Sail to India Review

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We played a bunch of micro-games at our June library meetup, and Eight Minute Empire was arguably the hit of the afternoon. That takes nothing away from Sail to India, though, which packs a meaty economic game into a few cards and cubes.

In Sail to India, you are a Portuguese noble out to better his fortunes by sending out fleets and bringing back goods. The “map” is a simple line of port cards, with each card featuring two trade goods and two of three possible buildings: a stronghold, a market, and a church. Lisbon is at one end of the line, and the final card stands in for India. Most of the time, whoever sails to India first ends the game.

Each player gets two simple actions per turn. You can use an action to employ a new cube, move your ships, build a building, trade goods or develop your technology. Each action is simple and obvious, though it make take a turn or two to get used to picking up all your ships and moving them around with just one action.

There are no wasted actions in Sail to India; everything you can do has clear benefits, and the board is simple enough that you can make decisions with very little downtime. The game has a fast pace, fast enough that you’re likely to end up an action short of your goals at the end of the game, so choose wisely!

If this were all there were to the game, Sail to India would be a solid but unmemorable economic game. However, designer Hisashi Hiyashi put in one little stroke of genius: you do everything with the same little set of cubes. Your cubes are your traders, your ships, your buildings, your scientists, and even your money bankers and victory point historians.

For example, each historian can record up to five victory points. If you’re doing well in the game, you’ll end up pulling cubes away from your fleet so you can keep track of your money and power. Managing actions is pretty easy, and so is choosing roles for your cubes — but doing both at the same time is a challenge, and it’s this exquisite little challenge that gives Sail to India its punch.

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