Choose your ship! Set sail! Trade goods! Raid merchants! Blow your friends out of the water! Read the Merchants and Marauders review!
Today we are looking at Merchants and Marauders, published by Z-man Games. Merchants and Marauders is a pirate themed sandbox game for 1 - 4 players in which each player will take on the role of the Captain of a ship and will be competing to be first to accrue 10 glory points.
Merchants and Marauders - Gameplay
Players begin the game by being dealt a random Captain card. Each Captain card has a special ability and ability scores that range from 1-4 in Seamanship, Scouting, Leadership and Influence. These ability scores determine how many dice a Captain will roll when making various checks throughout the game. Certain Captains are better suited to be pirates such as those with high Seamanship and Scouting scores to help them track down and raid other ships. Other Captains may have a high high Influence score making it easier for them to hunt down rumors or convince the governor of a port to trust them with an important mission.
After players have chosen their Captain they choose which of the two starting ships they wish to begin the game with. The Sloop sacrifices cargo space for improved maneuverability and is suited to hunting down merchant vessels while the Flute is much less maneuverable but provides enough cargo space to allow Glory to be gained by selling a hold full of goods in ports where the goods are in high demand.
Merchants and Marauders - Rounds and Actions
Each round of the game begins with the drawing of an Event card. Event cards have a variety of effects ranging from bringing an NPC pirate or military vessel onto the game board to causing a hurricane across the board that will ravage any ship unfortunate enough to be caught out to sea. After the event card is drawn and resolved each player will be able to perform 3 actions on their turn.
Players can spend their actions in one of three ways. They may Move into or out of port or sail from one sea zone to the next. They may Scout for another vessel in their sea zone to raid whether it be an NPC or another player! Finally players may take a Port action if they are located in a port.
Movement is self explanatory although there are a few things to watch out for. If a pirate player with a bounty on their head moves into a sea zone with a military NPC then that NPC will attempt to scout for and attack the player. If a merchant player with no bounties moves into a sea zone with a pirate NPC then the pirate will attempt to scout and attack the player.
Scouting can be used in multiple ways. A player may attempt to find and raid an NPC merchant vessel, thus gaining a bounty on their head and officially becoming a pirate. They may also scout for another player or an NPC military ship or pirate which will lead to a full-on ship vs ship battle!
A Port action will see the player given various options such as selling and buying goods, recruiting crew, buying a new ship, upgrading their current ship, buying a round of drinks at the tavern in an attempt to acquire a rumor, attempting to use their influence to take on a mission or even stashing gold in their home port to keep it safe.
Players will ultimately be using these actions to gain Glory points which can be earned in multiple ways. Did you successfully raid an NPC merchant for 12 or more gold? Boom! Glory point! Did you hear a rumor in a tavern and prove that rumor true? Yarrr! Glory point! Did you attack your friend and kill all of his crew in combat before making his Captain walk the plank? Avast! Glory point! Did you earn a ton of money lawfully trading goods and then decide to buy a larger, deadlier ship that you plan to use to begin a new career of piracy? You salty dog! Glory point!
Merchants and Marauders provides numerous thematic ways for players to play out their piratical fantasies and gain the 10 Glory points needed for victory. It is up to each player to decide which path to take with each being as viable as the last.
Merchants and Marauders - A Few Notes
A note on solo play: Merchants and Marauders does not support solo play out of the box. It is possible to play solo with the addition of house rules/restrictions such as setting a turn limit and seeing how many Glory points a player can amass over those turns but the game really should be played with multiple players.
A note on PvP: Player vs. player combat can be difficult for players to initiate if one player wants to fight and the other does not. Thankfully an official “Cutthroat Variant” exists that makes initiating PvP battles easier for players that wish to have more frequent PvP battles.
A note on “chrome”: The components of Merchants and Marauders are excellent. The cards are good quality and the ship minis are excellent. If you really want to take your game to the next level I would recommend upgrading the coins. In addition a little paint on the minis really makes the game stand out on the table.
A note on rum: For those of legal drinking age I highly recommend drinking spiced rum while playing Merchants and Marauders as it is in keeping with the theme of the game and also because it is delicious. Peirates Rum from Blue Spirits Distilling is an excellent choice.
Should I buy Merchants and Marauders?
Merchants and Marauders is THE game to play if you want to feel like a pirate. The theme shines through every aspect of the game. It provides players with multiple, equally viable, paths to victory. Player choices abound and all paths taken whether the player chooses to focus on trading goods, raiding merchants, completing missions, hunting pirates or fighting military ships are all equally fun and rewarding. You should buy this game if you're into pirates and have a handful of friends to play with. That said, anyone with a fear of pirates should probably avoid it.
The copy of Merchants and Marauders used in this review was provided by the publisher. This review was originally published on 12-03-2014. While care has been taken to update the piece to reflect our modern style guidelines, some of the information may be out of date. We've left pieces like this as they were to reflect the original authors' opinions, and for historical context.