Merchants and Marauders is one of my favorite games. Countless hours have been spent at my gaming table sailing around the Caribbean Sea, raiding merchant ships, doing battle with villainous pirates, claiming Glory points and shouting Y’arrrrr! When Z-man Games announced Seas of Glory, it immediately shot straight to the top of my “shut up and take my money” list. When I heard that Seas of Glory was going to be a modular expansion my desire morphed into need, and when you need something it’s a responsibility- and, while not every module is my cup of tea, Seas of Glory adds a ton of fun to the game.
Seas of Glory is a box chock full of options that players can pick and choose from to tailor their Merchants and Marauders experience to suit their preferred play style. Seas of Glory contains eleven separate modules of various depth and complexity and also offers 5 official variants for players who want to tailor their experience even further. Players are free to pick and choose the modules that they wish to use and the rulebook gives a handy suggestion of the added play-time and complexity that each module adds to the game. Players really seeking adventure may even wish to use all eleven modules together.
The first module includes new Missions, Rumors, Events and Captain cards that fit nearly seamlessly in with the base game and add a ton of variety and re-playability. Also included are some Home-Port flags to depict each player’s home port, NPC Spawn flags to show where new NPC ships will enter the board and Mission tokens which show which zone Missions are available in without the need to keep the Mission cards physically on the board. While incredibly simple in their design, these small additions are a wonderful inclusion. The flags remove the players’ need to remember exactly where ships will enter the board and where their home port is located while the Mission tokens reduce the clutter of having full Mission cards on the board while still clearly showing exactly where players need to go to begin them.
Module two adds new Special Weapons to the game in the form of Heated Shot, Double Shot and Caltrops while module three adds four new Ship Mods. The Special Weapons and the Carved Hull and Crow’s Nest Ship Mods are fun to add for players seeking to add variety to the game without significantly changing how it plays. The Smuggler’s Hold Ship Mod and The Plank Ship Mod are actually dependent upon the use of other modules included in the game, one of which is an excellent addition while the other is rather mediocre.
The fourth module is all about NPC Upgrades. This module gives NPC ships that enter the board upgrades in the form of Ship Mods and Special Weapons. When an NPC ship is drawn, players will randomly draw an NPC Upgrade and place it on the drawn card. The NPCs will use the Ship Mods whenever possible, and when battle is joined with that NPC, the player that takes control of that NPC is free to use the combat-related Ship Mods or Special Weapons as they see fit. This is a great module for players who really want to increase the danger and excitement of interactions with NPC ships.
Module five introduces a brand new ship type, the Brig, to the game. The Brig is an interesting all purpose ship that is great for players that like to dip their toe into piracy while still attempting to score Glory points by trading sets of Cargo cards. The NPC pirates gain new ships as well with the addition of a pirate Brig and a pirate Man-o-War. Along side the new ship type is a modified version of the base game’s Galleons. The new Galleon cards have decreased Maneuverability which makes the decision of which ship to upgrade to more interesting as well as making player-controlled Galleons more tempting targets for other players.
The sixth module in the game is one of the best. Module six adds the Spanish Treasure Galleon to the game. The Treasure Galleon is a NPC ship that begins the game on the board and sails around collecting gold as the game progresses. Over time the Treasure Galleon collects more and more gold, and becomes an ever more tempting target for the players. The Treasure Galleon adds a wonderful risk vs reward element to the game, especially for players who are a few Glory points behind the leader. As the gold in its hold begins to stack up, players begin to get a gleam in their eye as the temptation to attack the Treasure Galleon becomes harder to resist.
Module seven, Contraband, is another stand out module and is required for players to use the Smuggler’s Hold Ship Mod. Contraband adds a set of 32 cards to the Cargo deck that function identically to the base game’s Cargo cards for players who aren’t interested in smuggling illicit goods. For those players who don’t mind a bit of lawbreaking, the Contraband cards show a particular item of contraband, such as “Stolen Documents,” and list a destination for that Contraband. Each Contraband sells for 10 gold and it takes only two Contraband sold to reward a player with a Glory point. The gold reward and potential Glory make smuggling Contraband a tempting proposition for players. Players who choose to smuggle will need to be careful though as NPC ships will attempt to scout and attack players smuggling, even if those players are not carrying any bounties.
Wind and Weather, the eighth module, consists of two parts: the Storm token and Wind Direction. The Storm token is great. It represents a Storm that blows around the Caribbean that will damage player’s ships if they begin their turn in or move into the same zone that it occupies. The Storm moves every round in the direction determined by the Wind Spinner and provides a fun obstacle for players to consider and avoid.
Wind , on the other hand, is not so great. When Wind is used, the Wind Spinner determines not only which direction the Storm token moves but also which direction the wind is blowing. For players who wish to move in the direction that the wind is blowing they can take a free move action once per turn. This is great for that player and can see them zooming across the board in no time. Unfortunately, for players that wish to move in the opposite direction as the wind, the first move in the opposite direction costs two actions. Considering the fact that players only receive three actions per turn and that the storm Event cards already can potentially decrease a player’s action count by one, the frustration factor caused by Wind far outweighs the fun that a free move action can add.
Location tokens make up Seas of Glory’s ninth module. When used, one Location token is added to nearly every Sea-Zone on the board. The Locations each have a special Visit action such as trading Cargo cards for ship repairs at the Native Village or paying gold to reduce Bounties at the Missionary. Players also have the option of raiding and destroying these Locations. The Location tokens add a significant amount of clutter to the board and, with 8 different Locations in total, a significant amount of complexity. Thankfully the Location module is essentially modular in itself and players can easily remove the Locations that they don’t like or choose to draw a few and randomly disperse them around the board as opposed to placing all 16 tokens on the board at one time. Sprinkling a few Locations around the board can add a quite a bit of fun to the game without feeling overwhelming.
Favors, the tenth module, are a decent addition to the game and will really appeal to players who like options that allow them to mitigate their luck. Favors can be gained in a few different ways and can be spent by players to redraw cards, re-roll non-combat skill rolls, or force NPC’s to re-roll scouting attempts and enter ports illegally. While the Favors module isn’t the most exciting addition to the game, it is still a fun option to have.
The final module is the Loyalty Track and is where The Plank Ship Mod comes in to play. The Loyalty Track increases the difficulty of the game by requiring players to keep track of and manage their crew’s loyalty. If a player can keep their crew happy, it translates into bonuses in crew combat, recruiting and can even grant a player an extra action on their turn. If a player allows their crew’s loyalty to fall too far, they will have a mutiny on their hands that can lead to their captain being killed. While the Loyalty Track is thematic, especially using The Plank to keep crew in line, it mostly serves to make the game more difficult. The Loyalty Track is best saved for players who feel they’d like a handicap or players who just want a more difficult experience overall.
Alongside the modules, Seas of Glory includes 5 official variants for players that wish to alter the game even further. The Flexible Turns and Cutthroat variants are aimed at players who wish to increase the potential for player vs player interactions. The Give Me Glory or Give Me Death variant places more emphasis on players scoring Glory points directly over stashing gold, and the It’s a Hard Life variant places NPC ships on the board from the beginning of the game in order to increase the chances of player interactions with NPC ships.
A note on player count: Unfortunately, Seas of Glory does not increase player count for Merchants and Marauders and so the game is still limited to a maximum of 4 players. While there is still a ton of value in the box, the lack of an option to add a fifth player is a missed opportunity.
A note on “chrome”: Unfortunately, the coloring and texture of Seas of Glory’s cards don’t exactly match those from the base game. This means that sharp eyed players can tell if the cards on top of the decks are from Seas of Glory or from the base game. While it doesn’t greatly effect game-play it is still disappointing. The art on the new Captain cards doesn’t quite fit with the art style from the original game’s Captains but the new Captain abilities are fun and interesting. The remainder of the components are good quality and the new player aids inlcuded with Seas of Glory neatly replace those from the original game.
The bottom line:
Seas of Glory is a great expansion for Merchants and Marauders. It adds more of what makes Merchants and Marauders great, switches up familiar formulas to keep things interesting, and addresses some of the main criticisms that people had about direct player conflict. Seas of Glory’s modular design allows players to tailor the game as they see fit, adding in the modules that they feel are most fun while ignoring the modules that hold no interest for them. Even though not every module is a winner, the cards don’t match exactly, and it’s sadly lacking the option to increase player count, with the number of options on offer, nearly every type of Merchants and Marauders player should find something to love in Seas of Glory.
Merchants and Marauders: Seas of Glory can be purchased via Amazon here.
Rules for Merchants and Marauders: Seas of Glory can be found here.
The copy of Merchants and Marauders: Seas of Glory used for this review was purchased by the author.
Edit: Apparently I had Italy on the brain when I wrote this article. Big thanks to reader Sceptrum for pointing out my geographical mixup!
With so many options included in the box, Seas of Glory is bound to be a hit with nearly every Merchants and Marauders player.