A player’s strategy guide to Century: Spice Road

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A player’s strategy guide to Century: Spice Road

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A player’s strategy guide to Century: Spice Road
by Illes Horvath / h_illes

1. Introduction

This guide is a compilation of my experiences playing the board game Century: Spice Road (over the board and also on BoardGameArena) and its free online version Spicee. Having played well over 5000 competitive games total, I can say this is one of my favorite board games.

I hope this guide will serve you well in improving your own skill at the game. This guide contains relatively few examples, offering high-level concepts instead. Do not expect to become a master-level player immediately just from reading this guide; it cannot replace experience obtained by actually playing the game.

In certain sections, the guide offers basic and advanced tips. If you are new to the game, start with the basic tips! They are important and should help improve your game. Advanced tips are mostly about finer details of gameplay and can be ignored until you have a good grasp of the basics.

Most of the advice in this guide is based on 2-player games. Essentially the same concepts apply to 3-5 player games, with the few differences highlighted in the last section.

If you have any questions, suggestions or remarks, leave a comment!

One more thing: remember, while winning is nice, the most important is to enjoy the game. Have fun!

2. Glossary and notation

This is a brief summary of terms and notation used throughout the guide. Since not everyone might use the same terms for the same concepts, this section is to make the terms used clear. Definitions are marked in italics.

We assume that the reader is familiar with the rules of the game, so they are not included explicitly. They are referenced whenever relevant.

The game has 4 types of objects:

Cubes. They come in 4 colors (yellow, red, green, brown) and act as a type of currency. They represent different spices in the actual game, but for the game mechanics, this is not relevant.

Trade, produce and upgrade cards. (To make things worse, trade cards will also refer to all three types collectively.)
Trade cards allow you to trade cubes away for other cubes. A specific trade card only allows you to trade away a given set of cubes; for example, there is a trade card in the deck allows you to trade away 2 yellow cubes for 1 green cube. This trade card will be denoted by YY>G. The 2 yellows are referred to as the input, or we also say that this trade card transforms or trades away yellows, and has green output, or, in other words, produces or trades for greens. Produce cards produce cubes with no input required. A produce card that produces e.g. a red and a yellow cube will be denoted by RY. Upgrade cards have no fixed input, but upgrade a specific amount of cubes (2 or 3) to other colors. These are referred to as upgrade cards (upgrade-2 and upgrade-3 whenever the actual value is important).

There are victory point cards (or simply point cards) that can be bought with the cubes, and will account for the majority of the final score. Each point card has a cost in cubes and value in points.

Finally, there are coins, referred to as 3-coins which are worth 3 points in the final score and 1-coins which are worth 1 point.

There are 4 types of steps:
- playing a trade, upgrade or produce card from your hand;
- picking a trade, upgrade or produce card from the board;
- buying a point card, and
- resting or picking up: picking up all the trade cards you have already played so that they can be played again.

3. Point evaluation

For an easy way to evaluate either a stack of cubes, trade cards or actual steps during a game, calculate as follows: yellow cubes are worth 1 point each, reds 2 point each, greens 3 point each and browns 4 point each. This is consistent with the cost and value of point cards: e.g. the point card that costs 2 yellow cubes and 3 green cubes is worth 2x1+3x3=11 points. (There is a minor exception to this: point cards that have a cost with 3 different colors are worth +1 point compared to the previous formula, and point cards with all 4 colors in their cost are worth +2 points. This is a relatively minor difference though, so for the sake of simplicity, we will work with the above evaluation.)

Whenever you play a trade, produce or upgrade card, it will change your stack of cubes. For example, playing a trade card which has an input of 2 yellow cubes and an output of 1 green cube (YY>G for short) will replace a value of 2x1 by 3, so it increases the total value of your stack by +1. The two starting trade cards each increase the total value of your stack by +2, which is a sort of baseline as to what to expect from a trade card (but you should aim for much better during the game).

Produce cards and upgrade cards can only be used once when played, but when a trade card is played, it may be used as many times as the input cost is available from your stack of cubes. So if you have 6 yellows and play the YY>G trade card, you may choose to apply it once, twice or three times. If you apply it 3x, you trade 6 yellows for 3 greens for an increase of +3, which is better than getting just +1. For the YY>G trade card, this means that it can potentially be used up to 5x (considering that the maximum number of cubes is 10) for a +5 increase in the value of your stack of cubes. In general, using trade cards multiple times is a very powerful mechanic as it increases the total value of your stack faster and in turn allows you to buy many and/or high value point cards rapidly.

Accordingly, how good a step is can be measured by the increase it provides.

As a consequence, many trade cards are better than produce cards when played to their full potential. The best produce cards offer a +4 increase, while the best trade cards have a potential of up to +10, and many trade cards have a potential of +6 or more.

4. Phases of the game

Generally, the game can be divided into 3 phases.

During the early game, players pick trade, produce and upgrade cards. The main goal here is to assemble a good set of trade cards to be played over and over again (an engine).

During the bulk of the game, the main goal is to play your engine as efficiently as possible to buy point cards.

During the endgame, the main goal is closeout: make sure your opponent has a lot of cubes left in his stack without being able to buy a point card, while you spend most of your cubes on point cards. Leftover cubes are worth much less in the final score than cubes spent on point cards, so you can leave your opponent with a lot of wasted resources.

There is no strict boundary between the parts of the game; in general, this guide considers the early game over around the time when players finish building their engines and take no more trade cards. The endgame starts around the time when one of the players buys point card number 4 (and still has some cubes left), at which point both players should keep an eye out for when the game finishes.

The early game may last longer for one of the players than the other; in this case, whoever starts the bulk of the game earlier will generally have a tempo advantage.

5. The early game

The early game is about assembling a good set of trade, produce and upgrade cards.

Don’t worry about your stack of (mostly yellow) cubes too much at this point: the yellows are a means to obtain the best combination of trade cards possible. A combo is a set of trade cards that work well together to increase the total value of your stack of cubes fast. A combo can be just 2 trade cards, but convoluted combos may involve more. The engine also includes trade cards supporting that combo. Occasionally, an engine may include several combos; combos with the same restarting point can be both run within a single cycle, which makes fewer rests necessary overall. That said, the terms combo and engine are somewhat interchangeable.

Basic tips for the early game:
- Make sure you have trade cards to trade for any color cube.
- Make sure you have trade cards to trade away any color cube.
- Do not prioritize produce cards too high. They are good, but not great. The exception is that yellow producers are useful early because they give more yellow cubes to spend on trade cards you need.
- Avoid multiple trade cards that have the same input.
- Look for trade cards that are simple! Single color input with at most 3 cubes, single color output with at most 3 cubes.
- Look for combos: a set of trade cards that you can chain together, using the output of the first trade card as the input of the second trade card, and so on. It is best if you can use them multiple times, keeping in mind that the maximum number of cubes is 10.
- It’s OK to pay several yellow cubes for a trade card that you need. You will have the option to take half of those yellows back (rounded down) in the next few steps if necessary (possibly more, depending on what your opponent does).

Slightly more advanced tips/prioritization for what to do during the early game:
- Pick at least one powerful trade card high (they are listed in the relevant section of this guide). Possibly more, even if they don’t make a combo with each other.
- Trade cards that finish your combo/engine should be your highest priority. If all other trade cards are poor for both players, you can pay even more yellows as you would normally, as in that case, you can start right away after finishing your combo, while your opponent has to spend several turns digging through poor trade cards.
- Depending on your combo, you might need to pick a trade card to start it fast. Example: if you have a B>GG, GG>BB combo, you don’t want to spend several turns upgrading your yellows with the initial upgrade card. Instead, take a trade card that allows you to transform yellows directly into greens or browns. (This concept can also be used for denial to slow your opponent's start up).
- Do not prioritize trade cards that give extra versatility too high. It can be OK to take one, but you don’t need more than that. Keep in mind that your two initial trade cards also give some versatility.
- Picking trade cards with enough cubes is fine - if you need the cubes.
- Know when to stop picking more trade cards. Once you have your combo assembled, you should focus on starting to use that combo. Don’t pick more trade cards just because they look flashy, or you might need them in the future - you are wasting precious steps.
- Disruption: if a trade card would finish a good combo for your opponent, take it! Just so that he cannot. This is applicable even if you already have your own combo assembled.

If a trade card is none of the above, don’t take it! Let your opponent have it - he just wasted a step. If nobody takes a trade card for a few steps, it might collect enough cubes to take it just for the cubes.

Advanced tips for the early game.
- Reserve your yellow cubes for the powerful trade cards. If you spend too much on average trade cards, you will not be able to take the powerful trade cards when they start coming. Average trade cards will typically not win the game, neither for you or for your opponent.
- Disruption: watch out for danger! Typically you will not be able to take away all good trade cards (and it is pointless to try), but you should try to stop your opponent from finishing a combo stronger than yours if possible.
- Produce yellows in time! When there is no imminent danger of your opponent finishing a combo, and there are no great trade cards on the board either, that is the time to produce yellows. If you delay it too long, you will be left scrambling when the good trade cards start coming.
- At the start, prioritize yellow producers slightly higher, since they can give you more cubes and more flexibility to take powerful trade cards. Once you have finished your combo, this becomes irrelevant though.
- Think about combos in terms of archetypes rather than specific trade cards. Any good combo will still work reasonably well if you replace some trade cards with similar ones. Example: RR>GG and G>RRY is a great 2-card combo, but if you replace RR>GG with RRR>GGG, what you end up with is still almost as powerful.
- In some situations, there is a single trade card on the board that combos with several others also on the board. Prioritize it very high!
- Try to create ‘’tension’’ for your opponent. E.g. either he takes a useful trade card OR he takes a trade card with multiple yellows. Do not let him have both with a single step! That means you have prioritized wrong.
- Don’t overpay for trade cards. Even if a trade card finishes your combo, paying too many yellows for it will give your opponent a tempo advantage.
- Keep an open mind! Even if you already have a combo, you might be able to get a better combo in a pinch.

With all that said, proper prioritization in the early game is hard and requires a lot of experience. It may well be the hardest part of the game.

The early game might not end at the same time for every player. The player who finishes sooner will have a tempo advantage. While having a tempo advantage is in general desirable, it is also OK to be behind on tempo as long as your engine is significantly better than your opponent’s engine.

6. Tempo

The two main questions coming out of the early game are:
- who has a better engine and by how much, and
- who has a tempo advantage and by how much.

You can roughly evaluate tempo at any point of the game by adding the points already obtained (point cards and coins already obtained) plus the total value of the cubes currently in the stack for each player. (This could be slightly modified by factoring in who needs rest soon, and who is certain to get a coin, but these are relatively minor factors.) Whoever has the higher score is ahead on tempo.

Coming out of the early game, one of the key issues related to tempo is 3-coins. The 3-coins are important because they are free (in the sense that you do not have to pay any extra cubes to get them). The number of 3-coins available is always 2 times the number of players. As long as all players get two of them, they do not make any difference in the final score, but if one player has a tempo advantage and manages to get three 3-coins, he will have an advantage of 6 points for free, which is huge considering he was already ahead on tempo in the first place.

Overall, the potential swing in the final score is high enough to make it important to prioritize for the 3-coins with the first few point cards you buy. If you are ahead on tempo, your goal should be to get 3 of the 3-coins (or even 4 if possible); if you are behind on tempo, your goal should be to get 2.

In some situations, if you are ahead on tempo but a 2-2 split of the 3-coins still seems inevitable, keep in mind that it does not matter if you take the first and third 3-coin out of 4 or some other pairing (e.g. first and fourth). This gives you some freedom; if you can prepare for some upcoming point card better (with more efficient steps), you can leave the point card currently in the 3-coin spot for your opponent.

If the point cards in the first four slots are all high value, that will generally push the 3-coin distribution towards 2-2, as it is much harder to assemble the cost for 3 high value point cards before the other player gets 2. In this case, a tempo disadvantage in the early game is less risky.

1-coins can be just ignored most of the time. If your normal plan to proceed would dictate to get them, it’s nice, but they are not worth enough to go out of your way to get them.

More often than not, the player with tempo disadvantage early game will have a better engine since he picked more trade cards. If this is indeed the case, the question is whether the faster engine can compensate for the tempo disadvantage before getting to the 3-coins first, and then to 6 point cards in total. Judging this correctly is difficult and requires a lot of experience.

In some cases, if your engine is particularly unsuited to produce cubes that are required for the point cards in or near the 3-coin slot, then skip them and take other point cards. However, in this case, you really do need to be much more efficient than your opponent. Judge carefully.

7. The bulk of the game

This is the main part of the game where you actually play your trade cards, buy point cards, rest and start over. Ideally, at this point you already know which combo you want to use from your hand.

Your play will be typically structured by when you pick up your hand (rest). Between two rests, you should run your combo once, be able to buy at least 1, sometimes 2 point cards. Buying a point card may require some additional steps not strictly part of the combo.

The keyword in this phase of the game is efficiency. In the long run, you need to be able to maximize the average value added to your stack of cubes per step. Think of the game as running a business or an economy: the goal is to run it as efficiently as possible, with efficiency measured by your tempo as defined earlier. In this mindset, buying point cards corresponds to taking out dividends; treat it like a necessity to free up cube space rather than the main goal.

Efficiency is one of the most important factors in winning the game. Consistently making better steps than your opponent can easily add up to a 20+ difference in the final score, where steps are measured by the increase they provide according to the formula in Section 3. As a comparison, properly playing the endgame typically accounts for around +4 to +8 difference in the final score.

Basic tips:

- Don’t focus too much on getting to specific point cards. Try to be flexible instead. If you focus on a specific point card and your opponent beats you to it, it might be difficult to adjust to something else.
- It’s OK to pick up your trade cards even if you have played only a few of them. Most of the time, you will have a main combo and some other trade cards. Usually it is best to stick to your main combo, using your other trade cards only occasionally to adjust.
- Have some cubes left to restart after buying a point card. If you spend all or almost all of your cubes, you can only restart by produce cards, which are usually not very efficient. point cards cost at most 6 cubes, so you have room for 4 leftover cubes after buying. Green and/or brown cubes are best for this purpose as they pack a high value into relatively few cubes. Restarting from green and/or brown cubes using trade cards that ‘’unpack’’ them into a large amount of cubes is usually more efficient than restarting from an empty stack.
- You don't have to buy a point card as soon as you have the cost assembled. It is often easier to make efficient steps with your stack high. This is related to the previous point. For example, if you have 5 browns in your stack and you have the B>GG and GG>BB combo, buying the BBBBB 20-point point card right away is a serious mistake. Instead, run your combo one more time to get to 10 browns, which will leave you with 5 browns after buying the point card.
- It doesn’t particularly matter which point cards you buy. This is due to the pricing of the point cards: expensive point cards cost more in terms of cubes. Essentially, all cards are fairly priced, with point cards with 3 or 4 colors holding a minor advantage, but not enough to go out of your way to get them. Target cards that leave you with enough cubes to restart your engine after buying.
- Do not store cubes long-term. Keep trading as many as you can, and when buying a point card, keep only the cubes you need for restarting. If you store cubes that you do not need, all you do is restrict your cube space.

Steps can be divided into 3 categories:

- Power steps offer a value increase of at least +6 (which is not a particularly strict threshold, but you need to draw the line somewhere). Ideally you can chain several of these steps together within a combo cycle. At the end of the cycle, you take a point card and then restart.
- Setup steps are done in preparation of power steps. The actual increase in value is not particularly relevant; a small investment now can get a higher increase for several steps in the future. More often than not, this has an avalanche effect: if you skip this step, you will be able to do the next trade one times fewer, then also the trade after that etc. You might find that you have 2-3 fewer brown cubes than you could have, had you played that measly upgrade-2 card 3 or 4 turns ago. The morale is: always do these steps! Get it out of the way now rather than suffer the consequences later.
- Adjustment steps are taken in order to be able to buy point cards. Often your combo may not give you the precise cost of any of the point cards; in this case, you need to make additional steps. Make the minimal number of steps possible! Ideally, you shouldn’t need more than 1.

One of the keys to efficiency is to never make a step that does not fall into one of the above three categories. Stay disciplined and stick to your main combo. Making weak steps will only make you lose tempo.

Advanced tips:
- It’s perfectly OK to regularly discard cubes. In many cases, playing a trade card 2x, 3x or even 4x results in more than 10 cubes. Instead of looking at how many cubes you throw away, compare the positions you would be in after, and base your decision on that.
- Play your trade cards to their full potential! Example: if you have a YY>RR and RR>GG combo, your first goal should be to get to as many yellows in as few steps as possible. Don’t start playing them with just 4 yellows. Making consecutive +10 steps creates a massive tempo swing in your favor. Making +4 steps does not.
- Do not go too high! When all point cards available need at least a couple yellow and/or red cubes, don't get carried away with the power steps and fill your stack entirely with greens and browns. Otherwise, you might have to downgrade, which should be avoided by planning ahead.
- Prioritize point cards that allow you to make more power steps. These are usually (but not always) expensive point cards.
- Get ahead of your opponent on the number of point cards if possible. That will give you an important advantage for the endgame. Getting ahead on the number of point cards is typically achieved by buying one or two cheap point cards. Do it with minimal adjustment possible.
- Dictated by the gameplay, it might be important to play denial even much later than the early game. Example: if your opponent has the GG>BB trade card with the B>GG still on the board, and suddenly expensive brown-green point cards start coming, snatch the B>GG card before your opponent does and runs away with the game.
- Time your steps to remain flexible. Occasionally, you will have the option to do two (sometimes even three) steps in any order. A typical example would be playing two produce cards. Another example is the choice between buying a point card (with which your opponent cannot interfere), resting, and making a trade that does not require extra cube space. The general rule about timing is to do the step that is less committing first, in order to stay more flexible. For example, buying a point card is generally quite committing, so you can leave it until the last moment. That said, in certain situations, you might be interested in the incoming point card enough to buy the point card first. Judge carefully.

Do not block the 3-coin long-term. If you manage to collect the cubes for the point card at the 3-coin slot while your opponent is preparing for the next point card to buy it right after you do, it may be tempting to hold off buying the point card, instead hold on to its cost and do some additional steps, forcing your opponent into buying the next point card with no 3-coin. The issue here is that since you need to hold on to the cost of the point card, you are restricting yourself, being able to use only 4-6 slots of your cube space instead of the usual 10, while your opponent has no such restriction. The best possible outcome is that you manage to take away one 3-coin from your opponent, which is a difference of +6 in the final score. But if you need to make several subpar steps to keep up the blockade, the difference (compared to your main combo) can easily surpass +6, in which case you hurt yourself more than your opponent. Also, if the 3-coin distribution ends up being the same as without the blockade (e.g. 2 vs. 2), the whole blockade was pointless. That said, it is fine to block the 3-coin for a few steps which don’t need extra cube space (e.g. resting), but after that, just take it and move on.

If you are blocked from the 3-coin, there are two ways to fight it. If the point cards in the first two slots share a good portion of their cost, you may assemble a set of cubes that's sufficient for either one, thus ensuring you can buy one of them with the 3-coin on your next turn. Another option is to fight it by buying a cheap point card and then proceed as normal. You are only going to get behind if your opponent manages to change the 3-coin distribution, for which he needs to outrace you for the next 2 point cards in the 3-coin slot after spending some cubes on a point card. If you keep your cube stack high, this is unlikely.

When you are ahead on tempo but have a weaker engine, prioritize for small point cards. This will make the game shorter and deny your opponent the chance to take advantage of his better engine. Conversely, if you have a better engine but are behind on tempo, target expensive point cards. The total length of a game between veteran players usually varies between 30 and 40 turns, so that's the window of time you should plan for. The exact length of the game depends on the length of the early game, the power level of the engines in the game (the more powerful each player's engine is, the shorter the game will be), and the value of the point cards on the board (many expensive point cards make the game longer).

8. The endgame

The endgame is different from the bulk of the game since you do not want to reserve cubes to restart after buying the last point card. So instead of running your usual combo, the goal is to spend most of your stack of cubes on the last few point cards.

The endgame starts around the time when a player obtains 4 point cards and still has some cubes left. In the endgame, your main goal is closeout: denying your opponent the chance to spend his stack of cubes by buying 6 point cards and thus finishing the game.

The player who has a higher number of point cards is the attacker; he controls the endgame against the defender. The attacker always has an advantage, and with precise play, this should translate to a difference of roughly 4 to 10 points in the final score. The turn order of players does not particularly matter, but the second player (in turn order) has a minor advantage. The main goal of the attacker is to close out the defender.

In close games, the endgame is very important and requires precise play to win. The details are highly scenario dependent, involving possibly every single trade card you and your opponent have as well as the available point cards. However, at that point the game has a finite time horizon; if you are able to calculate quickly, you might be able to map out all possible options. If not, and you are unsure what to do, do the most powerful step available! Usually that provides more options for the next few turns. ‘’Slowing down’’ too early is dangerous, as your opponent may catch up.

One way to attack in the endgame is to set up the cost for 2 point cards with your opponent unable to buy any of them. The order of steps is very important, as up until the point when you finish the setup, your opponent might try to intervene. Stay flexible.

Another typical attack is to buy the 5th point card, then set up the cost for a cheap point card. This forces the defending player to buy whatever final point card he can. Then the attacking player has a few more turns to get to a higher point card than what he originally set up for, with the defending player no longer a threat as he has to restart from a near empty stack of cubes.

Defending an endgame attack. Try to estimate when your opponent will be able to close you out and assemble the cost and buy the highest point card possible in that time frame. Once you have accomplished that, you should work on obtaining as many non-yellow cubes (for leftover points) as possible.

When the game is not close, the endgame is mostly irrelevant, and you can just finish in an efficient manner.

9. Trade card types

This section lists some trade cards, grouped according to role.

Powerful trade cards. The most powerful trade cards, sorted according to highest potential are the following:

+10: YY>RR, RR>GG, GG>BB and B>GG

The maximal potential does not fully describe each card though; further important aspects are how easy it is to set up the input required, and how easy it is to further transform the output. Cards of a single color are easier to transform but are less versatile. For example, even though B>GG, BB>GGGRY, BB>GGRRR have a very similar input, B>GG offers the most sheer power, BB>GGGRY offers the most versatility and BB>GGRRR is the least effective as you need to further transform a large amount of both reds and greens, which typically requires two steps instead of one. From the input side, YYYYY>GGG is difficult to set up, as you need exactly 10 yellows to be able to get the +8 increase. As a result, YYYYY>GGG is great as a startup card, but difficult to include in a combo.

YY>RR and YYY>RRR fill the same role and differ only in versatility: with YY>RR, you can upgrade 2, 4, 6, 8 or 10 cubes, while with YYY>RRR, you can upgrade 3, 6 or 9. The same holds for the RR>GG, RRR>GGG and GG>BB, GGG>BBB pairs. The double versions are slightly better, but in some combos, the triple versions might work better.

Overall, the most powerful cards are the +10's in the list above, closely followed by the +9's and the BB>GGGRY. The other two +8 trade cards are a tier below due to the issues just described. Also, several trade cards with +6 potential are worth mentioning; I personally think the next most powerful trade cards are B>RRR, a great mass red producer, and G>RYYYY, which is the best mass yellow producer. Then again, every list like this should be taken with a pinch of salt; even the best trade cards only work well when in a combo.

Which one to choose, when you have the option? RR>GG combos with many other trade cards (including YY>RR and GG>BB). On the other hand, YY>RR does not require a startup, while GG>BB allows you to go after the highest point cards, and B>GG combos with anything producing brown, even the upgrade-2 card to an extent. Overall, I think RR>GG is the strongest trade card in general, but not by much, and definitely not in every situation. YYY>RRR, RRR>GGG and GGG>BBB fill the same roles as their 2-cube counterparts, but are slightly less versatile. GYY>BB has the upside that it is easy to set up. The brown transforming trade cards work well with any mass brown producer trade card, not just the ones listed above. Prioritize according to what you still need to finish a combo.

Don’t be too focused on obtaining the above cards though. They only work well when set up properly (i.e. they are part of a combo). There are many combos without any of the above cards that can win the game.

One specific thing to keep in mind is that most of the trade cards take a single color as input, so they work well together with trade cards that have a single color as the output as well. As a consequence, during games of experienced players, you will often see stacks of cubes containing many cubes of the same color.

‘’Rainbow trade cards’’. Some cards have different roles though: they provide versatility instead of raw power. Cards that convert one color into all 3 other colors are prime examples: B>GRY, GG>BRYY, RRR>BGY. If you have the upgrade-3 card, it offers a lot of versatility too, not just because you can use it instead of the upgrade-2 card, but because you can use both of them between consecutive pickups if necessary for a whopping 5 total upgrades. Most of the time, these rainbow trade cards should only be used for adjustments and not be part of your main combo, as their output is difficult to trade any further efficiently. However, to some extent they do combo with the trade cards that have 2-color input (listed at the end of this section).

Having such a versatile trade card is not always necessary though. For example, if your combo involves all 4 colors, you probably have enough versatility already. If it involves 3 colors, you can still rely on your initial 2 cards to provide versatility. If your engine runs on 2 colors, you should consider picking a trade card (including produce cards) that produces the other 2 colors.

Restarting trade cards. Certain trade cards are great for restarting after buying a point card. Many combos use greens and/or browns to restart (since they pack relatively high value into few cube slots), then use trade cards that trade down into multiple smaller value cubes to fill your stack. Typical trade cards of this type are the following: B>GYYY, B>RRYY, B>GG, B>RRR, BB>GGGRY, BB>GGRRR, G>RYYYY, G>RRY, G>RR, R>YYY. Also, you may use any produce cards. By themselves, produce cards tend to be slow, but they can be used in tandem with the above trade cards to allow you to get away with fewer restart cubes, thus offering extra freedom when buying point cards.

Yellow producers. Not just the actual yellow produce cards YYYY and YYY, but also trade cards that produce a large amount of yellows: G>RYYYY, B>GYYY, R>YYY, even B>RRYY and RR>GYYY to an extent. They work well with any trade card with yellow input.

There are 2 special trade cards in the deck whose input consists of more than one color: RY>B and GYY>BB. GYY>BB is very powerful and is the key trade card to several powerful combos. RY>B is not particularly powerful, but can still be useful for restarting a brown-based combo.

10. Combo archetypes

Some of the typical combos are listed below. The list is by no means comprehensive, but should contain the most powerful combos.

2-card combos:

- GG>BB, B>GG. Restarting point: 4-5 brown cubes. The most powerful 2-card combo, doubling the number of your browns in 2 moves. Works also with GGG>BBB instead of GG>BB, and with BB>GGGRY instead of B>GG. In its original form, not versatile at all, but the GG>BB with BB>GGGRY variant is a very versatile combo (where even the 2 initial trade cards can help tremendously with adjustments). Also, the upgrade-3 card can also fill the role of GG>BB or GGG>BBB to some extent ('poor man's G-B doubling combo'). As a side note, upgrade cards inherently combo with B->GG or any other cards 'down' cards like R>GGY.
- RR>GG, G>RRY, restarting point: 4-5 green cubes. The little brother of the previous combo. Overall slightly weaker since you can only spend greens, not browns, but still a very powerful combo. Works also with RRR>GGG instead of RR>GG, and with G>RR instead of G>RRY.
- RR>GG, GG>BRR, restarting point: 6-8 reds. Ideally, you have some other trade cards to support the cycle (e.g. RR produce card or something that trades away brown cubes), but it is very good even as a 2-card combo. Works perfectly fine with RRR>GGG instead of RR>GG.
- YY>RR, RR>BYY, restarting point: 6-10 yellows. The little brother of the previous combo. Not really weaker as you can still get out browns. It can be efficiently played 4x or 5x as well to get up to 5 browns in one step. Sure, you need to discard some yellows, but those are typically easy to refill. Works with YYY>RRR instead of YY>RR, too. Its weakness is the access to greens, or if you ever need to spend too many yellows. If you don't have a B input card, you also need to control the amount of B so you can spend them reliably.
- RRR>BB, B>RRR. Restarting point: 3 browns. A straightforward red-brown doubling combo. Not very versatile. Double your browns in 2 steps, up to 6.
- BB>RRRGG, RRR>BB. Restarting point: 4 browns. A variation of the previous combo; you can take out 4 greens from each cycle. Not very versatile.
- RRR>BGY, B>RRR. Restarting point: 3 browns. One of the more surprising combos. It gives greens and yellows to spend, and requires adjustment often.
- GYY>BB, B>GYYY. Starting point: 3 browns. One of the more intricate combos. The upside is that it can be started up very rapidly and in general can be set up very efficiently from most positions using the two initial trade cards. Its weakness is the lack of access to red.
- RY>B, B>RRYY. Another doubling combo, but not as powerful as the others as it requires a lot of cube space. On the upside, it is easy to start.
- YY>RR, RR>YYYG, restarting point: 4-6 reds. A simple combo that lets you take cheap point cards rapidly. Without access to browns or multiple greens, it is poor at targeting expensive point cards, so keep an eye out for the point cards on the board. With enough targets, it can give you a good head start though.
- YYY>RRR, R>YYY. Not very good in itself, but works great with anything that converts either red or yellow.

3-card combos:
- B>RRR, RRR>GGG, GGG>BBB, restarting point: 3 browns. Simple but extremely powerful, it allows you to go after the highest point cards. Needs some help with starting up, but basically anything works that gets you up to 3 reds or 3 greens fast. Works with RR>GG and GG>BB, too. Also works with B>RRR replaced by B>RRYY, with better access to yellow, but generally requiring more browns (4+) to restart.
- BB>GGRRR, RR>GG, GG>BB, restarting point: 4 browns. A slightly weaker version of the previous combo. Works with RRR>GGG and GGG>BBB, too.
- B>GG, G>RR, RRR>BB. Restarting point: 2-3 browns. Another version, this time going down and doubling. The main issue is cube space here, as the combo would naturally lend itself to spending lots of reds on point cards, which is not always possible. Pay attention to spend the right combination of red, green and brown to be able to restart rapidly.
- RRR>GGG, GG>BRR, B>RRR, restarting point: 6 reds/6 greens/2-3 browns. A strong and versatile combo that can be restarted from multiple points.
- YY>RR, RR>GG, G>RYYYY, restarting point: 2 greens. Another simple but powerful loop. Easy to start up. Its main weakness is the lack of mass-production of browns.
- YY>RR, RR>GG, GG>BRYY, restarting point: 6 yellows. A simple loop where the last card also provides you with yellows for the next loop. Fairly versatile, where the ideal targets are medium point cards that allow you to spend browns; the upgrade card helps you go after the expensive point cards and the YY helps you refill yellows. Also, better Y output cards improve this combo even further.
- GYY>BB, B>GG, YYYY, starting point: 2 browns. A more involved combo based around the GYY>BB trade card. B>GG can be replaced by BB>GGGRY and YYYY can be replaced by any mass yellow producer (G>RYYYY, B>GYYY, YYY).
- GYY>BB, B>RRR, RR>GYYY, starting point: 2 browns. A bit less effective than the previous one, but workable nonetheless.
- YY>RR, RRR>BGY, YYYY. A simple but effective combo. YYYY can be replaced by some other yellow mass producer. Very versatile.

4-card combo:
- YY>RR, RR>GG, GG>BB, G>RYYYY, restarting point: 2 greens. Only mentioned because of its extreme power. Fill your stack with cubes and send them all up to as many browns as you need. However, it is only great if you can reliably spend browns. Also, depending on the board, shorter loops (e.g. R-G doubling) might be faster.

11. Point cards

There are a total of 36 point cards, listed according to their structure:
- four of the same color: 3 cards (all colors except yellow), all of them need 4 cubes, point value ranges from 8 to 16;
- five of the same color: 3 cards (all colors except yellow), all of them need 5 cubes, point value ranges from 10 to 20;
- two pairs: 6 cards (all possible combinations), all of them need 4 cubes, point value ranges from 6 to 14;
- full houses: 12 cards (all possible combinations), all of them need 5 cubes, point value ranges from 7 to 18;
- three pairs: 4 cards (all possible combinations), all of them need 6 cubes, point value ranges from 13 to 19;
- four color cards: 5 cards, 4 with type 3-1-1-1 (3 cubes of one color, 1 cube from every other color), and 1 with 1 of each color; point value ranges from 12 to 20;
- special three-color cards: 3 cards, specifically BGGY, BGRR, BRYY worth 12, 12 and 9 points respectively.

It is occasionally useful to be aware of the above list; for example, if you are in a position where your opponent will take his last point card and you cannot adjust to any of the point cards on the board, you have to prepare for the last incoming point card ‘’blind’’; it helps to know what might still be available.

12. 3-5 player games

This section focuses on the differences between a 2-player game and 3-5 player games. The main principles are the same for 3-5 player games: go for an efficient combo and run it over and over again.

In the early game, you can expect the trade cards on the board to change more rapidly. This should help you finish any combo easier; as a consequence, prioritize away from average trade cards. Also, prioritize towards paying fewer yellow cubes in general, as you can expect to take back fewer of them. Denial is still somewhat important, but harder, and offers less payoff; still, keep track of opponents taking the most powerful cards and intervene when necessary and possible.

Pay attention as the endgame is approaching! With 4 or 5 players, the game ends at 5 point cards, not 6. It might not be the player who is ahead on tempo that finishes the game; watch out for the player who is ahead on the number of point cards, and make sure you are not on the receiving end of a hard close-out.

In the bulk of the game, prioritize for point cards at the gold coin slot as long as there are gold coins available; with more players, it is easier to get more than two 3-coins.

In multiplayer games, you are sometimes losing and there is nothing you can do about it. But even when that happens, do not give up entirely; instead, try to make sure you finish as high as possible. Sometimes this means closing out the players behind you on tempo, effectively giving up first place, but securing second. Do not hesitate to do so if you have no chance for a better place.
Last edited by h_illes on 16 September 2023, 06:50, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: A player’s strategy guide to Century: Spice Road

Post by borisqwertz »

It is always great when the best players share their knowledge. Thank you. 👍
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Re: A player’s strategy guide to Century: Spice Road

Post by moveon6 »

Great article! The introduction about combo cards is very helpful for all players.
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Re: A player’s strategy guide to Century: Spice Road

Post by HaibaneRenmei »

Thank you for taking the time to share your insights! :mrgreen:
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