Merchants & Marauders - Board Game Box Shot

Merchants & Marauders

| Published: 2010

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?

User Reviews (22)

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8
Professional Advisor
Tactician
Advanced Reviewer
Marquis / Marchioness
8
66 of 67 gamers found this helpful | Medals x 1
“Strongly Thematic Pirate Adventure with a Multitude of Options”

Overview: Merchants & Marauders is a pick-up and deliver game which enables 2 to 4 players to sail the Caribbean seeking wealth and adventure.

Gameplay: To win, a player must be the first to score ten Glory points. They gain points through a variety of means, including investigating rumors, completing side missions, acquiring gold, purchasing larger ships and defeating enemy captains. These events take place on a game board featuring a map of the Caribbean Sea. Various tokens are displayed on the board representing neutral merchant vessels, ship upgrades and which trade goods are currently “in demand” at each port. Players receive a random Captain card and choose a starting ship. As the game title suggests, they now pursue victory through two very distinct paths.

Merchants will buy goods, from a shuffled Cargo deck, at ports hoping to find cheap prices for items that are wanted at nearby locations. Then they travel to another port while avoiding attacks from pirates, both player and non-player controlled. When they reach their destination, they sell their wares for profit. Selling three copies of an “in demand” item will also earn them a Glory point.

Players wishing to be on the other side of the law can choose to become pirates. As soon as a player attacks another non-pirate ship, he gains a bounty on his head. Until the bounty is cleared he is considered a pirate. Pirates can attack other players and attempt to plunder their cargo, selling it at nearby ports. They can also scout for neutral merchant vessel tokens and conduct Merchant Raids. The Merchant raid uses unique mechanics which involve drawing Cargo cards in a push your luck mini-game balanced between greed and damage to the pirate ship. If a pirate can survive a raid that collects a high enough reward, they will also gain a Glory point.

The game also features a random event deck which includes naval vessels from governing nations, various storms and random neutral pirate ships. There are rules for ship combat and crew combat. The battles are resolved, like many of the actions in the game, using six-sided dice and skills printed on the Captain cards. Ship upgrades and add-ons can enhance and influence the results of these attacks.

Pros:
- The game offers so many options (including two main modes of play) it creates an immersive open-world sandbox feel.
- Gameplay and components (it even has skull and crossbones dice resembling bones) combine to build amazing pirate theme.
- Highly detailed and sturdy game components with richly colored artwork.

Cons:
- The depth of the options provided and the infrequent occurrence of some of them make rules explanations lengthy and difficult.
- Port Actions can cause turns to drag and create considerable downtime for other players.
- Player interaction is easily avoidable under original rules. Official variants exist that do correct this.

Historical Figure/ Fictional Character I’d Most Like to Play Against: Elizabeth Swann

Merchants & Marauders provides a highly thematic high seas adventure. The multitude of options it offers will create many entertaining evenings.

 
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3
Gamer - Level 3
7
89 of 96 gamers found this helpful
“Just be ready to wait 20 minutes to take your turn.”

Most agree that if you’re looking for a pirate themed game, M&M is your best bet, but it’s not the perfect pirate game. I think most would also agree that the biggest drawback of M&M is the downtime. The theme is there: the game is gorgeous. You get a character, a nice plastic ship, gold doubloons and best of all, a treasure chest to put them in. The board is pretty, the cards are pretty, everything is pretty.

When I attempted to learn this game the first time, I had absolutely no idea what was going on until multiple turns in. If you haven’t played before, it’s just way too hard to discern a strategy from the rules. Especially because there are basically two completely different games going on side by side. As the title suggests, there are the Merchants and there are the Marauders, and they both win the game by different strategies. Merchants are trying to sell goods, Marauders are trying to intercept Merchant ships. It wasn’t something I picked up on right away. I’ve heard that the game is imbalanced, but I haven’t played it enough to say.

Did I mention there was downtime? Yeah. Lots of it. When I played my first time, the people I was playing with had all played once or twice before, and each players turn took about 15 to 20 min. And there’s nothing to do while that player takes their turn but sit and wait for yours unless they attack you. By the end, we had played for probably 4 hours. It was a little exhausting.

I don’t mind 4 hour games. In fact, I prefer long, involved games. But M&M had just too much downtime for my taste. I had a fun time, but I think I would definitely need to be in a special pirate mood to play M&M over something else just as long but more involved.

 
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6
Plaid Hat Games fan
Asmodee fan
I play blue
8
103 of 113 gamers found this helpful
“When you're a professional pirate, you don't have to wear a suit.”

I’m not sure who it was that made pirates into heroes rather than villains. I mean, nobody wants to play those Somalian lowlifes in a boardgame. Swashbuckling, however, is cool. I mean, who wouldn’t want to spend your days jumping around a ship’s rigging waving a sword at your enemies, or crossing the T and unloading a metric ton of steel into your opponent’s unprotected stern? I blame Erol Flynn, or maybe Cary Elwes.

Regardless, piracy has been near the top of the list for themes in need of good boardgame treatment for a long time now. Alderac Entertainment used to publish a great CCG called 7th Sea that had a ton of piratey goodness, but it’s been out of print for close to 10 years now. I tried to get into GMT’s recent rerelease of Blackbeard, but I think someone screwed up and made a game about Blackbeard’s Accountant. I’ve seen a few others come and go, but none of them really seemed to capture the essence of what I want out of a pirate game. Basically, I want something with enough realism that it captures the gamut from Francis Drake to Edward Teach, enough fantasy that I have a good chance of getting my character through the game alive, and enough narrative that I can feel like I’m telling a story of a career of a pirate that might have been, and maybe get to say, “Arrr!” a few times and call for more rum.

A few years ago on BGG, a guy by the name of Christian Marcussen started talking about a pirate game that he was working on, and it sounded awesome. A publisher picked it up, which is always an important step in the publishing process, and things were looking good – until the publisher decided to drop the game so that they could publish a different game with the same name and art. I guess they really got into the whole pirate theme. At any rate, at that point it started to look like vaporware, until Zman came to the rescue and published a stunning edition of Merchants and Marauders, which launched late last year. I give this brief history because this game has had literally years in which to build expectations, and we all know how that usually goes. I’m looking at you, Phantom Menace.

When finally cracking open the box, the presentation doesn’t disappoint. The artwork is fantastic, with a spectacular map of the Caribbean and excellent graphic layouts on all of the components. The captain cards show a good variety of characters, none of whom delve into the realm of caricature. If you’re looking for Long John Silver, you’ll have to search elsewhere. The ships are finely detailed and look great on the board. So far, so good.

I’m not quite sure what I was expecting in terms of how a pirate game might play, but Merchants and Marauders isn’t quite it. Not that that’s a bad thing, by any means – if anything, the game develops into something that’s perhaps more strongly narrative than I was anticipating. Every turn, each player can take three actions: move, scout, and port. Movement is simple – a move from one sea zone to another, or from a sea zone to a port, costs one action. Scouting is the act of searching the current location for something, typically a merchant or another ship. Taking a port action is, well, basically everything else, including repairing and upgrading your ship, buying and selling cargo, hiring crew, investigating a rumor, and so on. Players can do any of the above actions as many times as they want during a turn, except that multiple port actions in the same turn are not allowed.

Players are competing to acquire Glory, which can be earned by doing any of the following:
• Defeating another ship in combat, either player or NPC
• Selling 3 or more Cargo cards at a port where the goods sold are ‘in demand’
• Plundering 12 or more gold in a Merchant Raid
• Completing a Mission
• Finding a Rumor to be true
• Buying a Galleon or Frigate (once per game)
• Stashing Gold at a Home Port (up to half of a player’s points)

Ten Glory points wins the game. The great thing about this list is that the paths to victory are numerous. A player’s strategy is going to be largely determined by the captain that he or she is playing. Most actions in the game require Skill Checks, in which a player rolls a number of modified D6′s equal to the skill in question. The dice have skulls replacing the five and six faces on the dice; a Skill Check is successful if any of the dice rolled land on skulls. Different skills are useful for different strategies – Scouting and Seamanship are important for Merchant raiding and hunting other ships; Leadership is useful for Crew combat; and Influence is primarily used for securing Rumors and Missions. A player with a captain having low Scouting, for example, is probably not going to be a successful Pirate, and may want to instead pursue a Mercantile strategy, perhaps supplemented by Rumor-milling with sufficient Influence.

This open-ended design allows for a wide array of narratives to develop. The game has an interesting definition of Pirate – a Pirate is any player with a Bounty on his or her head. This means that nobody starts out as a Pirate, and because it’s very difficult to remove bounties, Piracy is usually a permanent career change. Gaining a bounty happens when a player defeats a ship or raids a Merchant from a particular nation. Bounties can prevent a player from utilizing a Port belonging to a particular nation and make NPCs more likely to target that player, but they also cause Pirates to steer clear, so they’re not entirely without benefit. As a player obtains more bounties, though, he or she becomes a more tempting target for other players looking to make a quick buck, and it’s possible to have a promising career end in a blaze of glory under the guns of another player’s ship.

The game took on an interesting dynamic in the groups in which I’ve tried it: often, it seemed that players were less interested in actually winning the game than they were in seeing how the narrative developed. While there is certainly competition, and at times direct conflict, often that took a back seat to the story that was playing out on the board. That isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing – in our games, there was something of a lack of tension, but it didn’t result in a loss of engagement with the game. This is something of an unusual dynamic, certainly not one that I’ve experienced often, and one that’s difficult to critique. Some groups may struggle with the lack of tension, while others will no doubt react as ours did.

I think it’s fair to say, however, that the result of some of the design choices do make a game that doesn’t force player interaction. It’s entirely possible to play a game of Merchants and Marauders having very little direct conflict. It’s also possible to have a game that’s very bloodthirsty, with a lot of player combat and bounties being taken. I will say that the mechanics of scouting, combined with the combat rules, make engaging an opposing player a high-risk proposition; losing combat can be costly or even fatal. The other challenge that the mechanics present is frequent down time, particularly with four players. Port actions can be rather time-consuming, as can combat. During such actions, the other players have limited options to play forward and are often simply watching the action. In the early game, that’s not too bad; late in the game, these actions can start to drag, pulling the players out of the narrative.

Still, the game remains fun and engaging, particularly with groups that can focus on the evolving narrative and not obsess over optimizing a VP-generating engine. The game does have a fair amount of luck – if that’s not your thing, then steer clear. In this kind of game, though, that’s not a bad thing. The open-ended gameplay and myriad of strategies offer a fantastic way to tell your own story of life on the high seas as a professional pirate – no suit required.

Originally posted on menwithdice.com.

 
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2
Gamer - Level 1
9
54 of 61 gamers found this helpful
“A plundering great game”

I was anxious to get my copy of Merchants and Marauders to the table and teach my son how to play, because I was 98% sure he would love it. I had played once before , with a friends copy, and totally fell in love with it, and i have had my copy sitting around for a few months, so while on our camping getaway, we had some unseasonably cool weather for the end of June, so we spent about 7 hours cooped up in the trailer and played 3 games of Merchants. And I was right, my son totally loved it also and kept wanting to play again. Merchants and Marauders (MAM) is a refreshing change in my game collection. I have a lot of euros which require a certain strategy to win, but not really any adventure games which feel open ended. Thats what MAM feels like to me, an adventure. You can be a pirate or a merchant or a little of both dependiong on circumstances in the game.
A quick rundown. You play the role of a captain and can buy and deliver goods for money, complete missions, find out whether rumours are true, raid merchant ships, hunt down pirates, attack and board naval vessels all for money and/ or Glory points. Be the first to get 10 glory points and you win. Simple. First off, the game looks amazing. It’s a full size board showing the carribean, complete with little plastic, highly detailed ships, from the lowly but speedy sloop, the standard frigate to the mighty Galleons. It’s a sight to behold, when a game is in session, lots of eye candy for the ameritrasher in us. There are hundreds of cards also (fantasy flight mini size) : Events, rumours, missions, captains, ships, glory and cargo cards which means each game will play differently. The rules are somewhat lengthy and it takes a while to teach because of the variety of things you may do on your turn, (mostly port actions mind you), upgrade your ship, sell goods, buy goods, take on a mission, repair your ship, attempt a merchant raid, but after the first few turns, it begins to click. It helps that each player is supplied with a large, double sided reference sheet that has essentially everything you need to know to play. Definitely handy, and well laid out. Naval combat is a little difficult to get the hang of, but again after your fist few naval engagements it clicks and then it becomes quite an engaging experience as you try to plan your moves and play your cards right so that your little flute, with only one damage point left on its hull, might just be able to take out that galleon because of a bold boarding move and your captains outstanding leadership coupled with the perfect glory card. Great and memorable stuff. As I said, my son absolutely got right into it and didn’t want to stop. It scales well with 2-4 people, although with 4 there will likely be more player vs player cutthroat action.

I highly recommend it. Enjoy

 
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5
I play yellow
Zealot
9
75 of 88 gamers found this helpful
“Beautiful and Captivating”

It is hard not to like Merchants and Marauders once you open the box. The game board is a gorgeous map of the Caribbean and the miniature ships are well detailed (if only the sloop would stop falling over). We’ve played Merchants 20+ times now and it almost never gets old.

When introducing new players, this is one of those games that you need to play to learn. New players rarely win on their first try, but diving right in is far preferable to hour-long explanations. The key is to get players to give it a second play, which is often not very hard. The merchant track is easy to grasp and the locale and theme make for great fun.

The one downside is the lack of player interaction. I’ve seen tips that suggest starting the game with more NPCs involved. This could be a good tweak, but we prefer to limit the rules that allow over half of a player’s winning glory points to come from their stash. Eliminating the ability to “buy” a win often forces more interaction, even if only late in the game.

Overall the game has a strong theme, is easy to adapt to multiple strategies and has a very high replay value. We’ve been tweaking a user expansion that allows you to own multiple ships, and that has added even more fun to our games (but increases play time by a huge factor). I’d recommend this game to anyone who enjoys the theme, just be aware that you may need to play one or two semi-confusing games before it feels comfortable.

 
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6
I'm a Real Person
Knight
I'm Completely Obsessed
I'm a Gamin' Fiend!
10
68 of 81 gamers found this helpful
“The best Pirate game out there!”

Fantastically awesome game, and super thematic. There’s a ton of stuff you can do (so it can seem a bit overwhelming at first), but every bit of it makes perfect sense within the theme so once you’ve got the basics down it becomes very easy to play.

Pirates have slightly more potential for gains than Merchants, but they face more risk too so it evens out very well. The optimal path almost seems to be somewhere in between.

There can be a little bit of downtime between turns if people are indecisive about what to do during port actions, but most of the time there will be only two or three things that need to be done there so it goes very quick. Combat will slow things down the most, but that only happens once in a while and is usually exciting enough to keep the uninvolved players interested too.

Highly recommended for anyone, and not just fans of Pirate games.

 
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2
7
76 of 91 gamers found this helpful
“Thar be booty!”

The art on the board and the plastic pieces are amazing, the choice to be a pirate or a merchant seemed amazing to me, braving the caribbean sea to make my fortune, lets get a brief read on this game.

I like being able to choose my destiny as pirate or merchant, pillaging ships or buying merchandise and pushing it to ports that needed it.

Those choices apart, being a pirate added a neat PvP component to the game but it felt it was too easy for a merchant to dodge me following someone through the waters, merchants seemed to start in a port, move out to sea move next door, then port and it never gave a chance for pirates to dig their scimitars into some merchant crew and pillage their booty. The battles were a bit daunting at first for PvP a large sheet of checking and double checking the rules, but let it be known we’re a rules lawyer group and will often read into the rules a bit to much and have a discussion about what was meant with the rules…

Being a merchant was amazing, leaping from port to port fixing right what once went….oh wait sorry, Quantum Leap is playing as I’m typing this and distracting, anyway being a merchant allowed me to buy stuff, and them haul it slowly across the sea to a port that needed it, selling it for a bunch of gold, possibly getting a glory point and enough money to make a secret glory point stash, in my plays this was by far the quickest way to win the game and left pirates in the dust.

TL:DR Pirates, fun but complicated, merchants have it easy and PvP combat was a bit complex at first.

TL:Dr Mechants, play this if you want to win, fast money, port hop, buy and sell in demand.

 
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3
Rated 10 Games
10
68 of 96 gamers found this helpful
“Well balanced and lots of fun”

My wife and I love this game. It is one of the few games that is just as fun with 2 as it is with 4. It is well balanced and always feels like a different game each time we play.

You take on the role of a ship captain from one of four nations. You can either be a merchant by buying and selling goods or you can be the pirate (marauder)by attacking NPCs or other players.

This is balanced in that my wife always plays the merchant and I typically play the pirate. We both have won playing our strategies within these roles.

The new game feel comes from the event cards that change aspects of the game. They either create storms, start wars (or end them), bring out NPC captains etc. Plus the game comes with plenty of different captains to play. I have yet to play a captain twice.

An overall great game and I would love to see more for this game!!

 
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3
Critic - Level 2
BoardGaming.com Beta 1.0 Tester
10
34 of 65 gamers found this helpful
“Arrrgh, the Rum Be Gone!”

Played this the last two weeks with some friends over vassal. I enjoyed pretty much everything about it. The miniature ships are adorable (though I would have rather they not be bright, brash, red-yellow-blue-green) and I think the unique captain cards force you to play a different tactic each game. This is also one of the few games I have played that allows you to simply pick right back up if you are defeated (after losing gold and cargo, of among other things). Altogether, I think that this game was rather fun, and really fills the voids for pirate themed boardgames.

 
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2
Gamer - Level 2
8
26 of 56 gamers found this helpful
“A visual and strategic feast!”

If you like board games, and you like pirates, then this game is for you! A beautiful board, ships, and other components make it visually stunning. The game play is great also, and harkens back to Sid Meier’s classic “Pirates!” A player has a choice between taking the role of the trade-loving merchant, or the plundering pirate. You can even switch your strategy midgame, taking on a new role if your character dies an early death, or when you upgrade to a new ship. Overall, this is a great game, and highly recommended.

 
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9
USA
Platinum Supporter
Petroglyph
BoardGaming.com Beta 1.0 Tester
8
39 of 85 gamers found this helpful | Medals x 1
“Best Pirate Game!”

Since this game was chosen as an Explorable Favorite, I decided to fix my bilge-sucking review from the not so distant past…when I was just a wee lass.

Ahoy me hearties!

Today we are going to gab about a little game called Merchants & Marauders. A game where you either peacefully trade or wave the Jolly Roger and take what’s rightfully yours. A game where rollin’ bones can decide your fate. So, down some grub and kick back some rum… we are taking to the high seas!

M&M is an interesting hybrid of sorts. It’s not a Euro, but it does have many Euro trappings, especially if you decide to go the merchant route. You gather goods from one port, and take it to another port for precious doubloons (can be 5 of the 10 glory points you need to win the game). You can also complete missions or investigate rumors for more glory points.

Of course, we all know M&M is really about trying to create a pirate theme. In my opinion, it has done this for the most part. The art is fantastic, the ships are cool (albeit a little flimsy), and the various characters (captains) roles are well thought out (but not completely balanced). Event cards create an ominous threat of storm or NPC ships closing in, and combat could actually destroy your ship… requiring you to pick a new captain and start over.

The game used to be one of my favorites. I haven’t been able to remove it from my top 10 yet, but it might. Why? Well, it is very luck driven and long. Actual interaction with players can be few and far between. Spending turns just moving on the sea might be more “realistic,” but it can become tedious. Combat can drag out, and if you do die… the game is really over for you, because its so hard to climb back into contention. This is why many people who want to win tend to just stay merchants and avoid conflict.

I hate to sound like a landlubber, but the perfect pirate game has still not been made. Merchants & Marauders was a valiant effort, and I do think everyone should try it a few times. However, I think most people will find it does eventually move to the back of your game closet. My current favorite pirate game is Libertalia. It gives me the flavor of pirates (pirate flavor…sounds like the worst Jelly Belly yet) in an hour instead of 3-4.

Edit: On a side note. I do play a lot of games, and my grading has become more and more stringent.I take into account my ability to get a game to the table as well as the time to play/fun ratio. If a game is ALMOST as fun, but takes 3 hours less to play…it’s bound to get a better score. That does not mean a long game is bad… far from it. I am just more careful about how I spend my precious gaming time when there are so many crazy good games out there.

Happy Gaming!

 
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9
Rated 100 Games
Rosetta Stone
Advanced Reviewer
6
37 of 100 gamers found this helpful
“Arrr, so much randomness!”

If you like a pirate theme in a game and you don’t mind having all your plans crossed by randomness, this is a game for you. If you like careful planning and executing plans on the basis of anticipating your opponents, this game is not for you.

As I like to have as little random things in a game as possible, this game does not work for me, alas. But if you’re a social gamer wanting to have some pirate fun (and don’t mind losing on random events), this game’s for you!

 
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4
Gamer - Level 4
Junior
Novice Reviewer
Knight
8
22 of 63 gamers found this helpful
“Yarrr!”

This is by far thee best Pirate game out there. Although it has a slightly more complex combat system than your typical family game, it quickly becomes very rewarding once the flow of the phases is learned. This is a truly immersive pirate game.

 
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2
Amateur Grader
7
15 of 43 gamers found this helpful
“Read the rules ahead of time”

My first introduction to this game was with 4 players who had played at least twice before. Not a good way to start. Everyone THOUGHT they knew the rules but that turned out to be less than accurate. Evidently, I really, really like an uphill challenge.
With the luck of the skulls, I ended up the starting player, sounds good but not so much. I could never get a direct answer to several situations that came so they voted on how it was to be played. Ok, I’m good with that. But then when the same situations came up for their turns, they reread the instructions and came up with a different answer that would give them a better play.
Granted everyone wants to win but doing so on as level a playing field as possible is best. There are so many moving parts that occur at the same time, you really do need your own copy of the directions. My point is to read the instructions for yourself so you will be able to contribute to the decision making for vague situations and to know what actions influence other actions.
I like this game and will get my own set of instructions (with errata!) so I won’t be so frustrated the next time we play.

 
Player Avatar
2
I Am What I Am
9
26 of 78 gamers found this helpful
“Fun game with theme-oriented rules.”

This game is dripping with theme. Great quality bits with a treasure chest to boot. I would like to play this game often but the downtime and luck factor is not for everybody.

 

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