Board/Card/War/Mini Tabletop Game Review

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Battle Merchants

Battle Merchants

From: Minion Games

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Fantasy literature is replete with accounts of massive armies clashing against one another in epic conflicts. But have you ever stopped to think about the logistics behind fielding so many troops? There’s a reasonably good chance that you haven’t, and a greater likelihood that the author didn’t either. Battle Merchants focuses on one of the factors in this complex equation.

From the rulebook:
It is a time of conflict, The Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, and Hobgoblins all hate each other with a passion, and are ready to declare war. All they need are weapons.

As implied by the above quote, the players are arms merchants in a typical fantasy world ready to supply all sides with their weapon needs. Over the course of four seasons, players will attempt to amass more gold than their competitors so as to dominate the weapons market.

On a player’s turn, one of four possible actions can be taken. Upgrading your Craft levels will be an early priority. This is done by selecting one of five face up Craft cards. While the majority can be taken for free, some require that you spend gold on them. These will offer benefits like providing multiple Craft levels or reducing the cost of forging a weapon. You can also select from one of three face up Kingdom cards. Each Kingdom card provides either an immediate or long term benefit. However, there’s a limit to how many Kingdom cards a player can possess based on the current season. In addition, players cannot discard any of their current Kingdom cards to gain a new one. So be very sure when you take one.

The real meat of the game comes from the production and sale of weapons. To forge one of four types of weapons (swords, axes, hammers, and maces) requires at least one Craft level in the weapon type. The more powerful and profitable vorpal weapons require at least five Craft levels in the weapon type to forge. Up to three weapons may be forged per turn so long as the player has enough gold to cover the production costs. Selling weapons requires that you cater to the current demands. The game board consists of three or four regions (depending on the number of players), each with a line of six battlefields. At the beginning of the game, all but the centermost battlefields will be locked, as indicated by their Demand tokens. Each battlefield has two icons consisting of an outline of a weapon type. Selling one of the weapons you have forged involves placing a Weapon tile and an ownership cube on a matching icon in an unlocked battlefield and gold from the sale is collected. Once both icons in a battlefield have been claimed, its Demand token is moved to an empty space in the current Season area and the Demand token of the next battlefield is flipped to the unlocked side.

From the rulebook:
As a Battle Merchant, your goal is to make as much money as you can. Fortunately, none of the races seem to notice that you’re selling weapons to their enemies at the same time…

Once the final spot in a Season area has been filled, it’s time for the races to duke it out. But before that happens, each player except the one who removed the last Demand token gets one more turn (with any Demand tokens that get removed at this point going to the box). Each battlefield with two Weapon tiles in place is then resolved. Victory goes to the player who has more Craft levels for their weapon. Vorpal weapons also defeat standard weapons automatically, regardless of how many Craft levels are backing it up. The winning player then takes the losing tile (which get used to determine any bonus gold received at the end of the game) and gains two gold. If the battle results in a tie, both tiles are removed from the board and returned to the supply pile, with their respective players gaining one gold each. When the battles have concluded, all currently face up Craft and Kingdom cards are discarded, with new sets being dealt out.

If there’s one weak spot, it’s the two player game. Like many economic games, the dynamics work better when at least three players participate. However, a fix is provided in the form of Salesman Steve. Whenever a player sells a weapon, on the same turn Salesman Steve will make a sale as well. This is done by placing a matching Weapon tile on the empty battlefield space pertaining to a specific race (which alternates) closest to the center. Salesman Steve’s wares are of poor quality and always lose in battles against weapons sold by players. Though this is an improvement over using the rules as written for two player, the predictable nature of Salesman Steve still makes it less than satisfying.

In conclusion, the moderate array of options is such that the gameplay has considerable depth while not being so overwhelming as to induce analysis paralysis. Just be sure that you can get at least two other players before setting up.

Rating: 15

Product Summary

Battle Merchants

From: Minion Games

Type of Game: Board Game

Game Design by: Gil Hova

Graphic Design by: Chuck Whelan

Game Components Included: Rulebook, Game board, 4 Player mats, 101 Coins, 24 Demand tokens, 80 Standard Weapon tiles, 40 Vorpal Weapon tiles, 68 Reward tiles, 28 Kingdom cards, 56 Craft cards, 4 Craft Bonus cards, and 64 Ownership cubes.

Retail Price: $54.95

Number of Players: 2-4

Player Ages: 13+

Play Time: 90 minutes

Website: http://www.miniongames.com/

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

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