Doug Adams writes:
Designer: Reiner Knizia
Reiner Knizia has designed some interesting boardgames that prod the brain into action and get you thinking. I suspect the appeal comes from the fact they all play under an hour, so the game ends before the simple mechanisms become tedious. This keeps the game play quick and snappy, which goes a long way in explaining their charm.
The games I'm referring to are such gems as Members Only, Modern Art, Medici, Auf Heller und Pfennig, Durch die Wueste, etc. Palmyra is another such game, and deserves its place amongst those listed above.
The theme in this game is influencing the prices of goods on the trade routes leading to the ancient city of Palmyra. The object of the game is to buy goods at low prices, sell them at high prices, and influence the current prices to maximise your cash. The player with the most cash after three rounds wins the game.
The components in this game are functional, without being outstanding. The artwork is by the wonderful Doris Matthaus (of Doris and Frank fame). I'm a big fan of her work in boardgames, but here it's rather understated, with bland desert browns dominating the game board.
The board itself depicts the Middle East region with three different coloured trade routes snaking their way across the map to converge on Palmyra. The trade routes are made up of numbered spaces, starting at 30 and gradually dropping down to 2 at Palmyra. A score track, similar to Medici, runs around the outside of the board.
The stand out components in this game are the goods that are bought and sold. They are made of wood and shaped like amphoras. They stand an inch high, and are distributed evenly in three colours, red, yellow and green, which correspond to the colours of the trade routes on the board. The effect of them is very pleasing, and adds a lot of flavour to the game.
A deck of quality playing cards is also included in the game. These cards allow the player to influence the price of goods, holdings or cash. Finally, a clear rulebook is also provided, in various languages, including English. No need to search for a rules translation for this one!
At the start of the game the wooden amphoras are lined up on their trade routes on the board, one per space covering the numbers. Each player takes one amphora in each colour and is dealt five cards. The scoring markers for each player are set on the 50 space of the score track indicating their starting cash.
The object of the game is to make money, which is achieved through the cunning purchase and sale of the amphoras. On their turn, a player has three options:
After selecting one of the above options, the player must play a card from their hand and replenish from the deck.
Buying and selling amphoras is as simple as taking amphoras off the trade route to buy, or placing them from your stock back on the trade route to sell. The amphoras are always removed/replaced at the Palmyra end of the trade route. The prices are indicated by the numbered spaces on the trade routes, and these increase the further from Palmyra the trade routes extend. The current buying or selling price in each colour amphora is the the next free space on the trade route closest to Palmyra, ie. the space in front of the first amphora on the route.
For example, if a few red amphoras have been purchased, then the current buying/selling price in red on the trade route may have risen to 12. If all the players suddenly sell all their red amphoras, then the price may drop to 4, or even two if enough amphoras are sold that they actually reach Palmyra.
So, the task for the players is to watch other other players purchases closely. If Fred has 8 yellow amphoras, it may be a good move to sell two of your own on your turn (and curse the fact you can't sell more than that!). This will give you some cash at a great price AND you've lowered the current yellow price by two rungs on the trade route, hurting Fred in the process.
The other weapon the players possess is the use of the cards. After a player has bought or sold, they must play a card. Played cards are placed onto special spaces on the game board. For a four player game there are 13 spaces. When all the spaces are filled, the current round ends.
The playing cards are coloured in one of the three amphora colours, affecting that trade or holdings in that colour, or a players cash total. The cards are:
At the end of a round the trade routes are adjusted due to the '+' and '-' cards, and contracts are paid out. The game is played over three rounds, and after the third round is complete, players sell back their amphoras, one at a time, and increase their cash score accordingly. This end game sell off is tricky to get correct to maximise your profits, because the other players are also jumping in and capturing the great prices.
That essentially is the game. It's what is now known as "typical Knizia", fast, fun, tense, thought provoking. I consider this game, along with Members Only, to be very underrated but fully deserving to be ranked as one of Reiner Knizia's best games. Recommended.