I (finally) decided to get Merchants and Marauders of the shelf and see how easy it would be to teach a new player (i.e. my wife, Elaine). This is a very attractive game visually with lots of theme, but there is a lot going on and I felt the rules would be difficult to explain. I was worried that new players would end up feeling overwhelmed before they even started. So, I set up the game board and started running through the rules; first the map itself, then the players boards, then merchant raids, and finally the key ‘Port Action’ options. I did not explain ship-to-ship combat at this stage because this is the most difficult rules area, and to be honest, it rarely comes up in the opening moves of a game. At the end of my monolog Elaine did look a bit dazed and confused, but agreed to go ahead and give it go.
Elaine drew Gaspar de Rivera (Spanish) as her character, who was clearly a merchant type and therefore sailed a flute. I drew Frederico de Silva (also Spanish), a clear marauder who sailed a sloop. I immediately set out on my life of piracy by carrying out to successful merchant raids (versus both England and France), acquiring lots of money and ‘Glory’, although picking up some damage on the way. Elaine meanwhile pottered about trading here and there, accumulating wealth but little ‘Glory’. Pretty rapidly governmental ships from all 4 naval powers appeared on the map, which limited my actions. I had acquired 2 rumours (my special ability was to hold 2 rumour cards), and I decided to go for them asap, which would take me to 5 ‘Glory’ points and give me enough money to possibly achieve victory. The first rumour was true and I had to fight 2 enemy crew (leadership 1) to get 10 gold coins, this was no trouble and I felt rather good. The next rumour was also true, but the treasure (15 gold coins) was defended by 2 enemy crew (leadership 2). I confidently attacked, lost and died! I had to start again from scratch, losing all my Glory and money (I had not stashed any away). I drew another Spaniard, Filipe de los Reyes, and sailed another sloop.
Meanwhile, Elaine had quietly gone about trading, gaining both Gold and Glory for supplying goods ‘In Demand’. She also completed a Mission, and upgraded her ship to a Galleon (for more Glory). She had no bounty on her head and all she needed to do was acquire a bit more cash for victory. My small sloop was miles away, and too weak to attack her anyway. Therefore we called the game and awarded Elaine victory.
We played the game over a number of nights during the week (1-2 hours per session). This is perfectly feasible with this game, which can go on a bit, so long as you allow 5 minutes or so for reflection before starting each session. Elaine soon picked up the rules, especially concerning trading, and felt that only by playing can you get to grips with the game mechanisms. We did not have any ship-to-ship combat, so this remains a grey area as far as Elaine is concerned.
I now feel more confident about introducing Merchants and Marauders to our larger gaming group of friends, although I think a time limit (3-4 hours max) will need to be imposed. I love the thematic feel of the game, but I am still a bit concerned that there may be to too much downtime between each player turn. The ship-to-ship combat system still worries me because it is rather convoluted and cumbersome.