Published by Queen Games
Designed by Stepfan Feld & Michael Rieneck | Art by Dennis Lohausen
2-4 Players | 75 Minutes
The time of King Arthur is coming to an end and he, along with Merlin, are looking for an heir to the thrown of Camelot from amongst the Knights of the Round Table. Now is your opportunity to prove you’re worth. Take on the role of one of the king’s knights and demonstrate your leadership, insight and might.
In Merlin, you’ll be drafting dice in an effort to move your character as well as Merlin around the giant Round Table rondel. With each landing space you’ll have the opportunity to impress your influence, defend against traitors, construct your manor across the environs and complete missions. Each action requires careful planning, quick thinking and savvy decision making to maximize your points and earn the favor of the king and be crowned the next king of Camelot.
HOW TO PLAY THE GAME
Each player begins the game with their own castle board that houses the players tools, resources and serves as the setting for the advancements of the relentless traitors.
Merlin plays over 6 rounds separated by 3 scoring points. To begin each round, players will roll 4 dice – 3 representing movement actions of their knight and 1 allowing you to move Merlin himself. Players will take turns spending a die and moving their players around the board.
The board in this game has a life of its own. The beautifully illustrated rendering of the famed Round Table serves as a giant rondel. Each player’s knight token can only advance clockwise while Merlin can move either direction.
I’m generally a huge fan of roundels in games. They typically serve as a mechanic to limit your options and force you to be more efficient with your decisions. Merlin is no exception in this regard. You’ll often find yourself at the mercy of the rondel when attempting to achieving your goals and pursuits. This ramps up the strategical aspect of the game forcing your plan ahead to maximize each round of the game.
The initial motivating factor for the game is through completing mission cards. These mission cards require a collection of resources primarily gained by visiting one of the 6 principalities on the board. When landing on one of the principalities spaces, players can dispatch one of the personal henchmen (lady-in-waiting, shield-bearer, builder & flag-bearer), which directly relate to one of the 4 possible resources available at that principality.
Throughout the game you’ll be seeking to earn the most victory points through a number of different objectives. Players may attempt to construct manors on the environs. As players collect bricks from the principalities, they can in-turn play these colored bricks in a sort of mini-area control game. The environs are a hexagonal board broken up into territories and the player with the most ownership in a territory earns rewards equivalent to that territory.
While that’s just one the ways to score, Merlin provides a number of different opportunities for points, each with their own strategy and personality.
All the while you’re pursuing these personal point goals traitors are lurking in the darkness looking to wreck havoc. Each round 3 new traitors are perched along your castle board attempting to break in. It’ll be you responsibility to defend the castle by gathering shields from the traitors same principality to fight them off. This provides some nice tension between playing offense and playing defense… or for me, what I want to do vs what I need to do. That being said, a sharp player can still combine mission objectives and defense or influence goals and environ advancement.
On a micro level, Merlin brings a lot of additional elements that can mitigate and supplement your game plan in a thematic way. Players can gain Excalibur to fend off a traitors advance or grab the grail to earn additional round influence and apples (which allow you to change a die’s value).
Merlin has 3 big-box expansions, but the game also comes with an optional module that introduces a number of new gameplay choices. Players now have the opportunity to turn down mission point rewards in favor of new permanent abilities.
Merlin has a box full of components from cardboard tokens, to dice and wooden characters. Queen Games did a really nice job on the production and everything is really high quality. There are a number of pieces that have been specially die-cut to fit on your castle board adding a lot of fun the game. The hechmen tokens are all a nice size with unique stickers on each aligned with your player’scolor. There are also 3 3-D, cardboard standees you put together: a crown for the first player, excalibur and the grail. It can all be a bit of a setup since there is a lot going on here. There are places for each principalities resources which can take awhile to setup, but there are ways to optimize the setup and tear down. I have strategically grouped everything in plastic bags, but I can definitely see an insert helping things out here. Overall, the components are top-notch and they serve the functionality and fun-factor of the game nicely.
If nothing else, Merlin brings tons of value from the art department. Each character or symbol in the game has a ton of personality! It really brings the game to life and immerses you in the theme… and I think that is the primary purpose of the art in a successful production. The artwork might not be for everyone, but you can feel the quality and effort that went into it all. I’ve got to point out the game board. The board artwork is big and beautiful and a real eye-catcher. This is game that will look amazing on your board game table.
I’m a big fan of games that are able to successfully introduce an engaging rondel. Merlin is essentially a big, giant rondel that delivers. While you’re not always able to do everything you want (not a bad thing), you do always have an interesting decision waiting just around the corner. I personally love the choices and scoring opportunities. There is so many colorful ways to play this game.
The presentation of the game is amazing. I could probably stare at the board for hours and not get tired. The extensive artwork really draws you into the theme of the game where it could have been easily lost.
At its core, the mechanics are really simple, but as the game progresses you’ll discover new ways to achieve your objectives. It all starts with the planning – how you spend your dice to guarantee your best return. While this is fairly straightforward with your own knight, moving Merlin can be a bit more of an adventure. He is capable of being moved by any player at the table, so you really need to wait for the right moment to spend your Merlin die and use him to your advantage. Of course there are ways to mitigate the dice by gathering apples and each principalities flag provides their own unique action that can be spent at your discretion.
I really enjoyed the weight of the game. Standard choices aren’t terribly difficult, but the decisions that come with those choices can make or break you. You’ll often need to spend the very resources you’ve sought pursuing on your next mission card. This is an interesting rub in the game since achieving mission cards just require that set collection, but resources spent are lost forever. You may just think you can hold off spending these resources for a couple more turns, but the end of the round is lurking and you often need to spend the resources to deny those dirty traitors access to your castle (and more importantly loss of points on your end). It’s not a brain-burner, but it’s think-y enough to bring a consistent flow of satisfying choices and decisions.
Lastly, there isn’t a ton of player engagement, but I really enjoy the places where it does exist. Building influence in a principality not only has in-game reproductions, but can serve up big on scoring rounds. Additionally, building on the environs can net your in-game bonuses, but fighting your opponent for the largest pieces provides a near mini-race. It’s easy to get caught up in one of the game’s many pursuits, but with so many other opportunities, you have to determine if they’re the right opportunity for you.
Merlin may not be the most beautiful game ever (though the art is pretty darn good), it may not have the tightest mechanics (thought they’re thoroughly engaging) or have the best components (though they’ve got a ton of personality)… but Merlin delivers every time I play it. The decisions and achievement are genuinely satisfying and the mechanics allow you put your focus on playing the game verses the game playing you. Merlin is definitely one of the more consistent euros in my opinion. Game time with the wrong players can go a bit longer than you’d like, but there aren’t too many negatives. If you’re looking for a unique, medium-weight euro with lots of theme and a really cool, giant rondel you should definitely check out Melin.