A quiet evening as only Dave managed to show up bringing with him his copy of Merchant of Venus. So that is the game we decided to play just to try it out with 2 players. We had last played the game on September 29, 2004 (it is here on the geek) for details on the game itself. Basically, this is a pick-up and deliver game where players operate space ships trying to increase their initial cash of 40 to the game winning total of 2000.
Rich started first and headed towards Colony World, while Dave went to the Interstellar Biosphere to discover the Zum (Culture 7A) and managed to load Chicle Liquor on this transport vessel. Dave did fill both holds and then set out to discover a culture that would buy Chicle Liquor. This is a bit of a risk as there are more cultures that don't want chicle liquor than that do.
Richard finally arrived at the Colony World to discover the Graw (Culture 2). Dave headed over to the Cloud and found the Yxklyx (Culture 6) who pleasant as they were, were not in the market for Chicle Liquor. Dave continued exploring the interstellar void finding the Eepeep (Culture 7B) and then peeking at Waterworld, finally headed to the Inhabited Moon to find Cholus (Culture 9A) to sell the Chicle Liquor. Dave then combined the proceeds of this sale, the IOU for discovering the Cholus and all his cash on hand to by a spaceport at Minion. Dave's strategy was seen the next turn when he then moved to the spaceport to sell his remaining chicle liquor which also garnered him the commission on the sale, so a 10% bonus for Dave.
Dave did comment that he feels this to be an pretty important tactic in the game. Rarely is buying a spaceport a bad thing from an investment perspective, and the 10% commissions really can add up, especially if one can visit the spaceport often (and Dave ended up visiting this one three or four times in the game). The only real concern when considering buy a space port is cash flow. Dave had spent all his on hand (at one point having (*nothing*), which could have slowed him down should he needed to navigate the penalty ovals. In this case, a modest risk as he sold his remaining chicle liquor at the spaceport (generating cash) and his routes managed to avoid the penalty ovals.
Rich had also managed to uncover a few cultures and finally sold space spice to the Niks at the Giant Plant, but could only afford to buy a shield for his ship. Rich then headed over to Jungle World and stayed a few turns to stock up on Melf Pelts. Rich sold the Melf Pelts and used the proceeds to buy a Clipper hoping to move a bit faster around the stars. While the clipper did keep Rich in the game, Dave was the first to upgrade to a transport and the faster combined drive enabling Dave to carry more and move faster throughout the stars. At that point, it was catch-up for Rich.
Granted the transport has three holds (compared to the scouts 2), this can be used either to carry 3 goods or as Dave did, carry 2 goods a bit faster as the combined drive takes up half the hold space. Looking back, while I did buy the transport, I might have been better served saving cash for something else and trying to use the faster 2 hold clipper instead of putting my money into a transport/combined drive.
Several trends could be seen in the game at this point. With fewer players, the game plays a lot more like solitaire as we rarely competed for the same goods and sales ports. Also, there was no need to use another players spaceport most of the time. So the game very much had a feel like solitaire as the interaction was minimal.
The demand cup didn't play as much of a factor in this game as it would with more people. The game needs people competing for goods, and with more people more of them would be bought and sold, taking them out of circulation for a while. That never really happened here. The couple times goods were sold out (immortal grease and rock videos), they reappeared pretty quickly (luck of the draw). But more players do have a bit of a downside as any player after the third might have a disadvantage at the game's start due to the proximity of three cultures to the Galactic Base (starting point), meaning the fourth player would have to travel farther/take longer to get that first IOU. Certainly as the last player in our last playing, I was forced in a single direction as the other 2 cultures had been explored.
Also, Dave's experience with the game was quite evident. He made a couple of nice small trades to build up cash which was invested into spaceports. The spaceports were key as the 10% commission earned on sales was a nice accelerator to Dave's cash flow. Dave also managed to build factories from his spaceports giving him not only the commission, but also the reduced cost/higher sales of the factory goods for a nice double bonus.
Rich was a bit slow to adopt the spaceport options making sales directly at the surface cities. Also, several turns, Rich appeared to be "doing nothing" in that he waited for something better or a chance to load more goods. While the second option might not be bad, it is the first that is probably critical. This game rewards maximizing the benefit from every turn (or couple of turns). Doggedly sticking to a plan probably costs more than it gains in most cases. One must be prepared to shift plans and optimize well.
In the end, Dave easily had $2163 to Rich's $863. Boy, looking at the scores from last time - pretty similar. A bit better for Dave and a bit worse for Rich. It was Dave that managed to accelerate his income the best and capture the win. With 14 months between plays, I had to come back up to speed about the techniques and tactics of the game. Dave with his experience came up to speed a bit quicker and capitalized as a result.