Our regular gaming friends, Val and Chris, visited and I decided to try Merchants and Marauders and a 4-player game. This is a game I have only previously played as a 2-player game with my wife, and we both enjoyed the game play, although Elaine always goes for the Merchant side of things. The game can be long and difficult to explain, with many variables and rules involved. I think the pre-game explanation went well, and both Elaine and Chris clearly went for the Merchant role whilst Val and I opted for a more aggressive, Marauder approach.
On my first turn (as the English character Francis Wright) I tried to demonstrate how Merchant Raids work; I was too aggressive by pushing for immediate Glory, and promptly died! I think this showed the others the wrong side of pirating and maybe put off them taking a similar approach. Meanwhile Val threw rubbish Spotting dice throughout the entire game and spent much time failing to seek out victims! Elaine and Chris were both located in the Eastern Caribbean and were accumulating wealth and Glory by successfully trading goods that were in demand. A key moment was when Elaine in a Flute was caught at sea by a NPC Pirate Frigate; apparent certain death for Elaine’s character. After the opening cannon fire, Elaine successfully boarded and with a smaller crew (and good dice) managed to capture the pirate vessel! She now shot ahead in the game, getting both Glory and a larger ship. My new pirate character, the Frenchman Ch.Marquis, still struggled with failed Merchant Raids, although he did accumulate a significant Dutch bounty (level 4) on his head! Elaine was now within touching distance of victory, she just needed to return to her home port to win. She knew this (as did the rest of us) but she did not want to end the game early (!) and she had a full cargo of bananas she wanted to deliver to the port beyond her home port. This meant that she was still at sea and Chris attacked in a Galleon against her Frigate. This time Chris was the better sailor, won the gunnery duel and sunk Elaine! Chris then moved rapidly back to his home port for victory: Chris 12 Glory, Elaine 8 Glory, Val 4 Glory, myself 2 Glory.
Although Chris won, I think Elaine could claim the moral victory because she could have won 2 turns earlier but carried on for the sake of the game. I think Elaine needs to toughen up because I don’t think either of the rest of us would do the same.
Merchants and Marauders is a long game and this game took 4 hours. It is visually very attractive and thematic, but has possibly too much going on! The specific rules for each sea area frequently get overlooked, and none of the players really maximised on the advantages these rules could have delivered. Everyone agreed that sea battles take too long and break the flow of the game. The results of this game re-enforce the view that Marauding is not the best route to success, but I remain convinced that if done correctly then pirates can achieve victory. With hindsight I think a player should not start aggressively; a Marauder should acquire some wealth by trade before embarking on a lawless career. He certainly needs to purchase some special weapons, and possibly ship modifications, before starting any Merchant Raids. I am beginning to think that a Marauding life should only start once a Frigate is purchased.To conclude, I hope all players enjoyed the game. We all got into the theme of the game and took pleasure trying to play adverse cards on opponents; for example I tried to ‘Frame’ Chris, whilst Elaine increased the bounty on my head etc. I can see us playing future games of Merchants and Marauders but not that often as it takes too long and is too involved.