Merchants of Amsterdam
English language edition of Die Kaufleute von Amsterdam
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In the year 1600, Amsterdam was a city of 50,000 and a bright future. Trade flourished and many new buildings graced the harbor. Enterprising Dutch merchants traveled to the Americas, Africa, and the Orient in search of the new commodities valued at home. This period of history is the basis for this game. The players take the roles of the powerful Merchant families of that time. The players invest in the commodity market, build warehouses in Amsterdam, and open trade offices in the colonies as they compete to become the most successful merchant in Amsterdam and win the game.
I like this game. I only bought it because it was in the bargain bin of my local game store. I wasn't expecting much, it seemed like a typical, dry Knizia game. Surpise! Merchants of Amsterdam is quite non-Knizia-esque (to coin a phrase). The theme doesn't feel 'pasted on', it works very well with the mechanics of the game. Also, in non-Knizia-esque fashion the game is not only challenging, but fun.
For those of you with too little time to read Stuart Daggar's review from Counter magazine printed above, let me use one of his lines. '...the object is to be richest, not to have the biggest empire.' Keep that in mind, and you will enjoy the game more than if you try to crush your opponents. If your goal is to crush, you will lose. You get paid if you lead a category, it doesn't matter by how much. The second place player gets paid nearly as much, regardless of how far back they are.
There are some good reviews of the game mechanics on this site, so let me only add that a game lasts about 1-1 1/2 hours. Final scores are generally quite close, it can be difficult to know who is winning as the game winds down. You can't do everything you want to do in Merchants of Amsterdam, which leads to some tough choices. Play is simple, and the clock causes tension between players. Unlike some other reviewers I have had no problems with the Dutch Auction Clock, it works quite well, thank you. Did I mention that the game is simply fun?
Merchants of Amsterdam may not be everyone's cup of tea, but its mine. A fine game.
Very well-themed, for a Knizia game! In a short period of time, it has become not only my favourite area control game, but also my fave auction game! No analysis paralysis here, folks, during the bidding...mind you there's no bidding! When the auction clock has ticked to a price LOW enough for your liking, hit the clock and pay! The problem is: what if Ned hits it before I do? Thus, a fair bit of psychological brinksmanship is in these Dutch auctions.
Sometimes Dr. Knizia wants to hurt our heads with games of deep strategy. Other times he intends the game to be a lighter, more frivolous experience. The Merchants of Amsterdam is in the latter camp, and happily fills out the entry-level end of his many-paths-to-victory trilogy. The other games in this informal trio are the middleweight Taj Mahal, and the heavyweight of Stephensons Rocket. Each is a heady mixture of strategies, and Merchants is easily the most approachable of the group.
The auction clock is what makes and breaks opinions of this game. Some people love the tension of guessing when is the LAST possible moment one can get in a bid, while others feel that it detracts from the game by inserting a mechanism that rewards fast reflexes.
My reflexes are pretty lousy, and I very nearly won the game. Faking out opponents is definitely a part of the game, as is convincing other players to spend more than they should for activities.
One aspect that I really like is the tension of deciding what to do with each of the three cards that are turned up on each turn. Few choices are really obvious, as a card that may be of no benefit to one player may be solid gold to someone else. Take the middling value card for yourself, or hope that the next card is exactly what you need? Tough choices abound.
As one of the most heavily themed of Dr. Knizia's games, I think that Merchants of Amsterdam has gotten something of a bum rap. From any other designer this would have been seen as a major acheivement, but due to the good doctor's fabled output, this is only seen as a lightweight in his canon.
Recommended for those wanting a good strategy game and aren't scared off by 'The Clock'.
When Jumbo International asked the good Doctor Knizia to design a game around a 'wind-up' mechinism featured in one of its 'dog' games (so the story goes), he turned it into a Dutch Auction Clock and Merchants of Amsterdam was born. I freely admit to being partial to Knizia games, so the story behind this game fascinated me. I bought it and I'm glad. It's a wonderful light complexity game on par with his Through the Desert.
Players assume the role of Dutch sea merchants during the 17c. rise and fall of Amsterdam as the center of world trade. Each player in turn assumes the role of 'mayor' who draws three cards and distributes them; one to the discard pile, one to himself, and one for open bidding by all players. This sounds easy, but as mayor you may only look at one card at a time and decide what to do with it, before looking at the next. The cards are either 'Influence' or 'Hourglass' cards. Influence cards enable a player to expand his business holdings in one of three areas: Commodities market, Warehouses, World Trade offices. Hourglass cards advance the timeline and trigger special events and scoring. Centerpiece of the game though is the 'wind-up' auction clock. During the open bidding, all players may try to buy an influence card. The auction starts at 200 guilders and winds down to 50. First player to stop the auction, pays the $, receives the card and immediately uses it. When the timeline reaches its end, final tally, game over most money wins.
Merchants of Amsterdam delivers a lot of the Knizia touch: lots of choices with limited opportunity, great player interaction, foresight & planning, and very little downtime. The open bidding with the auction clock keeps all players involved on every turn. Bid too high for cards, run out of cash; bid too low, not enough scoring opportunities. Cash payouts follow the classic Sid Sackson Acquire system. 1st and 2nd majority holders in each area gets paid. In the later half of the game as Amsterdam declines in affluence, players must sacrifice certain holdings. If you fail to plan ahead during the good times, you'll pay dearly during the bad.
The physical components (gameboard, cards, money, etc) are typical middle of the road 'Jumbo International' quality. The auction clock appears quite solid though, and should hold up well. Use your own 'Wertung' shuffle process to spread out the 'hourglass' cards as they drive the timeline.
Merchants of Amsterdam is a very enjoyable, fast game that never bogs down and I highly recommend it.
On a side note, I've reviewed over twenty games, and have yet to acknowledge my Reno gaming group, 'Boardgamers of Reno' so thanks go to: Forrest, Jamison, Debbie, Tommy, Sandy & Scott, Rich and John. Without them, I'd be playing solitaire.
The real-time element of this game makes it a winner--it keeps rattling along at a cracking pace, inlike many games of this kind. The paper money was the main downside for me but I plan to use heavy poker chips next time. This should make counting your money even more pleasurable--just like the merchants in their counting houses.
I felt the need to write my small point of view about this game when I saw the mild rating it had here on this very page. I played the game once, but I think I understood the game quite well as I actually won the game by playing a really defensive first half. Our group made the mistake of bidding way too much for many auctions. Believe me: 90% of auctions ended at 200 with furious clock-slapping. I soon understood there was a reason Knizia designed the clock starting at 200 and ending at 50... in the end I didn't win many auctions but I still managed to win the game. So bid wisely and try to remember that 200.000 fl. are a lot of money.
Sure, this game isn't for everyone. You have to be fast (the clock doesn't await anyone) to understand how valuable is an action card; you must do a lot of calculations to play in a solid way; you gotta be prepared for a tad of chaos on the board and foretell what the other players could be up to, and counting the number of hourglasses out every turn wouldn't hurt either. Everyone had fun and is willing to play again, and that's usually the best review a board game can get.
I initially bought this game due to my fondness for things Dutch and the interesting auction mechanism. I was concerned that it might be a little too light for the guys in my gaming group. Well, they liked it!
The auction is a nice touch. And psyching someone out with a fake jab at the clock adds tension and fun.
The scoring requires a little explanation and review, but it is not difficult. It takes about half a game to understand the implications of your choices. And it catches you off guard when that first payday comes! You were expecting time to develop your strategy a little, but no! You need to come out of the gate quickly to get a leading position and a big payout.
While it is true that the first player will sometimes have an extra marker during payout, an attempt is made to equalize this by giving the strongest free placement (during setup) to the last player. And our games have been close, so I do not see any reason to worry about an unfair advantage.
The Dutch colonial theme is not deeply integrated, but it does make for an attractive board and add a nice flavor to the mechanics.
Overall, this is a good game that will be enjoyed for its unique characteristics.
Die Kaufleute von Amsterdam (Merchants of Amsterdam in English) loosely recreates a 100-year history of The Netherlands, tracing their rise and fall as an economic power. Players each compete to grab mastery in several locations: shipping, Amsterdam districts and regions of the world. Mastery is accomplished by gaining the majority or secondary status in these areas (hey, there's an original concept!).
The game is yet another by prolific designer Reiner Knizia and is released internationally by Jumbo.
The game has a lot going for it, but the one thing which immediately grabs your attention is the Dutch auction clock. I'd always heard the phrase 'Dutch auction', but never really knew exactly what it meant. Now, I have a much better idea. The game comes with an impressive and large octagonal timer. Players use this timer when bidding on the right to obtain certain privileges offered by a card. As the timer clicks away, players slap the clock to halt it at the price they are willing to pay for the card. This is a very neat mechanism which adds just the right amount of tension to the game, and ties in with the theme quite nicely. I've heard some utter complaints about the clock, stating that they prefer a straight auction/bidding method. I disagree. That method has been used ad nauseum in too many games. The auction clock is a breath of fresh air and, unless someone gets overly stressed by the tension created by the 'ticking' clock, should be a welcome change to the tired and now overused traditional bidding method.
That said, there is a nagging concern however. Games with mechanical parts scare me. Why? Well, mechanical parts tend to break. This auction clock may be especially susceptible to breakage as it requires players to slap it to halt its progress. I can't imagine that, over time, repeated slapping is a good thing. In fact, I've already heard of several incidents wherein the clock has, indeed, broken. So what happens when the clock finally breaks? What are the odds of obtaining a replacement clock from a Dutch game company three to five years down the road? Probably not that good. I wonder if it would be worth purchasing an extra clock or two now and storing them for future use?
Back to the game. The mechanics are actually relatively simple, yet the choices can be tough. A deck of cards dictates the pace and progress of the game. Each turn, a player is the 'burgermeister' (mayor) and begins revealing the top card from the deck. Cards allow certain actions:
The mayor reveals one card at a time and decides on whether to keep the card for himself, discard it or place it up for auction. This decision must be made before revealing the next card, which often results in a tough choice. Once a player places the card on the 'keep', 'discard' or 'auction' token, no further card may be placed on that token. So, do you keep this card, or hold out for a potentially better card. Watch out, though, as you may be stuck with a card you really didn't want, or be forced to auction a card that you don't want your opponents to have.
Actions are resolved in the following order: 'discard', 'keep' and 'auction'. The placement of tokens into the Amsterdam districts, World regions or Shipping track is critical. When a scoring is triggered by the movement of the time marker, the player who has the majority or secondary position in these areas will receive cash pay outs. It always seems to be a balancing act as you try to acquire majority or secondary status in as many commodities, districts and regions as you possibly can. Tying for one of these positions depletes the payout.
But there's more here than just obtaining majority or secondary status. Leave it to Knizia to provide even more scoring mechanisms and enticements. There are various 'bonus' payouts available:
The auction method adds a neat twist to an already thought provoking, careful management game. Now, one must decide quickly how much you are willing to spend to obtain a particular card. Not only that, one must also quickly assess how much your opponents are likely to spend. In a 'regular' auction, there is time to ponder offers, make counter-offers, etc. With this noisy timer clicking its way down, there is little time for such bluffing and psychological warfare. Nope... decide quickly and react before your opponents. It's an added degree of tension that I thoroughly enjoy. To me, it takes the game out of the realm of the ordinary and makes it a bit more special. It is this mechanism, in combination with a genuinely decent game, which will cause Die Kaufleute to hit our table often.
The game progresses until the deck expires. There are enough 'hourglass' cards in the deck to traverse the entire period of history being reenacted, so players can plan on all scoring opportunities--and setbacks--which will occur. They just don't know how quickly time will progress, which is also another 'butterflies in the stomach' mechanism which I enjoy. In spite of this timing uncertainty, every player will have the exact same number of turns as the mayor, so no one will have an unfair advantage in that regard. Sure, it is still possible that one player will get a bit luckier in the cards he reveals, but this hasn't seemed to be a great problem in my half dozen games so far.
The game offers an apparently wide variety of strategies to pursue. Clearly, one must obtain majority status--or at least secondary status--in as many scoring areas as possible. This constantly poses the player with placement dilemmas. Where to place? Which commodity to increase? Do you go for a placement which will secure a bonus, or do you instead concentrate on securing a majority in a region? Further, there is always the nagging problem of just how much to bid for a card. Bid too little, and you'll fall behind on the race for majority status. Bid too much, and you'll not have enough money to win the game. Tough decisions abound throughout the game.
When teaching the game to new players, I strongly encourage you to issue a powerful caveat: Don't bid too much. The tension evoked by the auction clock has the tendency to force players to slap the mechanism too early, resulting in large pay outs to obtain a card. Resist this temptation. Otherwise, it is quite possible for a player to not bid at all and win the game. If players regularly allow the clock to dip below $150,000 or lower, then this 'bid nothing to win' strategy is doomed to failure.
My very first game of Die Kaufleute left me somewhat disappointed. Further playings, however, taught me to be a bit more conservative, as well as offered me glimpses of various strategies to employ. As a result, I've come to greatly appreciate the game and its nuances. I don't think this ranks up there with Knizia's elite games, but it is one which I enjoy playing and seems destined to have wide appeal. My wife has already played it and enjoyed it, so, for me, that gives the game greatly added appeal!
This is an auction game, where the items auctioned aren't goods or collectibles, but game actions. As in most of Reiner Knizia's games, (Tigris and Euphrates, Through the Desert, etc.) you never seem to have enough game actions to do what you need to do, so winning the auctions is a key element of Die Kaufleute von Amsterdam.
Each player takes his turn being the Mayor. As Mayor, you draw three action cards, with specific things you can do (gain a trade colony, gain a warehouse in Amsterdam, increase your holdings of certain goods). One action card is yours to do immediately (as Mayor), one gets discarded, and one is auctioned off, using the 'Dutch Auction Clock'. This clock starts off wound up to a price of two hundred florins. Then it counts down, as all the players keep their hands nearby. As soon as it gets down to a price one player is willing to pay, he hits the clock, stopping it at that price. Then he pays the cost to the bank, and is able to do that action.
The rest of the game has to do with scoring. This is basically the same as in many stock holding games (Union Pacific, Acquire, Stephenson's Rocket, Freight Train, etc.): The player with the most trade colonies in Africa gets a large payment, the second most gets a smaller amount, the player with the most warehouses in one area of Amsterdam gets paid, and second most gets a smaller payment, etc. It's not exactly this simple, as there are some extra rules that complicate it a bit, but this is the basic idea. Payments come due based on a time marker that runs around the board, so you know what will be scored next.
The auctions are fun, and everyone has a chance to participate in every turn, so the game keeps everyone interested. Some of the scoring (and setting yourself up for a decent score) can get a bit fiddly and messy (though not nearly as messy and convoluted as Taj Mahal), and a few players were starting to get tired of going through the same procedures as the game went into its second hour. Yet still, we all had a good time playing, and will play again. And the auction clock is fun to watch.
I'm usually a big Knizia fan, but this one just doesn't cut it for me. I gave it a second chance last night, but I doubt it will get another from me.
There are a lot of good mechanics in it. I like the 3 discs method of divvying up the cards. The clock is cute, but not earth-shattering. Scoring is nice and mind-bending.
But it just doesn't gel together for me. I like games that have lots of things going on, but the different parts have to fit into a cohesive whole. Die Kaufleute von Amsterdam feels like three or four seperate games, not one. Taj Mahal, for example, does a much better job of integrating lots of little effects into one big ebb and flow, where everything feels like a small disturbance that eventually adds up to a big wave.
The end feels like a relief, not satisfaction.
In this game, Rio Grande's English translation of a Games 100 selection from last year, time appears in two guises. The Time Marker zips hurriedly around the board representing 17th-century Amsterdam; when it reaches the end of the track, the player with the most money wins. Auctions, on the other hand, are conducted with a really cool clock that gradually lowers the price until someone pounces to tap it--the seconds pass with excruciating tension and the sweat flows profusely. The cards won at Auction allow you to increase your income in local or international markets, making this the most thematically convincing of Dr. Knizia's great games.
Join us in this adventure set in 17th-century Holland. Compete to acquire the most commodities, overseas trading settlements, and houses. You, the mayor for this turn, draw three cards. Keep one, discard another, and auction the third, using a really cool clock that gradually lowers the price until someone taps it. The cards allow players to advance their standings in one of the three areas of competition. The Time Marker, controlled by an hourglass card, affects players' fortunes and precipitates scoring rounds in which cash is awarded to those who are furthest and second furthest ahead in the competitions. The player with the most money wins when the Time Marker reaches the end of the track. The Time Marker passes through the years quickly enough, but the seconds that tick by as the auction clock winds down pass with excruciating tension.
On a par with the notion that "a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife" is the equally acknowledged truth that German games tend to be light on theme. Elegant mechanics, enjoyable to play, but with a theme that is added very late in the design process and which often seems to be little other than an excuse for some nice graphics from Franz Vohwinkel or Doris Matthäus; the game itself is primarily abstract. It is also widely held that the high priest of this particular style is Reiner Knizia. Even in Germany his games are often criticised as being rather dry and lacking in atmosphere. All of which means that this game comes as something of a surprise. It is the most strongly themed German game, certainly since TurfMaster, and possibly since Die Macher. And it has been designed by the man who is supposedly at his weakest in the matter of themes and their relation to what is the real content of a game. The elegant and carefully constructed mechanics that are usually a feature of his designs are still here, but this time they have come with some real history and a genuine feeling of time and place.
According to our spy in the camp, the genesis of this one came when Jumbo sent Reiner a game for evaluation. It wasn't very good, being little more than another instance of "throw a die and move", but it did feature a wonderful toy in the form of a Dutch auction clock. The game was rejected, but the clock took his fancy and round it he has built a game about Amsterdam's rise to mercatile prominence in the century that followed the Dutch rebellion against Spanish rule.
The centre of the gameboard shows a map of Amsterdam as it was in 1580, before the building of the three great U-shaped canals that are the most prominent feature of the city today. This oldest part of the city is split into four quarters, divided by canals and linked by bridges. At the base of the map is a set of four commodity tracks, one each for silk, spices, sugar and precious stones, and surrounding all this are maps of the four parts of the world from which the Dutch obtained these items--the Americas, Africa, the East Indies and the Far East.
Players compete for prominence in these twelve areas: the four overseas areas, the four quarters of Amsterdam and the four commodity tracks. Tokens placed overseas represent trading settlements and each is tied to one of the four commodities. Placing a token on, say, a spice settlement in the East Indies raises your status in the East Indies and also your importance as a spice merchant, with this latter being noted by an advance of your marker on the spice commodity track. There is a similar double effect when you expand in Amsterdam: your placement increases your status in the appropriate area of the city and, because the new building represents an expansion of your business activity, there will also be an advance of your marker on one of the commodity tracks.
In your turn you are the mayor and have control of the deck of cards that drives the game. You turn up three cards: one you will keep for your own use, one you will discard (and thus deny anyone the use of) and one you will put up for auction. It is an enviable position to be in, with the only slight drawback being that you have to decide what to do with each card as it is turned over, before you know what the others are going to be. With a small handful of exceptions that are there mainly to enable you to vary the size of the deck in order ensure that everyone has the same number of turns at being mayor irrespective of whether you are playing with 3, 4 or 5 players, the cards are of two types. One will result in the placement of a token overseas and one the placement of a token at home. An overseas card will do one of two things:
A similar division into two sub-types exists for the home placements, one giving you a choice of two quarters of the city but no choice of commodity and the other dictating the quarter but allowing you to choose the commodity.
After the mayor has made his free placement, he conducts the auction for the right to make the other one. This is done using the clock. The hand is wound round until it points at 200 and then released to tick back round to 50. The first person to stop the clock gains the card and pays whatever price the clock now indicates. In the unlikely event of the pointer reaching 50, nobody gets the card. (This type of Dutch auction, using a clock which the bidders can stop, is the traditional method used by fruit and vegetable wholesalers in the Netherlands.).
After the successful bidder has placed the relevant token and moved the corresponding marker on the commodity track, the mayor's period of office ends and the job moves to the next player.
Mixed in with these cards are another set, each of which shows an hourglass. These control the passage of time. Running round three sides of the board is a time track with each space dated and tied to an historical event of commercial significance to 17th century Amsterdam. When the mayor turns up one of these, it doesn't count as one of his three cards, but is instead an extra whose purpose is to advance the time marker along this track. Most spaces on the track contain either an event, or a scoring table or both. When the marker moves into the space, the instructions are followed: enact the event or score the indicated area. The events all translate into either gaining a token, losing a token or moving a marker on the commodity track and they affect everybody equally. In the first part of the period, when Amsterdam's rise was unopposed, they are all favourable; in the later part you get the setbacks (the Anglo-Dutch wars, the loss of the trading outpost in Formosa, etc).
The scoring tables that you reach during the game each relate to one of the three sectors: home, overseas, commodity tracks. Then, at the end, there is a final "double points" one that affects all three. Each table shows four sets of figures: 100/60, 80/40, 60/40 and 40/20. The four areas of the appropriate sector are then ranked according to their importance. Overseas the most important area is the one containing the most trading settlements; in Amsterdam it is the one with the most houses. In the highest ranked area the leader receives a payout of 100 and the runner-up 60; in the next it is 80 and 40; and so on down the line. (Am I the only person who has often wondered what would have happened to game design if Sid Sackson had "done a Garfield" and patented this particular mechanism?)
In addition to these pay-offs, all of which are encouraging you to concentrate your resources, there are some significant bonuses pulling you in the other direction. You get these for having trading settlements in all four overseas areas, for being sufficiently far advanced on all four commodity tracks, for having houses in all four quarters of Amsterdam and for occupying sites which mean that you "control city bridges".
As I hope you can tell from that description, this is a game where what you are doing on the board makes sense in real life terms--something that could not be said of either of Reiner's other two recent major releases, Stephenson's Rocket and Taj Mahal, where complicated scoring systems coupled with artificial mechanics mean that you spend the first few games in something of a fog. Here everything is natural: You are a merchant seeking to expand your business both at home and overseas. You will do this by a combination of investment and making use of the political advantages that come from your periods as mayor. Your aim in each area is to be one of the major players, because that is where the profits lie, though there are also advantages to be got from being the sort of businessman who has a finger in every pie. The things that you need to do are to keep an eye on your rivals and to make sure that you don't pay more for an investment than it is worth. The second of these ought to be easy, as the scoring tables are there for all to see, but the interactions create some confusion and the competitiveness that tends to come over you during an auction causes a lot more. You need to keep a cool head and if you think that the others are bidding too high, back your judgement: the object is to be richest, not to have the biggest empire.
Kaufleute is lighter than Taj Mahal or Stephenson's Rocket, something you should bear in mind if you are the sort of gamer who likes to formulate strategic plans and to keep his brow properly furrowed. If you are that sort, this game will quite possibly not be to your taste and you would be better buying one of the other two. For myself, I prefer this one: it is more fun and I like the historical feel and the sense of realism.
The other thing that will divide people is the clock. Gerard Mulder of Jumbo reckons that it is responsible for about a third of the fun you get when playing and many will agree with him. Others will be irritated by the fact that it is noisy and that there is a problem of where to position it so as to have it within equal reach of everybody. There will also be those who don't like the reaction/dexterity element it introduces. My group belongs to the grumpy school on this one. However, it hasn't put us off the game: we just leave the clock in the box. It is quite simple for the mayor to run a Dutch auction by calling out the numbers and for the players to bid by rapping the table. All you need to do is devise a tie-breaking mechanism to deal with the close calls that, were you using the clock, would be settled by seeing whose hand was on the button. This will also solve the problem of what to do should the clock break, which has to be a possibility, as there is always is a bottom line of cost with these things which ensures that they aren't built to last for generations.
As Derek Carver has pointed out, any game whose scoring system is based on "Wertung cards" is biased towards the original start player unless you take steps to rectify it. This one is no exception. It is caused by the fact that whenever a scoring card comes up, the likelihood is that some players will have had one more shot at being mayor than others and that means one more free token on the board. If this worries you will have to come up with your own fix--just as you did in Union Pacific--because the rules don't do it for you.
At present the game is not available in an English language edition. However, using the German edition will not present you with any problems: neither the board nor the cards carry any text and an English translation of the rules is available.