Marrakech by Dominique Ehrhard is a quick and light game of dice rolling and carpet laying for 2–4 players, ages 6+, in which you attempt to manoeuvre Assam the carpet merchant around the local souk, laying your own coloured carpets as you go, and hoping to gain payouts should your opponents have the misfortune to land on them in later turns.
The game was nominated, perhaps surprisingly given its simplicity, for the prestigious Spiel des Jahres award in 2008. It didn’t win (the honours went instead to Reiner Knizia for Keltis, his souped-up multi-player version of the now-classic Lost Cities) but its nomination has assured the game a bigger audience than it might otherwise have had, and Gigamic’s elegant production makes it all the more attractive.
In the box you get a board, four stacks of coloured felt 'carpets', and a handy draw-string cloth bag containing the wooden money, the Assam figure and the custom, over-sized dice. The only shortcoming is that the four sets of carpets are not provided in equal number: there are 15 of three colours, plus 12 of the other colour. This is because in a 4-player game each player only needs 12 carpets, while in a 3-player game each player takes 15. All well and good, but I’d rather have had the ability to choose any combination of player colours when playing with any number of players. The manufacturers have spared themselves only 3 carpets after all — a cost saving, of course, but not (one imagines) a very large one. The result however is a minor annoyance, at least to this gamer!
However, this is the only shortcoming of the components, which are all otherwise top-notch and in addition rather charming: cloth is such an unusually tactile material to find in a game, and the wooden money chips make a nice difference from the plastic or cardboard chips that most other games use. The rules, which are presented in a fairly dull one-colour booklet, are however refreshingly short and straightforward.
In each turn you have the option to turn Assam left or right (or leave him be) before rolling the dice. You must then move him in a straight line the distance indicated on the roll (1–4 spaces, although crucially 2 and 3 are twice as likely as either 1 or 4). If you land on an opponents carpet you must pay them based on the area of their carpet connected to Assam's position, and finally you lay one of your own carpets alongside Assam, possibly on top of other carpets. All very simple and straightforward… possibly rather too straightforward: one might ask whether there any meaningful tactical or strategic choices at all.
Happily, there are! And happily, too, luck can intervene. For example players can push their luck with the dice, possibly risking a payout themselves, in the hope of directing Assam in a more favourable direction that could lead to a bigger reward later. At times the choice of which way to face Assam at the beginning of your move may seem automatic, but this is only because of the carpet laying choices already made by your opponents in earlier turns. It’s no game of chess, but neither is it so random that meaningful tactics and (to a lesser degree) strategy don’t arise. And it’s all over in around 30 minutes, by which time the multi-coloured carpets can be piled high and the scores can be surprisingly close.
So Marrakech has to get a big thumbs-up. I and my family all enjoyed it tremendously over Christmas, and although the youngest of us is 37(!) I’m sure far younger families would enjoy it just as much, and that it would be an excellent introduction to the delights of gaming for all.