Marrakech – Review

I do not own a copy of Marrakech. I have played it in its digital and physical forms.

Over the course of the last few years, the tabletop community has shifted towards embracing digital implementations of boardgames. Whatever you think about this trend it is undeniable that they are a great way to preserve older titles. Instead of having to keep a game in print they can live on in a digital version. 

This resource has been especially useful for recording games for Cult of the Old, the cast I am making about older titles. I do feel that it is important as a critic to have some awareness of where the hobby has been, so that I can be more informed about where we are. Sites like Boardgamearena have allowed me to do that and I’ve been delighted by some of the titles I’ve discovered. 

Marrakech is one of the titles I first came across in its digital form, but have had the chance to play the physical version of recently. It was originally released in 2007, the game is currently published by Gigamic, designed by Dominique Ehrhard, with art from Jonathan Aucomte, Victor Boden, Marie Cardouat, Dominique Ehrhard.

Marrakech is one of those easy to teach and play games with a massive streak of mean running right through it. The setup is simple enough. Each player sets out with 30 coins. Starting in the centre of a 7 by 7 grid, the large wooden meeple representing Assam sits. On your turn they will turn left, right, or continue facing forward. Rolling a dice you move them forwards, wrapping around at the edge of the board so they can never leave!  

Assam points left on a quilt of carpets as a game progresses
Which direction Assam is facing in is very obvious

When Assam comes to a stop you can put one of your carpets adjacent to where they stop. Each carpet covers two spaces. You can cover other carpets, fighting for control of the board. Once everyone has placed all their carpets the person with the most money + squares covered is the winner.

The twist here is this. As you move Assam around you are inevitably going to land on some carpets. On your own, you are all good. Land on carpets belonging to another player and you have a tithe in coins to pay. Pony up money equal to the total size of the carpeted area you have landed on.  

There are two mechanics here that turn this seemingly sedate game into a nail biting experience that will have you cursing your fellow players. 

Firstly you turn, then move Assam. This means you are constantly pushing your luck as you try and move Assam and this only gets worse as the board develops. As more and more of the board is occupied by opponents’ carpets, you have to pick your way to the safe spaces, or at least calculate the chances of losing the least ground. Pulling this off correctly feels fantastic, a moment of elation. Falling into an opponent’s grasp is a trough of regret. 

As you move Assam around you can elevate another player to the level of threat while working away to occupy as much of the board as possible. “Look they’ve got more coins” you say, while whispering “for now” under your breath. 

The second mechanism comes down to the area control and the joy of setting a trap. As carpets are placed, the amount of are you control waxes and wanes. Squares are covered, your carpets are hidden, you form and break up areas vying for more points. You are also building traps. 

Assam points away from the viewer having just avoided the yellow player
A well laid yellow trap avoided!

Good play in Marrakech means setting up areas that are dangerous for your opponents, and manoeuvring Assam in that direction. In doing so you hope to get a big pay day, but also provide your opponents the opportunity to cover up some of your carpet laden kingdom. This gives a lovely tug of war between long term goal, and short term elation. 

Of course there is an element of luck in Marrakech. You are just pointing Assam in a direction, rolling the dice and moving him. The dice is marked 1, 2, 2, 3, 3, 4 so the luck is not absolute. There is a probability to be calculated of where you might end up, what you might land on, and where that leaves the next person. 

Like all games with a push your luck element, that will appeal to some and repulse others. Personally I love a good push your luck element in games, especially ones with a simple rules set. It gives a bit of friction to the proceedings and those moments where you can be brought low by your own hubris. 

I had seen the physical version of this game at a few conventions but had not had a chance to play it till recently. I knew the carpets were actual bits of fabric, and they stack together in a really satisfying way as the game progresses. The rest of the production is simple but satisfying. Coins are nice thick cardboard chits and the board simple but clear. The rulebook is well laid out with excellent graphics reinforcing the mechanisms. The Assam meeple is a great piece of design, making it easy to see which direction they are facing in.

Chunky coins of Marrakech
Look at those chunky units!

As a hobby we are fixated on the new. The next game, the next Kickstarter, the next experience. Maybe this will be the one that is the perfect game. We look forward when sometimes we should look back, to consider where we have come from and what can be gleaned by playing older titles. There are games that have been around since the dawn of the modern hobby that are deserving of reassessment in the current era. These games are less complex perhaps, but that doesn’t mean they are any less worthy of our attention.  

Marrakech isn’t the deepest game ever. I am not going to pretend it is. It is worthy of your attention though, and the new version gives your opportunity to do so. It’s a great production, with simple to teach rules that give way to an emergent mean streak. The push your luck elements elevate it to a game with great highs and lows with the sort of fist pumping moments, and hand on shoulder commiserations, that truly great games elicit in us. 

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Iain McAllister

Tabletop games reviewer and podcaster based in Dalkeith, Scotland.

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