Marrakesh Review, a meaty point salad from Stefan Feld and Queen Games

Marrakesh is a delectable Stefan Feld point salad, the first all new game in the Queen Games City Collection which features many of Feld’s most popular games.

Bid and recruit “keshis” from a cube tower to grow dates, go fishing, improve your status at the palace and temple, build gates, explore the desert and more.

Disclosure: Thanks to Queen Games for giving us a review copy of this game. Links below may be affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

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What you get with Marrakesh from Queen Games

The Box for Marrakesh Classic. The big box is a good indication of just how big the game is too!

Marrakesh is part of Queen Games’ City Series featuring games from famed game designer Stefan Feld. This is game number four in the series and the first one to be a totally new game and not a retheme or update of one of Feld’s older games. 

There are currently three versions of Marrakesh out there. The copy we will be talking about here is the big box, Marrakesh Classic. There is also a Marrakesh Deluxe Edition which features aesthetic upgrades, like different shaped playing pieces, stickers, metal coins, wooden resources, Game Trayz inserts, and more. The Deluxe Edition is currently out of print and I don’t know if another print run is coming. Finally, there’s a newer Marrakesh Essential Edition, which is the same game but in a much smaller box, with redesigned player boards, fewer components, and a lower price point to match. 

The important thing is that all of these versions of Marrakesh play exactly the same. They each play two to four players (best with three) with games taking over two hours on average. All three boxes give you the same game with different components and if all you are worried about is gameplay I recommend you go with the Essential Edition.

At look at what you get in the Marrakesh Essential Edition

Both Queen Games and the BGG community agree that this game is best for gamers ages 14+, and that seems about right to me. I think, depending on the kid, even some younger players could enjoy Marrakesh, especially if they are used to Feld’s style of games. While a lot is going on in this game, and it’s quite long, the actual game mechanics aren’t overly complicated. 

In Marrakesh, players are competing to be the most influential family in the city through the use of assistants and resources represented by wooden cylinders called keshis. You only get three seasons, split over four rounds each, to do this. At the start of each round players secretly select three actions to take (each represented by a different keshi). The strength of these actions is based on how many keshis of that type the player has collected. Players collect these keshis from one of Queen’s famous cube towers and never know exactly what will be available that round.

In typical Feld fashion, each of the different actions in Marrakesh will provide you points for doing different things. You will explore the desert, harvest figs, go fishing, progress up the mosque and palace tracks, collect luxury items, use scholars to draft scrolls, and more. 

What you get in the Classic Edition of Marrakesh from Queen Games

Check out our Marrakesh unboxing video on YouTube to see the ridiculous amount of stuff you get in the classic game box. It is a ton of wood and cardboard, and also includes large dual-layered boards. 

The component quality in Marrakesh is good to excellent. The wooden components are great. I appreciate that the keshis are octagonal, which means they don’t roll across the table. The dual-layered player boards are great for holding everything and so far haven’t shown any warping.

The amount of cardboard you get in this box is staggering and you are going to want to grab the rulebook when you are punching out all of the tiles and tokens. The game comes with a bunch of small mini expansions which are separated on the punch boards and you are probably going to want to bag them separately as well.

The Marrakesh rulebook is fantastic. There’s a ton going on in this game but the rules are broken up logically. Queen even colour-coded it by section and action type. This made the book not only good for learning the game from but also great for referring back to during play. The game also includes a separate reference book that’s almost as big as the rulebook, which gives you detailed rules for every token, tile, etc., in the game.

Component wise there are some things that could be improved. First are the rather tiny and easy-to-lose gate tokens. Next are the surprisingly small player screens which feature almost useless iconography.

Honestly, the overall iconography in Marrakesh could be better. When you are first learning the game it’s overwhelming, and even after playing multiple times I still find myself grabbing the reference book because I can’t figure out what some tile does. Once you’ve played four or five times you may start recognizing everything but until then I suggest you keep the reference book handy. 

There’s a ton of stuff in the box, and that comes with one big downfall which is how much room all of this stuff takes when you try and set it up. This game is one of the biggest table hogs I’ve ever seen. I can barely fit a three player set up at my dining room table (which seats five comfortably at dinner). Fitting four players would be quite impossible and even on my big game room table people need to be well spread out to make everything fit.

Put it this way, the fact that they released a smaller essential edition doesn’t surprise me at all. Table space is a serious concern with the classic and deluxe editions of Marrakesh.

An overview of how to play Marrakesh from Stefan Feld

All set up for a two player game of Marrakesh. A point salad from Stefan Feld

Marrakesh has a lot going on and I don’t think it’s worth my time explaining all of the fiddly details. What follows is a relatively high level of play which hopefully will give you enough information to let you decide if this game sounds right for you and your group.

Set up in Marrakesh is not quick. It involves building the cube tower and then sorting many things and placing them out onto the main board and the individual player boards. This includes sorting and placing the scroll tiles and luxury good tiles on the main board, randomly selecting three exchange offices and placing the stack onto the main board, sorting the river tiles and randomly selecting one for each season of the game and putting that stack on the board, randomly drawing city gates from the bag and filling the workshop spaces on the board, and sorting out all of the keshis and resources.

Players then put six random oasis tiles on their player board and place a supply board above their player board with two randomly selected keshis on it (or three with two players). They also place an audience disc in the main square of their board orientated as they wish, and put three provision tiles above their supply board. They get to look at these tiles and select one to flip face up.

Players then collect one water, one dinar, one date, and one keshi of each colour. They place a scoring market on the ten spot on the main board and place three of their pawns on the board, one fisherman on the river track, one student at the bottom of the mosque and one courtier on the palace track. The players’ remaining three pawns are their assistants or workers.

Marrakesh is played over three seasons with four rounds each. Each round has four phases. The first phase has players select keshis and deploy their assistants. Simultaneously, everyone selects three keshis from behind their screen. Each keshi is associated with a specific action.

A player board in Marrakesh after the player has selected which actions they wish to take.

Everyone’s chosen keshis are revealed and players place their assistants into the areas of their player boards that match their chosen colours. The red water vendor keshis are an exception as they are wild and let you place an assistant anywhere. Playing a red keshi is also one of the only ways to take the same action twice in one season.

In the next phase, players claim keshis and deploy them. All of the keshis that were chosen this round are gathered and tossed into the cube tower and the ones that come out are sorted and then drafted by the players. Players draft keshis in player order. Each player chooses one colour of keshi to take and then takes up to two of that chosen colour. Each keshi drafted is placed onto that player’s board. Some keshis, such as pink entertainers, brown caravans, and green date pickers, give you a bonus when placed.

After keshis are drafted you move on to the “use your assistants” phase. This is the bulk of the game.

Each player will activate each of their three assistants before play moves to the next player who will activate all three of their assistants, and so on. Players complete all of their actions before play moves to the next player. Note: We got this wrong the first couple of games and were having players do one activation each and going around the table until everyone was out of assistants, which is wrong — don’t do this.

Green will be using the green action and collecting dates during this round of Marrakesh.

When activating an assistant you can either do that region’s action or you can collect one keshi of the appropriate colour and place it into that region. The strength of the action taken is based on how many keshis the player has already collected in that region/colour. 

Green date picker keshis let you collect dates, one for each keshi in your fields. You also get one point any time you place a new green keshi onto your board. Dates are needed to pay for scrolls and to fulfill provision requirements at the end of a season.

Blue Fish keshis move your fisherman pawn up the river track. You move as many spots as you have keshis and can also spend water to move further. At the end of each round players get rewards based on their position on this track plus there’s an additional bonus at the end of each season for the player(s) furthest up this track.

Purple, yellow, and orange keshis represent goods: carpets, lamps, and spices. These are used to buy luxury goods at the souk, or can be traded based on the values shown on the current exchange office tile. Luxury goods come in five different types. They are worth points and sometimes also give resources. Plus they are featured on many of the oasis end game scoring tiles.

Green will get to choose, do they want two water or six points when they activate their Main Square in this game of Marrakesh

Pink entertainers activate the main square. First, the activating player rotates their audience disk by one spot. They then pick a spot where they have a keshi and receive the reward shown. They get an amount of the reward equal to the number of people watching on their audience disk. Rewards included things like going up on the various in-game tracks, or getting resources or points. When you place a new keshi in the main square you immediately get the reward shown once.

Black cleric keshis activate the mosque. For each keshis present you move your student up the mosque track. Similarly, white noble keshis activate the palace and your courtier moves up that track for each white keshis you have. For both of these tracks, whenever your pawn crosses over a threshold line you collect one dinar and a bonus. The bonus is based on the relative position of your pawns on both tracks and can be either points, free keshis, resources or moving up on the river track.

Grey scholar keshis go to the madrasa where they craft scrolls. Here your keshis become a form of currency that can be spent to acquire powerful rule-breaking abilities at the cost of dates. You get one point of buying power per keshi and can buy any number of scrolls as long as you can afford them. There are four levels of scrolls, with each level providing a better bonus but also being more expensive than the ones before.

On an earlier turn green built a black date using one of the Guards. The game is Marrakesh from Queen

Beige guard keshis are played to the watchtower in the Medina section of a player’s board. Here players will buy gates which they will pair with a guard. Gates are bought from one of the main board’s markets and range in cost from zero to three dinars and also give or take points. For example, the zero cost gate gives you minus three points, but the gates that cost three dinars give you seven points. When you buy a gate you also get a bonus keshi in its colour that is placed right away. Gates built matching the colour of the area they protect earn two bonus points.

Brown caravan keshis are used to explore the Sahara and unlock end-game scoring opportunities. There is also a way to score some resources and points. Tiles are revealed when keshis are placed in this area but are purchased when activating it. At the end of the game, you will score your three best oasis tiles. These tiles award points for all kinds of things, sets of matching luxury goods, the number of keshis in a certain colour you have collected, the number of scrolls you own, your end game resources, and more.

Yellow's player board at the start of the third season in a game of Marrakesh.

Red water vendor keshis can be placed at any of the other areas I just covered. When you activate an area with a water vendor present you earn one water in addition to the keshi or action taken. Also, remember that when you choose a red keshi at the start of a round you get to place your assistant in any area of your board.

Once everyone has activated their three assistants the round ends and you enter the end phase for that round. Players are awarded their river bonuses for how far they are up the river track and the start player maker passes to the left. Then, unless this was the last round of the game, everyone gets a new set of twelve keshis (one of each).

The next round starts with players selecting another set of three keshis from behind their screen and playing through the four phases four more times. Note over the four rounds of a season everyone will use all of their keshis and activate each region on their board once, and one region twice.

At the end of this season this player will have to play two dinars and one fig due to their face up provision tile

At the end of each season, when everyone is out of keshis, final river rewards are handed out. In addition, players need to provide for their people. Each player started the game with three face down provision tiles, they flip up one of these per round and each round they have to fulfill the requirements on all of their face-up tiles or else lose significant points and all of their resources. 

The game is played for a total of three seasons.

After the final season, players are awarded bonus points for each filled section on their player board (a filled section will have eight appropriately coloured keshis and one water vendor). They also get points for their best three oasis tiles and a minor amount of points for leftover resources. The player with the most points wins.  

Feld Fans are going to love Marrakesh

A three player game of Marrakesh from Queen. I couldn't even get the third players board into the picture!

The big thing with Marrakesh is that it seems overwhelming. Trust me, it intimidated me at first and it took longer than it should have for me to get the game to the table in the first place. The rulebook helps with this a bit, but then the reference book is enough to scare anyone away. Now I know it’s a trope, for the heavy gamer to say “it’s not as bad as it looks” but the thing is, it really isn’t that bad.

Three of the four phases in Marrakesh are quite simple. Choose three actions, dump keshis in a tower and draft them, and then do some upkeep at the end of the round. It’s the fourth phase, the action phase where you activate your assistants, that is the meat of the game. However, despite there being twelve different keshi types there are only nine different actions and many of these are also dead simple.

As an example of the simplicity here, the blue, black and white actions just have you move up on tracks on the main board. The green action gives you dates equal to your keshi count. The market actions are also easy as your orange, yellow and purple keshis represent goods to be traded. Pink isn’t too bad either, turn the disk on your board and get a reward. It’s the other three that trip people up, though I find most players have them figured out by the end of the second season of their first game.

Check out the white and green keshies stuck in the cube tower in this game of Marrakesh

That said, there are a lot of moving parts in Marrakesh and many little rules that are easy to miss. For our first three games, we had the turn order totally wrong. We also missed that you can spend water to move up further on the river track when taking the blue action and I know that when teaching the game I’ve forgotten at least once to mention that you can spend a dinar to swap up the scroll tiles before purchasing one.

Note, at this point I’m talking about actions by colour. This points out a potential issue in this game. The theme doesn’t really matter much at all here. This is typical of Stefan Feld’s games, and Marrakesh is no exception. So far no one I’ve played with has said “Pass me a date picker.”, it’s always “Give me a green keshi, please.” There’s also not much thematic tie-in anywhere here. That said, I wouldn’t say the lack of theme is a problem, it doesn’t get in the way or anything. 

The biggest concern with Marrakesh is how damn big the game is. It takes up a lot of room and has a lot of small pieces. The size means you need a big table and the sheer amount of tiny bits has me not waiting to bring it out to public play events. While I do appreciate the components in the game, and I like having a nice big player board with multiple wooden keshis on it, I can see the appeal of the smaller Marrakesh Essential Edition.

Overall I really love Marrakesh. I’m a bit of a Stefan Feld fanboy and Marrakesh scratches all of my Feld itches. I think this is one of Feld’s best games to date. It’s a wonderfully varied point salad, one that I feel like I’m still discovering after multiple plays. Every game has played differently and it feels like I’m still only scratching the surface as far as learning to play well.  

We just managed to fit a three player game of Marrakesh on my dinning room table.

Of course, heavy Feld point salads aren’t for everyone. Marrakesh can be a brain burner and may seem more like work than fun to some players and groups. If you like Feld games like Trajan or Amerigo I think it’s fair to say you will dig Marrakesh. You can probably just go pick up a copy, but be aware of how much space the Classic Edition can take up and purchase appropriately. 

I’m pretty sure you knew this when I mentioned Feld at the start of this review, but light game fans, party game fans, casual beer and pretzel games, and family game night gamers will probably want to avoid this game. While it’s not the heaviest game out there, and you aren’t going to want to break out Excel on your final turn, this is a meaty mechanics mash-up that’s probably not going to appeal to your group. 

That said, we have played this with some fans of lighter games. If you’re not worried about winning you can still have a great experience playing this game, just know that the real Feld fans will probably trounce you in the final score.

Marrakesh is the first game we’ve tried in the Queen Games City Collection. We’ve got Hamburg in our pile of shame and I’m really looking forward to checking that one out as well. I’m also eager to try other games in this series. If any of them are half as good as Marrakesh we’re in for a treat. 

Are you a Feld fan like my wife and I are? What’s your favourite Stefan Feld game? Is it from the City Collection? What Feld game should we try to get our hands on next? Let us know in the comments!

Marrakesh Classic Edition
Marrakesh is one of the four royal cities of the country and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985. The players are rich citizens of the city. They skillfully gain influence in the mosque or palace, conduct research in the schools of scholars and travel through the Sahara with caravans. In the souks, they haggle over valuable luxury goods.
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