Here’s how my first game played out.
The journey started at Port Royal aboard our trusty sloop. We caught favorable winds and headed east to the colony at Petite Goave where we stopped to trade food from our cargo hold. We managed some profitable trades, and spent our earnings to upgrade the small sloop. We added some long guns and improved our cargo hold in preparation for our long trip to the island of St. John, far to the east. As we sailed, we had to evade a pirate off the coast of Santa Domingo by ducking into port. We managed to avoid a major storm as we spent some time in the port.
Upon leaving Santa Domingo, We once again saw the sails of the pirate frigate on the horizon. If we had a larger ship, that pirate might have been able to spot us. Our luck held as we sailed further east towards San Juan.
While the crew enjoyed the hospitality of San Juan, a war had erupted. All the ships in port had to move out to sea to avoid the hostilities. Unfortunately, the pirate frigate from Santa Domingo must have been following us as its sails appeared on the horizon. Our highly maneuverable sloop managed to get into position and attack the pirate with its long guns. The attack disabled almost all of the pirate’s canons. Joy filled the crew as we savored the chance to capture the pirate’s ship. It was in that moment of joy, that a tactical blunder allowed the pirate crew to board our ship. They killed my crew and sent me to my watery grave.
The above story highlights the great storytelling that Merchants and Marauders can provide. I added some minor flavor, but the story is pretty much exactly what happened to my captain during a recent game. This game manages to incorporate its theme so effectively, the game feels like more than just a collection of mechanics.
The other thing that my story illustrates is that the game can be extremely punishing if a few key rolls happen to go the wrong direction. The penalty for dying in the game is very steep, and I suspect that unless you die in the first turn or two, you will probably not be able to catch up to the other players.
Here’s my ratings for the game:
I was really enjoying the game up until the point where my captain died and I had to restart my career. I had to resist the urge to flip the board, a feeling that I haven’t had since being 10 years old playing Monopoly against the kids in the neighborhood. I struggle to give this game a very low rating for fun, as I really believe many aspects of this game are very fun and enjoyable…until it’s not.
This game has a good selection of tactical and strategic decisions to make. Luck can play a heavy role on the success or failure of your strategy.
I love the theme. Best implemented pirate-themed game I have seen to date. The mechanics are extremely supportive of the theme. The mechanics of the game do a great job of making the game really feel like a pirate\merchant adventure.
The plastic ships are very nicely designed. I found the game board, player aid, and cards all had very thoughtful graphic design, making it easy to understand how to play.
The mechanics for this game really do a wonderful job supporting the theme, and are not overly complex given the wide range of options that players can take. The only nit to pick is that some player turns might be just moving a few spaces on the board, not undertaking any real actions.
I love and hate this game.
A few bad rolls can completely destroy a game where you have managed to work all game on building up to a powerful ship. On the other hand, I really enjoyed the theme and how players can make the decision to be a pirate, or just trade goods.
If this game was only an hour long, I suspect I could forgive the harshness of a captain dying to poor dice luck. Unfortunately this game will likely run close to 3 hours, which is simply much too long for a player to have to sit by and watch while the other players head towards victory. This is one game where just having the player eliminated would be more merciful that having them restart from a poor position.
If none of these pitfalls is a deal breaker for you, give this game a try. For me, I’ll be looking to trade my copy for something a little less frustrating.