It might be just a tad immature of me … okay, maybe it’s really immature of me, but winning a new game, or even just doing really well at it, goes a long way towards making me like it. Not that that’s the only reason I’ll like a game; there have been games where I totally stunk up the joint but was so intrigued by what I did wrong that I had to try it again, or where what I should have been doing dawned on me and I couldn’t wait to do things the right way. But having something click for me right out of the gate is a good way to foster a favorable first impression. I can totally be bought.
Merchants & Marauders — Speaking of buying, I was more merchant than marauder in this game. Merchants & Marauders is essentially a pick-up and deliver game with a heavy naval/pirate theme. What’s neat is that you can choose to be an honest merchant or a cunning marauder or a combination of both, and any of them is a viable path to victory. You move from port to port in the Caribbean, and while there you have a variety of actions you can take. There’s basic buying and selling of goods (you get a discount when buying multiples of the same item, and earn more selling them in places that have a demand for them), dealing in contraband (more lucrative but more dangerous, as it draws the attention of the various navies), outfitting your ship with upgrades or buying a brand new one, and tracking down missions and rumors that can gain you money, buffs to your ship, and valuable glory points, which are how you win the game. First captain to 10 wins it.
But there’s not a “Marauders” in the title for nothing. Not only can the Spanish, Dutch, French and English navies cause you trouble, there are roaming pirates who can hunt you down, and even your fellow players can go pirate and come after you. Random events each turn can send countries to war — making it dangerous for you to enter certain ports — or fill the waters with even more pirates for you to worry about. There are also events that cause dangerous storms, cut off demand at certain ports, and other nasty surprises so that the game isn’t simply a mad dash from port to port making money. And each port has special conditions that can help you along, such as letting you buy extra goods or pay less money for them. So there’s some careful planning involved; do you go to the nearby port that has demand for what you’re carrying, or the more distant port that completes a mission you’re on? Or can you manage both before someone hunts you down, or wins the game with their own plans?
If the game has a drawback, it’s that each player’s turn doesn’t see a lot of interaction from the other players. Sure, you can attack other players, but you have to find them first via a scouting action, which isn’t always guaranteed. And there are some game cards that can be played to make life more difficult for someone. But if nobody does either of those things, you’re pretty much just watching someone take their turn. That’s not necessarily a deal-breaker for me — I like keeping a bead on what other players are doing so I can tell if I need to speed things up or take some actions messing with them — but there are some people for whom that’s a big deal.
But the game plays fast, stays involving, and has some great components. And I won, mostly by raking in the cash, upgrading my ship, and stashing away my gold to score points Five stars, would play again.