Sunday, May 24, 2015

Board Gaming: Merchant of Venus (2nd Edition)

Off we go!  Here is the first of Shadow's non-40K posts, this one focused on a recently acquired board game called Merchant of Venus (with no apologies to the Bard). 

 
Merchant of Venus (MoV) is a space exploration and trading game for 1-4 players.  It has been on the market for a few years in its most recent form.  I was attracted to it by its free-form style of play; there is truly no single way to win.  Another plus is the replayability.  Since the cultures are placed on the board each game in a totally random manner, it is difficult to establish set trading routes.  Encounters, which are located in the same spaces each game, come from a deck of cards that are shuffled each game; so you will NOT face exactly the same challenges each time you play.

I am going to beg off a bit here.  Since there are some really good solo playthroughs on YouTube, it seems redundant to do a play-by-play in writing and bore you to death.  The two best I have seen are those by Ricky Royal (Box of Delights) and The Lonesome Gamer.  Ricky does solo demos for many games, and each episode is short and sweet.  The Gamers' playthroughs are exhaustive, but if you watch at least a couple you will get a great feel for the game.   His commentary is also entertaining.

Speaking of which, this is an excellent game to solo.  Warning: DO NOT use the Solo Challenge Cards that come with the game.  Two reasons.  First, they cause you to lose the feeling of freedom of choice by forcing you to focus on the Challenges; really focus.  You spend so much time worrying about achieving the Challenges, that you have little time to trade, transport, upgrade, etc.  Moreover, some of the Challenge Cards rely solely on luck of the draw or dice rolling.  For example, one requires you to get to your home culture.  What if you don't find it for 12-15 turns?  Another requires that you move a certain amount in a turn.  But without a specific cultural tech, it is impossible.  Again, if you don't find the required culture early enough, you're pretty much toast.  There are several great solo variants on Board Game Geek (BGG), including one I modified and posted recently.  It is listed under Variants and called "New Version of an Old Variant' (original or what?).  I took the Lonesome Gamers solo rules and made some pretty significant changes.  Let me know what you think if you try them!

As for the components... wow! Just what you would expect from Fantasy Flight.  Board is awesome, playing pieces are thick cardboard, the art and "fluff" on the culture cards is fun.  The "ship" mini-boards are intuitive, functional and easy to figure out.  You will notice the plethora (I love that word, don't I?) of Goods, Tech and Market Tokens.  If you do not invest in an insert (more about that in a bit), I would strongly recommend putting each set of cultural tokens in a small baggie and write the number on it with a Sharpie.  Just set them aside until you need them.  Setting up all the stacks of tokens (42 in fact) can cause a huge amount of setup/takedown time.  Of course, you can do the Plano box thing; that may serve just as well.



In terms of inserts, I have found a company that makes exceptional inserts for several board games.  The company is called Daedelus Productions.  They just came out of a Kickstart, and seem to be doing well.  I spent the money for a self-assemble insert, since I got MoV for nothing; $22.  So the $45 insert and game were the price of the game alone.  Take a look at their stuff.  They also have inserts for games such as Caverna and Eclipse.  Their assembly video was great; use super glue and have a small rubber mallet to give those close tolerance pieces a gently tap.  Their work is truly a piece of amazing attention to detail and engineering.  Set up/take down time for me is less than10 min total; that is not hyperbole.  As the owner of a number of complex games with many playing pieces, I really recommend these folks.


Final word...playing time.  Solo, I can get through a game in about 2 hours.  Please note; my solo variant potential goes to 50 turns, the regular game only to 30.   Plan on play times of about 1 hr/player for the 30 turn multi-player.  Without some decent organizing of the playing pieces, add another 30 min for setup/take down.

That's it.  Hope you get a chance to take a look at this great space exploration and trading game.  Let me know what you think.

What types of board games are in your game library?







 

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