Damask silk takes its name from city of Damascus, a great trading centre at the heart of the 'Silk Road' that brought this precious fabric to the palaces of Europe. But Damask isn't another silk road trading game. It's a game from Radical 8 that's notionally about spinning silk threads into patterned Damask fabrics.
We say 'notionally' because tho' the silk theme adds greatly to players' engagement and this game's appeal, Damask is essentially an abstract strategy game in the vein of Azul (Next Move), and like the Azul range of games it's about optimised drafting and pattern building.
There's a solitaire mode, so Damask takes 1-4 players. Players all start with one Damask card that shows a pattern using two colours. You'll be collecting cubes, representing the different coloured strands of silk, in order to complete Damask cards, each of which require three cubes of one colour and two of another, and you'll be taking these silks from a spinning wheel of initially 26 randomly placed cubes that forms the game's central board. In the preview prototype shown here on Board's Eye View, the wheel has a central wooden dowel but the wheel in the published edition of the game will be held in place with a rivet.
On your turn you get to take one of two compulsory actions: you can either take silk (cubes) from the wheel or you can take an additional Damask card from a central display of six cards. However, you're not allowed to have more than three unfinished Damasks on the go at any one time - so you can't go for the 'take another card' option if you already have three Damask cards in your personal tableau. The nub of the game tho' is in the way in which players take the silk cubes. You take a continuous clockwise or anticlockwise run of cubes, from any starting point you like, but the run of cubes you take ends when you reach and take a second cube of the same colour as one anywhere earlier in your run. There are six different colours of cube, so the minimum number of cubes you could take is two (two of the same colour next to each other) and the maximum possible run will be of seven cubes. Cubes that correspond to spaces on your open Damask cards are placed there; any others go onto your individual Overstock board.
In addition to the compulsory action you must take on your turn, you can also choose to take a single optional action. You can 'mount a Damask', which means moving a completed Damask card (ie: one with all five of the requisite coloured cubes on it) from your tableau to your board. This is how you actually earn coins and therefore score. You earn 1 coin for mounting a Damask but for your second and subsequent Damask you'll get an extra coin for each colour or pattern match with the immediately previous one on your board. For each of the game's three rounds there's an indicated colour and pattern; if you mount a Damask that matches the pattern or colour for that round, then you additionally receive a 'guild favour token'. These can be cashed in for use in various ways.
The other optional action available to you is to steal all the cubes of any one colour from the Overstock board of another player. The player who has their cube(s) taken receives a 'guild favour token' by way of compensation.
You might think it'll be in your interest always to maximise the number of cubes drafted but that's not the case because at the end of each round you'll be taxed 1 coin for every colour of cube on your individual Overstock board. That's quite a hefty penalty in a game where more often than not you will only be collecting just 1 or 2 coins for completing and mounting a Damask. The other reason you may want to moderate your selection is because the wheel also acts as a round timer: it moves around one spoke for every cube taken. When it reaches a certain position the wheel is refilled with cubes drawn from a cotton rather than silk draw bag, but subsequently reaching that position will end the round.
Damask is a game then that's all about optimisation. Points differences can be quite narrow so you need to make sure that you maximise your score - for example, by trying wherever possible to benefit from the 'guild favour' bonus for mounting Damask cards. Canny players will also try to manipulate round-end timing in order to catch opponents with loaded Overstock boards so that they get hit with a punishing 'tax'.
In her design of Damask, Barbara Burfoot has come up with a game that's easy to learn but which has subtle depth to the play. If you struggle with pattern recognition, you may find it takes a little longer for you to spot the optimal selection of colours in the wheel but turns are generally quick, so that even with a full complement of four players our games all came in at less than 60 minutes. With just two players, the manipulation of the wheel can make for an even more cutthroat tactical tussle - and you can expect to complete a two-player game in 30 minutes.
The central spinning wheel display gives Damask an appealing table presence and, judging from the prototype, Radical 8 and artist Rusembell have done a great job in presenting this game. Damask is launching its crowdfunding campaign on Gamefound on 27 April. Click here to check it out. And backers who follow the campaign ahead of its launch will qualify for a free micro expansion...