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A review of

Medieval Merchant, by Christwart Conrad

A Rio Grande Game (1998) originally published in Germany by Goldsieber Spiele

Typical Retail Price: $39.95

Number of Players: 2 - 6

Medieval Merchant is one of the many games that Rio Grande has imported into the US from Germany. Like nearly all of the German games, it is beautifully made. The board is a 4-fold map of medieval Central Europe showing 25 cities and 20 towns and the major roads between them. The counters are either wood (for the 270 branch counters) or good, thick cardboard (for the city markers and other pieces). Also included is a stack of paper money, of the same quality as Monopoly money, but with nicer artwork. The graphic design of the box, board and pieces is very nice and attractive, with most of it done in an older style, to give the impression of a medieval game.

My expectation on opening the game was that it would be a trading game, transporting goods from city to city and making profit based on the distance between cities. But nothing could be farther from the truth! Despite appearances, Medieval Merchant is a game of controlling territory and getting monopoly control of the various towns and cities. Victory points are scored in several ways, the most important of which being by having the majority of trading houses in cities. The roads determine how your trading empire can expand. But I'm getting ahead of myself . . .

There are 25 Cities and 20 Towns on the game board. It should be noted that the rules didn't clearly explain the difference between Towns and Cities on our first reading. Towns are the small houses or castles on the map, and are usually connected to small roads that have a cost of less than 10. Cities are the large circles and have a number rating based on their size, ranging from 2 to 8. All of the Towns and Cites are connected by a network of roads, and each stretch of road has a cost associated with it. This is the cost in Guilders (the money) to open a branch in a city (or town) where you do not already have a branch. Each player can only do this once per turn.

How do you get Guilders? Each turn, you look at each City (not Town) where you have a branch. You can either build another branch in that same City, or take income from it. Income gets you Guilders, but building branches is how you get Victory Points. Also, since your income is smaller the more branches there are in the City, building branches early can limit you ability to expand (because of lack of money), but at the same time, leaves the City open to other players to come in and build.

Those are the basic rules of the game. There are no random factors in the game except for each players' starting point at the beginning of the game, but even here, each player gets to choose from 4-12 different places. To add an element of surprise to the game, each player starts the game with 2 Escort Letters. These may be exchanged for what amounts to an extra turn. So you can never be sure when one of your opponents is going to use one and build twice!

The game is designed for 2 to 6 players and plays well even with two players (although there are some rules alterations in a 2 player game).

 

Good points:

  • Medieval Merchant has a beautiful board, box and pieces.
  • The basic strategy of the game is easily grasped.
  • A fun, strategy game with very little random elements.
  • Turns are short, with something to do each turn.

Bad Points:

  • The rules could be better-written. Much of what you read in the beginning of the rulebook, you don't really understand until you read what's at the end, so it really requires two reading of the book before you can start playing.
  • The 'feel' of the game is completely different from what you expect from looking at the box.

 

Overall rating (1 being worst - 10 best): 8

Review by Tim Morgan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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