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Subject: Space Merchants Review - To Trade or not to Trade... rss

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John "Omega" Williams
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SPACE MERCHANTS
Review and overview by Omega
2009

Found plying the space lanes is yet another of Alex Kremers "One Page Wars" print-n-play games made in 2005. As its name suggests, the game prints out to a single page and is a space combat/merchant style game for 1-3 players who assume the roles of Merchant, Pirate, Bounty Hunter or even Police.
***NOTE: Notes and commentary are indicated thusly.***

The game does indeed print out to a single page. This contains the rules, the playing field composed of around 20 sectors of varying types. 7 Bounty Hunter counters, 16 Pirate, 19 Merchant and 7 Police. Rules are as follows.

The goal is to amass 50bil credits in 20 turns. Either by Trade, Piracy, or Bounty Hunting. ***NOTE: While it does not mention that each player selects one of these roles, the rules addendum for Police indicates that each player assumes one role of the 4 available. So there is only 1 Merchant, Pirate, etc.***
Ships are denoted by two stats, Worth and Cost. You start out with the most basic ship of the line for your profession. Worth is how much credits a ship earns you each turn if it meets its conditions. This is a d6 roll with a possible modifier. Cost is how much it costs to purchase a new ship and how much a defeated ship is worth in 1bil credits. Ships move 1 zone per turn.
Some sectors have a Star symbol in them. These are Alliance sectors where Pirates may attack other ships. Damaged Pirate ships though may not repair at an Allied system and must retreat to one of the non-allied Pirate systems. ***NOTE: Theres no mention of what a Pirate system is. But on the map are systems with red dots. I assume these are Pirate systems.***
Bounty Hunters can only hunt in non-Alliance zones. They also attack Pirate ships. Merchants can only buy in sectors with a Square symbol, and sell in those with diamonds. Once a merchant ship has sold it cannot sell again untill it visits another buy zone. ***NOTE: This is very vague. But Im assuming it means that the Merchant must visit an Buy zone then when they visit a Sell zone they get to roll their Worth.***
Pirates and Bounty Hunters attack by rolling 1d6. 1-3=Nothing, 4-6=Damaged. If attacking another player then both roll. If a damaged ship is hit again then it is destroyed. Bounty Hunters gain the Cost value of a Pirate destroyed in 1bil credits. ***NOTE: It is unclear here exactly what the Pirate player is doing/gaining. I believe that they are entering a Alliance sector and attacking, first rolling their Worth value for the haul, then they roll the attack to see if they take damage in the process. I also believe the attack rolls for player-vs-player are to see if your own ship is harmed or not. Instead of rolling to see if you damaged the enemy. Im guessing that the Bounty Hunter functions much the same as the Pirate for visiting systems, except the Bounty Hunter attacks non-Alliance Pirate worlds to roll profit and then damage.***
Pirate ships that linger a turn in an alliance zone must roll an attack to see if they are damaged. Bounty Hunters do the same if they stay in the same pirate sector a turn.
You may purchase more ships and these can move on the turn they are purchased. When you run out of counters thats the current stock of ships available.
Damaged ships can be sold for 1/2 their cost.
Each player starts with 3bil credits.
***NOTE: There is no mention of where players start. I assume they just choose a safe sector Pirates=Red, Everyone else=Blue.***

Lastly the rules state that the Police force is allways in the game, but that the 3rd player can opt to control them. ***NOTE: I believe that this means that if a player opts to be Police then the Pirate slot is relegated to the AI and is not played by anyone.*** If a player is controlling the Police then their goal is to defeat pirate ships. Each turn an unused Pirate counter is played onto a Pirate zone. ***NOTE: There are no rules for what the non-player Police do in the game, and no mention of what the Police gain. I assume they function exactly like a Bounty Hunter.***

All-in-all this is not a bad little system. Even with the slightly incoherent rules the game plays out in an interesting way. With 3 players it can be very chaotic and free-wheeling as merchants putter along and Pirates predate on systems while dodging the Bounty Hunters or Police. The combat system is quick and effective for this sort of play.
There are some base tactical decisions in this game too. Were to risk travel, when to build new ships or go into repair, and what routes to try for the best profit. Also, depending on how you read the rules, the Pirate player can have a substantially harder time of it with both the Bounty Hunters and Police ships breathing down their necks. Obviously winning with the Merchant is the easiest option as they have the least to worry about.

Some questions arise besides the ones I have allready posed in the NOTEs.
A: Can Pirates attack Merchants? Are merchants totally safe from any threat and merely putter around trying to gain wealth??? This doesnt sound right at all. I assume that Pirates can attack Merchant ships and gain that ships Cost if they defeat it. But that Merchants cannot initiate combat themselves, only defend.
B: How do the Police and Pirate AI work? Do the ships just sit in the sectors they appear in and attack enemy ships that pass through? This seems the case. But how are they selected and placed? I'd suggest placing the AI Police ships at the start of the game on 7 sectors marked with a Blue dot. AI run Pirates are placed in a cup and selected one per turn and placed on one of the zones with a Red dot. Sector placement of AI Pirate ships is more problematical. Either place one Pirate at each red dot at your discression or Roll a dice. 1=Northervland, 2=Centerra, 3=Alev, 4=Iees, 5=Loet, 6=Officatra. The second option will result in Pirates clustered together and will make things *very* hard to survive.
Then each turn, If an AI ship is in a sector adjacent to an enemy ship, then it moves into that sector this turn. Before the player moves if you want it harder and After if you want it easier. Pirates will move towards any non-Pirate ship with order of priority given to Merchants first, Bounty Hunters second and AI Police last.
C: What happens when one or all the AI Police are destroyed? I'd say that new AI Police ships appear on the next turn after one is destroyed if the Pirate player wants a tougher game, otherwise the Police can be totally wiped out if the Pirate wants an easier game.
D: What happens when there are multiple opposing ships in a single sector? I'd judge that damage rolls are made for each ship reguardless of numbers, as the rolls are for damage taken, not given. If you want things *alot* harder then make a damage roll for each enemy present. But be aware that this can lead to toal annhialation *very* quickly.
E: How is solo play handled? Id judge that Police and Pirates are handled by the above AI system if not played. Merchants and Bounty Hunters are not used if not selected by the solo player. If you want things harder for a solo Pirate player then ise the AI for Police and place a randomly drawn Bounty Hunter counter at the IessNegev II and Teelk systems.
F: If you want things more challenging for the solo Merchant player then roll for damage each time they pass through a Pirate controlled zone.

Hopefully these ideas will give you some more play from this fun little game! Give it a try. Its free and the file can be found in the Gallery section of the BGG.
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Lance McMillan
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Re: Space Merchants Review - To Trade ot not to Trade...
I wasn't aware of this title -- thanks for posting. It looks interesting and I may have to give it a try.
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