Merchants Cove is an asymmetric worker placement Euro, from Final Frontiers, publishers of Rise to Nobility and Coloma.
On first impressions, the board and components in Merchants Cove are beautifully crafted with a distinctive, eye-catching design. The three dimensional boats have high production values and add to the visual appeal of the game. Players take on the role of one of four merchants, who sell their goods to adventurers, visiting the docks. The notable aspect of this game is that each merchant's method of producing goods is totally unique to them.
For instance, if you play as the alchemist, you will use marbles to boil up potions in your cauldron. The chronomancer, does 'weird time stuff' (technical term) or freezes time, to obtain goods. The pirate-y looking captain searches for fish and treasure to sell. The blacksmith on the other hand, uses dice manipulation to craft armour and weapons. Merchants can create both large and small goods with a variable price range.
To win Merchants Cove, you play over three rounds, to produce the most in-demand goods and earn the most gold. Each round has four phases: arrival, production, the market phase and the clean up phase.
But merchants must beware as corruption lurks everywhere! Rogues will try to influence trading by spreading corruption and this can end up affecting your profits.
Folks In Boats! The Arrival Phase
There are six boats, ready to sail and dock at one of the three piers in Merchants Cove. During the first round, these boats are partially peopled (meepled ?) by players drawing at random from a bag, until each of the boats has two adventurers in it.
Four different colours denote different types of adventurers: wizards (blue), warriors (red), bards (green) and nobles (the yellow fellows). There are also some grey meeples that represent the rogues of the parish.
Welcome Ashore! Production Phase
This is the main phase of play in Merchants Cove and players can take one of several actions during their turn. They can move around their individual player boards to create goods and add these to their display shelves (like the boats, these are three-dimensional).
Alternatively, merchants can hire townsfolk, to earn an initial bonus such as an extra good or the ability to remove corruption. In addition, merchants can put townsfolk to work in their shop to create further bonuses. Another option is to try and secure sponsorship from one of the four faction houses.
Each action carries a time cost and these are logged on the clock at the bottom of the board, which represents the time track for the game. The clock has meeple markers along the way and when a player moves onto one of these, they will add a meeple to one of the boats. The player, who fills a boat, will then dock it at one of the piers. One pier sells large goods, one sells small goods and the final pier sells black market goods.
Wheeler dealers - The Market Phase
This is the phase in Merchants Cove where players score points and hopefully earn lots of lovely gold. Now is the time for a bit of sharp trading, as some goods will earn more depending on the type of goods and whether merchants are willing to gamble on selling at the Black Market pier. Selling at the dodgy dock could make you a fortune but equally can earn corruption cards which will eat into your profits.
There is a gold counter track running around the edge of the board, so players can keep an eye on their profits as they move from round to round.
The Clean-Up Phase And Final Scoring
During the clean-up phase, the board is reset and the boats emptied, ready for the next round. After three rounds, final scoring takes place and each merchant's profits are tallied, sponsorship points are added and corruption points deducted.
The merchant with the most gold is victorious!
As each merchant has their own distinct mechanisms for producing goods, players are effectively playing a series of mini-games, within the overall game. This allows for more re-playability as you can play as a different merchant in future and learn to craft goods in a totally different way. On the negative side, each method of crafting is fairly simple to learn so after a few plays, some players may be left craving more complexity.
Whilst Merchants Cove is not for those looking for a complex game, our group had a lot of fun with it and enjoyed the gorgeous visuals. We'll likely get the expansions, which include additional merchants such as the oracle, the innkeeper and the dragon rancher. Dragon ranching? Yes please!