Updated: Oct 24
Designed by Luis Ranedo and published by Devir, Silk is an intriguing, highly strategic game of action selection, area control and giant silkworm farming. If that sounds like a slightly bizarre mash-up, I think I’d agree. The board looks a bit like an individual player board from Uwe Rosenberg's Agricola (Lookout Games), which makes sense for a farming game, especially when you see that the giant silkworms look a lot like sheep animeeples and you can fence off enclosures. But, your pieces are allowed to wander off one side of the board and reappear on the other: there’s definitely something unusual going on!
The action selection mechanic is a bit like Stefan Feld's Castles of Burgundy (Ravensburger): roll two dice on your turn, and perform two actions corresponding to your numbers, adjusting them if desired. This allows for a lot of advanced planning, but you always have to be prepared to adapt your plans to accommodate uncooperative dice.
Silk is presented as a ‘gateway game’, which means it should be attractive and easy to pick up for those coming new to board games. The art is by Roc Espinet and many will find the pastel colour scheme attractive, although it didn't visually appeal to my eye. A concern though is that the rules are not as easy as they should be for a 'non-gamer' to grasp. There’s a logic to most of the rules: the shepherd can chase away (‘bump’) a dog but not the monster, and the dog can bump the monster but not a shepherd, and the silkworms get scattered or eaten by everything – but it’s just not intuitive, and players will constantly be getting things wrong for their first few games. There’s a helpful central summary of the actions and certain scoring bonuses but this doesn't cover the movement rules.
These caveats aside, there is actually great depth to this 2–4 player game. At first glance, it seems like it's just a race to hit certain objectives and be the first to reach the victory point target but, in fact, there is a lot of endgame scoring that could certainly swing the game in favour of a careful planner over someone who just grabbed points for grazing as quickly as possible. There are any number of clever things that can be done with piece movement and wall placement, and a variety of overarching strategies that experienced players will be able to choose from at the start of a game based on the board layout, and opponents’ piece placement, much like Klaus Teuber's Catan (Kosmos).
Some people will love the opportunity to form advanced strategies and pull off powerful moves, while others will be antagonised by dice denying them their intended actions, and find themselves frequently frustrated when they remember that their silkworms can’t graze if they have no available tile to move onto afterwards. You’ll certainly find it rewarding to play Silk enough to get to grips with the rules so that you can make long-term plans that go beyond merely knowing what your options are. It’s an interesting game; whether you’ll find it fun is hard to say – you’ll have to see for yourself!
(Review by Matt Young)