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Subject: Fallen from Glory rss

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Drew Bowling
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When you open the box, you can feel the salty sea air blowing briskly against your face. As you set up the beautifully crafted board of exquisite design, you can almost see the sea in front of you. It is hard to withhold a slight “Arr!” as you place your little plastic ship on the board, regardless of the fact that these incredible miniature ships are of an out of place color and, unfortunately, do have a slight tendency of bending and snapping. Stuffing your little cardboard gold coins into your treasure box can make you feel that lust for gold, whether you find yourself as a Merchant or a Marauder. Certainly those cards, while perhaps not being as masterfully wrought in design as some of the other artwork, contribute greatly to the theme through their written tales of pirate-like exploits yet to come. And then, the coup de grace that makes this game of perfection in theme is the little dice with those Jolly Rogers on either side. Roll those dice and deal deathly blows to those ships so inferior to your own. Why yes, Christian Marcussen has created a masterpiece in theme, gameplay, and overall pirate-y… stuff.

This review is the story of how Merchants and Marauders fell from glory for me.

Rules Overview: As I’ve mentioned, the theme and components are top notch, and the gameplay isn’t half bad either. In this game, you are dealt a captain with stats in Seamanship, Scouting, Leadership, and Influence. You use these various stats to gain Glory points, with the first to 10 being the winner. There are various ways you can accumulate these points, falling into two broad categories: As a Merchant or a Marauder. As a Merchant, one will be sailing across the open seas buying goods from ports, collecting threes of a kind, and selling them at ports where they are “in demand.” As a Marauder, you will be raiding Merchants (both other players and little circles of cardboard) in an effort to either destroy the ship or loot the little cardboard circle. However, if one chooses the life of piracy, one will find himself locked out of many ports (which, as will be explained later, isn’t as much of a problem as it could be). Regardless of which path you take, you will also have the option to complete rumors, missions, and stash gold for points. In addition to the above, players will find themselves hunted by other NPC ships, with Naval vessels hunting pirates and other pirates hunting the merchants. Defeat one of these ships, and you may very well find yourself with a Glory point! The rules are rather lengthy and involved, so I’m not going to go into too much detail, but the rulebook does an excellent job of explaining everything you need to know in a logical order.

Overall, the components, thematic integration, and rules presentation are top-notch.

One complaint I’ve heard for Merchants and Marauders is about downtime. I’ll keep this brief. There is downtime between your turns, but the game is interesting enough that you won’t get bored. That is, unless you have a friend who will sit for literally 15 minutes to decide what 3 actions he wants to take. There is potential for AP here, but in general it shouldn’t keep you from having a good time.

Downtime exists, but it doesn’t necessarily detract from the game. AP is quite a possibility.

Okay, this seems a little out of order, but let’s talks about replayability! (But how does it play in general? Shh, that’s like the other half of this review.) There is TONS of replayability in Merchants and Marauders. First, there are a number of different captains with different abilities and stats which will help determine your strategy. NPC ships will periodically block of key areas, potentially changing what options are available at a given time. My friends and I haven’t done a ton with events, but I bet those add replayability too. The timing of important events, like when you FINALLY save up for that Galleon, also changes how the game goes. Lastly, player interaction will change tons between games.

There is a world of possibilities in that box. Replayabitility is a non-issue.

Okay, time to talk about gameplay and balance.

Personal narrative time. My friends, being avid videogame lovers, naturally took a liking to the strong theme and eye candy of Merchants and Marauders. And they enjoyed playing it too. It seemed like the perfect game, with just enough luck to keep things interesting. As a side note, one of my friends had a very militant take on the game. I suggested that we all start as Merchants to learn the rules. So he decided to attack me in his flute. Which is a merchant ship not meant for combat. Now, I was in a flute too, so I just tried to run away, and I was able. But you’ll see this general theme come up later.

The first time I saw something really bad happen as far as luck goes was playing against my dad. We were just playing, and my dad, good little merchant that he was, just so happened to be next to an English naval ship. So far so good. Until we got a War card, which placed my dad’s nation at war with England and guess what? The English ship moved into my dad’s sea zone! My dad tried his hardest to run away, but he was never able to and the ship killed him. My dad never had fun playing Merchants and Marauders again.

Well, my friends still really liked the game. And that one friend I mentioned earlier decided that he would pursue piracy. Now, understand there are a lot of checks on piracy. For example, you are locked out all of the ports of those you assault. In addition, you invoke the wrath of Naval ships. And last, it’s SUPER hard to scout and succeed at Merchant raids without special equipment. Well, a couple of things.

1. By only attacking Spanish merchants, you may miss out on 5 ports, but there are a lot of other ports and it ultimately doesn’t hurt very much to lose out on Spanish ports. In addition, there are plenty of Spanish merchants available, and if you can localize your pirating efforts against the Spanish, you’re pretty safe and don’t suffer extensively from this check.

2. Naval ships aren’t that bad. A pirate who has decked out his ship with a couple of nice modifications and has a good Seamanship can pretty effortlessly take down Naval ships. And if worst starts coming to worst, the Pirate probably has accumulated a number of useful Glory cards to fend off any crushing blows and deal his own amount of crushing blows.

3. Either my friend has the dice gods at his commands or Merchant Raids aren’t really that hard at all. I’ve never seen him lose one, and he gets over 12 most of the time. Without needing special weapons.

Now, there are probably those out there saying, “Lies! Heresy! Pirating is so much weaker than merchanting! It requires so much luck!” A couple more things. Merchanting requires a fair dose of luck as well. Unless you’re fairly lucky, you won’t always get three’s of a kind to sell in port. In fact, sometimes 2 trips to port aren’t even enough to get sets of three. In addition, Merchants have to traverse the entire board often. And don’t even get me started on rumors. Merchanting in general eats up lots of actions and isn’t as luck free as one would think. So why would you do this? A. To save up money so you can be a pirate. B. Because you’ve been told it’s faster. C. Because your pirate had awful Seamanship and/or Scouting. D. Because you’re a super non-confrontational person like myself. Overall, for experienced players, pirating is the way to go.

I want to enjoy this game so much, but so many things about it have left a sour taste in my mouth.

And then there was the Birthday Incident. I had invited my two good friends and a new gamer over for my birthday. I wanted to play Power Grid, but my friends persuaded the newby to pick Merchants and Marauders. Tentatively, I consented, beginning the lengthy setup and rules explanation. Finally, my aggressive friend, who was a pirate, began his turn. He moved out of port for his first action and successfully scouted a Spanish merchant. Then it was time to roll for Seamanship. And he got 3 Jolly Rogers. I believe he got 18 gold out of that Merchant Raid. That was the point where he won the game. Well, turns went around for a little bit, and I believe the newby got a 3 of a kind in goods or something ridiculous like that. Well, it was my turn finally, and I drew cargo, only getting a 2 of a kind. I also decided to do a Rumor Roll with my 3 Influence. Paid 2 gold. It failed. Oh well. The game continued on, my friend continuing on pirating successfully, the newby merchanting quite successfully; I forget what happened for my other friend aside from the fact that he died 3 times in the course of the game. My next turn. I went to another port, but the last good I needed for a 3 of a kind wasn’t there. So I decided to do another rumor roll. And it failed. My next turn, I did another rumor roll, and it succeeded! Then, when I travelled across the board to the port to finish it, I had to do another influence check. And I failed it. Now, I had also been buying goods on the way, and I never once got a set of 3 until near the end of the game, which took two different trips to port. We ended up stopping the game when my friend got to 8 points because we all knew how the game would end. Plus, I was the birthday boy, and I didn’t want to play it anymore.

The newby had 6 points, I had 2, and my friend who died 3 times had 0.

So why am I sharing this random story? A couple of reasons. First of all, it shows how both Merchants and Pirates are subject to luck, with the Pirates being just a lot faster in addition. It also shows how bad luck can ruin this game.

As for gameplay and balance, the game has a fair amount of luck, which is okay in and of itself, but this luck can potentially ruin the game, and the experience, for a player. The Merchant/Pirate balance seems to be in favor of the experienced pirate, and a more aggressive player will generally snatch the victory.

I know that this sounds like a review of hate toward this game, but please don’t take it as such! My friends really enjoy this game, and it is a very immersive experience. The theme comes dripping out of every interaction, and the components are beautiful. The mechanics are pretty slick, too. The problem is that the game can be hopelessly decided one way or another by elements out of the players’ control. It also seems to favor one playing style above others. A wonderful game, but unfortunately for me, it has fallen from its former glory.

Should you buy this game? Merchants and Marauders is a very fun game. I used to really enjoy it, and it certainly will provide some enjoyment. However, life isn’t fair, and there will be some games of Merchants and Marauders that just aren’t fun. If you can take really unfortunate circumstances with a good spirit, then you’ll have no problem with this game. So what should you do? Walk leisurely to the store, stare at that smiling Marauder on the box, converse with him about your deepest secrets and fears, and, if you’re still up for it, buy the game. Maybe you’ll have more fun than I did.

Take this all with a grain of salt; I still give this game a 7.5.

Feel free to prove me wrong in the comments below. I’d love to love this game.
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Stephen Sanders
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No, I don't think I could prove you wrong from your experiences.

I just would add that one of the built in features of this game is that you should not have a runaway leader, as scores track progress, and you know when a player is stashing a lot of gold. Unless all the other players are weak, they should take the opportunity to play cards on them, or even attack them when they are loaded down with a bunch of gold. This is part of the game - piracy is encouraged. Maybe they will win, maybe they won't but those battles between two ships that are decked out with sweet modifications, special weapons, and cards are exciting. Just my two cents.
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Dave Dawn
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Well, I just finished a game where I scored 0 but still enjoyed myself immensely. I was just about to go on a major scoring run but an NPC pirate in a frigate presented a major roadblock and I was a turn shy of picking up my first glory point and with a reasonably good shot of picking up four more over the next four turns. The lack of threes was a bit of a frustration but it just forced me to look for other ways to score.

Anyway, welcome to the best board game site on the internet!
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Troy Spencer
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Power in the game can snowball quite quickly I've found. For instance if the entire group starts out as merchants and someone gets lucky in a few ports getting sets of three they can quickly get out to the lead in coins, upgrade the ship and start pirating early. With an upgraded ship and modifications the poor scally wag who got hosed in the sets of three merchanting game can have a tough time closing the gap and will be easy pickings.

I have had situations like this arise on occasion but at least in the times when the luck factor is leaning heavily in one favors direction the game doesn't usually take long. Getting to 10 points can happen surprisingly fast in this game when someone is able to get favorable winds and a few landlubbers lost out at sea are there for the picking.

I love this game, sorry to hear that it has soured a little for you.
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Einmal ist keinmal
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mademan wrote:
Getting to 10 points can happen surprisingly fast in this game when someone is able to get favorable winds and a few landlubbers lost out at sea are there for the picking.

Nice.
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I think that you actually do like or do want to like this game, but that some bad experiences put you off.

To reduce the luck/bad luck a bit:
1 Shuffle the cargo cards very well. You can check before you start, or better: leave the cards well-shuffled after your game, so that it's ready for next game. The chance to draw 3 the same cargo cards in one port is very small.

2 Deal 3 (or more) captain cards to each player and let each player choose 1. This increases the chance that each player has a captain that is suitable to his/ her playing style.

3 Help newbies a bit when they're about to do a very risky action, or a strategy where his captain will not do very well at.

4 Everyone should accept the fact: my captain will die in the game. Even if he doesn't die, just be prepared that it can happen, and then say "Darn! Ah well" and continue. It'll put you back a couple of turns, but you'll get to pick another one and you'll be able to continue.
If actions can gain you 2-3 glory points, but it will leave your ship heavily damaged, it may be worth to take the risk. Also when there are not many merchant ships to raid anymore and/ or you can't enter many ports anymore it can be worth a risk and you may be better off if you start with a new captain. Don't forget to first stash your gold if you're carrying a lot on your ship.

5 When you're a pirate, use the special weapons. This helps a lot to compensate for a bad Seamanship roll.

6 When you're a merchant, try to hand in only 3 or more of the same cargo cards in a port where this type is in demand. This will get you a glory point, and this is important! Don't get lured into the quick gold trap and hand in only 2. It's nice that you get 50 gold, but you still need to get 5 glory points in another way.

7 When you're a merchant try to get a ship with 5 cargo spaces. Expect to not get 3 the same goods of the same type at once in a port. With 5 cargo spaces collect 2 of 2 types and then go to the next port. The chance to get at least 1 of either type that you collected in the next port should be big enough. This way you should be VERY unlucky if someone wins with 8 points, and you're still at 0 points.

8 This was already mentioned, but I'll repeat: if you have a runaway leader, then try to play your glory cards on him first.


I hope you enjoy.
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Geki
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Once you have two couplets of cargoes, getting a third is not that hard. I am under the impression you never did, so you were always shooting for that one particular cargo. Which makes thinks painful.

I've won and lost games as a pirate and as a merchant.

Welcome to BGG.

Geki
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Carsten Jorgensen
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Miller4h9 wrote:
The first time I saw something really bad happen as far as luck goes was playing against my dad. We were just playing, and my dad, good little merchant that he was, just so happened to be next to an English naval ship. So far so good. Until we got a War card, which placed my dad’s nation at war with England and guess what? The English ship moved into my dad’s sea zone! My dad tried his hardest to run away, but he was never able to and the ship killed him. My dad never had fun playing Merchants and Marauders again.


This part you got wrong. You first resolve whatever move icons that are on the event card. Then you do the text. So the naval ship would not be hostile against your dad in the "move part" of the card.

There is actually only one card that can surprise you that way - "Too quiet", I think. Then you resolve that card and draw two more. But a very small risk - and if you don't like it, nothing gets broken by removing that card before playing.

However if you are in the same sea zone as an NPC, then you do run the risk of course, that it gets hostile and scouts when your turn starts. But then you also had some protection the round before, which might be worth the small gamble.
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Kolby Reddish
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I posted a critical review of this game some time ago. I wanted to like it so badly, but my biggest complaint is that the largest determinant of how well you will do in this game is which captain you are randomly dealt at the beginning of the game. Some of the stats I think are just straight better than others. In my review people argued this point, saying you can play a variant where you draw 3 pick 1 or something like that, but I really don't like the fact that I felt the biggest decider of how well I'd do in the game was this one choice, that playing as the rules dictate, is completely arbitrary.

Edit- I do want to add that I love Christian's other game, Clash of Cultures immensely.
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Drew Bowling
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First, thank you to people for giving me a lot of ideas for how to play better and have more fun! We've been trying to implement most of these already, but for those we haven't yet, we'll get to it.
Also, about the rules issue, this was one of our earlier games, and we may not have been certain of a lot of rules. I'm not sure, but the ship might have even moved into my Dad's sea zone without hunt priority. Regardless, my dad was stuck in a small corner of the board anyway. But thanks for the advice; I don't think I ever knew what order stuff happens in. Now I do!

I think writing this review has actually made me want to play Merchants and Marauders more...
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Moe45673
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Drew, it sounds like another read through the rulebook is in order. You may need to unlearn a thing or two that you mistakenly thought were rules and these things may contribute to your thoughts about how luck is too random in this game.

Of course, you may just feel that way
 
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Sacred Ninja
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Miller4h9 wrote:
Walk leisurely to the store, stare at that smiling Marauder on the box, converse with him about your deepest secrets and fears, and, if you’re still up for it, buy the game.


This is actually very good advice, and couldn't be said better.
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Pas L
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One thing only touched lightly upon in the responses:

Playing a game with player interaction and random elements requires you to accept that sometimes other players will stuff you and sometimes lady luck will. Accept these possibilities in to your heart and then let go.

As a wise man once said, its important to play to win, but winning itself is not the point. And/or the journey is not just about the destination.

Also luck is just another thing to be managed. It is very rarely as significant as players make out. I've probably won 70-80% of the Catan games I've played in my time.
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