The souks of Marrakech are buzzing – the annual Best Carpet Seller prize is soon to be announced and markontour has made it to the shortlist. Well, not really, but this is the premise of Marrakech, the tactile game of rug trading that I enjoyed as bank-holiday evening entertainment yesterday.
It is a tradition in the markontour family that on Xmas Eve my Mum and I spend half an hour in the world’s greatest board-game emporium, Spirit Games in my hometown of Burton-on-Trent, choosing the post-Doctor Who entertainment for Xmas Day. This year, having spent our first-ever Xmas in London, everything has gone awry and so when a game was called for on belatedly arriving in the brewing capital we had to revert back to 2007’s purchase, Marrakech.
Marrakech is a rare thing in the world of strategy games, in that the entire rules can be explained and understood in less than the time it takes to brew a cup of tea. Even my Dad, whose mind habitually wanders the moment “game” and “rules” are uttered in the same sentence, agreed that he understood the beautifully simple premise of the game before the first die was rolled.
The backstory is this: the players (3 or 4) are carpet salespeople, aiming to amass the biggest fortune and have the highest number of rugs visible on the game board by the time the last floor covering is laid, generally after about an hour of play.
Each contestant starts with twelve finger-length rugs (15 in the three player version), which as play progresses are laid out on the seven-by-seven square board. Where it is permitted to lay a rug is determined by the movement of Assam, the market owner. Each players’ turn starts with deciding the direction Assam will take, followed by a role of the slipper-embossed die to determine the distance of his travel around the souk. A bit like in Monopoly, if Assam ends up on an opponents’ carpet then rent is due, at a rate of one Dirham per connected squares of rug. The game ends when the last piece of carpet is laid and points are counted from a combination of Dirhams collected and the number of squares covered in each players’ rugs.
Despite the simplicity of the rules, it is a clever little strategy game – very easy to get the handle of, but with plenty of tactical twists. Each player has to think a few moves ahead: where will the next player take Assam? Is it better to extend into new territory or cover the carpets already laid by other players? How can you nudge play in the direction of the greatest concentration of your own carpets?
I reckon a bright 8 year-old could get the hang of it and, indeed, a nimble-minded 73 year-old was able to win the markontour family game by a landslide, even if he was singing along to Ella Fitzgerald while the rules were being explained..