Morocco is a 2-5 player area control game designed by Matt Riddle & Ben Pinchback (Fleet, Floating Market, Eggs & Empires) and published by Eagle-Gryphon Games. In this, players represent ancient families of artisans – snake charmers, water sellers, rug merchants, magicians and food sellers – carrying on the traditions of the world famous Jemaa el-Fna market square in Marrakech, Morocco. Through astute market reconnaissance and maybe even a little brute force, you must work to set up shop at the most fruitful stalls throughout the square.
How about a trip to the Market…maybe Home Depot if you have enough time?
Morocco is played over a variable number of turns, each consisting of two separate phases; one to gather information, and the other to make use of it! Now, the best view can be seen from on high, so you’ll take to the rooftops during the Market Information phase, scouting the area in search of the best stall locations for your wares. The rooftop consists of five spaces in a rondel-esque circle, each with a different colored market information cube. Knowledge is power, or so they say, and it’s from here that you’ll gain the needed resources to stake out your territory in the market. Each player gets one opportunity to move the pawn around the rooftop, collecting an information cube of the two colours that are adjacent to where they have placed. This sort of skulking about is sure to be noticed, however, and all other players will collect a cube of the colour from where you placed the pawn. Knowing just what your rival is interested in can be essential information in itself!
Having gathered a modicum of market information, it’s time to start staking your claim to those highly coveted stalls. Luckily, you have a variety of different workers to aid in your conquest of the market. These workers may have a special ability, worker value, or increased cost to play to the market. Assistants are your run-of-the-mill workers and have no special ability associated with them; Tourists will wander to a different market stall after their initial one closes; Cousins allow you to place two workers in adjacent market stalls; and Bodyguards who have a worker value of two, unlike the other three workers, can quickly help swing a market stall in your favor.
The market itself is formed from a five by five grid of stalls, with each row and column separately marked by one of the five colours of available information cubes, creating a two color coordinate for each stall on the board. To place a worker, you must first be able to pay the cost indicated by the stall’s location. For instance, if the stall you would like to occupy has a green cube in its row and an orange cube in its column, you’ll need to pay one of each in order to place a worker. When placing a Tourist or Cousin, you must also pay one additional information cube of any color.
It’s a crowded market, however and the stalls are small! Once the value of the workers in a particular stall meets or exceeds four, it is considered closed and players will score rewards (points, additional Bodyguards, gold coins, or juice tokens that will score at end-game) based on their contributions to the stall. After scoring, the player with the highest value of workers at that location selects an adjacent open stall to “overflow” into by positioning the arrow on his market tile in that direction. For each overflow arrow into a particular stall, the worker value required to close that stall is reduced by one. A well-timed market closure can potentially set off a very satisfying chain of closures within the market.
After each player has taken two turns (or passed) in the Assign Workers phase, the round ends. Players may keep one information cube to carry over to the next round; discarding all remaining cubes to the general supply. Market conditions are quick to change, after all, and old information can be worse than useless. Play continues in this manner until there are five or fewer available stalls in the market; at this point the current round is then finished and you proceed to final scoring. To total up the final score, each player adds up their collected juice tokens (2, 3 or 4 VP each) and gains 3 VP for each market tile in their largest contiguous area. The player with the most points wins!
Contrary to the frenzied activity of a Marrakesh market, Morocco offers players a slick, intuitive experience free of embellished rules and mechanics. While the simple ruleset is easy to comprehend, the diversity in tactics has engaging depth.
Starting out, aside from the high value juice seller tokens, you have very little direction as to where you should go within the market – it’s your oyster! The clever rondel utilized in the Market Information phase is so subtle that it’s easy to overlook the strategic impact early on. As the game progresses, the market begins to rapidly fill and the competition for prime real estate intensifies, making every market information cube crucial to sending your workers to the right place at the right time. Closing market stalls in the mid-to-late game begins to set up a number of “juicy” combos that can score sizable points and swing the game in dramatic fashion. Nevertheless, you will not win them all. Fear not, however, as a series of strategic second and third place finishes, which provide the valuable benefit of Bodyguards and gold coins, can be just as pivotal in maintaining balance and ensuring that you are never too far out of the running when the market shuts down.
Player interaction is somewhat high, providing for healthy competition from start to finish. For example, switching up the grid coordinates with a gold coin can serve to protect your plans or thwart your opponents, while slyly latching onto an opponent’s hard earned territory can earn some points and disrupt their neighboring area. Even with a number of ways to hinder your opponent’s progress, the tone of the game remains tense but not overly aggressive. We have found Morocco to be a solid experience across all player counts; however, as an area influence game, it truly shines with more artisans in the market.
The market and artisans are beautifully illustrated by Adam McIver and lend well to the overall atmosphere of the game. With its roots firmly steeped in the classic euros of old, Morocco provides a number of innovative, yet familiar, resource gathering and area influence mechanics that combine seamlessly for a satisfying euro-game experience in under an hour. This is quickly becoming one of my favorite designs from the dynamic Ridback duo!
In a market saturated with minis and dice-rolling, Morocco changes the pace by providing an accessible euro-style game that brings you back to an era of classic board games. The twists on simple mechanisms like resource collection and area control prove that there is still plenty of room for creative design work in these common features. Morocco is smart, tactical and unique in all the right ways.
The League of Nonsensical Gamers would like to thank Eagle Gyphon Games for kindly providing us with a copy of Morocco for this preview. Morocco is currently funding over on Kickstarter. Head on over to the campaign page by Oct. 21, 2015 to purchase your own copy. For $44 you will receive a full copy of the game.