Its hard making profit and fame in the Lumi, but with the right skill and a plucky attitude you can make the fame and success that you dream of….
Merchants of the dark road is a beautifully designed game all about making success within the land of Lumi, a fictional world of fantasy people and creatures and wild vibrant colours shrouded by the bleak winter. Every aspect of the game is designed in a beautiful, unique way, from the coins that are unlike any others I have seen in any game, creating their own style for the coins to the deck of heroes each looking like a character with an incredible backstory.
The only downside to this creativity that was created with the players token, pawn, board and (insert thing here), all of these vary in their colour scheme, making the connecting ones for a player can become confusing initially. Sometimes the yellow player’s items are a mix of bright yellow to a darker orange which makes the player who picks these pieces up become confused thinking that they may have picked the wrong pieces for the wrong player. Besides this small problem the art style of this game is brilliant and takes tradition and decides to make its unique twist.
This style is also pulled into how the game plays, as although the board is big and you have a lot of space to move your players pawn, you only move a small distance during the whole game. During each round you move your pawn around the five points of the board that are close together with each point connecting to two areas the player can access during that particular round. The rest of the board is purely used to create the functions of the game, with each area providing access to the things the players need to win the game, from gaining resources, to gathering heroes and commissions.
Moving Around Lumi, At The Whims Of The Dice
Movement around these five spots is done by the use of dice, but not in the usual expected way, instead of rolling one dice every round, players will start with three of their dice preset upon their own player board and the rest randomly rolled and placed at the bottom of their player board. Each turn the players will move one dice from the bottom to take the place of the three preset dice replacing it, and the dice that is removed becomes that round's current dice.
This allows players to control what dice rolls they use at what point with each reaping unique benefits beyond just moving, the dice can be used to gather key resources at the start of their round or to affect some aspects of the board. For example players can choose to craft with their dice before they move and if they do the item they get will be based on that dice, they will gain this item and move their figure around the board to the relevant point based on the dice number. This dice will then stretch even further allowing players to use them to activate one of the two areas by that particular spot, this is mostly used to help you know what you are doing as they will be removed at the end of your round and placed to the side of your board.
Dice being used this way is something I have never seen before and yet I can’t see why it hasn’t, and for those concerned that there are problems, let me tell you there are not. Along with this there are horseshoes allowing players to move an extra step if needed, each dice only goes to a total of five with the lowest number being zero, this allows players to stay put if they need to, and lastly if at any point the three preset dice spots are the same they can be reset to their starting values. I think it can create some strategic ways to navigate around the board to the best result instead of having to leave each round down to the whims of fate.
Lumi’s Many Areas Of Beauty
In Merchants of the dark road players will be able to access the variety of buildings to use each of their individual functions. Some will allow players to gain resources of heroes, others you can gain commissions, each one giving their own purpose and meaning into the game making them all viable options that you will use once in the game. From buying resources in the local market, to buying them in the dark market, or selling your items to heroes to get them to join you and gain profit from the sold items, each one draws you in.
In between the main areas are the extra buildings, these can only be accessed by the use of a special illuminated dice, and their powers can vary from game to game. On the board there are four spaces for buildings to go and in the box you are provided with five double sided tiles to represent the building, with each side being a different building. This creates diversity for future games as you can combine the ten different buildings in multiple combinations of four, these buildings are more complex than the main features of the game but can give players more victory points to seize victory. For your first few games these are best to ignore and instead use upon later games when you are more confident with the rules.
Lastly there is the main area of the game which is where you will reap most of your rewards for the game, travelling.
There Are Dark Roads Ahead, But With Just A Bit Of Light I Think We Can Take A Shortcut…
The biggest aspect of the game is delivering items and heroes to certain parts of the world of Lumi, and travelling itself in the game brings a lot of the important parts of the puzzle together. At any point when a player activates a travel action in the game, they must declare where they are travelling to and if they plan to travel in the dark or take a shortcut, at this point all other players can decide to join the journey. This concept of all other players being able to travel upon a journey that someone else has started encourages both having the most players for the game and having somewhat collaborative playstyles, as you will want players to journey so that you can join them and reap the benefits you desire.
When you go on the journey in Merchants of the dark road, you will first deal with a travel event based on the choice you take, either going in the dark or going on a shortcut in the light. What makes these two different is that the dark path is likely to be more dangerous whereas the shortcut, although more likely to benefit, will cost you three lanterns. In a two player game the risks are minor and likely to not cause you problems whereas with more players you are more likely to lose out if you are not careful and make the trip unnecessary. Resolving the travel journey is like drawing a chance card from monopoly all accept the fact that at the bottom of the card are the different outcomes determined by the roll of the dice, all dice are rolled and starting with the first player, each player picks a dice and claims or loose the relevant section on the card.
After this point the players have arrived and can reap the benefits of the journey with each district having their own unique rewards, players will only be able to travel to one outpost in a district but those that join can choose which of the two in the chosen district. For the first player, the one who initiated the trip, they will also gain a couple of extra benefits from a choice at the bottom of the travel section, helping them to be better prepared to win and for future journeys.
The only downside to this functionality of the game, especially with a small player count, is the fact that players will have limited chance near the end to make their last delivery as they run out of dice.
Counting Up Your Success…
At the end of the game when players are out of dice and they have reached the end of the final round players will need to count up their scores. To do this players will count up their prestige points (right side of the board) and count up their coins hidden behind the player’s (insert thing here), whichever is highest will be the starting point to their score to which they add victory points onto for the final total. I am not fond of the choice of the two initial scoring choices between coins and prestige points and tried instead combining them to some good success. I think the choice between the two is difficult for players as throughout the game you will never be able to focus on just one, although it's easy to gather them either its never easy to get just the one. Maybe the current heroes will only reward you with coins for delivery whilst you have been working towards prestige points, or the current available commissions create the same problem.
Another aspect that I have tried adapting is the nature of how the game ends, with its rules dictating that when players expel all of their dice for activation and need new ones, they must remove one die and reroll the rest for use, eventually meaning they will run out of dice. When they are out of dice the game will end, but you can easily adapt this to make it last longer and there is plenty of reason to do so. So much of the game will only become accessible towards the later game, and even some aspects of the game will not be fully tapped into due to the shorter length of the game, these all make it easier for a longer game and in many ways encourages it.
Merchants of the dark road is a brilliant game with only a few minor problems, but each problem can be easily solved by adding your own house rules to this game to bring a fun vibrant new addition to your collection. If you want to see if you can make it as a trader within a fictitious fantasy world this is the game for you.