Today’s the big day. Today I’m gonna meet the great Khan. It has taken months, if not years, to get here from Venice. In that time I learned the foreign language and recorded various stories in my diary. This great country with its variety of cultures has surprised me from time to time. Now I am curious what Kublai Khan expects from me. After first conversations with his advisors, I found out that he is fascinated by my person. But I, Marco Polo, am just a simple traveller from Venice, who may soon be travelling in the service of the Khan.
With Marco Polo II – In the service of the Khan, the new edition of the well-known The Voyages of Marco Polo board game from 2015 has landed on our gaming table. Not only has the name remained almost the same, the authors Daniele Tascini and Simone Luciani have also contributed to the first part. Dennis Lohausen is again responsible for the illustrations. Whether the publisher Hans im Glück has succeeded in improving the winner of the Deutscher Spielepreis 2015 or whether Marco Polo II – In the service of the Khan is just old rice in new bowls, we try to clarify this in our review of the board game.
Have fun reading!
Marco Polo II – new and yet old
Simply very well done, this is my short rating of the board game. Some readers will find this enough to review this game. But others will probably want to know how the board game differs from its predecessor Marco Polo. And still others will also want to know if they need a Marco Polo II – In the service of the Khan, when they have a The Voyages of Marco Polo in their board game collection. Of course I will answer all these questions in my review. But in the end it will remain that Marco Polo II – In the service of the Khan is simply very well done.
When I think back to SPIEL 19, there was a one board game that was simply at the top of my must-have list. And that was of course Marco Polo II – In the service of the Khan. It didn’t take any reading of the rules or research to decide whether or not to bring it home. The name alone was enough. Because the board game had one advantage that should not be underestimated: it was the successor to The Voyages of Marco Polo. A board game that for me felt in retrospect a little like the door opener to the world of Euro-Games and expert games.
The Voyages of Marco Polo was elegant, simple and yet very complex. It was exactly the right game at the right time and my wife and I got an appetite for more. Nearly five years later, Marco Polo II – In the service of the Khan now came on the table and convinced us immediately. It was there again, that feeling we had years before. But it was better and that wasn’t because we got older and couldn’t remember the past Marco Polo games so well. It was the little adjustments that the authors and the publisher had made to improve the original game.
Marco Polo in better
Basically not much has changed. I still have five laps to go to get as many points as possible. During this I travel from place to place, place an office, take orders, fulfil orders by giving away valuable goods and actually always have too little money, goods and camels.
The whole thing is still controlled by dice and their numbers. So I still roll my five dice at the beginning of each round and then place them on the action fields. In some fields, the first to come, first to grind, or the only one allowed to perform this action. For other fields, such as when travelling, other players may use them as long as they pay a small contribution. And dice with high eyes are not always really good, because they are more expensive if I place them on top of an already occupied action field.
And if my dice are not enough I can always buy some more dice in exchange for a few camels. At least as long as they are in stock and the nasty players don’t snatch them from under my nose.
An old friend
If you know The Voyages of Marco Polo, you will immediately find your way around Marco Polo II – In the service of the Khan. And those who don’t know it have the same hurdles as in the previous board game.
Whereby I feel that the small changes make Marco Polo II – In the service of the Khan feel somewhat more beginner-friendly. But what are the small changes in detail?
A little bit of change please
You can only get orders at certain places and for this you need an office there, but orders will stay there longer. In addition to the random actions within the cities, which you can only use if you have an office there, there are now two free actions available for everyone. These are exchanged every round, but they make me a little more flexible.
When traveling, you no longer pay for the number of steps when you use the dice, instead the cost is now based on the route you choose. Nevertheless camels still seem to be in great short supply for me and if it’s not the camels it’s the money.
The complicated and mostly almost impossible to fulfil destination cards from The Voyages of Marco Polo have been replaced. The new destination cards are also about visiting certain places and the new destination cards also bring you bonuses for the final score. However, they are much more intuitive and you don’t have to complete all the objectives on them, but still compete for victory.
Nevertheless, and this is another change, a lot of travelling is now rewarded. Because every city has a symbol and the more different symbols I collect at the end, the more victory points I collect. This favours different strategies and I don’t just have to make orders to collect points.
In addition to all the small detail changes there are two big changes. Firstly, a new raw material has been introduced with jade. It is either used as a toll to allow me to travel over certain routes or I use it as a commodity to exchange my jade for camels, gold, silk, pepper or money.
The other big change are the guilds. When you join a guild, they not only generate money, camels, victory points, or jade, but they also allow you to use certain shorter routes to get ahead.
But probably the most important change for me was the very first time I opened the board game box. Finally, the resources really do vary in size. While it was quite common in The Voyages of Marco Polo for me to grab the wrong resource, with small resources counting as one and large resources as three, this can no longer happen in Marco Polo II – In the service of the Khan.
There are also new characters to discover. As usual each character plays a little bit differently and has certain advantages or disadvantages.
Replace Marco Polo I or not?
The good news first, who does not yet own The Voyages of Marco Polo, can make it very easy for himself by getting Marco Polo II – In the service of the Khan. Even if there are already one or two expansions for the first part, the second game is the better game in direct comparison. As a whole, it simply seems smoother and more coherent without giving up the basic mechanisms of its successful predecessor.
Of course, the decision is more difficult if I already have a The Voyages of Marco Polo. After one game it was clear to us that we would keep Marco Polo II – In the service of the Khan and give up The Voyages of Marco Polo. However, we only had the basic game with the two mini-expansions The Voyages of Marco Polo: The New Characters and The Voyages of Marco Polo: The Secret Routes of Marco Polo.
I cannot, of course, say what my decision would have been if we had also had the great expansion The Agents of Venice. We would probably have kept everything, but then we would still only have put Marco Polo II – In the service of the Khan on the table.
And so, unfortunately, I cannot make a general statement here. I can only recommend every Marco Polo fan to play a game of Marco Polo II – In the service of the Khan.
The voyage goes on
For me Marco Polo II – In the service of the Khan is simply very well done. But I said that at the beginning. It also shows that it is not always necessary to invent a new board game by hook or crook, in which the mechanisms are woven together again in a new way. It shows that sometimes it’s enough to take the quintessence of a game and create a better and more coherent version with useful improvements. Even if this means in conclusion to leave a beloved board game.
Marco Polo II – In the service of the Khan has also managed to put us back at the table. And who knows, maybe this time I will manage to beat my wife at least once in the game?
It would also be interesting to know whether there will be a Marco Polo III some day? Because when I look at his curriculum vitae, I notice that both board games depict the journey to and the stay in China, but his departure or his escape from the khan are not yet considered. Maybe in five years there will be Marco Polo III – On the run from the Khan. 😉