like it’s just dummy players, but here, I think it nicely changes the strategy up to be something unique and interesting. Plus, double the rugs; what’s not to like?
- Plays pretty quickly. I think there’s a certain amount of time that, like most strategy games, you need to engage with the game to get the strategy down, but fundamentally it’s just roll the die, place a rug, try to avoid having to pay out. It’s not too quick to pick up and there aren’t an overwhelming number of choices on your turn. I tend to prefer games in this part of town, so, this is a plus for me.
- A pleasantly approachable game. That quick play and quick learn both make for a game that doesn’t present a ton of cognitive overhead, Add in the nice components and you’ve got a game that’s pretty easy to learn for a variety of players, so it’s nice and approachable, too.
- I like the colors and the art style a lot! When I’m looking for a game, I’m generally looking for something that’s bright, colorful, and engaging. I use these words a lot in reviews! This meets that criteria for me. I think bright games tend to look good on the table and get players interested, at least a lot more so than a lot of the beiger games I’ve seen in the past. Since I’m often trying to get my friends and coworkers to try new stuff, that’s a draw for me.
- Calculating how much you have to pay other players isn’t as complicated as I thought it would be, either. It’s one coin per visible square, which isn’t too bad. The squares are pretty easy to count during the game, so that speeds up the process a lot.
- I completely understand why and agree with the design choice to not allow players to completely cover another player’s rug with their own, but boy howdy you’re going to be in a spot where you want to do that a lot. It’s just an odd quirk of the game, I suppose. I think there’s an obvious reason for why you can’t just stack your rug directly on top of someone else’s both from a gameplay and an aesthetic perspective, but as the game gets going, there are going to be key points where that feels bad from a player perspective. Just kind of let that wave wash over you, I guess. Or try to build a strategy around making that what your opponent wants and can’t have. The latter is tougher but likely more fulfilling.
- Oh, I suppose there is one thing I don’t love about two-player games: the rugs are impossible to shuffle. They’re a very pleasant felt, which doesn’t lend itself well to riffle shuffling or anything particularly useful, and you have to mix them into one pile to play a two-player game, which doesn’t totally work that well. Not much to do about it; just something you should be emotionally prepared for.
- The variant where you rotate the pawn after your turn is considerably less fun, since you always just direct the next player into your rugs so that you can score points. It’s an odd variant, because you’re just consistently steering your opponent into your rugs. It basically boils down to whichever player has better luck with dice (and, I suppose, is better about placing rugs). It doesn’t feel amazing? It just feels a bit rote.
- I don’t love this with more than two players. Similarly, I find this frustrating with more than two players, as I mentioned above. You can, effectively, play a pretty good game and have no shot at winning for no reason beyond another player accidentally kingmaking your opponent, which is frustrating. I think the zero-sum gameplay of two players (where any coins you give go to your opponent and any coins you take are taken from your opponent. It makes the game feel a bit more within your control, as a player, which is nice.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, I like Marrakech! It’s a very cute introduction to area control games that’s also a very pleasant tactile experience. We love the little rugs; they kind of make the whole thing come together nicely. They stack pleasantly, they’re soft to the touch; it’s a great component. And since most of the game revolves around that component, it works nicely. I’m not much for area control games normally, but I think what I like about Marrakech is that it’s very simple. It’s easy to set up, it’s easy to learn, and it’s easy to play. That’s great for me. The more complex it gets, the more I get bogged down in the fundamental meanness of the genre, and this is almost blameless? Granted, the variant where you get to rotate the pawn at the end of the turn (rather than the start of your turn) means that you can play very mean if you want, directing your opponent into your rugs to try and steal all of their cash. I don’t care as much for that. The randomness of the standard play is a bit more fun; you’re essentially laying traps and hoping that your opponent wanders into them. This is why I like Marrakech at two in particular. It’s so zero-sum! You’re either giving coins or taking coins. With more players, you run into an uncomfortable reality where you might be completely out of the loop while your opponents are giving coins away, which can be pretty frustrating. That may be a problem with area control games more generally, but that’s a different conversation that’s likely outside the scope of this review. Marrakech keeps things pretty simple, and I think that’s likely why it’ll stick around, for me. If you’re looking for a nice and approachable area control game, you enjoy a good tiny rug, or you just want to get started with area control, you might enjoy Marrakech, as well!
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