Merchants and Marauders is an open-world board game, where play and exploration is completely open and players can try to achieve victory as they wish. Released 10 years ago, a nautical season wouldn’t be the same without a review of it.
We have reviewed Merchants and Marauders on the site previously, but I hadn't played it, and we thought this would be a perfect time to revisit it.
This article forms part of our Nautical Tabletop Month that's running across all of November. We're going to look at different nautical wargames and board games, as well as interview developers about capturing the sea feel on the tabletop. We'll also look at nautical factions in popular wargames along with tabletop accessories that are available to keep your hobby ship-shape. You can see all the articles here on the hub. So come aboard as we set sail and celebrate all games nautical in nature.
You can buy all the Nautical Tabletop Month products from our tabletop sponsor, Firestorm Games.
In Merchants and Marauders, the winner is the first player to get to 10 Glory. This can be done in a variety of ways. You can sell goods at a port, stash gold, investigate rumors, and complete missions, or you can defeat other players and NPC ships, or plunder gold from merchant ships. The sea-board really is your oyster.
Each turn, players get 3 actions from 3 action types. Move, scout, and port. Move allows your ship to move around the map, scout allows you to find NPC and other player’s ships to engage in combat and port allows you to complete a port action if you are in a port. Port actions include buying and selling goods, recruiting, and picking up rumors.
Anything that involves a test of some kind is carried out using 6-sided dice where the 5 and 6’s have been replaced with skulls. The skill characteristic for the test indicates how many dice are rolled, and a test is passed by rolling a single skull.
Ship vs. ship battles have a little more detail and require several successful rolls before defeating a ship completely, starting with each ship battling with cannons, and ending with crew vs crew combat as one attempts to board the other. The basic rules are incredibly simple, which allows players to concentrate on the more intrinsic elements of being either a merchant or a marauder.
Being a merchant is easy, for a while. Grab some cargo, move it around, gain some glory, but you could be a target for marauders. But being a marauder is just as dangerous. Ship battles can be swingy, and even if you do well, you’ll soon have a bounty on your head and find areas difficult to sail into.
The beauty of Merchants and Marauders is that you really can play it as you want, and it feels like an incredible adventure every time. Ships and crew can be upgraded, improving your hunting or defensive capabilities, but beware if you’re defeated in combat by another player, they take your ship, along with pretty much everything else you have, and combats, no matter how hardy your crew or ship, can sometimes just not go your way.
For a game released a decade ago, the components are stellar. The board and ships are awesome, and everything really captures a sense of theme throughout.
Merchants and Marauders is playable with 2 to 4 players, and all of those players should be aware that the game is very PvP orientated. Sure, all players can do the merchant thing, and even help each other along, but all it takes is one player to fancy a little of what you have and take a chance at you, sending the whole game into a spiral of revenge.
Seas of Glory Expansion
Merchants and Marauders has a Seas of Glory expansion that adds 11 optional elements to your games. These include new missions, rumors, events, and captains, along with tokens for missions, spawn points and player’s home ports. It also adds new ships and upgrades for players and the NPCs, including the Spanish Treasure Galleon that sails around collecting gold. Other elements are weather, including wind, contraband as a new type of cargo to move, locations, favors, and crew loyalty. The rulebook also includes details of 5 game variants, to add yet more variety. It’s a great expansion for an already great game.
The Bottom Line
Merchants and Marauders is an incredible open-world adventure. Every game feels unique. The core rules are straight-forward, but there are some intricacies that might put off anyone looking for a simple game. The multiple ways to win are all great, and all have their own difficulties. The game has a large element of PvP, that rewards the bold and can be an issue for any players who don’t want that element to the game, but those who don’t mind will have an incredible experience and plenty of stories to tell.
Get This Game If:
- You want an awesome open-world adventure.
- You want a game with multiple ways to win.
- You want to explore the seas as a pirate.
Avoid This Game If:
- You don’t want PvP in your game.
- You really don’t want PvP in your game.
- You don't want an incredible open-world game.
The copy of Merchants and Marauders used to produce this review was provided by Asmodee.