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Subject: Review of Battle Merchants by @EuroGamerGirl rss

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Brief Synopsis:
You are not only a crafter of weapons, but a merchant trying to sell your wares to the warring races. While some delight in peace, you revel in war – it’s when you make the most money. And the one who makes the most money off the year-long war is the ultimate Battle Merchant!

Introductory Thoughts:
This game has a light-hearted attitude with a heavy-weight strategy. I definitely enjoy the fun fantasy art, but don’t let it fool you. There are a lot of decisions to make, each one with different results, and some actions you take may not pay off until the end, if at all. This is one of those games where your first play is truly a learning game. Some things won’t click or make sense until the very end. And even then, additional plays will reveal more details that you can utilize more efficiently in developing your strategy in the next play. This also means that more experienced players will most likely do better than players new to the game.

The 6 C’s

Chance: There is randomization to the cards, but otherwise everything is predetermined. The cards provide the variability that is needed to make each game different, but the low level of chance here does mean that more experienced players will have an advantage. This is true of many euro-style games, which I definitely consider this game to be. I personally like this as it allows for developing strategies as you play more and has a higher level of competition as you try to get better at the game over your opponent.

Choice: Your business will thrive or wither depending on the choices you make. The hardest part is to keep the end goal in mind – making the most money. Almost every action you do will get you towards that, but some are better to take at different points than others. But making that determination is not easy. There will be times when you have several good choices, but by choosing one, you lose access to another. This game will not be easy for those who are inclined towards analysis paralysis.

Character: You are money-grubbing weapons dealer who is gleefully selling to all sides of the war and you don’t care who wins as you’re getting paid! This is what drew me to the game from the moment I heard of the concept. I love crafting games, but some feel very abstract. Not so here. Every mechanical choice feels very thematic. You have some tough choices on how to run your business, but that’s just it – you think of the choices in terms of the theme. You’re trying to make the most money by the end of the game, not just earn points and be the winner of a point salad. For a euro-style game, Battle Merchants has a very strong theme that will keep you involved until the very end, and even after as you discuss your triumph or failure as a weapons merchant.

Conflict: There is a denial of opportunity and direct competition of weapons, but most contests of battle don’t really matter. Like many euro games, when you take an action, it will deny your opponents that opportunity. This is even more-so when playing with two players since each card you take will discard another. Then there is also the contest of battles, which weapon defeats the other, but overall, this is not as important since you’ve already been paid for the weapon and it’s harder to affect since all information is public and you can see the craft level of each person. However, if you can win, you get the defeated weapon to show a growing reputation and you get a small bit of money for repairing it at the end of the season, as you are the blacksmith on retainer. So there is definitely a strong feeling of competition to the game without being too direct.

Clarity: The rules are very comprehensive and easy to learn from. There were only two questions that came up. One was what the region bonus tiles were for. The rules mention them a few times, but it’s not until you play the game and see the Kingdom cards that you figure out how they are used. Basically, they give you a bonus to selling in that region just like the race bonus tiles do. Second, it is not clear that when you use the Hoarder’s card to flip it over that you still retain the bonus 2 card slots. These were pretty easy to clear up. The most challenging part of the game is when you first learn it and try to remember to do everything in the right order, especially the two player game with Steve. In the first few games, we often forgot to have him sell after one of us sold. It’s not complicated. There is just an order of operations with a few steps to remember, which gets easier the more you play.

Concealment: There is complete open information, which makes this game very accessible to those with vision disabilities. Even the card choices are on display, face-up, for everyone to see and remain face-up when a player takes it. This makes Battle Merchants a great option for playing outside the house as you don’t have to worry about taking along assistive devices. You just need at least one person able and willing to read everything. There is only one issue with sorting the Craft cards. The backs indicate which season they are used in, but the contrast between the colors is not very good and blends in with the rest of the image. So just take careful note of the circle in the middle of the back that is broken into 4 parts. The cards where you see green and pink in the circle are for the Spring/Summer deck while the cards with gold and white are for the Autumn/Winter deck. Though the gold and white look more like yellow and grey to me.

Final Thoughts
While other games have included weapon crafting, this is the one where I really feel like I’m a blacksmith and selling my fine-honed (or shoddily-made) weapons to make a living. The artwork is a very fun take on fantasy art and a good reminder not to take the game too seriously. Yet, all the choices lead to a deeper strategy and competition can get a little cut-throat. The only downside that may bother some people is that the game is played slightly different for each player count. The four player game is the most straight-forward. The three player game removes one of the races and the balance of weapons wanted is different. Lastly, a two player game requires an additional board that introduces Steve, a fake third player. Steve is not a bad fake player, considering some other games. He adds strategy to the two player game in that the players can predict where he’s going to sell and use it to their advantage. However, we often found ourselves forgetting to do his sell action after ours so it takes some getting used to. Overall, I think this game is a solid euro-style game with a strong theme that I highly recommend checking out.

For more tabletop game reviews, check out my blog @EuroGamerGirl on Games.
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