In Marco Polo you are the leader of a group of merchants leaving on a business trip from Venice, Italy to Shang-tu, China. After sailing to Armenia at the east end of the Mediterranean Sea, you set out by camel on a 6000-mile trek across Asia to the court of the Great Kublai Khan in Shang-tu near the Pacific Ocean. To get your party safely to Shang-tu, you must know the rules of the Silk Road; the more important ones are noted here:
- At the beginning of the game, you are asked to rank your shooting ability. Since the program cannot really test your prowess with a crossbow, shooting ability is measured by how fast you can type a random shooting sound. A rating of I describes a reasonably good typist, while 4 should be reserved for those who use no more than two fingers. The game will be more fun if you rank yourself 1 or 2.
- Approximately every two months during your trip, you come upon a village that has a market where you may replenish your provisions. As prices vary widely from place to place, it is best to maintain a modest stock of goods so you are not forced to buy at high prices.
- Deciding how well to eat during each two-month period involves some tradeoffs. Eating better allows you to walk longer and cover more ground; you are also less susceptible to disease. However, food costs money (jewels), and your camels have a limited carrying capacity. If you run out of food on the trip, you can always eat a camel (assuming you have one left).
- Balm and unguents are used for treating wounds. If you run out, you face a much higher risk of getting a fatal infection.
- As a merchant, you are not a skilled hunter. However, occasionally you may be offered an opportunity to hunt. Count it a blessing if you get food in this way, but remember that your crossbow is the only weapon you have with which to drive off bandits. Hence, you should always keep a small supply of arrows in reserve.
Many hazards and surprises await you along the road to Shang-tu, so stay alert and keep your wits about you. The Polos completed the land journey in approximately 36 months. In the game, this means arriving at Shang-tu in March 1274. If you make only the best decisions and encounter no delays, it is possible to complete the computer journey in 24 months, but a more realistic goal is to complete the trip in the same 36 months it took the Polos. Can you do it?