Merchants & Marauders - Things I would like to see in a new edition

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Merchants & Marauders is a superb pirate sandbox game. You are free to do whatever you like to gain glory points, be a pirate or good guy trading with merchants, maybe something in between.. Hunt other players, fight off threats on dangerous rumors or run missions for the colonial powers.. The game recently had its 10 year anniversary, but sadly no news in the franchise was announced. A few years back Christian Marcussen (game designer) said "I'm looking at an updated version, but I don't know if it will happen". So he may have some plans on his desk, but nothing materialized yet.

I still hope that we may see something new announced one day. It's just such a classic and a very solid game, but I see some things that I personally would have altered if we ever get to see a new or updated version of the game. So the coming list are just my ideas for what I personally would have done!

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Major additions:
  • Upgradeable dices. I'm just not a huge fan of the randomness it produces, and dice results are very important in M&M. A few poor rolls can have major implications on your game, especially when dying is punished very harshly in this game. My sentiments towards this factor is amplified when the game is on the heavier side and takes a long time to play. If a game is shorter and less complex, increasing randomness is more understandable in my book. Example of this relation: Game of Thrones board game. The game is very long and complex, but it has a very low amount of randomness.

    So, let us upgrade the dices to increase our odds and reduce the randomness! Look at games such as Valor & Villainy or Waste Knights (and many other). It features dices in 3-4 different colors, with increasing successes and additional icons for special effects or guaranteed actions. For example even if you fail your main roll, maybe one of the dices showed a icon that allowed you to take one side-action (look for a rumor). Thus the action not being a complete waste.

    Upgrading your dices could be a result to reflect on gaining "experience" as a captain, thus increasing your skill in maneuvering the ship (seamanship), higher influence with important people in the Caribbean cities (influence) and so on. To gain experience you'd need to do various activities in the game, they could or could not be tied completely to gaining Glory points. I'm leaning towards not, so that you still gain experience points even if the action you did is just not enough to gain a glory point.
What do you think of dices in board games? Relevant side discussion for that topic: Dices in board games - Which games did it right/wrong?
  • Improved combat system. The combat system will also utilize combat decks. Every player has the same combat decks from the start of the game. Every time you use a card, it will go in your discard deck, which is open information. The distribution of combat cards with higher and lower values will allow your opponents to gauge what cards you have used and what you have left. You will have cards with high/low base values and cards with powerful special effects. This will reduce the impact of the dices, which are already improved by being able to upgrade them and allow for an additional layer of strategy. The flow of combat would then be:
    • Select a combat card (or not). Does he play it safe and add a card that makes it impossible for you to win, or is he thinking that you know you can't win (I blew all my top cards earlier), and thus playing a low card to save his top ones? You also need to account for the accuracy of your dices (any upgraded ones?) and what risk you want to take in the fight.
    • Roll dices for each action taken as normal. (shoot, board etc).
You could also take this further if you want to add some asymmetry to the game. Allow players to chose among decks of cards that are not identical, although this would be a more substantial change in my opinion, and may require additional reworks other places to make it fit well with the game.
  • New action at port: Conquer. A major part that is missing from this pirate game, is being able to take over a port/city. The idea is that you are able to sneak into the city and try to coup the city by taking out the acting "ruling party" with your crew. You may only have one conquered city at a time. This will allow you to effectively have two "home ports", which can be used to easily stash gold, safe haven from bounties/wars in terms of being able to enter port etc. The port will also provide you bonus gold (you pocket 1/3) if other players sell goods at the port. Each port could also provide a special effect that only works if the port is conquered, and only the person in charge will be able to use said effect.
    The workflow for taking the city would be:
    • You need more than 3 glory points. (can't let rookies dare to try this!)
    • You combat the city with your crew, and can utilize combat card and roll dices like a regular battle.
    • The city defenses will consist of a new deck of cards. The base cards display the special effects and what defense values the city has. The more powerful effect, the harder defenses, so some cities will be easier to take. Then the other is the combat deck, which will work in a similar fashion as the player deck. Another player will take control of the NPC and play out the combat, as you would with a regular player vs NPC combat.
    • If you succeed, then you will, in addition to the above effects (bonus gold, safe port etc), gain a glory point like with other major actions in the game.
    • If you fail, you are put in jail. Your crew is dead and you lose all gold and items on board.
      • On your next turn, you can try to escape by using your influence or trough special cards. (new cards added in glory deck).
    • Other players can try to re-take the city, but your defenses will correlate as to how easy/hard the city defenses are (see the base card for defense values). They also have to combat you DIRECTLY, which means that if they fail, they die.
Minor additions:
  • Gold stash rule. It was always too easy and kind of anticlimactic, our group never liked the base rule. A maximum of 2 glory points from gold should be sufficient. First costs 15 gold, second costs 30 gold. This will increase the game length, so if you want a faster game, just go to 7 points for example. The new base gold rule just isn't very well balanced either way.
    • This rule goes hand in hand with the optional variety rule below.
  • Glory point for galleon/frigate removed. This rule never made any sense, especially after the expansion released the new brig ship. You pay to get a better ship, that is enough reward. It reduces the incentive to go for mid tier brig. The brig is a bit better than the base ships, but does not provide the glory point, and the top ships are still considerably better. So if you factor in the discount (so 5 gold saved if you buy the ship in the right port, which you almost always do if you intend to buy it) and thus relatively small difference in gold from brig <-> galleon/frigate, the glory point and the high stats compared to brig, the brig is very often overlooked. Just removing the GP from the equation balances this immensely.

  • 25% increase in size of game board, and optional playmat. Especially with all the modules from the expansions, some of the sea zones are just way too small. It needs more space! The game could ship with the regular board as standard (but still 25% larger), and the playmat being an optional deluxe upgrade.

  • New cards for added variety.
    • New rumors, events, glory cards, missions, captains. No new base ships.
      • Unique special ship cards, that can be found through daring rumors or missions. These are rare ships that cannot be obtained any other way, and should have a high difficulty to gain.
  • Rebalanced ship mods. Some are super good (+ crew, + scouting, + cannons etc), some are very situational and borderline useless (looking at you chasers). I would like to see some new mods in the pool that you can upgrade your ship with, with some that are poor/very situational, being changed or improved.

  • Increase potential for treasure galleon interaction. Add missions to guard the galleon from intruders. Add rumors to hijack the ship while it is at port. (high risk, high reward). Etc.

  • Optional Deluxe edition that contains painted ships, unique Man of War ships for all players, dual layer player boards, metal coins, metal chests and a promo pack.

Optional modules:
  • Variety is king. You can at most gain 5 points from the main actions combined (merchant raiding and goods trading). This means that even if you stash 2 points, you still need to secure 3 points from other sources, such as sinking a naval/player ship, completing mission etc. This will allow for more interesting games where you have to think about additional point sources and not just trading the entire game. We use this homemade variant today, and would never play without it. (we play with other custom rules as well, which I can detail in the M&M variant post for that).

  • Story module. For a more immersive experience, you can opt to play with the optional story module, which will add story cards. The cards will consist of a little background info, a certain major event, and various actions that players can take to trigger various actions. What action the players decide to take (or not take) will affect the outcome of the card, which could take many turns. The idea is that this may be a major overarching element in the game, that will last for many rounds and provide cool interactions that will affect the players. An example of this could be that a major storm destroyed two ports, and that they need timber and food to rebuild the ports. You could help with trading to re-build, or maybe you find this a good option to go for a hostile takeover?
What do you think about Merchants & Marauders, and what would you like to see in a potential new edition?
 
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Great additions Tex, especially the conquer option is very thematic and fitting. I'd love to see a updated version of M&M.

I think reducing randomness is the way to go in a heavy game like this. Alternatively there could be an optional module that reduces play time and increases randomness, for those who want a faster (and easier) play session.
 
I created an unofficial expansion called Color of War that is available in the Files section of the Merchants and Marauders page on boardgamegeek.com. the expansion might scratch several of the itches you mentioned, such as additional events, rumors, and missions, New unique rare ships, port invasions, and more.
 
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I created an unofficial expansion called Color of War that is available in the Files section of the Merchants and Marauders page on boardgamegeek.com. the expansion might scratch several of the itches you mentioned, such as additional events, rumors, and missions, New unique rare ships, port invasions, and more.

Wow Sounds good! Does it mostly follow the base rules or are there considerable base game changes as well? In addition to the new content of course.

Feel free to share it here as well in a dedicated post if you like. 😊
 
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