I was in Frankfurt on business for a few days, so I trolled BGG for some local members to find out about gaming opportunites while I was there, and came across Matthias Colmelet who was more than helpful--he hosted me at the Cafe Vorspiel (a gaming cafe, can you imagine ... ) for gaming sessions on two separate days.
On the first evening, I arrived, and Matthias and his friend Oliver were waiting. I was about 15 minutes late, and they had just broken out Dungeon Twister, but quickly put it away, much to Oliver's relief.
We jumped right into Merchant of Venus thereafter, all three of us being experienced players, but none of us having played in over a year, at least.
We all went exploring in different directions. I got lucky early on, picking up some moderately useful relics (Auto Pilot, Gate Lock, Switch Switch) in the Cloud system, which I was quickly able to sell in the Inhabited Moon system to upgrade my ship to Transport.
Mid-game, we compared our respective assets, and we were all very close. Soon thereafter, things changed. Matthias upgraded to Clipper, which resulted in the PLAY OF THE GAME:
Both Matthias and Oliver were in the Ice Planet system, and Matthias decided to jettison his Mulligan Gear relic. Since he was going to be rolling four dice each turn now anyway with his Clipper, he figured, why not cash it in? Thing is, he didn't need the money, you can cash relics in ANYtime, pretty much (usually at the end of the game to push yourself over the victory threshold), and the Mulligan Gear is really quite useful to anybody, and this is reflected in its cost as one of the most expensive relics. And with Oliver being right there, he snatched it up right quick, and put it to extremely good use when he upgraded to a Freighter (usually a risky upgrade, unless you're playing a very long game AND have proven adjacent trade routes). For the rest of the game, I harangued Matthias every time he rolled a buncha ones and twos or when Oliver smugly re-rolled into fives and sixes.
Hereafter, Matthias' game stalled, and Oliver's took off. Oliver was making HUGE deliveries, and it really looked like he had it in the bag. However, his trade routes were a tad far-flung for a Freighter, notwithstanding the Mulligan Gear, and I had established a profitable route: Ice Planet-Asteroid System (my home system)-War-Torn System-Polluted Planet-Inhabited Moon, with spaceports in each, and Tele Gates in two or three of them (including Tele Gate "4", making the Auto Pilot relic, which I had subsequently re-acquired, very handy).
During the end-game, it looked like Oliver was going to make a delivery that put him over the top, but he was just shy. Right afterward, I had the same opportunity, but was also just shy. So, it was apparent that whoever made the next delivery was going to win. Oliver's last delivery was made to the Ice Planet system (easily the most popular system in this game, due partly to the uncanny incidence of demand for Mulch Wine with the supply nearby in the War-Torn system). By now, there was nothing left to pick up there, so his Freighter had to lumber off towards the Jungle Planet system to find something to do. I, however, was ready to make an immediate delivery, and, after selling a relic or two as well, got the win.
Always a fun game, we did remark how the basic game is a bit like three-player solitaire, without the ability to affect the others' games much, other than the odd race for high demand areas. With more players, scarcity of supply would be more of an issue. Most players, including Matthias and Oliver, won't use the combat rules, due to the significant lengthening of the game this would represent (also the reason many players won't play with more than 4 players). I've tried the combat rules, albeit only in a three-player game, and it was still very difficult to affect the leader (you had to catch him first, likely sacrificing a trade opportunity oneself).
Thanks go out to Matthias and Oliver, wonderful hosts, with the grace to allow the guest to win.