Designed by Jonny Pac, Carl Van Ostrand & Drake Villareal | Published by Final Frontier Games
1-4 Players | 60-90 Minutes
On the western coast of the Five Realms lies the busy port of Merchants Cove. Brimming with activity, its frequented by a diverse group of sailors and adventurers seeking fame and fortune and a desire to shell out their expendable income. Being a savvy merchant like yourself, you’ve had the brilliant foresight to set up shop and compete with other sellers to gain the attention of these potential buyers, hock your unique set of wares and gain glorious riches.
In Merchants Cove, you’ll be playing as a merchant with your own distinct asymmetrical business. As you work to produce items to sell to incoming sailors, you’ll also need to grow your influence to attract the right buyers to build your success. Hire local townsfolk to improve your production, build sponsorships with local factions and occasionally mingle with rogues willing to help you achieve your goals while also creating a little corruption along the way.
HOW TO PLAY THE GAME
While Merchants Cove isn’t necessarily a complicated game, it does have a lot of parts. I’m going to do my best to streamline the description of the gameplay, focusing on the essential actions and allow you to discover the rest.
Merchants Cove takes place over 3 days, while each day allows you 12 hours in which to manufacture your products and prepare them for sale on the piers.
This is a uniquely asymmetrical game where players will choose 1 of 4 completely different businesses, each equipped with their own player board, components, setup and mechanics.
The game’s primary board consists of 3 seller’s piers, the town square, the faction halls, the clock/turn indicator and gold track (where you keep track of your bucks!).
Six empty boats sit in the cove waiting to be filled with sailors before landing at their pier of choice. This is the essential trigger for much of the game’s actions. Over the course of each day’s hours, players will be required to pull sailors from the adventure bag and place them in the boat of their choice. The 6 boats are divided by Dragon Island. The boats on the left have access to Bazaar Pier and Grand Plaza Pier while the boats to the right of the island can eventually settle at Grand Plaza Pier and Black Market Pier. The cove only houses 4 pier spots for all 6 boats – so you better get it while the getting’s good.
Once a boat has reached its maximum occupancy of 4 sailors, the player filling that boat will decide which pier they want to dock. There are 3 critical points to consider when choosing a pier to dock. Each pier only allows certain sized objects to be sold to those sailors, with the Black Market Pier allowing multiple sizes, but also requiring players to take corruption cards (more on this later). Merchant produced items for sale not only come in 2 sizes (large and small), but also come in 4 different colors. Players can only sell items to same-colored sailors at each pier. Multiple same-colored sailors create multipliers when selling items (ex: a large, red item worth 8 gold could be sold to 3 same-colored sailors at a single pier for a total of 24 gold… barring all other requirements are met).
Finally, the last thing to consider is boats unable to dock at a pier will send their sailors directly to the faction matching their color. Factions will provide similar multipliers based on the number of sailors housed at each one given you have a sponsorship (or multiple sponsorships) with a faction. These faction sponsorships will be earned through the individual merchant boards and by hiring townsfolk.
Taking turn actions in the game are represented on a giant clock. Players will have access to 12 actions each day. Some actions might take multiple hours… so time is of the essence. The player furthest behind on the clock is the active player. It is possible to take multiple turns in a row because of this.
Before we get into the individual merchant boards, which is the real charm of Merchants Cove, we must talk about the dreaded rogues. Rogues are at best a necessary evil and at worst, a plain old hindrance to your success. Rogues gather in the Lair (faction) and work in tandem with corruption cards to breed negative points at the end of the game. Certain actions will require you to select corruption cards that could potentially provide a limited benefit, but typically serve as a negative multiplier based on the number of rogues at the Lair.
The real bread and butter of Merchants Cover are the individual merchant businesses. The base game comes with 4 boards while additional expansions are available. You’ll be able to choose from the Blacksmith, The Chronomancer, The Captain and the Alchemist. Each miniature game is completely unique in everything from its artwork and components to how the actions are resolved. Each item is unique to each merchant, but they still fit into the larger/smaller/4 color mold when it comes to selling them at the end of a day.
When choosing the Blacksmith, you’ll find yourself playing a game of dice drafting and dice placement. You’ll move around the board prepping and smelting the furnaces and forging weapons and armor to sell at the market.
The Chronomancer, is actually a duo of time travelers working a rondel mechanism of changing tiles. They can never cross over one another as they work to gain items from throughout history. The Chronomancer also has the unique ability to freeze time, giving them temporary access to faction sponsorships as well as allowing them additional turns.
The Captain runs a fleet of sailing ships in a nearby island chain. Players will be placing the captain as well as working a spinner to seek buried treasure, earn coins and fish in the waters of the deep.
The Alchemist is working to brew potions and elixirs in a marble, set collecting game similar to the game Potion Explosion. Getting too greedy can lead to explosions and other unfortunate conclusions.
In addition to their unique actions, each merchant has standard actions that will allow them to hire townsfolk and put them to work in their shop. When hiring a towns worker, you will receive an immediate benefit as well as potentially receive 1 or more sponsorships to specific factions. Workers may also come with corruption (it’s the worst!).
Workers are then placed in a personal tableau where they are assigned a specific task within that shop. Merchants can then activate those workers and potentially produce multiple benefits on a single action.
Each day ends when the last boat fills the final open pier. At that point players will have the opportunity to sell items to the potential buyers if they choose. In addition to gold gained from sales, faction sponsorships are added up. On the final day, gold is totaled and players lose any negative funds from corruption cards. Afterwards the player with the most gold is declared the victor.
Merchants Cove also features a solo mode that can also be tied into a multiplayer game.
Merchants Cove is a true smorgasbord of creative and unique components. For example, the giant center board is uniquely and organically shaped creating a fun backdrop for the entire game. There are multiple bags to draw from as well as card decks. The cardboard weight throughout is good and it appears a lot of consideration went into creating a game that not only looks unique, but will survive multiple plays.
Each merchant setup comes with it’s own miniature figure. While these look great, they’re a little small and don’t really bring the impact the rest of the game provides.
There are a number of 3-D, cardboard pieces to the game. They all look great, but they will require some finesse. My first hour into the unboxing felt much more like a craft project than anything else.
Overall, the components are highly-produced and definitely compliment the game’s unique, fantasy theme.
Merchants Cove is a game set in a fantasy world and the artwork created by The Mico really brings it to life. Anyone familiar with the Mico’s work on the West Kingdom series knows he has a style all his own. Merchants Cove is full of colorful, whimsical characters that enhance the gameplay and are just a delight for the senses. The game has very few written design instructions, but the graphic design creates a very intuitive environment for understanding the available actions. Along with the components, the artwork shows that a lot of care went into the game’s production to create an engaging and invested experience.
I remember first seeing Merchants Cove become available on Kickstarter and immediately felt drawn in by this strange, creative world. As I dug in deeper, the idea of asymmetrical merchants playing their own individual games seemed exciting, but also really ambitious and I wondered if this could even work.
I love a well produced (over produced?) game and I have to often put myself in check so that I don’t get lost in the artwork and components when determining if a game works. Merchants Cove is a major accomplishment in terms of production. There is so much creativity coming together from artists, designers and direction that really work in creating a unique experience. So I had to tread lightly – man I love the look of this thing!
Another concern I had was how complex would this thing be? We have to teach the base game and then 4 individual games? How long is that going to take? Teaching 1 game is about as much as I can handle.
When I finally got Merchants Cove to the table I was initially shocked by how light the game’s complexity really was. I think I assumed that a game with so much visual complexity would have to require the same level of mental gymnastics. That just isn’t the case.
The idea of wooing sailors and pairing them with items seemed pretty straightforward. I also felt the same for each individual merchant board. While they look wildly different, there are only so many actions each player can take. At the end of the day, each merchant is able to compete on a fairly level plain.
Once I was able to adjust my expectations, I began to enjoy Merchants Cove for what it was meant to be.
I think Merchants Cove does a great job of creating a unique fantasy-pirate world, but also offers some interesting game decisions.
To start with, there is a bit of standoff when drawing and placing sailors on the ships. You always want to populate the right ships with the right sailors, but I often found myself doing anything but bringing them into port. Playing a defense game kept my opponents from scoring serious multipliers, but often damaged my prospects in the meantime. Another trick I often employees was drawing out the day by dispersing the sailors. This allowed me another turn or two on the round to push the work in my shop just a little further. With each player weighing these options, it did seem to bring a good, fun amount of tension.
I was also pleasantly surprised with the individual merchant boards. With a limited number of actions each day, you have to carefully plan your approach to maximize your return. Each board felt unique, but tight in its own way. I was never able to do everything I wanted. There is so much personality baked into a lot of the decisions… I was left looking forward to the next game where I could try different options or become a completely different merchant altogether.
Each merchant comes with their own mini-rulebook, but it wasn’t too crazy teaching the different mini-games even at 4 players.
Of course, in any lighter game, the accessibility increases. You can be competitive from your initial play. That doesn’t make you an expert, but you can at least feel like you’re playing the game versus it playing you.
This might sound like spin – since I initially expected a much heavy game. It’s really not. I truthfully found the weight to be just right. While I did feel like I quickly had a grasp on the game, it was also evident there is plenty going on to allow for future discovery and surprises. While my 9-year-old could probably pick up on the game, there is still enough challenge and strategy to keep a gamer engaged.
The game’s key appeal is the variety of merchants. They are all fun and unique. While none of the mechanics are super complex, there are plenty of tough decisions. That and playing a new merchant is essentially playing a new game with completely different strategies and approaches.
I had a lot of success my first 4 or 5 plays and that doesn’t hurt when it comes to deciding if you like a game or not. It’s arbitrary in the bigger picture, but I enjoyed scoring a lot of points. You score a ton of points in Merchants Cove. It just feels good. The strange townsfolk and the bonuses you receive are just fun.
What doesn’t work about Merchants Cove? I really felt the things that might not work for you are things that completely based on preference. I know some players expect an epically-heavy experience in any game that requires 20 minutes to setup. If it doesn’t make their brain burn then they didn’t get their money’s worth. Merchants Cove is not going to make your brain burn. It is a more medium-weight game in that regard.
The one thing that didn’t quite pan out for me were hiring the townsfolk. I really wanted to hire a bunch of workers and do a big, wiz-bang action with all of them in tow, but I just haven’t gotten there yet. There never seemed to be enough available actions to prep everything, hire workers and then do the big, wiz-bang.
Outside of that, I really enjoyed the mechanics. I’ve played a lot of heavy games lately and the weight here really worked for me. To each their own.
Is this the next highly-thematic, heavy-weight euro? No, it’s not. I see it as a more accessible, colorful, medium-weight euro that appeals to a more mass audience.
Merchants Cove isn’t what I thought it was going to be, but that didn’t keep me from really enjoying it. Thinking more about it, it really represents why I love board games. It’s competitive, but still something I can share with my gaming and non-gaming friends. I love the creative energy that went into this. Everything from the components to the artwork and turn choices creates a fun, engaging, thematic world helping me to escape everyday life. It may take a little while for it to catch on, but I believe Merchants Cove is going to be something people are regularly playing 5 years from now.