The Guild of Merchant Explorers

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RRP €57.99
Expected Restock Date 30/04/2024
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The Queen has sent out a call to The Guild of Merchant Explorers, asking brave adventurers to voyage to all corners of the kingdom of Tigomé. While the kingdom is flourishing, its maps have not been updated in some time and its great cities have lost contact with one another. With your team of explorers, you will journey over rough seas, majestic mountains, vast deserts, and lush g…
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Awards

Rating

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

You Might Like

  • Easy to learn tricky to master
  • Smooth puzzly game play
  • Crunchy decision making
  • Huge replayability
  • Everything except the coins!

Might Not Like

  • Coins could be better
  • Some players may not like the multiplayer solitaire style
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Description

The Queen has sent out a call to The Guild of Merchant Explorers, asking brave adventurers to voyage to all corners of the kingdom of Tigomé.

While the kingdom is flourishing, its maps have not been updated in some time and its great cities have lost contact with one another.

With your team of explorers, you will journey over rough seas, majestic mountains, vast deserts, and lush grasslands to establish trade routes between cities, climb far-seeing discovery towers, and visit new villages that have emerged.

In The Guild of Merchant Explorers, each player starts with one city on their personal map board.

Shuffle the deck of terrain cards, then reveal most of these cards one by one. Based on the terrain revealed, each player places on their board cubes that are connected to their starting city or other cubes. You want to complete areas on your board, cross the seas to new land, and establish new cities on the board. You can explore capsized ships for treasure — which gives you special placement capabilities — and create linked connections between locations to score bonus points. Common objectives can be completed by all players, with those who complete it first scoring more points.

At the end of a round, all cubes are removed from each board, leaving only the cities behind, so if you don't establish new cities, you'll be stuck in the same places.

The Guild of Merchant Explorers contains multiple copies of four different maps, and the game is designed so that you can play remotely with one or more copies.

When I first heard the concept behind The Guild of Merchant Explorers, I was expecting it to be a flip and write. Laminated personal maps comprising little hexes. Common scoring objectives. Territory building. Moving in Patterns. Networking. Expandable player counts (with extra sets)……the foundations of many a pen and paper game. And then when I saw initial photographs, my presumptions did not falter. Awesome!! I thought, because I love roll/flip and writes.

But I quickly noticed that there was a distinct lack of pens. No markers. No felt tips. Not even a stubby, rubber chewed pencil. Then I spotted the wooden cubes. And that’s when the penny dropped and the excitement amped up even more!

Flipping Explorers

The Guild of Merchant Explorers by Matthew Dunstan (also of Elysium, the most excellent Next Station London, and others) and Brett Gilbert (Elysium, Mandala, Great Plains, and more) is a fast playing, super smooth, elegant, exploratory, territory building and trade networking game for 1-4 players.

Strictly speaking, you are tasked with re-mapping forgotten regions over 4 rounds (“Eras”) at the behest of the Queen. There are 5 maps included in the game, each with their own rule tweaks and layouts.

At its most basic, your path to victory is to collect the most money by the end of the game. And you earn your coins by placing your explorers in the most optimal locations each turn to build villages, unlock special moves, gain immediate cash bonuses, and access valuable sunken treasures.

Setting Sail

In classic multi-solitaire bingo style play, the deck of Explore terrain cards are flipped over one at a time and placed on the main board. After each card is revealed, everybody simultaneously places their explorer cubes on matching hexes of their choice on their own map.

Some territory types (like the sea and the mountains), require your explorer cubes to be placed adjacently from a single village or your central city or an existing sea cube. Others (like grassland and deserts) may be split up and sprinkled around the map so long as they are each adjacent to a village, your central starting city, or an existing explorer cube.

Spaces with coins will reward you instantly, as will lost ruins spaces (treasure chest bonus) and discovery spots – building towers is a great way to earn coins as is establishing new villages. Their value increases each Era and they give you new spots from which to begin your explorations!

What’s Going On Era?

Whenever an Era card is revealed in the Explore deck, you’ll get to pick from two randomly shuffled unique Investigate powers. These remain with you for the duration of the game and are each activated whenever the matching Era card is revealed in the Explore deck.

There are also scoring objectives that reward 10 coins for being first and then 5 if you still achieve it after another player pips you to the post.

At the end of each Era, all your cubes get removed from your board. But don’t remove the villages. As mentioned above, these form new spots from which you can set off exploring in subsequent Eras!

Final Thoughts

Like swimming in a sea of warm yoghurt, this game feels silky smooth and intensely satisfying. It’s a relaxing dip that feels good. And that sensation is there whether you’re exploring alone or with other players. I say with rather than against because, although it is a competitive game, the challenge to do well feels personal.

What other players do or do not do doesn’t really feature in my own strategy. It’s not an interactive game in that sense. I can’t mess with their routes or steal their bonuses. And I’m always striving to achieve all the scoring objectives as soon as possible. Similarly, I want to connect trade routes, find treasures, and construct as many villages and towers as my own placement decisions permit. My opponents’ choices are only really relevant in the end-game totting up phase when the profits of their own decisions are counted and compared to mine. Until then, the challenge in The Guild of Merchant Explorers is going on in my own head.

Seeing your network spread out across your map at the end of an Era feels like an achievement. And as the villages pop up across the hexes, your options simultaneously increase and become more limited. Where you can explore from expands from Era to Era. As such, you can reach further flung lands and the goodies to be found there. But, as your board fills up and spaces become blocked, what you can do also becomes more of a compromise.

And compromise is key in this game. With only 5 basic terrain moves in the Explore deck, you’ll need to make choices. Build a village to secure a scoring objective now? Build a tower to gain more points but stunt options for exploration? But because you know which cards have gone before, you can begin to plan ahead. This doesn’t mean outcomes are guaranteed, of course. Unless you are flipping the final card in a given Era, the order of the moves will be subject to lady luck. And for once, being at the mercy of the draw is great. By knowing what will come up but not when, your game plan will be kept fresh and flexible. What you target on a turn will twist like a sailboat catching a strong breeze. Not far, but sufficiently to make you rethink the next few turns potentially.

Plus with about eleventy billion special Investigate cards, every round is going to throw up a mixture of old and new placement opportunities. All of which you are going to need in order to score optimally! And the cards we have played so far seem evenly matched in terms of the special powers they give. I certainly factor them into my strategy as soon as I receive my first one as I know I am going to be able to use them in each Era.

But with so many ways to score points, your strategy can bend like a mast flexing in a stormy sea. I’m usually wary of games that are too generous in their point providing possibilities. It can sometimes make for a lack of tension or purposeful decision making.

But in The Guild of Merchant Explorers I am pleased to report that is not the case. Knowing you can get points in all sorts of ways presents its own form of delicious dilemma – have you chosen the route that will lead to the most points? Could you have squeezed more out if you had done something differently? Plotter’s remorse can quickly consume if you’re not careful!

I think the designers have done a great job with the styling and theme. The oldy-worldy muted maps feel like something you really could find curled up on an old ship. And their different layouts and added challenges amp up the replayability and challenge effectively. Plotting routes and making connections on the map feels complimentary to the setting.

The components are also really nice – the icons and text on the cards are clear and everything works well together. Okay, so the coins aren’t the best – their value is only shown on one side in an attempt to keep players’ growing riches secret. And with some much coin earning, finding the right values can be fiddly. But I’m honestly not interested in what others are doing in this game from Era to Era. I just want to make my map the best I can based on the decisions I make. I don’t really care how much money others are making….well, until the very end, that is!

I did wonder whether taking the cubes off at the end of each Era would be a fiddly job. But this isn’t RISK. There are never that many on the board at once. And being able to refresh my player space whilst simultaneously benefitting from what I have achieved previously gives a real sense of potential development.

I should mention there is also a specific BYOS solo mode. And this is great because the only difference in game play is that you must satisfy all 3 scoring objectives by game-end or else you lose. The race to complete them becomes a precondition to victory and that really helps to keep my mind focussed. The designers have achieved minimal rule re-learning for a really excellent single player gaming experience.

So you’ve read the Guild of Merchant Explorers review, got super excited, and now want to play the game? Well, you’ve come to the right place!

Set It Up, Sailor

Setting up the Guild of Merchant Explorers is very simple indeed. Together players choose which one of the core maps they are going to play. Avenia is the most straightforward, increasing in difficulty through Aghon, Kazan, and Cnidaria. Each player is then given their own copy.

Then you lay out the main board where the 5 Explore terrain cards and 4 Era cards will be revealed over the course of a round (“Era”), as well as stacks of treasure cards and investigate cards. Shuffle the Explore card deck (remembering to add the Era 1 card into it) and place the other Era cards to one side.

Pile up the Towers, treasure tokens, (crystals – if playing on Cnidaria), coins, and double sided trade route city tokens in an easy to reach spot. Finally, select and display 3 (out of 6) random scoring objective cards relating to the map in play and give each player a set of cubes and village tokens in their chosen colour.

And that’s it! It’s go-explore time!

Sailing…We Are Sailing…

On the first turn of the Guild of Merchant Explorers, you’ll flip the first Explore card and set it down face up on the correct spot on the main board. Then everybody simultaneously places their first explorer cubes (one at a time) on their individual maps – the number and territory must match what is shown on the Explore card which will also show whether they have to be placed adjacent to each other or not).

Your initial placement must start on the central city space and on a territory matching that shown on the revealed Explore card. On later turns, you’ll be able to start from any of your constructed villages (or last placed explore cube) so long as you can reach the required (unoccupied) territory type hexes as shown on the Explore cards as they are flipped.

Village People

If you cover all the spaces of a particular territory type (grassland, mountains, desert) with cubes in the Guild of Merchant Explorers, you can place a village on one of the spaces. If you do, immediately take coins equal to the construction bonus shown at the base of the map (which increases as the rounds proceed). In case you are wondering why the coin values are only printed on one side you are meant to keep your coin total a secret until the end of the game (but in truth we don’t find it makes that much strategic difference – we are all going for the moves that make the most coins by Era end each turn anyway!).

Pay Day

If you place an explorer cube on a hex space with coins on it, you’ll also take those coins immediately from the bank. Similarly, if you place an explorer cube on a ruin space, you’ll take a treasure card and place a treasure token under the cube on that hex (which shows it has been salvaged). The treasure card could be an instant bonus (in which case it is taken and then the card is discarded) or an end-game bonus (so keep the card safe!).

If you place a cube on a discovery space, you’ll get to construct a tower (plus earn a big stack of coins (which also increases as the Eras race by!).

Wallstreet On The Waves

When you reach a city trading post space while playing the Guild of Merchant Explorers, you’ll want to look closely at where you go next. And that’s because you’ll get an immediate money injection equal to both their values multiplied together if you connect two city trading posts via your explorer cubes. But you must then choose one city to cover with a special token that removes the value from that spot. You can still use the space to link, but you’ll only get the value of the new trading route connected to it.

What’s Going On Era

When an Era card comes up in the Explore deck, you’ll choose two Investigate cards and pick one to keep (discarding the other to the bottom of the deck). Carry out the bonus action shown on the card, and then place it next to your board at the appropriate Era spot. That will ensure it is ready to be activated when that Era card shows up in the Explore deck on subsequent rounds. And the fact that it doesn’t get discarded is very cool. Because, if you’ve picked well, that’s 4 bites at the Era 1 investigate power cherry, 3 goes at the power you selected in Era 2, and finally 2 shots of your Era 3 Investigate power pick (as they all get mixed into the Explore deck during the final 4th round!).

At the end of each Era, it’s time to reset your board. As mentioned, you’ll keep the Era card you picked and all the coins you have accumulated so far. The constructed villages, towers, ruin tokens and trading post tokens also stay on your map. The explorer cubes, however, are removed and placed back in your pool ready to be used in the next round.

Goal

As soon as you have completed any of the 3 goals, place one of your cubes on the card and take the appropriate bonus (which is higher for the first player to achieve it!).

And once Era 4 has been completed, it’s time to tot up all the coins you have collected over the course of the game. Don’t forget to check any treasure chest cards for end of game bonuses which will usually add more coins to your riches depending on what your map shows at end-game. The winner is the richest Merchant in the Guild!

I hope this helps smooth the waves of your first game of The Guild of Merchant Explorers! It has been an instant hit in our house and I am hoping you enjoy it just as much as we do!

Having reviewed the multiplayer game and written the How to Play guide, the solo game of The Guild of Merchant Explorers had to be the final step in my TGOME journey of discovery. And do you know what? Don’t tell my husband, but it might actually be my favourite way to play!

Solo Circumnavigation

Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely adore playing this game with other people. And to be fair, at its core, it is a multiplayer solitaire style game. So it’s not like someone is going to steal your sheet and draw goblins on it (thanks Cartographers!), or steal the shape you wanted to lay down (ahem, Patchwork!). The Explore Deck and all the placement rules and construction opportunities work the same for everybody whether there is just you or a table full of other avid adventurers. Believe me, simultaneous head scratching commences upon every turn – it’s just the degree of elbow room that changes!

So what is it about the solo that I love so much? Well, it is a very simple tweak to the standard rules that gives the single player experience a dollop of super special sauce.

Solo Sauce

In the multiplayer game, there are scoring conditions that award bonus coins to the players who achieve them during the course of the game. First player gets more, but everybody has a chance to make choices that target these spatial goals. And coins = points = one step closer to victory.

But in the solo mode, the winning condition is precisely those extra scoring objectives. In order to beat the game, before even thinking about smashing your own score, you need to knock all three out of the…boat! And if you don’t, no matter how far you have sailed, nor how many coins you have collected, it will all be for nought. You’ll be walking the plank to Loserville. And I love that!

A Sea Of Strategy

Without an AI to operate, The Guild of Merchant Explorers solo is all about those scoring objectives. Whereas in the multiplayer game they are a nice bonus if you get them, here you absolutely need to achieve them. And that will shape your strategy on every turn you take. Having 3 simultaneous goals to achieve whilst also trying to explore and build to gain points in all the other ways, makes my mind work in the most marvellously melty of ways.

I want to make trade routes and find lost ruins for bonuses. I want to build villages and erect towers for mid Era coin collecting. But if they aren’t the goals I am working towards, then they have to take a back seat! And if the goals conflict or means I have spread myself across the board to be in with a chance of hitting them….well, that’s a saltiness that hits my sweet spot for sure! The deck of Scoring Objectives isn’t huge, but the various combinations to strive for and variability of play through the random Explore Deck draws means this game has huge replayability.

Final Thoughts

Given that I already play 99% of this game in my own head and couldn’t give a rum’s punch what the other players are doing, the solo was always going to be a success for me. The Guild of Merchant Explorers is a game that comes to the table quick, plays as fast as your own decision making allows, and has zero complicated single player rule tweaks. On that basis, it is well and truly within in my super solo sub-collection! It has the smooth play of a flip and write without the need to find a pen that works! And with 5 maps to choose from, it’s a game with solo sea-legs!

Having reflected on it even more whilst writing this review, I think I might actually be a little (okay a lot!) addicted to the solo mode in The Guild of Merchant Explorers. With that win condition to beat, the game sings to me in a special way that regular BYOS solo modes don’t. This game is a solo siren that I can’t ignore……and do you know what? I don’t want to!

Zatu Score

Rating

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

You might like

  • Easy to learn tricky to master
  • Smooth puzzly game play
  • Crunchy decision making
  • Huge replayability
  • Everything except the coins!

Might not like

  • Coins could be better
  • Some players may not like the multiplayer solitaire style