Merchants’ Cove is a card game that provides a great outlet for numeracy and reason—combining a statistics-based approach with a real-world setting and the possibility of making real money. The game has been described as “Deck of Cards for the Mind,” but more accurately it’s a card game that is best described as a “Mind-Card Game.”

Merchants Cove, which has also been referred to as Merchant’s Cove by some, is a card game that was originally developed by Greg Stafford and published by Games by Scott. However, a number of years after it was first published, the rights of this game were bought by Left Coast games, which is a subsidiary of Asmodee North America. The game contains the following rules:

I’m not a fan of European games at all. Many Eurogames are based on historical, economic or agricultural themes, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, they rarely hold my attention. I prefer themed games that I can sink my teeth into. Whether it’s a starting scenario, a preconceived story, or just a theme like Cthulhu Wars, I tend to gravitate towards games that are considered American. As objectively good as the sharpest Eurogames are, the general themes lose me fast. This is certainly my own problem, but it has kept me from buying some highly rated games, such as… B. Brass: Birmingham until friends got me playing. Merchants Cove managed to meet my thematic needs while providing a rather interesting and crackling experience.

Merchants Cove Is a Game for Everyone and for No One

In Merchant’s Cove players take the role of various merchants who try to make a fortune on the island. Essentially, it’s a fairly simple game in which players produce goods to sell to the various customers who arrive on this commercial island. The color coding of the parts and the bright colors make the status of the board easy to read and catch the attention of ADD players like me. What makes Merchants Cove so fascinating is its asymmetrical nature.

Game stages

Merchants Cove Is a Game for Everyone and for No One

The game of Merchants Cove consists of three rounds with four phases: The stages of arrival, production, marketing and distribution. During the arrival phase, players randomly draw two client-maps that are placed on each of the six ships. This prepares the plate for the production and marketing phase.

Most of the game takes place in the production phase. In this phase, players take turns to place their workers on the action spaces of the dealer board and perform the corresponding actions. The actions of each trader differ according to the central mechanism around which they were created, but the ultimate goal is the same: the production of small and large goods to sell on the market.

Merchants Cove Is a Game for Everyone and for No One

The order of the players’ turns is shown by the clock at the bottom of the main board. The hourglass symbols next to each action point on the board indicate how long the action will take. When the action is complete, the active player advances their gear counter one space for each hourglass adjacent to the action they performed. The player whose time marker is closest to the starting position is next in line. When players share the same space, the player whose token is on top moves first.

It’s a simple system, but I really like it. Production activities usually take two hours (units of time in an hourglass), but there are also activities that take one hour. Most of these are smaller, small steps forward in the process of producing goods for sale. But many merchants have a promotion that gives them two hours to mass produce goods. By doing shorter one-hour actions, players can often do two moves in a row and prepare more efficiently to make multiple items at once.

Each time a player passes a space on the clock with a Mipel symbol, he/she takes a new Mipel from the bag and places it on an empty space on the clock. When a new mepl takes the last free spot on the ship, the active player immediately places the ship with the buyers in one of the four docks and makes it ready for the market.

Merchants Cove Is a Game for Everyone and for No One

When each player’s time counter reaches the position of the Market tile on the clock, production ends and players must make do with what they have on their trading boards. Although this phase is called the market, it is essentially a scoring round.

Each of the docks represents different types of merchandise that customers will buy at that location. The leftmost dock is for large items, the middle one is for small items, and the rightmost one is for both. To earn points, players simply multiply the number of items on their shelf by the number of buyers at their respective docks. In the above example, there is only one green copper in the large cargo hold. So if I had twelve points of awesome green products, I would only score twelve points. In the same example, if I had twelve points for the small green goods on the shelf, I would multiply that amount by the two green customers on the small goods ramp in the middle, for a total of twenty-four points.

The catch is that at the third pier, where players can sell each good, they must also take a corruption card, which puts them at risk of a large points deduction later.

The last step, cleaning, is the easiest. During this phase, the players put the customer cards back in the throwing bag in preparation for the next round. Residents are also discarded by discarding the rightmost card, moving the other one, drawing a new card from the top of the pile and placing it in the vacated spot.

The end of the clean up phase ends the first turn. Players restart the cycle at the start of the arrival phase and play the remaining two rounds.

The overall structure of Merchants Cove is not particularly new or innovative. Instead, Merchants Cove is a love letter to the game and all the different ways the designers allow us to play. If, to perform actions, players must move a single worker from one place on the board to another, each player will use different game mechanics to create marketable items.

There are four merchants in the basic game: Blacksmith, alchemist, captain and timekeeper. The expansions, which will be in stores soon, add the characters Innskeeper, Dragon Rancher and Oracle and increase the maximum number of players to five.

Merchants Cove Is a Game for Everyone and for No One

Farrier

The blacksmith uses dice throwing and placement to make small and large items, melting ore into weapons and armor. At the beginning of his turn, the blacksmith rolls his die and places it where possible on the card to meet the criteria for conversion to goods. To make small objects, players must combine the value of the placed die and try to match the value indicated on the board. For large items, players must do the same, but go beyond the value shown on the board.

Personally, I find the blacksmith the least interesting to play. This is by far the easiest option, as the creation process does not require many steps and there are fewer random elements. But it’s also such a standard mechanism that it feels too dry for a game that otherwise offers so much interesting variety.

 

Merchants Cove Is a Game for Everyone and for No One

Captain

In my opinion, one of the least interesting game mechanics in the industry is the outdated spinner. It’s too simple and boring. Mechanisms from the 1970s that modern board games have (thankfully) largely abandoned. Captain, however, is designed entirely around the concept of Spin ‘n’ Move, and it’s a very fun game.

The captain doesn’t produce as much as he thinks. She commands a fleet of four ships that go out to sea to fish and search for treasure. The captain’s board consists of a map where players control their ships from a central port by moving them one space at a time. If the ships are in places where the captain wants to get goods, he can give an order and have each ship get fish (small goods) or treasure (large goods) from the places it occupies. After the inspection, the ships are immediately returned to the port, where the goods are stored in the racks.

The problem with the captain is twofold. The captain also has to deal with a cursed coin problem. They have seven cursed pieces on their board that they must eliminate from time to time. If they ever need to take a coin and there is none on the board, they must instead take a corruption card, which is deducted from the player’s final score. A more difficult task (in my opinion) is to place the large goods of the captain face down on the board. This means that, unlike other merchants who can draw up a plan, the type of goods the captain acquires depends largely on luck.

Merchants Cove Is a Game for Everyone and for No One

Timekeeper

Chronomancer will be instantly recognizable as a tribute to Doc Brown and Marty. Players control two characters, the Chronomancer and his assistant, who move through a board of portals and travel through time to find ancient artifacts. The Chronomancer uses tile placement to move portals, as well as their costs. The calculated use of sliding tiles can make property restoration very affordable.

There is also a time freeze mechanism where players can collect time freeze tokens to earn extra points at the end of the round. Instead, however, players can spend these tiles as a clock, for which they would otherwise have to advance their tiles on the clock. By spending Time Stopper tokens, the Timekeeper can get free actions and use the extra time to create more items.

The limiting factor is that an incompetent assistant gets in the way of a good doctor. The figure of the active Timekeeper can never go beyond the stage of assistance. Players often have to spend twice as much time getting to the right places because they have to get the assistant out of the way first.

 

Merchants Cove Is a Game for Everyone and for No One

Alchemist

The alchemist prepares brews of various sizes with ingredients in the form of spheres from a decanter. The alchemist takes colored balls from the slanted cardboard jug on top of the board and places them in different cauldrons. The ingredients come in green, red, blue, yellow and black balls. Black orbs are Ichor, which can be used in any potion recipe as a wild one, but it is poisonous if it hangs around. If you can’t put them in the kettle, you have to put them in the toxic waste pile. If it overflows, the alchemist must play the corruption card.

I enjoy playing the role of alchemist, but the nature of the game is rather random. In a game where you have to strategically plan the manufacture and sale of goods, any element can be a disadvantage. As the game progresses, you can remove the Ichor from the bag and have some influence on the bag’s strokes, but the starting formation is also random and can put the alchemist at a disadvantage early in the game.

Extension of shop

Merchants Cove Is a Game for Everyone and for No One

Oracle

Merchants Cove Is a Game for Everyone and for No One

Dragon Slayer

Merchants Cove Is a Game for Everyone and for No One

Hostel

 

Merchants Cove has a number of expansions that give players even more ways to enjoy the game. The Secret Stash expansion adds a number of modular options that allow players to use new strategies or difficulty levels. The essence of an innkeeper is to attract customers to stay overnight after shopping. While the innkeeper produces only small goods in the form of drinks, he uses the beds to attract customers and turn them into loyal regulars who stay at the inn and bring in more and more money for the merchant.

My favorite is the Oracle, who brings a roulette wheel and a letter to Merchants Cove. It is by far the most random of all, but the possibilities are rarely limited. At the beginning of his turn, the Oracle throws his five talismans into the divining bowl. The location of these spells determines what actions she can take during her turn. She can create assets using a star map or develop ways to change the results of her cube. What I love about The Oracle is the feeling that you are at the mercy of fate, but you are given the tools to mitigate that unfortunate fate. The physical actions players perform when playing Oracle are the closest to those of a merchant character, which is why I find Oracle the most exciting character to play.

And finally, there’s Dragon Rancher. The character sketch reminds me of the mute old lady from How to Train Your Dragon, and it’s hard not to picture her as a shopkeeper. Dragon Rancher raises dragons and turns them into bigger versions of themselves by feeding them in a Mancala-like mini-game. Players must clear a space on their small piece of land to have enough room for the many dragons they will raise to sell at the market. Dragon Rancher starts with small dragons, grows them into large dragons, and eventually into mega dragons that are worth far more points than any other faction’s products. The downside is that the dragons will shit all over the field and the breeder will have to be distracted from raising the dragons to clean it all up, otherwise there won’t be enough room to feed and raise new dragons.

Modular variant

That’s more than enough options to choose from, but we’re not done yet. When setting up, players choose the card Rogue, which brings an additional rule into play. I always recommend that players start with a Rogue card, as it has no additional impact on the game and allows players to learn the game more easily. Other cards allow players to take corruption cards to activate an effect that moves client and rogue cards around the ship. With these rules, client ships become a more interactive part of the game and a deeper level of strategy in Merchants Cove.

I realize this is an incredible amount of information and I’m going into more detail than necessary, but in the case of Merchants Cove, I think it’s important for readers to know what’s involved in this game. This may all sound strange, but Merchants Cove is a very easy game to learn and plays nicely for an hour to an hour and a half. There are so many different ways to play.

Twice already my group couldn’t decide which game to play, so as a compromise we played Merchants Cove, where everyone could play the merchant with the game mechanics they liked. And that’s what I love about Merchants Cove. With a variety of rogue cards, traders, and modular options, there are many ways to play, which only increases the replay value. For me, this is an important factor in how I judge the value of the game. The ability to introduce new variations and rules keeps the game fresh, even after many iterations.

This is my only complaint about Merchants Cove, but it’s a big one. Although I really enjoy the game, it is what you might call a multiplayer solitaire game. Even with four or five players, there is little or no interaction between them. In the production phase, all the action happens, but the players are really only concerned with their board and don’t care about the other players. While there is much to enjoy, the lack of player interaction makes the overall gameplay feel like something is missing. If I have to go through the trouble of hosting a game night with other people, I’d rather play a game where I have more interaction with other payers.

Availability

Learning in Merchants Cove is ambiguous. The components are designed to be language independent, with many icons replacing text instructions. The main board and city cards have some symbols that apply to all players, but there are also some symbols that are specific to each merchant on their own board. To teach the Merchant’s Cove effectively, the educator must be familiar with all of these symbols, even if they do not appear often.

The rulebook has a legend on the back pages that is very useful, and players have a separate manual for each trader that has all the information they need, but in the first game or two players will refer to the rulebook a little more often than they would like. That’s why I recommend playing with the rogue card without effect in the beginning, because it saves time and reduces the number of things players have to pay attention to during the game.

Quality of components

I’m in love with the level of production. Still, a lot of work is focused on the primary punches and the organization of the game. Each of the client ships is assembled by folding die-cut cardboard pieces, like a paper craft. During this process, the cardboard often tears when folded, resulting in a weaker than expected final product. Fortunately, the pouch that comes in the box is well designed and you can safely store the built ships so they don’t get damaged. If owners are careful when installing the barrels, there should be no significant damage.

Other than that, the parts are fantastic. The client’s maple trees are painted in bright colors and feature images of classic fantasy character archetypes to reinforce certain themes and goodness.

Picking up objects at the end of the game is a breeze. Each merchant has its own plastic wrapper and instructions showing players how to put everything back in the box. This makes assembly and disassembly incredibly quick, making working on the table even easier.

Merchants Cove is the most mediocre game I’ve ever played, and I honestly don’t know what to think of it. I enjoyed each game, but it lacks some important aspects like player interactivity that are important to me. It’s not sharp enough for Eurogamers and not light enough to be a game for gamers. It’s a good game that succeeds at everything it does, but it doesn’t fit into the existing pigeonhole enough to say who it’s intended for. This is a 100% test before purchase. I will definitely keep it on my shelf and have even more fun playing Merchants Cove. However, I don’t think these store-bought items will have a permanent place in my collection, but rather something akin to a short-term rental.

Number of times played :

To date, 6 performances have taken place.

1 single player multiplayer game to learn the rules
3 two player games
2 four player games
Number of players supported :

1 – 4 players, can be expanded to 5 players with one of the character expansions.

60 to 90 minutes
 Labour recruitment
Roundhouse
Goods speculation
All others
 The basics of Merchants Cove are easy to master, but a few symbols often lead players to consult the rulebook for clarification. The large differences between stores can be an additional learning challenge.
 I love the creative elements of the ship and the durability of the wood tiles. Merchants Cove has many different merchants, allowing the game to change over time. Second, there are a number of tools that allow you to make changes to the rules and change the game experience from game to game.

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