Saturday, December 12, 2015

Battle Merchants: Enjoyable fantasy hustling

Arms dealers, merchants of death, those-who-fulfill-a-need...scumbags... call them what you want.. they've been around since the beginning of time. You got a war to fight, purveyors of the best weapons money can buy will be around to supply your needs. No doubt in fantasy settings the same will be true.

My friend Jeff and I sat down to play the light economic euro boardgame Battle Merchants today, by Minion Games.

It seems the Orcs, Elves, Dwarves and Hobgoblins hate each other and are constantly at war. A quick entrepreneur such as Jeff and myself are there to give in to their... uh.. passions, with ready made swords, maces, axes and hammers, as well as deadly sharp (and possibly magical) swords, maces, axes and hammers called Vorpals.

I was the proprietor of Max's Metalwurx...

while Jeff was the owner of Shogun Supplies..

In a 2 player game, we had a dummy player called "Salesman Steve", who hustled every time we hustled. Whenever each of us sold, Steve got in on the action, sometimes to the other side.

I was a little put off by the kiddie art to be honest, but good reviews on Boardgamegeek convinced me to get it.

I found also the map colours to be over-the-top sometimes, and the map overall seemed a bit busy at times..

However, it did work. The game has a lot of abstract concepts.

Battles are done abstractly, with you meeting demand by placing a sold weapon to one or both sides in the weapon box in demand. Here for example, I sold Vorpal Maces and regular axes to the Orcs, while so far, Jeff (in red cube) sold his hammers to the Hobgoblins. No one yet has supplied swords to the second battle.

Higher quality weapons beat lower quality weapons, which you collect upon after a battle if you're the winner. It's bad enough you sell weapons, you even are presumably scavenging afterwards the losers stuff, which adds as a point scoring mechanism at the end of the game. These defeated weapons of the losing side are collected and added up at the end of the game for gold.

Terrain also is done abstractly, with rows of demand counters separating the area between the races.. It is there that battles are conducted..

Orcs for example, were separated by the Andiade Desert from the hobgoblins..

 and the Beber Forest separated them from the Elves.

There is a feeling of satisfaction sometimes, as you can find yourself on different turns supplying weapons to both sides of the same battle, as Jeff representing the red cube did here, selling his maces to the Elves and his axes to the Orcs in the same battle. Whoever wins, Jeff got the gold selling both, and awarded end-of-game points by taking in the destroyed weapons afterwards.

I did something similar in the example below, selling swords and maces to both sides in the same battle, both represented by the blue cube.

You are constantly eyeing the other player, being careful to not sell your lower quality weapon to a demand where he or she met the other side with a higher quality weapon.. You also can't fall too far behind in upgrading your craftsmanship, or in selling and forging goods.  It can be a trade off sometimes on what to do.

You must keep up with your competitors in terms of skill, and need to not just build low grade junk, but up your forging skills, as represented by craft cards.

For instance, my craftsmanship in maces, as per below was 3, swords 4, hammers 2, and axes 1. In other words, I was selling high quality swords, lesser quality maces and hammers, and junk axes.

The highest quality weapons are when you reach level 5 and you build Vorpal axes, swords, etc.

Selling is always good though, because when you sell to a particular race or terrain, you can build up a reputation with them, getting more gold. (Of course, the races do not realise you are also supplying the other side. :-)). This reputation bonus is done through the use of  "reward tiles."

In this example, I get +3 gold for every sale to the hobgoblins, +2 gold to the Elves, +1 gold to the Orcs, +1 gold in the desert area and +1 gold in the forest area.

There is a bit of chess-like thinking in a 2 player game, as you can see in a move or two ahead, who Salesman Steve will sell to, so with the right move, you can trigger the sale that will get Steve to sell his schlock merchandise (he always sells at the lowest quality) that could benefit you.. Say for example you know Steve must sell to the Dwarves at the next sale, which you have a high quality weapon already meeting demand to one of the Dwarves's enemies. You sell to another race, and then Steve takes his turn, selling low quality weapons against your high quality weapon. You get a bonus end of game score for that.

Easy rules, but some strategy. Made for a pleasant gaming session and I look forward to a 3 or 4 player game to see how it plays.

Thumbs up.

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