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Awards

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • Good replayability
  • Great quality
  • Multiple mechanics
  • Loads of dice

Might Not Like

  • Long set up
  • Quite heavy on components
  • Good size table needed
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Merchants Of The Dark Road Review

Merchants of the Dark Cove

I have been waiting for Merchants of the Dark Road for a while. So much so, it was my very first purchase at UKGE. I had originally seen it on Kickstarter, but when I saw the box cover it drew me in. The image of merchant travellers around a campfire, which is beautifully finished in spot UV had me intrigued. And coming from the same publishers as honey buzz, which is also a brilliant game and fantastically made certainly helped to tip the balance.

Keep Rolling

Published by Elf Creek Games and designed by Brian Suhre and some great artwork from Andrew Bosley, sees 1-4 players taking on the role of merchant traders. You will move around the city board in a rondel style movement trying to recruit hero’s and buying goods from the bazaar to join you on your travels. Collect commissions before travelling to one of six locations and deliver your accompanying heroes and collected goods to score points and coins.

Each player gets their own wagon player board, and this is where most of your items are stored. You also get a privacy screen to hide your money and bonus cards behind. When you first open the box there is a lot of set up and it can take a bit of time, this can feel a little bit daunting but if you like a punchboard you are in for a treat.

The game plays over 13 turns which are represented by dice, you pre roll these and place them onto your wagon and then “bump” one up through 1 of 3 bonus slots which will then indicate how many spaces you can move around the city. Once the cached dice are used 1 is removed and the remaining ones are rolled until no more dice remain. The other side of your wagon board holds the other items that you acquire on your travels, and these are arranged in an isle of cat’s style grid.

Finally, the back wheel holds up to 3 helpful items such as horseshoes and blazing quartz which can assist you on your travels.

Majestic City

The city in Merchants of the Dark Road, also offers a few other hotspots for you to explore if the number shown on the dice allows you to. There are also 4 bonus locations to visit, these will require you to use an illuminated die which you can acquire in various ways but will reward you with a bonus for doing so.

When your wagon is full of heroes and goods you need to head over to the travel location of the city. This is where you score your points or coins. But in doing so it activates a kind of mini game which can involve all players at the table.

The merchant who activated the travel action will state an area from 6 locations, then invite all other players to join you. If you have heroes or commissions that match that area, then you can join them. It gives you the chance to score without using your turn, so some forward thinking and pre-planning can really pay off.

Then you choose either a dark road card or a shortcut card. Choosing the shortcut card will cost you lanterns from your wagon but will give you better options for rewards. On the back of each card will be a graphic and some text, which sets a scene for your travels. Below this will be some dice values, each relating to both positive and negative outcomes. You then roll the dice and each player in turn order must choose a corresponding outcome. Whether it is good or bad.

Points Don’t Always Mean Prizes

So, after 13 rounds how do we decide a winner? Well, what I like about merchants is the way the final scoring is worked out. The lower value of the score track and the number of coins you have accumulated during the game is your starting score.

Then any bonus VPs you have gained are then added to your base score, which will then determine the winner. This adds an interesting strategy to your game play, racing ahead on a particular track will serve you no benefit as you really need to balance your gameplay so you can achieve the best possible score. This is where the privacy comes in, it hides the number of coins and any bonus VPs you have so nobody can gauge where you are in the game. It just adds that bit of mystery during the game, so you must really focus on where you’re going.

Quality Goods

Merchants of the Dark Road is the second game from Elf Creek Games that I own, and the quality is consistent. The game board comes in a jigsaw style, with 6 interlocking pieces that fit together beautifully. All the components are well made in this game and feel great in hand, and no expense has been spared. I only own the regular version of the game, so can only imagine the extra lengths they have gone to in the deluxe version.

One thing about this game is that it comes with a lot of dice. So, it was nice to see that you don’t just get a massive pack of white D6. Multi coloured, bright orange, custom symbols and colour coded beauties adorn the board which look great, and tie into the theme of the game with their colour schemes. You can tell a little bit of thought has gone into it.

But one of my favourite things on the game board is the magnetic market wheel, when offered up to its spot on the board it locks on. Almost as if the board has its own tractor beam, very cool! But be warned this may cause a slight distraction during set up, as you embark on a game of flick the wheel onto the magnet. Simple things and all that.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed merchants of the dark road, granted we needed an initial playthrough to enjoy the following games and get to grips with all the different aspects.

The game does have a lot going on with the number of pieces and cards on offer and could come across as a bit overwhelming to a new gamer. But it’s not too difficult to pick up once you get going. I did enjoy the multiple mechanics the game has to offer, and the constant planning that is required to keep your scores balanced throughout.

The game does inject a good amount of strategy. The rule book is a big help and is written very well, offering a great explanation of all the symbols that feature in the game. They also offer explanations of the abilities from the companion cards; this also proves to be useful. I’m very much looking forward to getting this back onto the table soon.

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • Good replayability
  • Great quality
  • Multiple mechanics
  • Loads of dice

Might not like

  • Long set up
  • Quite heavy on components
  • Good size table needed

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