A Sinfully-Delightful Masterpiece: The Road to Canterbury Review
“Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote, The droghte of March hath perced to the roote, and the peoeple dyd feast upon the lambs and slothes, and carp and anchovyes, and orangutans and breakfaest cyreals, and fruyt-bats…”
- the General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales, paraphrased
Sometime in the late 14th Century, author, philosopher and alchemist Geoffrey Chaucer – having dutifully observed and soulfully absorbed the full folly and sin of mankind in his surroundings – decided to share his singular vision with a vast audience in the way he truly knew best: through sarcasm, lyrical satire and bawdy humor. Early in the 21st Century, English professor, troll wrangler and board game designer Alf Seegert – having dutifully observed and soulfully absorbed the full folly and skill of the board gamers in his surroundings – decided to share his singular vision with a vast audience in the way he truly knew best: by insanely adapting Chaucer’s classic and influential works into a game that encourages extortion, makes profit of death, and extolls the virtues of good ol’ St. Nick’s underpants. If you ask me, Alf automatically wins this particular contest of creativity.
Now, before some of you out me for review fraudulence, I must admit to a few small things. Did I create the video for The Road to Canterbury Kickstarter campaign? Yes, I did. Was I paid exorbitant sums of money for said video, enough with which to roll around in a small tub, and was I sent a copy of the game, for free, over a month before the game was to be released for mass consumption or sent to Kickstarter backers? Well, yes, yes, and yes. Do I owe Alf Seegert my life after dragging me to a chopper amidst the Viet Cong-infested jungles back in ‘Nam? You’ve got me there. However, does that mean I am not a reliable source for an objective review? Absolutely not. And for those that don’t believe a word of that, it won’t really matter anyway – you’ll all buy it after The Dice Tower throws holy gaming water on it in video #32,546 in a few weeks.
Now, on with the totally-unbiased review.
For those not wholly in the know, The Road to Canterbury is based on Geoffrey Chaucer’s seminal works, The Canterbury Tales. It remains one of the greatest works in English poetry and literature, surpassed only by Danielle Steele’s Five Days in Paris and Owen Gleiberman’s thesaurus-bursting 2009 review of the motion picture Watchmen*. In The Road to Canterbury, players take on the role of the famed Pardoner from Chaucer’s bawdy tales, set out to corrupt the travelers making a pilgrimage to Canterbury so that indulgences can be sold to “pardon” their sins, thus adding to the growing collection of coins in each player’s fattening purse. At first glance of the rule book, the mechanisms for gaining such coins seem oddly convoluted, but after a couple of rounds of play, it all seems oddly natural – as if leading some into temptation only to “deliver” them from evil were second nature.
And, so, a brief overview of the rules:
Each player begins the game with five random Sin cards. These cards are used to tempt one of three voyaging pilgrims on their way to Canterbury. For each successful Sin card played to a pilgrim, Pardoners place a corruption cube of their color on one of the spaces that match the flavor of Sin just played. If any Pardoner manages to place a corruption cube on all seven spaces, they will receive a huge payout from the Pardoner’s Guild.
- Pardoners may play one card of any type – Sin, Pardon or Relic – from their hand each turn.
- Sin cards are played just as in the example above, gaining the Pardoner a corruption cube in the Circle of Sin. Pardon cards are played on pilgrims who have gained a certain amount of Sin cards, and the amount of those Sin cards will increase the number of coins they receive upon Pardoning. Also, Pardoners can supplement their greed by pardoning the particular flavor of Sin that the Parson – the little meeple with a funny hat – is currently positioned upon in the Circle of Sin.
Pardon cards are played to “forgive” a particular Sin. As mentioned, each Sin card of a particular type will increase the amount of coins a Pardoner receives upon Pardoning that pilgrim.
- Relic cards grant that particular Pardoner a special ability for the turn. These can range from The Hairbrush of Saint Hildegard (collect 5 gold), to the Dancing Shoes of Saint Vitus (perform two more actions after playing this card). Some Relic cards require careful planning and a little bit of luck, while others can become an immediate thorn in one Pardoner’s side.
- If a Pardoner plays a Sin card and it is the 7th Sin for a pilgrim, that pilgrim passes away from their transgressions, and the acting Pardoner performs Last Rites, collecting a Last Rite’s token, which allows them to take another turn after the current turn, at any time during the game.
- After a pilgrim passes away from their sins, the Pardoner with the most corruption cubes on the pilgrim card places one of those cubes on the road to Canterbury and collects an appropriate bonus reward in coins. The remaining cubes are left on the expired pilgrim card, for end-game scoring.
Sound convoluted? It is – a little – but it gets far less confusing as the game progresses. Promise.
As any good English scholar can note, there are a lot of variables in The Road to Canterbury. There is a distinct ebb and flow throughout the game, and you can instantly find yourself on the ebb just as your flow was warming up. This is certainly part of the charm of the game, as a healthy appreciation for intuitive tactical thought will often outweigh those that choose – and stick with – a particular strategy from the beginning. However, small-scale strategies can be planned and executed over a few rounds for more coins (and, in the end, more victory points) through careful manipulation of the visible Sin and Pardon cards, as well as just a little bit of luck. Although The Road to Canterbury will be most rewarding for those with a sharp and quick tactical wit, even those players that prefer to walk the razor-thin edge of serendipitous strategy will sometimes find themselves in the lead. And in the end, despite the outcome, there’s nary a player who could find sin in that.
|Gameplay/Replay||Components & Theme||Fun|
|I won't lie (that'd be a sin) - there are quite a bit of fiddly things and somewhat-convoluted mechanics to take in during The Road To Canterbury. However, to say that the resulting, rewarding gameplay doesn't trump those difficulties would be a whole new category of sin. On occasion, there can be a little too much "take that" for comfort in the Relic cards, making some wish for a bit more of the "give that." The replay - despite the standard, rote actions expected in every game - is masterfully extended through the use of four variable card decks, and a constantly-shifting Pardoner, resulting in a constantly-shifting battle of wits… and souls.||Many board game designers are stricken by the muse of Theme, and are slaves to that vision until they have a passable game, filled with equal parts mundane and unique mechanics. However, most designers don't decide that their theme will be 14th-century poetry about religious and moral corruption. The entire concept of The Road to Canterbury is fraught with peril, but Alf's cohesive and rewarding gameplay, combined with the humorous atmosphere, not only delivers the game from peril, it bestows upon it a masterpiece status. The thematic gameplay is only enhanced by the wonderful production quality that Eagle & Gryphon has put into the project. The Kickstarter backers - and later adopters - should be proud to have this box and its contents as part of their collection.||There are those gamers out there that will immediately delight in the thought of leading a pilgrim inexorably toward their own damnation and death, and then there are those gamers that will only be convinced after, oh, a couple of rounds. Regardless, any gamer who enjoys pushing cubes and flipping cardboard (or one with a fancy for Monty Python or Blackadder) is going to find joy in judgment during The Road to Canterbury. That joy, however, can occasionally be tempered when you find yourself on the receiving end of a string of rapacious Relics with no recourse but to kill off a pilgrim or two for a paltry coin to stuff in your purse.|
|Overall score: 16 out of 18 - There is sin and then there is Ultimate Sin - to not own this game is the latter. If you pass or miss your chance - I have indulgences, ready and cheap!|
The Road to Canterbury is a game for 2 to 3 Pardoners, by Alf Seegert for Eagle & Gryphon Games. It retails for $59.99 on the Eagle & Gryphon Games site, or you can ask your favorite local game store to pick up a copy for you. Happy trails!
*Anytime anyone uses the word “pastiche” in a review, in relation to anything other than board games, must surely signify a higher intelligence than the rest of us average bears**.
**This is sarcasm.
- Kickstarting The Road to Canterbury
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- The State of Games, Episode 6 – The One About Alf