Designer: Stefan Feld
A brilliant worker placement game, and arguably Stefan Feld’s best work. The Dice Tower guys rag on Trajan for being just a standard worker placement point salad experience with a Mancala tacked on – and they aren’t entirely wrong. However, the Mancala is central to the game experience, and brilliantly executed.
The game’s not perfect. It’s not a very attractive game, and the trade action is kind of clunky and hard to describe. It’s also got limited interaction with other players. Still, trying to plan 2 or 3 turns ahead is very difficult, and breaks your brain in very interesting ways. Trajan is a game I’ll constantly push to the table if given a chance.
Key Mechanic: The Mancala-based action selection. Scholars estimate that the Mancala is a game that has existed at least 1300 years, and a variant of it is the centerpiece of Trajan’s worker placement engine. Each player has a six bowls in front of them in a circle, which correspond with six actions the players can take. On his turn, the player takes all the beads in a single bowl, and puts them into consecutive bowls. When he places the last bead, the bowl that bead goes in dictates which action he takes (military, merchant, trade, etc). Beads are different colors as well — getting certain colors into certain bowls can trigger secondary actions or benefits – edges which are necessary to succeed.
The mancala is an absolutely delightful gameplay element. That being said, it can really befuddle players if they try to plan too many turns in advance. Which is frequently hilarious. If you like games that break your brain in interesting ways, this is a great one.
(Photo Credit: Metagames)