Monday, November 10, 2008

#36: Marrakesh

  • designer: Manfred Ludwig
  • publisher: Haba
  • date: 2002
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: 1979/6.55
  • age: 6+
  • # of players: 2-4
  • print status: OOP
  • cost: $12.25 (
I have very clear memories of my disappointment when I got this game. I was in my "buy games because someday my 1 year old will want to play them" mode... and I kept picking up Haba games from Germany because they were tough to find over here. (That, thanks to Haba USA and, among others, is no longer the case!)

So, I open the box, look at the great pieces (wooden camels & chunky tiles with a draw bag), and then begin pulling out the pieces that make up the board... and I realize that I already own this game. It was published some years back by Ravensburger as Up the River - not a bad game, mind you, but not something I figured I'd be playing a lot. Having a second copy with a different theme originally seemed like a mistake.

At closer examination, however, the games are not identical... and, much as I love Ravensburger, Haba did a better job developing & publishing this game.

Before I compare the games, though, you probably want to know the basics. They are both race games - roll the dice & move your camel/boat forward. At certain intervals (it depends on which version you're playing), the space farthest from the finish line is picked up & placed next to the finish line, thus lengthening the race path. It also means that pieces that stand still will eventually be knocked off the board. You score points based (sorta) on your order of finish... and that's it.

Well, that's not it, actually, because the two games vary in a number of interesting ways:
  • Marrakesh has more pieces packaged in less space than Up the River - you could fit 3 copies of the Haba game into one copy of the Ravensburger game
  • Marrakesh uses tiles drawn from a bag instead of dice... which means less streaky dice luck as well as making this game accessible to children as young as 3 (with adult help)
  • In Up the River, the river is moved each time the last player has a turn; in Marrakesh, there are four "sandstorm" tiles in the bag which trigger the movement of the desert pathway
  • Camels who fall off the edge of the board are worth 1 point each in Marrakesh; boats that fall off in Up the River are worth zero.
  • The final scoring in Up the River is linear: 1st place = 12 pts, 2nd place = 11 pts & so on. In Marrakesh, players choose from piles of scoring tokens (goods in the market) that have a variety of points on them.

So, why do I like Marrakesh better than Up the River?

  • Marrakesh is a bit more forgiving... between scoring for lost camels & slowing the pace of the board movement, this is a game that kids can jump into and have fun with from the get-go.
  • Marrakesh is substantially easier to lug around, thanks to the smaller box size.
  • The tile bag makes this game easy to play & teach with young kids & kids who don't play many games.

We've played LOTS of this at our house - and it's gone on a lot of trips with us. Some 6 years later, it may be one of my best "bang for the buck" kid game purchases.

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