AVAST, SCALLYWAGS AND SCOUNDRELS ALIKE!
If ye think that ye be more than a bunch of landlubbers!
If ye be possessing daring, cunning, and wit!
If ye be willing to risk life and limb in the quest for eternal glory and riches!
Then gather yer crew! Chart yer course! Weight anchor! Set sail!
And make sure ye make a name for yerself before the other backstabbing, traitorous, greedy pirates do.
Merchants and Marauders is a thematic sandbox adventure game where you take on the name of a captain on the Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy. Your objective is to gain ten glory points before the any of the other traitorous seadogs! Points can be earned by winning combat, raiding merchant vessels, completing quests, following rumors and legends, making excellent trades, or by being ridiculously rich and hiding enough money away.
The game is set at a time when the English, French, Dutch, and Spanish all have colonies and ports spread across the Caribbean islands. You, and each of your competitors, will hail from one of those ports and must decide how exactly you want to make a name for yourselves.
Will you tread the path of the Merchant? Travelling between each of these ports, buying and selling goods for profit? You will always be aiming to sell three of whichever good happens to be ‘in demand’ at the next port, both for the glory and for the extra money it provides. But be wary, these waters are infested with pirates always seeking weak prey to raid! What trade-offs will you make between having the room to carry what you need and the protection needed to get you to your next port?
Maybe the path of the Marauder is what calls you to the sea? Will you raid unsuspecting merchant vessels for their goods and plunder, earning the ire of their parent states? Or perhaps, you will be all the more ruthless and chase after a deadlier variety of prey: your fellow players? Striking at the opportune moment will not only net more victory points than those measly merchant mariners, but you will also cast a black wind over their plans!
But be warned, oh burgeoning pirate, there are dangers in these waters that even you should be wary of! When you attack any non-pirate vessel, player or otherwise, the parent nation will place a bounty on your head. These aren’t so easy to get rid of and are what marks you as pirate; all the navies in the world love to kill pirates. Each country has a frigate, the second most powerful ship in the game, that will possibly be patrolling the sea. If they are able to get within range of you, they will start hunting you down. It becomes much harder to enter ports belonging to the country that currently wants your head, though your home port will always be open. Finally, those bounties ARE, in fact, bounties; earning any merchant or fellow pirate who manages to take you down quite the windfall!
But how can you decide? Which one will you choose? There are four skills that each captain has: Seamanship, Scouting, Leadership, and Influence. These skills are used throughout the game on both sides of the line. Seamanship will let you survive the worst that the sea decides to throw at you. Influence is needed to acquire missions and find out about rumors. Leadership is all about how well you can gather and lead your crew, into combat or otherwise. Scouting determines your captain’s searching ability, whether that’s part of a treasure hunt or looking for prey. Each captain has different values for each skill and a special ability. Those two things will usually give a hint as to which path that captain would be better suited for.
Once you’ve decided on which path to follow for the game, you’ll have a slew of opportunities to better prepare your captain and their ship to face the challenges ahead. You will have the chance to recruit specialist crew members who provide additional powers that you can use on your adventure. Special ship improvements can be found in every port: increasing your cargo hold, improving your cannons, defenses against boarding, or one final parting shot from combat.
Speaking of combat, no pirate adventure game would be complete without some way of battling on the high seas, ship to ship; cannon to cannon; peg leg to peg leg! Once an aggressor has found its target, both sides must spend a turn shooting. After that each ship has the option to shoot again, flee the battle, or board the opposing ship. Each of these choices is resolved by both sides making a Seamanship roll. Whoever has the higher result gets to take their action. This will continue until one side is defeated or manages to flee successfully!
Another interesting aspect of the game is that the world moves without the players. The four nations that are present in the Caribbean will sometimes go to war between themselves! When this happens, if that nation has a frigate patrolling the waters, a man o’ war replaces it. This is the only way that the strongest ship in the game appears on the board! Another side effect of this war is that the Man o’ War will also start hunting down merchants from the enemy nation, not just any pirates!
Overall, Merchants and Marauders is a game comprised of multiple interlocking systems that pull together to provide an engaging and interesting game. The gameplay is tight and solid. The cards, environment, and actions all work together to enforce the feel of being a captain sailing out to make his or her mark on the world! However, this comes with a downside; the interlocking systems, while solid, can be a lot to take in. You’ll often be flipping back through the rule book the first few times you play. Besides that, the game is really enjoyable and always fun to play!
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