Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Calling All Rules Law-"YARRRS!": "Merchants & Marauders"

Way back on January 15'th we had enough players in for game night that we could easily table a couple of titles. After playing Firefly I was keen to try another "pick up and deliver" style game, so I offered to run something out of my own collection: Merchants & Marauders.

I bought this one way back in 2010 based on positive pre-release buzz, generally good reviews and the intriguing description on the Z-Man Games webzone:

"Merchants & Marauders lets you live the life of an influential merchant or a dreaded pirate in the Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy. Seek your fortune through trade, rumor hunting, missions, and of course, plundering.

"The game features a unique trade system and a thematic combat system, allowing for critical decisions and intense excitement. Modify your ship, buy impressive vessels, load deadly special ammunitions and hire specialist crew members.

"Will your captain gain eternal glory and immense wealth or find his wet grave under the stormy surface of the Caribbean Sea?"

Believe it or not, I haven't played the thing since I first picked it up four freakin' years ago. I actually did a session report at the time, but unfortunately it's locked up in the bowels of my late, lamented laptop. All I remember is that everyone thought the game was thematically rich but also incredibly fiddly to play.

So, when I got the chance to table this sucka again, I spent the previous day reading the rule book and diligently printing out the Headless Hollow cheat sheet.

And we still fucked up a bunch of stuff.

If you wanna know exactly how we balsed things up, Jeremy's session report of that ill-fated session is quite good. My only issue with it is that it gives the impression that I didn't do a lick of preparation, which seemed to raise the ire of some pretty die-hard M&M fans. One particular gent helpfully offered: "I cringe when I read about people reading the rule book while friends are over to play the game. Learn the game then teach the game, especially games like this!"

Wow, thanks for the sage advice, buddy. That would never have occurred to me. Asshole.

Anyway, after learning from our mistakes, I was all primed and ready to have another bash at it the following Wednesday night. Unfortunately Mama Nature had other plans and buried us in about thirty centimeters of snow that evening. Gaming's fun and all but it's not worth risking your life over it. Well, actually that's not entirely true, but I guess we were all feeling particularly hibernate-y that evening.

Still intent on rolling this bitch out properly, I decided to take the most extreme game-learning step imaginable.

I decided to play with myself.    

Now, I don't normally make a habit of playing with myself, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. If you can't find anyone else who's willing to play with you then sometimes just gotta suck it up and go solo.

As boring as it is, playing with yourself can accomplishes two things:
  • It allows you to really drill down into the rules and work out all the kinks so that when you do play with others again, you've got everything down pat.
  • From a blogging perspective it's great, because you can literally record the entire game as you're playing it.

So, for better or for worse, what follows is a transcript of an entire game of Merchants and Marauders. At the very least I'm hoping that it'll help folks who are looking for a (ludicrously) extended example of play and help them digest the rules.

Oh, for all you inflato-brains out there: even after reading the rules and playing through a partial game I still missed a few things. Sorry, but when that happens, then the burden of proof starts to swing away from the user and towards the usual suspects: an unnecessarily-fiddly ruleset and / or a poorly-organized play manual.

Also, to test my hypothesis that Merchants have an distinct advantage over Mauraders, I decided to use two character, each one representing one of the two possible careen paths.

 So, without further ado, let's meet our two contestants!

Christian Marquis
Nationality: French
Home Port: Tortuga
Ship: Sloop, the S.S. Dagger-Up-The-Strap
Special Ability: Christian, the Mac Daddy that he is, can ignore the effect of Storms.
Starting Glory Card: "Survivor" (insert lame "Eye of the Tiger" joke here) 
Turn-Ons: Raiding, pillaging, sudoku.  

Meike Beerens
Nationality: Dutch
Home Port: St. Maarten
Ship: Flute, the S.S. Milk Run
Special Ability: Even though Meike's Seamanship skill is too low for effective piracy, she still has a dark side, receiving a +1 bonus for Seamanship rolls against non-pirates, including Merchant Raids. Sassy! 
Starting Glory Card: "Break Out The Rum" If Meike fails a Leadership or Influence check she can discard a Rum Cargo Card to get her crew plastered and reverse this result. Remember: if you can't be popular, at least have a well-stocked bar! 
Turn Ons: Shopping, ship-improvement, free enterprise, random fits of violence.



Event Card: "War & Peace"...and just like that the Dutch and the Spanish are at each other's throats! Ain't colonialism grand? 

Christian takes a Port Action, buys the "Chasers" ship modification for three Gold and then pays another two cheddah in an attempt to acquire a Rumor. Unfortunately he only rolls a "2" and a "3" for Influence so nobody's sayin' nuthin' 'bout no-one. He then uses his second Action to leave port and his third to Scout for a Merchant ship. Regrettably, his roll of  "4" and "1" ensures that all he finds is a bored albatross and a coupla flying fish.

Meike also takes a Port Action. The Ship Modification in St. Maarten turns out to be Rigs & Sails, which she quickly snaps up for three Gold. She then heads off to market, drawing eight cards because she's on her home turf! She gets two Wood, two Food and then one of everything else so she opts to buy the Wood for four Gold. She also pays two more doubloons to try and rustle up some Rumors but weak-sauce rolls of "3" and a "4" means that only Jack and Shit are talkin'. She then leaves port and enters the Basse-Terre Sea Zone, en route to Curaçao.


Event Card: Rumor has it that the notorious pirate Larens de Graf's Sloop will arrive in Curaçao at the end of the turn, which is sure to make Meike's life more interesting!

Christian keeps Scouting, rolling two Skulls and finally spotting a Merchant ship bobbing around off the coast of Tortuga. He rolls two Skulls, spotting a French ship! Unwilling to attack his own countrymen, he decides to let it sail away. For his second Action he moves into the Sea Zone around Santo Domingo and tries to scare up some foreign prey. He scores another success, revealing yet another French ship! My boy just can't win...

Error: on a successful Scouting mission you can raid a ship of the revealed nationality or a ship that matches the location's nationality. Since Santo Domingo is a Spanish location, Christian could have chosen to attack a Spanish merchantman. 

Hearing scuttlebutt about pirates patrolling Curaçao, Meike uses all three of her actions to haul ass to the port of Cartagena.


Event Card: De Graf's pirate Sloop moves East and a nasty "Hurricane" blows through the Caribbean! 

Because Christian is at sea, he now has one less Action to work with. He makes a bee-line for safe harbor in Santo Domingo and then performs a Port Action. After acquiring Hammocks for his Sloop at the shipyard he tries to recruit another crew-member with an Influence check. Unfortunately his roll of "3" clearly indicates that he's fresh outta breath mints so he's forced to pay two Gold in order to top off his staff. After learning that there are "Settlers In Danger" in Santo Domingo he tries to aid them (purely for mercenary reasons, natch!) but a second, equally-crappy Influence roll of  "1" and  "2" means that he can't he claim the Mission. To make matters worse, now he's completely broke!

ERROR: Christian isn't effected by Storms!

Meike performs a Port Action, selling her two Wood Cargo Cards for twelve Gold. She then goes shopping, turing up two Tobacco and two Rum. Since Tobacco is currently "In Demand" in the same port, she buy that and one Rum for a total of eight Gold. Determined to catch up on all the gossip, she pays two Gold but her roll of double "3's" results in cold, harsh failure.


Event Card:  The French and the Spanish decide to get "Tough on Crime" but since neither Captain has any Bounties, this one is moot. Looks like Christian's self-control was prudent after all!

Since "south" isn't an option for the dread pirate De Graf, his movement is ignored.

Christian stays in port and, once again, tries to lend some aid to the "Settlers In Danger". This time he rolls a Success and Claims the Mission. As per the card's instructions:

"After claiming the mission you immediately engage the local savage tribe in Crew Combat. Tribe: Crew 2, Leadership 1. If you survive you complete the mission and end up back in Santo Domingo where you can perform further Port activities."

Crew Combat

Round One:  
Christian...Skull...Hit!  Tribe Leader..."1"...Miss!   

Round Two: 
Christian..."4"...Miss!  Tribe Leader...Skull...Hit! 

Round Three: 
Christian..."1"...Miss! Tribe Leader..."4"...Miss! 

Round Four: 
Christian..."2"...Miss! Tribe Leader..."4"...Miss! 

Round Five...
Christian..."3"...Miss! Tribe Leader..."4"...Miss!  

Round Six: 
Christian..."4"...Miss! Tribe Leader...Skull...Hit!  

Sound Seven: 
Christian..."3"...Miss! Tribe Leader..."2"...Miss! 

Round Eight: 
 Christian..."1" Miss! Tribe Leader...Skull...hit!

So, after this long, protracted, drawn-out mockery of a fight, Christian is killed. Or was he? After playing the "Survivor" Glory Card, he pops up again in Tortuga with a new ship and gets ready to head out again on his next turn!

Meike takes a Port Action, selling her two Tobacco Cards for twelve Gold! Hoping for more Rum on her Buy step she gets three Sugar instead. Undaunted, she buys all three (for a total of three Gold) despite the fact that it isn't "In Demand" anywhere on the map. In doing so, she's forced to dump one Rum. She then invests two monies in ferreting out a Rumor but thanks to a yet another crap double-"2" roll she hears nothing. She then uses her last two Actions to head out to sea and make her way due north to Port Royal.


Event Card: A "Dutch Naval Ship" will cruise into Curaçao at the end of the turn!

Completely broke, Christian uses two Action to leave port and then set sail for Nassau. Upon arrival in that Sea Zone, he tries to snag his first Merchant ship but twin "4"'s = sad trumpet sound.

Meike uses all three of her Actions to get to the port of Santo Domingo.


Event Card: The Spanish arrive on the scene as a Naval Ship is slated to cruise into Havana at the end of the turn!

Christian tries to Scout in Nassau again but a "4" and a "1" means no joy. On the verge of developing an inferiority complex, Christian moves two sea zones down to Petite Goave.

Meike takes a Port Action in Santo Domingo. First she sells her Rum for six Gold and the replacement Demand Token turns up Wood. After purchasing the Hammock upgrade for three smackers she then takes a Buy action and literally draws one of each type of Good! Pissed, she buys one Wood for three Gold. She then attempt to shanghai a new crewman but gets two "4's" a "3" and a "1"...four failures! This forces her to spend two more Gold in order to bump her roster up to two. Next she puts her ear to the ground in an attempt to sniff out a Rumor, dropping two more bucks in the process. A roll of "1" and "3" means yet another freakin' failure. Finally, she attempts the still-lingering "Settlers In Danger" mission that tripped up Christian. Her resulting Influence roll of "4" and "3" completes yet another turn of utter frustration. Jesus, even while playing a game against myself my luck still blows!

Let the record show: we're six turns into the game and neither character has scored a single Glory Point yet! Booooo!!!


Event Card: A new Spanish Naval Ship will appear in Cartegna at the end of the turn!

Christian tries to Scout for Merchants in Petite Goave but a "1" and "2" mean butkiss. He then moves into Port Royal and tries again!  Finally, a success! This turns up an English Merchantman so he's all over it like a fat kid on a Little Debbie cake! He draws a "3" and a "2"-point Escape card and a "1"-point Mast-hit Card. After dicing up two Skulls for his Seamanship roll he subs out the Mast hit for a three-Point Cargo hit instead. Still ahead of the game, he decides to gamble, taking an additional card which turns out to be a 3-point Escape! This results in a total Gold haul of eleven, just one shy of a Glory point!  Damn! He also keeps one of the Wood for Cargo. With his remaining Action Point he then makes a bee-line for Curaçao via Petite Goave.

Meike takes another Port Action in Santo Domingo. First she sells her Wood for six Gold and Food is flipped up as the new hot commodity. She then takes the Buy step and although he draws two Sugar and one of everything else, there's no Food! Unimpressed, she pays one Gold (as per the location text) to draws six new options and finally turns up one Food which she acquires for three Gold. She then invests two more simoleons to scare up a Rumor, gets two Skulls and overhears some idle chatter about "Indian Treasure". Looking to show up her rival, she then attempts the still-lingering "Settlers In Danger" Mission. This time Luck is with her and she scores a Success which triggers "Crew Combat":

Crew Combat 

Round One:  

Meike...Rolls two Skulls for 2 Hits, killing the Savage Tribe! 
Savage Tribe Attack..."4"...Miss!  

Like a boss, Meike completes the Mission, giving her the first Glory point of the game as well as a new Glory Card and ten Gold!  She then uses her two remaining actions to leave port and enter the Petite Goave sea zone.


Event Card: A new Ship will switch the Dutch Naval presence to St. Maarten at the end of the turn!

Christian uses three Actions to dock in Curaçao.

Meike makes landfall in Petite Goave and then takes a Port Action. She sells her nanners for six Gold and is delighted when Sugar is revealed as the next "In-Demand" resource! She opts out of the ship improvement step when "Rigs & Sails" are revealed. Despite having another action left she decides to sit tight.


Event Card: The Pirate Sloop moves East and the Spanish Ship heads West. In a thematically-appropriate bit of good fortune, there's an "Attack on San Juan" and the Dutch take the island!

Christian takes a Port Action. First off, he sells his Wood for six Gold, making Spices "In-Demand". Next he buys "Cannons" for three Gold and repairs his Cargo damage for two coinz. After burning two more Gold, he finally manages to overhear a Rumor about "Coastal Caves".  For his remaining Action he puts out to sea and then enters the waters around Cartagena, looking for these mysterious caves.

Finally Meike's plan comes together! She takes a Port Action and sells her three Sugar for a whopping eighteen Gold! This earns her another Glory Point and another Glory Card! She immediately leaves port and heads into the Santo Domingo Sea Zone.


Event Card: The Pirate Sloop moves West and the Spanish ship heads towards Christian. Both of our "heroes" are then forced to contend with "High Seas". Christian isn't effected but Meike gets one less action!

The Spanish Admiral Manuel de Velasco ties to scout for Christian, but with a "2", "2" and a "4" the brigand is in luck! Christian does his own Scouting, rolling a Sucess! The Rumor of the "Coastal Caves" turns out to be true, earning him his first Glory Point and a matching Glory Card! This "stash-away-from-home" turns out to be a real boon when he buries ten Gold in the Caves for a secret Glory Point! He then decides to put some distance between himself and the Spanish Man-O-War, moving one space into the Caribbean Sea.

As much as it pains her to do so, Meike is forced to pull into the port of San Juan to wait out the storm.


Event Card: The Caribbean threatens to get even more dangerous when Juan Guartem's Pirate Frigate is scheduled to drift into Santo Domingo at the end of the turn!

After using two Actions to get to the Bridgetown Sea Zone, Christian Scouts for a Merchant ship. He rolls a "2" and a "1" which are both failures. Whatta shocka. 

Meike moves out to sea and then uses two more Actions to sail to the St. John Sea Zone.


Event Card: There's no English or French ship, but both pirates move East. Again with the bad weather as a "Violent Storm" rocks the region. As a result, Meike has one less action this turn and Christian is all like "M'eh".

Christian manages to find his quarry once again, another British merchantman! He draws a three-point Mast hit, a two-point Escape and a 1-point Cannon hit. He rolls one success on his 4-die Seamanship check and decides to sub out the 1-point Cannon hit, drawing a 3-point Crew hit instead. The Raid is successful and Christian scores eight Gold as well as Spices and Wood! He then uses his last two Actions to make landfall in Basse-Terre.

Meike finally arrives in St. John. She takes a Port action, visiting the Shipyard to buy a sweet-ass Galleon for thirty-five Gold! She then pays two more Gold to transfer her Rigs & Sails and Hammocks to her new vessel! This gives her yet another Glory Point and a Glory card! She then takes a Recruit action and scores two Skulls, topping up her Crew to five for free! The Ship Modification turns out to be "Long Guns" but she opts not to install them. Instead she goes to Market and turns up three Rum but can only afford one barrel after her crazy spending spree. 


Event Card: Whispers indicate that the notorious "Blackbeard" will soon turn up in Port Royal!

Christian takes a Port Action selling his Cocoa for six Gold! He then takes a Recruit action but fails to roll a Skull so he's forced to pay two Gold in order to get his Crew back up to snuff. He then spends two more doubloons to Repair his Masts and three more for the revealed Hull Modification. Finally he goes shopping and picks up a single Spice for three Gold. For his second Action he glides back out to sea and for his last Action he moves into the Caracas Sea Zone.

Meike leaves port in St. John and then takes two Actions to move into the Caribbean Sea via Basse-Terre.


Event Card: Blackbeard's Frigate moves East into Petite Goave but De Graf's Sloop is already at the far end of the board. The Spanish Man-O-War moves north into the same space and the Dutch Warship moves West into San Juan. "Too Quiet" is then played out. The first card moves the Spanish ship East into Santo Domingo and then the Pirate Sloop moves West. Blackbeard, however, is adjacent to Meike, so he moves into the Caribbean Sea to look for her. The rest of "Clemency" has no effect since Christian has two British Bounties. The next card rolls out Benjamin Hornigold's Pirate Frigate which will appear in Basse-Terre at the end of the turn. Will Meike be Blackbeard's last victim?

Christian moves into Caracas and takes a Port Action, selling his two Spices for twelve Gold. This replaces the current "In-Demand" token with Wood. He then picks up the Swivel Gun mod for three Gold and patches up his Masts for two more. Next up is a trip to the market, where he procures two Wood for four Gold. Finally he funnels two bits into Rumor-collection and gets a Success!

Meike is in big trouble since Blackbeard is now actively Scouting for her! He rolls a success and a battle ensues! Immediately she plays the "Fog" Glory Card in an attempt to Flee right away.

Ship-to-Ship Combat

Seamanship Contest: 
Blackbeard..."4", "4" and "1" all failures! Meike manages to elude the legendary pirate!

She then takes an Action to move to Cartagena then uses her final Action to Scout. She gets one Success on three dice, proving that the "Indian Treasure" Rumor is true! This immediately triggers a Crew Combat!

Crew Combat 

Round One:

Meike...rolls two Skulls for two Hits, killing both enemy "Crew"! They try and strike back, rolling a "4"...Miss! 

Her dedicated peeps win the skirmish for her and Meike collects fifteen Gold and another Glory Point / Card! She's kicking Christian's ass up around his pierced ears right now!  

She then spends her last Action to tie up in the port of Cartegena.


Event Card: Hornigold goes North to St. Maarten while the Sloop gets stuck. The Dutch Man-O-War also remains in place because there's no due South option. Again, "Clemency" has no effect.
Christian takes a Port Action, selling his two Wood for twelve Gold, which is then replaced by "In-Demand" Rum. Then, after dropping four Gold for two Spices he heads back out to sea again!

Meike takes a Port Action to draw six Goods cards and ends up buying two Tobacco for six Gold. She then prospects for a Rumor and gets a Success! Finally she shoves off, spending one Action to leave port and another to enter the Sea Zone around Curaçao.


Event Card: An "English Naval Ship", under the command of one Admiral Ogle, will appear in Old Providence at the end of the turn!   

Christian moves into the Curaçao Sea Zone, docks in the harbor and then takes a Port Action, selling two Spices for twelve Gold. Next thing you know, everyone in Curaçao is, ahem...craving the Wood. He then tries to suss out a new Rumor and eventually picks up on some chatter about a wrecked frigate called "The White Lady" but he decides that it's more trouble then it's worth and ignores it. He then gets a really good deal on Rum, buying two Barrels for two Gold each. Done with city life, Christian casts off, unfurls his sails and heads back out into deep seas.

Meike takes an Action to dock in Curaçao then spends another to take care of some bidness in Port. After handily passing a Leadership test, she brings Sailing Master Floris Maet onboard then draws six Goods cards but, once again, none of them match what she already owns! She buys the two Wood, hoping that something better will come along later. Sugar then becomes the sweet deal in Curaçao. Seeking out some local gossip she rolls well but doesn't replace her current Rumor with "Large Supply". Finally, she decides to deep-six her remaining Action, hoping that the local pirate convention will eventually move along.


Event Card: The two pirate ships get a "North" result but neither of them can comply while the Spanish go South into the Caribbean Sea. After NPC ship movement, "War & Peace" is resolved. Finally, the long-lasting conflict between the Dutch and the Spanish is settled and both ships go back to being Frigates once again.

Christian goes to Cartegena and uses a second Action to deposit twenty more Gold in his secret stash!  He then sails due north to Petite Goave.

Meike is now at a loss as to what to do since Wood is no longer in demand, so she sails back to the port of Cartegena using all three of her Actions.

NOTE: if you Buy Goods in the same port two times in a row you only draw three Cards instead of six during the Buy step!


Event Card: Both Pirates move West. The Dutch ship doesn't have a North option so it stays put but the Spanish ship moves into Petite Goave to look for Christian. Then a "Tropical Depression" hits the area!

Christian needs to avoid being spotted by the Spanish Captain but several Skulls are rolled, which leads to a Naval Battle.

Ship-to-Ship Combat

Round One: 

The only actions combatants can take in Round One are "Fire" actions. Seamanship Contest:  Christian rolls two "4's" a "2" and a "1", no successes! The Spanish Captain also craps out, rolling a "4" a "3" and a "2". Christian wins with total pips, "11" to "9" and hits the Spanish ship with his two Cannons! On a damage roll of "2" and "3" the Spanish vessel's Masts and Crew are both hit.

Round Two: 

Emboldened, Christian tries to Fire again while the Spanish Captain attempts to Board. Christian rolls two "3's" one "2" and a Skull while the Spanish Captain rolls two Skulls and a "1". Just before the boarding occurs, Christian's successful cannon fire inflicts a single point of damage on the Spanish Frigate's Masts.

Crew Combat  

Christian uses his Swivel Guns...rolling a "1" and scoring one Skull! To his surprise, the Spanish Captain loses another unit of Crew! Leadership Roll: Christian rolls 1 Skull but de Velasco gets a "4" a "3" and a "2". The gambit pays off and Christian wins the Crew Combat and takes over de Velasco's ship, porting over his current Cargo, Gold and Cards! This earns him a Glory Point (and Card) for the Victory plus eleven Gold! He also raids his rival's cargo hold, taking a Textile Card, chucking a matching spare overboard and also retaining some Tobacco. The only downside is that he can't transfer his hard-earned Ship Modifications to his new acquisition.

He then plays a "Pardon" Glory Card, paying six Gold to nullify his Bounties.

Error: this should have been nine Gold since he would have earned a Bounty for sinking the Spanish Frigate!  

Just like that he's no longer a wanted man! Taking advantage of this respite, he docks in Petite Goave and Repairs his Masts for free! He then visits the Shipyard and buys new Rigs & Sails for three Gold. He also Recruits for free, bumping his Crew up to the maximum of three! On his last step he leaves port, intent on following the straight and narrow path from here on in. Or will he?

Meike begins with a Port Action, selling her two Tobacco for twelve Gold. During the following Buy step she turns up two Food, two Sugar and one each in Tobacco and Spices. Grudgingly, she buys the two Sugar for four Gold and then decides to stay in port to wait until the "Tropical Depression" blows over.


Event Card: British Admiral Robert Maynard will appear in Nassau at the end of the turn, replacing Ogle.

Christian uses all three Actions to dock in Caracas.

Meike uses all three of her actions to dock in Petite Goave. 


At the end of the turn a Dutch Frigate under the command of Admiral Almomde will appear in Curaçao.

Christian performs a Port Action in Caracas, selling two Rum for twelve Gold which switches the "In Demand" token to Food. After installing the Hull improvement for three Gold he heads off to market, buying two Food for four Gold. He then Claims the "Royal Escort" Mission by rolling two Successes, which means that he has to get to Havana in exactly six actions! He starts the trip by using two Actions to get as far as the Caribbean Sea!

Meike takes a Port Action in Petite Goave, selling her two Sugars for twelve Gold which brings out a new "In-Demand" token for Rum. She finally has some luck during the Buy phase and pays three Gold for an equal amount of Sugar. After investing two more Gold in Rumor-gathering she decides to follow up on the tale of "Captain Jake Price", who was supposedly marooned somewhere near Havana. Her other two Actions are spent moving into the Sea Zone around Port Royal.


Olivier's Pirate Sloop will appear in Nassau at the end of this turn, replacing Laurens de Graf.

Christian hauls ass, using all three of this Action to enter the Havana Sea Zone. He's used five Actions thus far on his "Royal Escort" Mission.

Meike moves into the Havana Sea Zone (one Action) then tries to Scout for the lost Captain Price. Alas, with a result of "3" and "4" this proves to be a wild goose chase. With her final action she heads back to Port Royal!


Event Card: at the end of this turn the Spanish will re-appear in Caracas!

On exactly his sixth action, Christian arrives in Havana, delivers the homely cousin of the Spanish Queen to her destination and collects one Glory Point and a Glory Card. He then takes his two remaining Actions to move into the Port Royal Sea Zone.

Meike uses three Actions to reach the port of Curaçao.


Event Card: Finally the French join the party! Admiral Guitton will appear in Petite Goave at the end of the turn! Man, it's hard out here for a, pirate!

Christian lands in Port Royal and takes a Port Action, selling his "In-Demand" Food for twelve Gold. With local banana-cravings satiated, the new hot commodity becomes Sugar. He then pays three Gold to increase his Cargo Hold by one! Naturally, this makes the Buy option pretty tempting but he fails to draw three of any one type of Good and decided to save his shekels. With his final Action he puts out to sea again.

Meike takes a Port Action, once again selling three commodities (in this case Sugar) for a whopping eighteen Gold. This earns her a Glory Point and a new Card! She also successfully eavesdrops on a Rumor (free in Curaçao!) which turns out to be "A Despirate Employer". Next up she hits the market, but only draws one of each Good type. Nonplussed, she buys one Spice for three Gold. For her last two Actions she leaves port and then moves into the Caracas Sea Zone.


Event Card: This time out English Admiral William Rhett will relieve his counterpart at the end of the turn, arriving in Bridgetown.

Christian uses one Action to move into the Cartagena Sea Zone and then uses another Action to stash twenty more Gold in his Coastal Caves (and, no, that's not code for something)! Then, for old time's sake, he tries to Scout for a merchantman in the area. He rolls a "2" and a "3" but doesn't get a sighting. 

Meike uses three Actions to arrive back in her home port of St. Maarten.


Event Card: The Sloop of the notorious Pirate "Long Ben" (*snicker*) Avery will appear in St. John at the end of the turn.

Christian gets the call to do another "Royal Escort" so he uses all of his Actions to get back to the port of Caracas.

Meike takes a Port Action and sells her Spices for six Gold, making Food "In Demand" there now. After depositing a whopping forty Gold (!) into her Stash she then pays two more bones to peep out TMZ but with a roll of "2" and "3" there are no Rumors to be heard. Will her lack of liquid assests cause her to freeze up? Given the slew of NPC pirates afoot she decides to spend the rest of her Actions chillin' at home.


Event Card: Both pirate Ships move West. The Brits don't have a Southerly option so they just stay put. The Dutch head East. Finally, a "Strong Gale" makes travel difficult for Meike. Again.

Christian gets two Skulls on his Influence check so another bow-legged Spanish cousin waddles onboard! He boldly uses his next two Actions to strike out into the Caribbean Sea!

Meike stays in place to wait out the "Strong Gale".


Event Card: "Long Ben" Avery's Sloop stays in the St. Maarten Sea Zone, waiting for Meike to emerge but the Frigate goes after Christian. The French ship moves West into Port Royal and the Dutch stay put since there is no "North" option. The rest of the "Tough on Crime" Card has no effect.

Christian tries to evade his pirate rival, but the determined Hornigold (*snort*) gets one Skull.  This results in Combat!

Naval Combat

Round One: 

Again, the only option in the first round is "Fire" so both combatants try to bury their respective cannonballs in each other's faces. Christian's Seamanship roll dials up two Skulls, a "3" and a "1", while Hornigold gets two Skulls and a "1". Since Christian has more pips, he wins, dealing one hit each to Hornigold's Cargo, Masts, and Cannons.   

Round Two: 

Christian picks "Fire" and Hornigold picks "Board". Christian rolls two "3's" one "2" and one "1". Hornigold rolls three "4's". With no successes at all, they proceed on to the next round.

Round Three: 

Same selections. Christian rolls two "4's" a "3" and a "2" while Hornigold rolls two "1's" and a "3". Yet another push!

Round Four: 

Ditto. This time Christian rolls three "3's" and a "4" and Hornigold gets a "1" a "2" and a "3". Unbelievable. 

Round Five: 

More of the same. This time they both score a single Success, but Christian gets eight pips to Hornigold's five. As such, Christian delivers three more Cannon hits, a blow to the Hull and one hit each to the Masts and the Cannons! Suddenly Hornigold isn't so horny for Gold anymore! 

Round Six: Christian opts to Fire and Hornigold decides that discretion is the better part of valor and opts to Flee. This time they both get two Successes apiece but Christian gets five Pips to Hornigold's two. Another salvo of Cannon fire rocks the pirate, Destroying his Cannons on a "4" while a second "4" gets folded into Hull damage instead. A Skull result then delivers the final coup de grace to the brigand. Once again, Christian proves to be the victor in a naval scrap, scoring another Glory Point, a Card and fifteen Gold as a reward! Don't call it a comeback

Christian then takes three Actions to move into the Havana Sea Zone. 

Looking to repeat Christian's success, Meike uses one Action to leave Port in an attempt to snag the attention of one "Long Ben" Avery. Unfortunately the dumb bastard rolls two "1's" and a "3". She then decides to actively pick a fight with him but fares no better, rolling two "3's" and a "4". Desperate for that last Glory point, she stays put.

ERROR: When NPC's die, they are replaced by one of the random NPC's underneath. In the example of Hornigold, his Frigate is replaced by Juan Guartem in Santo Domingo.


Event Card: The pirate Sloop stays put, shadowing Meike but the Frigate heads South into the Caribbean Sea. The Dutch move West into Curaçao and the Spanish move East into Trinidad. The "Plague" Event could very well decide the entire game, especially if Christian can't tie up in Havana!

Fortunately, I drew Tobacco, Wood, Spices and Sugar, meaning that the Fabric-starved port of Havana is still kosher. Christian pulls into port on his first move, dumps off his second buck-toothed Spanish cousin and claims his fifth Glory Point. Combined with his five points worth of stashed Gold, Christian hits the Ten Glory Point requirement and wins the game!


Whelp, there you have it folks! For all you hardcore Merchants & Marauders freaks out there, please keep me honest. If I made any particularly-egregious errors, feel free to yell about it in the comments below. Maybe then I'll finally play this thing properly for once in my life.




  • Everything on the production side of things is downright amazing. The plastic ships are well-sculpted, the artwork is evocative, the doubloons look cool, the treasure chests are incredible and even the dice have skulls and kooky "hand painted" pips. And that board; it's like buttah! Every time I open the box I wrestle with an overwhelming desire to dry-mount it. And I ain't talking 'bout framing it...OHHHH!!!!
  • If you're looking for a simmy-style pirate game that isn't antiquated and unwieldy like Avalon Hill's creaky classic Blackbeard, look no further. Within the game's parameters you can barter for goods, raid merchants, pimp out your ship, trade cannon fire, stash booty, upgrade your ride, press-gang some crew, weather violent storm and re-enact the original definition of "hostile take-over". At the very least, the story told in an average game of Merchants & Marauders is considerably better then the last three crappy Pirates of the Caribbean flicks. 
  • The varied Rumor and Mission decks crank the theme up to "11" while providing plenty of replay value.
  • Customizing each Sea Zone on the board with individual characteristics is pure unadulterated genius.
  • Any way you cut it, playing a Marauder is certainly a different experience then playing a Merchant.
  • Ship-To-Ship Combat is very fun and surprisingly deep. Assuming that you can wrap your head around the rules, of course.
  • Since you can earn Glory Points from winning battles, selling Cargo in bulk, plundering wealthy Merchants, completing Missions, proving Rumors true and upgrading to a larger Ship, there are plenty of avenues to explore.
  • At its core, the game is fairly simple: you have three available Actions and seven different things you can do while in Port. The Action system alone simplifies movement expertly.  


  • Despite the fact that Christian won in this little tete-a-tete, I still firmly believe that the Merchants have a distinct advantage over the Mauraders. When pirates start to collect bounties, they attract military ships like flies and often have their Mission and Port options strictly curtailed. Also, the fact that you need to recover more then twelve Gold on a Merchant raid in order to score a single Glory Point seems kinda brutal to me.
  • I'm sure that this issue has long since been addressed but my copy of the game had nothing between the hard plastic ships and the game board except for a flimsy thin piece of cardboard. Needless to say, my board came out looking like a freakin' pincushion! Mercifully, the nice folks at Z-Man games were sympathetic to my plight and replaced my board at no additional cost. Now that's customer service!  
  • I don't know what it is about this game but I find it virtually impossible to remember all of the nit-picky rules here. Even after studying the manual and playing a partial game, I still missed the NPC replacement protocol, bounties fro sinking Naval Ships, the three-good limit imposed on Good when shopping twice in the same location and the ability to chose a local Merchant to raid. I can only hope that newer iterations of the rule-book make learning and teaching the game a bit easier.
  • Honestly, I'm still not sure if I ran Ship-To-Ship Combat properly. If anyone out there wants to keel-haul me over a particularly-obvious mistake, then feel free to parrot your feelings in the comments below.  
  • Every time an Event Card prompts the movement of NPC's you'll probably find yourself scrambling for the rule book. These movement rules are usable but, then again, you can probably make juice by squeezing oranges into your forehead. There has got to be a better way. 
  • Since there are no less then seven things you can do in port and battles can be long and protracted, turns either last three minutes or what feels like three days.
  • I also found myself endlessly looking up the icons on the Captain/Mission/Rumor cards and trying to figure out why they wouldn't bother to number the Ship's Hit Locations.   


Although you're probably going to spend a lot more time delving into the rules and trolling through the forums on Board Game Geek, it's actually kinda worth it. When the game starts to click, you really start to feel as if you're bounding across the high seas, getting into and out of scrapes and seeking adventure high and low. You can almost taste the salt spray in your mouth.

There aren't a lot of games more thematically rich then Merchants & Marauders, and as such I give the game four hand-painted pips outta six with a bloody big tilt up towards the crow's nest.


Looking to make your opponents walk the plank? Click on the image below to plunder your own copy of Merchants & Mauraders and through a few pieces-of-eight in this ol' brigand's direction. Yarrrrr. 


  1. looks like a Knock-off of Pirate's Cove.

  2. I haven't played "Pirate's Cove" yet but at face value, "M&M" appears to be a deeper, more thematic game.