Neville Chamberlain was famously quoted in saying: “In war, whichever side may call itself the victor, there are no winners, but all are losers.” Unfortunately for Neville he’s wrong. Everyone knows that the real winners in war are the weapons dealers, because at the end of the day, money is king.
So it’s with that in mind that we look at the new economic game Battle Merchants, by Minion Games. In an unrelated confession, I really want to call the game Merchants of Battle, as a throwback to the underrated Nicholas Cage movie Lords of War. But back on topic, Battle Merchants is an economic game where players take on the role of arms dealers supplying weapons to various warring factions. Can this fantasy themed game of wheeling and dealing make you feel like a Lord of War? Read on!
Battle Merchants is an economic, fantasy themed game for 2-4 players that plays in about 90 minutes. Battle Merchants plays best with 3-4 players.
In Battle Merchants, you’re out to make the most money by crafting, forging, and selling weapons to armies in need. As a true capitalist, you don’t care who gets your weapons, just as long as you get paid. During the game, you will be learning how to craft better weapons, create them in your forges, and then sell them to different battles around the board. Each battle will demand a specific type of weapon and the best Battle Merchant will meet those demands. At the end of each season, the armies fight using your provided weapons while you gleeful count up your gold. In addition to charging the survivors for “repairs”, the merchant with the best weapons will earn bonus gold. After a full year of battle, whoever has the most money is the winner.
Battle Merchants comes with a solid group of components. My favorite part is probably the well-illustrated game board. Its dual sided to accommodate a different number of players and features some thematic fantasy art. Around the board are 3-4 battle fields with icons representing various weapons to indicate demand. These are the battles you’ll be selling your weapons, all in the hopes of earning more and more profit.
The game comes with a large amount of tokens to be used in the game. Seriously, there are a lot. Punching these out will keep you pretty busy. There are a number of weapon tokens (in both regular and vorpal variety), factions reward tokens and gold tokens (in various denominations). All are well-illustrated and printed on good stock.
Finally each player gets a player board that will help keep your cards and tokens organized and also have a useful player aid. Overall the components in Battle Merchants work well and have great illustrations. If I had one gripe, it’s that the card stock on the Kingdom Cards feels a little thin. Not the worst I’ve seen, but I do with it was just a little heavier.
How to Play:
The game play in Battle Merchants is surprisingly easy, especially for an economic game. To begin the game, each player takes a faction board and 10 coins. After all the various tokens and cards are arranged, you’re ready to begin.
Each player must take one action on their turn. Options include:
• Learn a Craft: There are four different types of weapons a player can craft, Hammers, Axes, Swords and Maces. Each craft card will increase a player’s craft level in a specific weapon by one or two levels, depending on the card.
• Forge up to 3 weapons: A player can forge any weapon they have at least one level of craft in. Each standard weapon costs 5 gold with vorpal weapons costing 15 gold.
• Sell One weapon: A player can sell one weapon they have already crafted to one of the armies on the game board. To do so, they take the weapon token and place it on a matching battlefield spot. They earn an amount of money based on a few factors (weapon type, faction reward level, kingdom cards). Each spot is coded to one of the four weapon types and a player can only place it with an active demand token or one where the token has already been removed. If there is an unlocked demand token present at the battle, the player then checks to see if both sides of the battle now have a weapon. If so, the demand token is moved to the center of the board into one of the three circles for the current season. The next token in line on the battlefield is then flipped from its lock side to the fire side, ready to accept new weapons of war.
• Take One Kingdom Card: A player takes one of the 3 face-up kingdom cards and either executes the action on it (for immediate actions) or places it on his player board (for permanent). Kingdom cards let player break the game rules in certain ways.
After the player has taken their action, the next player takes theirs. Once 3 demand tokens have been moved to the center of the board, the season is over. At this point, all battlefields with two weapons face off against each other. The players check their craft score for the weapon they have at that location and the player with the higher amount wins the battle. The losing weapon is giving to the winner as a trophy. Any surviving weapons earn the owning player 2 gold for “repairs”. After a few cleanup actions the next season begins.
After the fourth seasons, the game ends. Players total up their gold and whoever has the most money wins!
Let’s get one thing clear; I’m far from a “numbers guy”. I last balanced my check book some time when President Clinton was interviewing interns. While an economic game probably isn’t the first game I’d reach for, I do really enjoy euro games in general. So despite not owning one of those translucent green visors, I jumped right in with Battle Merchants. And I’m glad I did because Battle Merchants ended up being a really good game!
Right off the bat one of the things I love about Battle Merchants is how easy it is to learn and play. I was expecting complex rules with tables, charts, and pie graphs. Instead I was treated to an economic game that let us jump right in and play. Each player takes one of four actions on their turn and then the next person goes. The actions are surprisingly intuitive and the game flows really well. Other than someone pondering the best course of action (which happens more near the end game), downtime is very minimal. Battle Merchants design Gil Hova did a great job of streamlining his rule set.
If you are familiar with the term “economic snowball” then you’ll understand how Battle Merchants works. The first few rounds of the game are somewhat predicable. Players will spend a good amount of time drawing craft cards as they figure out where to put their focus on to build up skill levels. After a while, Players will fire up their forges and start flooding the armies with their instruments of destruction. As the game progresses, players will have more and more money to use and those regular “Walmart weapons” will be replaced with nasty vorpal weapons. That’s where the big bucks are.
That’s also one of the things that helps keep Battle Merchants entertaining. The spring season is more about building up then anything. But as players get into the fall and winter seasons, their craft skills with be finely honed, they will have deep coffers stuffed with gold, and will be supplying a lot of armies. The focus shifts from build up to how to spend your money for the best return on investment. Because at the end of the day, money = victory points.
Something else that helps to keep Battle Merchants fresh is the Kingdom cards. In general, I’m always a fan of these types of cards that let players break the rules in a game. In Battle Merchants, the Kingdom Cards will help give players different options for how they want to customize their “engine”. Many will offer different ways to make money; while others will provide a player with rule-breaking abilities. Overall they are a nice touch that helps each game to play out just a little differently.
And that’s a good thing in my opinion. While some games can be ruined by introducing too much luck to the equation, I’m also not the biggest fans of games with zero luck. I don’t want my games to turn into one big math problem. Those can sometimes devolve into players thinking 6 turns ahead with lots of down time. That’s why I enjoy the Kingdom cards and the random draws of the craft cards. With 3 and 5 cards available, respectively, to choose from on your turn, you will always have options of what to take, but if lady luck is fickle, you won’t always get what you want. This helps keep the game diverse and tense.
An interesting thing is that during one of our games, I was ready to come here and claim that Battle Merchants can have a problem with a runaway leader. But after finishing that game, I realized I was wrong. One player got to vorpal pretty quick and always seemed to have a large amount of cash on hand. I thought for sure he was going to crush us. While he ended up winning, it was actually by only about 5 gold. If one of the kingdom cards had gone to a different player, he would have lost. In fact, all of our games finished pretty tight. I quickly realized that there are many paths to victory in Battle Merchants.
One thing to note about Battle Merchants is that you really need 3-4 players for an optimal play experience. With two players, there is a “dummy player” introduced to the game. While the game works with these rules, it really isn’t as much fun as when you have more people. Overall, I’m glad the option is there for when the need arises, however I’m more likely to play something else when I have only 2. But for gamers who don’t mind these kinds of variations, it’s good to have that as an option.
Battle Merchants successful merges an economic game into a fantasy theme that, in my opinion, fits it really well. The artwork is great, the game play is balanced and overall we just had fun with it. I think anyone who is a fan of eurogames should give this one a try. It’s something different and will keep you glued to the board for the whole if its 90 minute play time. The games easy to learn rules and minimal down time will also make it easy to get to your table often.
Personally, I’m looking forward to playing this one again and expect it to have a happy home on my game shelf for many years. Battle Merchants is one of those games that will have you replaying what happened in your head for days to come, especially if you didn’t win. The multiple paths to victory (or loss in my case) will keep you coming back for more. Check this one out today.
If you are interested in getting a copy for yourself, you can get it for $55.
Final Score: 4 Stars – A streamlined, economic game perfectly set in a fantasy world. Keeps you engaged for the full length of this game.
• To play with 2, you need a “dummy player”.
• Not titled Merchants of Battle