Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Saturday 10 August 2019

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Silk

Game: Silk

Publisher: Devir Games

Designer: Luis Ranedo

Year: 2018

Have you ever encountered a board game theme so obscure as giant silk worms? In Silk, you each appear to be rival silkworm farmers, shepherding your 'flock' with just your hardy shepherd and their dog, who are the only folks brave enough to take on the cold (and the monster) on the mountain tops.

Silk is a competitive game for 2-4 players of action selection, area control and silk worms eating all your crops.


At the start of a game of Silk you set up a board using a random mix of farmland tiles. The size of the grid varies based on player count. Among these tiles must be the Ookami den. Each player then takes turns placing 2 silkworms at a time on the lowest value fields, before placing a single hatchery (on the intersections between tiles), their farmer and their 'dog'. Once set up players will take turns performing 2 actions until one player has scored enough points to trigger the end of the game.

Each turn you first spawn a new silkworm (so long as there is a legal spot) then you will roll 2 dice to determine which actions you can do. There are six actions each assigned to a die face. If you don't like what you rolled you can pay a point to adjust the face of one of your dice up or down one. You can pay as many points as needed to get the result you wanted.

The first action is to spawn additional silkworms, useful to set up feeding actions. The second action is to move your farmer or your dog one space. They each have unique bumping mechanics (farmers can heard dogs and worms, dogs can herd worms and the monster) and can cause chain reactions if you are careful. The third action lets you build walls, walls restrict movement from crossing between tiles and also can provide bonus points if you make complete enclosures. The 4th action lets you create a new hatchery, or refresh an eaten tile if you are already full on hatcheries. The fifth action lets you eat a tile, multiplying the number of worms (up to 3) you have on it by the value of the tile (from 1-3) to gain points. The final action lets you move the Ookami, the Ookami can bump farmers, but also can eat any worms that it moves through. Worms eaten by the Ookami are worth negative points at game end.

After performing your 2 actions the next player will take their turn. along the way you will vie for bonus tiles which can score you a good chunk of your required victory points to win the game. There are 4 available and they are entirely first come, first served.

Amy’s Final Thoughts

Silk is an unusual game, is it an abstract game? If so it has a surprising amount of theme, and also a surprising amount of luck. A dice worker placement? Well not really as you don't block action spaces by using them. An area control game? Well sort of, but you only get enough time in the game at higher player counts to really start creating the walled off areas, and there is so much bumping and herding going on that any 'control' is sorely overstated. What it certainly is is an artistically beautiful game, the art style and lovely meeples quickly suggest this alien planet with dog-sized worms that, for some reason, you are meant to care about? OK, they are your source of livelihood, but come on, they are 3 foot long worms, frankly you don't feel that sad when they get eaten!

The gameplay itself is unusual. Since you roll the dice each turn to select what you can do it's hard to plan a long term strategy. Sure you can spend points to change the dice, but that simply rewards the lucky player who happened to roll what they wanted. The actions themselves are all perfectly fun to do, though some seem a little more desirable than others. Since your worms leave a space after eating it you can chain together eating actions and munch so much food that the very hungry caterpillar would be jealous. Meanwhile other actions can take several applications before you are even looking at point rewards. The other way to get big points bonuses is the bonus tiles which are worth up to 10 points. Given that a 2 player game only requires 30 to end it that's a huge chunk of your points.

But why does a 2 player game end at 30 points? The 4 player game ends at 50? So with more players, more competition for the bonus points and generally longer between turns you give me a longer game!? While the 2 player game is over so fast that the kettle wouldn't have boiled if not for the setup time! I am still not convinced that this isn't a typo and meant to be the other way round! There is certainly a level of take that gameplay here, the bumping mechanics can change the map very quickly. Eating away high point value farms you only have 1 worm on before your opponent can, or stealing a players wall points by simply building the last part (yes, seriously, it's a thing). Of course there is the brute force method of using the Ookami to eat their stuff, or you can simply use walls and dogs/farmers to block their worms in. You see worms are dumb. While every other meeple can circle round from one end of the map to the other the silkworms are strong believers in the flat earth theory. This can result in players getting their worms stuck in very unfortunate position.

To me Silk is a great idea for a game that didn't spend enough time in the oven. Why does building walls take several turns to reward any points (with a chance of stealing) while worm grazing rewards huge bonuses for relatively little effort. Why is the game so short in 2 players that you never get to create any enclosures? Why does gaining 1 bonus tile get me a third of the way to winning the game, heck why does eating a perfect field get me the other third? I stared at the rulebook wondering what I had done wrong, hoping there was something I missed. But there wasn't. For me Silk is too take-that, too luck based and whatever the player count takes the wrong amount of time to play.

Fi’s Final Thoughts

Silk is a combination of action selection and a kind of area control. The fact that your actions are chosen by the dice is an initial frustration, since even though you can sacrifice points to help manipulate your dice, there's only so many times that this sacrifice can be worthwhile. The actions are a combination of setting yourself up for a good turn, scoring points and using the movement actions to hurt other people. I think that the only way in which the game really works is if you dedicate yourself to preventing other people from success, rather than your own success and that's not the kind of game that I can get behind.

Silk has the arrogance to list the play time on the box as 45 minutes, not a range, just exactly 45 minutes. Sadly that doesn't capture the 5 minutes I spent playing a two player game, where Amy's silkworms ate their way to 20 points in a matter a a couple of turns. Nor does it explain my friends who were less than pleased to be playing a four player game for 90 minutes, while one player was stuck with nothing to do in the corner of the board. Silk doesn't seem to deliver a good experience for either the low or high player count.

Silk looked so promising even once I'd set it up on the table. The rules were slightly convoluted, but I still had hope, and then the game just disappointed me so much. I simply can't recommend Silk to any audience.

You Might Like...
  • There's no doubting the unique theme of Silk, which is interesting to see.
  • If everyone's on the same page to manipulate the puzzle, then some interesting scenarios and tug-of-war can come up.
You Might Not Like...
  • Silk is a non-game for 2-players. It can be over in less time than it takes to setup the board.
  • Action selection is governed by randomness.
  • Your starting positions are critical which can hinder new players.
  • The movement and bumping rules are so hard to remember.
The Verdict
3/10 Silk is a game that doesn't work for two and feels painful with more players. The game is a simple one that's been over complicated and had a layer of luck sprinkled into it. If you're looking for gateway area control, try Smallworld and for gateway dice placement, try Dice Hospital.

Silk was a review copy kindly provided to us by Kosmos, on behalf of Devir Games.

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