Review by Ken Tidwell, February 26, 1993.
An early issue of Sumo's Karaoke Club reviewed a set of games from the Belgian company, Flying Turtle. About a year after that review, Flying Turtle released another game, Sindbad, which finally made its way to the States. The game is set in the world of the seven voyages of Sindbad from A Thousand Nights and a Night (aka Tales of the Arabian Nights) and is very faithful to the original text.
Each player plays one incarnation of Sindbad and must, through an amazing series of sea voyages, amass a fortune of one million miskhals by way of trade, treasure, and adventure and return safely to Basra. The sea voyages take you along one of three routes. The routes are of decreasing length, opportunity, and, in some cases, risk. The routes are made up of a series of Unknown Islands, stops in the Known Lands, and trade ports. Movement distance is determined by the roll of a die with the choice of the route going to each Sindbad.
Upon arriving on an Unknown Island a green card is drawn. All the cards in the game are wonderfully illustrated in full color and the scenes are taken from the original voyages of Sindbad. The results of each draw are illustrated in a pictographic language invented for the game. Thus "move back to join the player just behind you" is illustrated by two feluccahs (Sindbad's boat of choice) with an arrow circling back between them. The pictograms seem daunting at first but we've found it only takes about ten minutes to explain them to new players. It also helps that each card is revealed as it is drawn so experienced players can help to interpret. Besides, its easier to learn than Flemish!
Green cards can present opportunities for wealth but at the risk of death! If a Sindbad is killed, all their accumulated wealth is lost and they have to begin again in Basra. This seems devastating but with careful play death only occurs in the early stages of the game and a second (or even third) generation Sindbad can go on to win the game. If Sindbad survives, the green card is retained and can be used later in place of certain dice rolls for movement, combat, or adventure.
A yellow card is drawn whenever your fellucah drops anchor in the Known Lands. Yellow cards are similar to green cards except the adventures tend to be of a more civilized, less dangerous sort and the cards are not retained in your hand. No pain, no gain.
Finally, arriving in port allows Sindbad to stock up on trade goods. The prices in Basra are the highest in the world so anything acquired on voyage will net a nice profit back home. Sindbad can also acquire goods by telling the tale of wondrous adventures that have occurred during the voyages. This is accomplished by displaying appropriate green cards from your hand while docked at any of the ports in the Unknown Lands. Apparently, folks in the Known Lands are a bit jaded and don't believe a word of it when you tell them that your fellucah was carried off to the skull-shaped pirates' island by a giant, flying Roc.
Monsters and pirates can also be encountered. These can be overcome either by dice rolls or, if you have them and want to play them, melds of green cards. A dead pirate captain or the head of a terrible monster will fetch you 250,000 miskhals. But first you must get home with your cargo intact.
The final twist to the game is that one Sindbad can turn pirate and raid another Sindbad's fellucah. A fellucah sailing by laden with pirate and monster trophies will bring out the worst in even the most honest and forthright sailor. Whenever one Sindbad fellucah lands on the same Unknown Island or Known Land as another Sindbad (you're safe in port), they have the option of challenging them. Each Sindbad chooses one thing from the others pot of treasures (all the diamonds, that pirate trophy, your miskhals, etc.) to serve as the prize and then they go at it. The challenger presents a meld of green cards (these are essentially poker hands using at most four cards) and the defender must present a better hand or lose. If a better hand is produced the challenger is now on the defensive and must present a still better hand or forfeit the chosen prize! This gets particularly cut throat near the end of the game when several players are sailing home with cargoes worth a half million miskhals or more. It also creates a tension about when to use your green cards. If they are used to defeat the pirates then how will you defend yourself from other Sindbads as you sail home?
The box, the map, and the cards are all top notch and beautifully illustrated. The fellucah playing pieces look nice but are a bit fragile. The bits for representing the various luxury items up for trade (diamonds, ivory, pearls, and amber) are a bit small and difficult to handle en masse. We've taken to providing each player with a small drink coaster in which to store their treasures. A virtual fellucah, if you will.
Sindbad has come under some criticism on the Internet for being too random and not worthy of any serious game player. I'd chalk that up to a dislike of chaos in gaming. At every stage of this game each Sindbad must play the odds and weigh in the balance risk vs. profit. In that sense the game is very much like a very colorful form of poker with all the same opportunities for bluff and luck.
Sindbad is a wonderful game. So far we've tried it with more than twenty people, some gamers and some not. They've all loved it and have asked to come over and play again.
Sindbad is from Flying Turtle is distributed by Mayfair in the U.S. for about US$40.
Copyright 1994, Ken Tidwell
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