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FLASHBACK: PALMYRA

(The Fall 1997 issue of GA REPORT featured a then new Reiner Knizia game we liked a great deal but, somehow, flew below the radar of many gamers. That game was Palmyra. Today, Überplay has revamped this release under the title Buy Low/Sell High, featured this issue. But here’s what we thought of the original way back when.)

PALMYRA (Editrice Giochi; out of print)

 

Caravans loaded with goods from the East and all around the Roman Empire made their way to Palmyra, one of the leading centers of trade in the ancient world. Now, gamers can become Palmyran merchants seeking to earn their fortunes in Palymra, the new game from Editrice Giochi.

Palmyra comes bookshelf boxed (part of the “Brainstorm” series from Editrice Giochi) and contains a mounted board, 44 cards, 36 wooden amphoras (ancient style jugs used to hold goods, 12 each of red green and yellow), four player markers and a rule book (with rules in five languages including English). This game is yet another gem from Reiner Knizia whose other credits include Quandary (Summer 1997 GA REPORT), Modern Art (Fall 1996 GA REPORT) and others including the design inspiration for Titan: The Arena (featured this issue) [Editor’s Note: This refers to the Fall 1997 GA REPORT]. Palmyra is a low complexity game for two to four players (although best with four) with a playing time of about an hour.palmyra1

The gameboard shows a stylized view of the eastern portion of the Roman Empire with the city of Palmyra at its center. Leading to Palmyra are three trading routes (paths in green, yellow and red) which indicate the respective values of spices (green), gold and jewels (yellow) and wine (red). A numbered track around that board is used to record each player’s individual wealth. There are also 13 spaces which will be filled through card play.

To begin, each player places his token on the number track at space ” 50 “. All players start with a stock of three amphoras – a green, yellow and red. The rest of the amphoras are placed along the trading routes starting on space number “24” and continue towards Palmyra. The cards are shuffled and five are dealt to each player.

Three options are available to a player each turn. They may buy or sell up to one amphora of each color OR buy or sell TWO of a single color OR decline to buy or sell at all.

When buying, the buyer removes the amphora on the board nearest Palmyra, adds it to his stock and pays the amount indicated on that amphora’s space, moving his token down the number track. (For example, an amphora on space 8 costs 8 to buy.) Selling is done in a similar manner but, in this case, the amphora is removed from a player’s stock and placed on the matching route on the first free space towards Palmyra. The value of that space is then added to that player’s total on the number track. This simple procedure is given a tremendous strategic twist through card play.

Once a player has bought, sold or passed, he must play a card. There are several types of cards in the game. Tax cards cause those players owning the specified goods to pay 2 points per amphora owned. Caravan cards indicate + and – values and may change the worth of goods. Contract cards impact on the payouts for goods owned. Mirage cards can cancel the effect of Caravan and/or Contract cards. (Once a card is played, a player draws from the deck to replenish his hand.)

The Trading Year ends when all of the card spaces on the board are filled. (With two players, only the 9 spaces marked II are used. With three, two additional spaces are used. With the full contingent of four players, all 13 spaces are used.) At that point, the value of goods is calculated.

All Caravan cards played are added to arrive at a total. A positive total results in the amphoras on a trading route moved AWAY from Palmyra thereby increasing their value. A negative total moves the amphoras closer to Palmyra and reduces their value. Contracts earn bonuses for players. If one Contract is played, players receive one point per amphora owned. These bonuses increase up to 8 points per amphora if all four matching color Contracts are played in the round. Player tokens are shifted along the number track accordingly thereby ending the Trading Year. Then, in burn, players may discard one or more cards, draw to fill their hand and, with all played and discarded cards collected and shuffled, a new draw deck is created for the next Trading Year.

At the end of the third Trading Year, players, in turn, begin to sell off their goods, one amphora per turn! When all goods have been sold, the player with the highest score wins!

That the game has not received more recognition is puzzling. Perhaps the problem stems from a glitch in the rules. As written, it appears that the first player option is that he MUST buy or sell one each of each amphora. However, this is NOT true. According to Knizia himself, players may buy or sell UP TO ONE of each color. This is a tremendous difference – and a clarification that may have been missed by the gaming audience.

Reiner Knizia is one of the handful of creators in the top tier of game design. Palmyra is one of his best! The game mechanism is relatively simple, the scope for strategic consideration is great and the luck factor is just enough to make each play different without being the dominating factor. The relationship between card play and amphora values strike the right balance, constantly challenging the player to keep track of his own goals (based upon the strength of his hand and holdings) while balancing his own interests against those of his opponents. The high physical quality of the components only adds to the pleasure. Palmyra is a brilliantly conceived game beautifully presented, worthy of Game of the Year honors. Highly recommended. – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy

copyright © 1997, all rights reserved.


 

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