I’ve always been a fan of games with a Japanese theme. From the old Avalon Hill game Shogun (renamed Samurai Swords and then renamed again to Ikusa) to the more “euroy” Ninjato to the family friendly panda game Takenoko, the far east as a theme is always high on my list of favorites.
Today, we are going to be setting aside our ninja hats (do ninja’s wear hats?) for that of a merchant. Welcome to Traders of Osaka (a reprinted and rethemed version of Traders of Carthage), where players enter into a fierce competition to deliver goods from Osaka to Edo. Will this game of commodity speculation and dangerous travel have you coming back for more or will it be consumed by the Black Tide. Let’s find out!
Traders of Osaka is an economic set collection and hand management game for 2-4 players that takes about 30 minutes to play. Traders of Osaka plays best with 2 players.
Players take on the role of merchants shipping four different types of cargo from Osaka to Edo along the coast of Japan. During the game, players will be buying goods, collecting income, and earning victory points. Players will also control how quickly or slowly the communal ships move along the coast with their goods. They also must prepare for the dreaded Black Tide, which can sink ships, costing you both time and money.
As players delivery goods to Edo, they will earn both achievement tokens and cards to add to their score pile. Once a player has earned their 8th achievement token, the game ends and the player with the most victory points wins.
Z-Man Games did a good job putting together the components for Traders of Osaka. The box is small, but houses all the game’s bits quite well. The game comes with a deck of cards that doubles as both the goods cards and also the game’s currency. Each card is illustrated in one of 4 different colors (to represent the game’s 4 goods) and also contains a currency value of either 2,3, or 5. Finally, some of the cards also include insurance icons to help protect goods from the dangerous Black Tide (more on that later).
The other component of note is the small, yet fantastically illustrated game board. It shows a trade route along the coast of Japan and feels really thematic in my opinion. It has places for the ships to move and also houses the draw deck and discard piles.
The game also comes with a number of wooden tokens. The first are 4 ships in colors matching the 4 types of goods (red, blue, yellow and green). Each player also gains a trader and reservation token. Curiously, the colors for these are white, pink, brown and grey. Not the most inspiring of choices, but I guess they had to make do considering the primary colors taken up by the ship tokens.
Overall, I think that Z-Man did a great job publishing Traders of Osaka. The components are solid and the rulebook is really easy to follow.
How to Play:
To begin the game, each player is given a color and takes the matching tokens. Each player then draws cards from the deck until they have at least 8 value worth of coins (players might go over that value). To setup the market/farm, draw 3 cards and place them face up next to the game board to represent the farm. Then, they draw 5 more cards and place them face up below the farm to form the market.
The player who drew the least value of cards becomes the first player and turns go clockwise after that.
On their turn, the player may take one of the following three actions:
1. Buy Goods: When a player buys, they must buy all available goods in the market (except those reserved by other players). To do so, they discard cards from their hand until the coin value equals the value of the cards bought.
For every type of good bought, advance the matching color ship along the trade route by 1 space (if one card was bought) or two spaces (if two or more cards were bought).
After a player buys, the market is refilled by moving the cards from the farm down to the market and adding two more cards to the market (and filling the farm back up to 3 cards).
2. Get Coins: Take one card from the market and add it to your hand.
3. Reserve a Card: Take your reservation marker and place it on any card in the farm or market (that’s not already reserved). When buying, you must also buy any card that you reserved. When taking coins, you may take your reserved card from the market.
If after buying goods, any ship has arrived in Edo, a payday occurs. All players sell all of their matching color goods and earn victory points. To do this, you multiply the quantity of cards in your set times the value of the highest card in the set. This is then rounded up to the nearest 5 or 10. For every 5 points sold, you take one card from the set as victory point and place it in your score pile. You also claim one achievement token of the matching color. For every achievement token you have, you increase the value of the highest good in the set by one when selling.
After the payday, players check to see if any ships are on one of the two Black Tide spaces. If so, those ships are sunk. Players must discard all goods of the matching color and the ship is returned to Anori. Alternatively, a player can discard matching color cards from their hand that contain the insurance icons to protect goods from being sunk.
Turns will continue in this manner until one player has claimed their 8th achievement token. When that happens, the game ends and the player with the most cards in their score pile wins.
Despite my love of Japan as a theme, I wasn’t quite sure I’d love Traders of Osaka. Replacing Samurai and Ninjas with merchants and trading? How good can it really be? As it turns out, quite a bit actually. To my surprise, I ended up really enjoying Traders of Osaka.
There is a simple elegance in this game that makes it fairly easy to learn and also gives it a really smooth game flow. Even with the higher player counts, I’ve found downtime to be quite minimal. Usually a player knows what they want to do on their turn and moves quickly at it.
One thing I wasn’t prepared for were some of the interesting decisions to make in the game. For example, every card you take from the market as a coin makes the rest of the cards cheaper for your opponents. In addition to that, the obvious move is usually to take the 5 value cards a coin for its buying power. However, when you can buy it as a good, it drastically improves the value of your deliveries. So there is a careful balancing act of taking high cost cards for money vs needing them for victory points. The mechanics in Traders of Osaka are just really well done.
And speaking of, I loved the mechanic with the Black Tide. This creates some really interesting mind games that crop up during the game. For example, if I see an opponent is heavily invested in Yellow goods, I do everything I can to make sure that yellow ship gets stuck on the Black Tide spaces until I can deliver another color of goods. There is a dark bit of joy in watching your opponent discard a pile of cards to the bottom of the sea. It’s even better when they can clearly see it coming. 🙂
That’s also what makes Traders of Osaka a more tactical game than a strategic, especially at the higher player counts. While you may have a plan for what you want to do, the board state can change so much between turns that you are often in a position of reaction, rather than carrying out your plans. To some, this might be frustrating, but I found it works well in the game.
However, I do think Traders of Osaka plays best with two players. When you get up to four players, the game can almost get a little too chaotic. With four, the ships can move a lot when it’s not your turn and you have very little control over the market. This has the potential of possibly wiping you out of all your goods before you even have a chance to react. Overall, it’s not bad with 4 players, I just prefer the two player game as it’s a bit more even and it doesn’t feel so dependent on luck.
So at the start, I said I love Japan as a theme, and I do. However in Traders of Osaka, the theme is fairly light. I mean, the game used to be called Traders of Carthage before it was moved to the Pacific Ocean. So as much as I love the theme, there isn’t really a ton here to tie it to the mechanics. But I’m guessing if you are a fan of eurogames, that’s not really a new experience for you.
One of the interesting things about Traders of Osaka is that each of the 3 things you can do on your turn can have a big effect on the game as a whole. Even reserving a card can make a big difference. There are times when I know my opponent wants to ship out a specific color of good and I’ll purposely reserve that color card if it’s the only one in the display. That way I know that ship isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Overall I think the designers just did an absolutely great job creating a set collection and economic game that is both easy to learn and feels really unique.
Despite a few minor gripes about the light theme and the player scaling, I really ended up enjoying Traders of Osaka. This little eurogame took me by surprise with how well it was put together and just how much fun it was. It has made its way to our gaming table more times than I can remember since it showed up at my door step.
While playing with four players can get a bit crazy, I think Traders of Osaka really shines as a two player game. It’s both easy to learn, quick to play, offers minimal downtime, all while having many meaningful decisions to make during the game.
If Traders of Osaka has at all piqued your interest, I’d highly recommend grabbing a copy. Z-Man Games did a bang up job with this new version and it will be keeping a permanent home in my gaming collection.
If you’d liked to grab a copy of Traders of Osaka, you can pick it up for about $24
Final Score: 4 Stars – A fun and easy to learn economic set collection game. I’m glad Z-Man decided to pull this one out for a reprint.
• Easy to learn
• Solid game mechanics
• Good production values
• Minimal down time
• 4 players can be a bit chaotic
• Very light on theme