English language edition of Pfeffersäcke
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Toward the end of the Middle Ages, the rise of rich merchant families helped open the cities of Europe to trade and commerce.
Beginning with their homes in small villages, players open branches in nearby cities. Once branches are established, players use their income to increase their wealth or to increase their presence in the cities where they have branches. Players then can use their wealth to further develop their trading empire into new cities and regions.
In the end, it is the player who has developed the largest trade empire and earned the most money in the process that wins the game.
Every choice causes pain. Wonderful pain. Do I take the fast route for more money, or the cheaper route that takes an extra turn? Do I take income or expand a city? Do I expand my empire or try to take posession of cities?
Tight, tense, tactical and strategic.
I love El Grande and always will. This one is a great contender for the throne though.
Downside for me: Picking my actions is pure torture.
Many reviews seem to want to equate Medieval Merchant with [page scan/se=0040/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]El Grande. I don't think this is really a good comparison, and I feel that MM is the superior game. Where El Grande relies on the semi-randomness of cards to change the situation on the board, MM is pure tactics and strategy. Once you make the decision to play a piece in MM, there is no turning back--no bailing out of a bad move by playing a card.
Every turn you must evaluate your situation and try to anticipate the next move of your opponent. You can never achieve all of your goals, so you must choose which moves to make and when.
I have a large collection of games, and this is the best for pure tactics--and it is not hard to learn or long to play. Possibly the perfect game!
Medieval Merchant is an interesting game. I won't go through all the mechanics because they have been described more than adequately by others. I only would like to say that this is a good game, not great, but the kind that plays fairly fast (60-90 minutes; usually closer to 60 after everyone gains a bit of experience), the mechanics are straightforward and the game (from my perspective) is attractive to look at. The board might not strike everyone's fancy; it looks like a block-printed map with old style script, but I think it gives the game a bit of atmosphere. I would classify MM as an 'El Grande' light - it is a game about territorial occupation, but this is accomplished in a different way than El Grande. I also feel that the game has received some bad press, but that MM is much better than some of the reviews. Again, good but not great, but with good replay value and some possibilities exist for a little 'tweaking.'
Frequent builders earn the most guilders in this absorbing race to control territory and earn influence points. Simply starting a business in a town itself earns a point. You will aim to control cities, which are worth from two to eight points. These values also indicate the total number of branches that can be opened in a particular city. The city and its points are yours as soon as you occupy more than half the available spaces. Sometimes, you will choose not to add a branch to a city, instead earning income for businesses already there. Guilders are needed to pay the tolls on roads leading to new markets, which will help you to fulfill your Medieval Manifest Destiny.
Two Escort Letters can be used on a turn to double actions or income. This terrific game, with its clearly written rules and attractive components, plays well even with just two people.
At Essen there is so much to choose from that you often don't think about which games you must play. It seems so easy. In a hall teeming with people who want to play games, you feel you are bound to be able to find someone who'd like to play something. On this occasion, when I stumbled into five more people, who felt the same way, we made our destination the Goldsieber stand, where, after standing around long enough looking like a bunch of lemons, we achieved our aim: some poor soul moved out the way and we were in. Fortunately, we also managed to grab hold of Ulrich Bauer who is with Goldseiber and he was able to demonstrate the game.
It looked exciting. Loads of markers (looking rather like wooden Monopoly style houses) and a large board. Six players would not normally be my favourite way of learning a game, but heh! this is Essen.
Each player takes the role of a medieval house of merchants, whose aim is to expand their empire across Germany. Starting from a central point, players can expand by several mechanisms, with speed the governing desirable factor, though this comes with a downside of cost. The balance, however, favours speed, since routes can become blocked and the victory points are biased towards map coverage rather than cash.
The map shows a picture of Germany with white connecting lines linking the cities. Each city has a number from 2 to 8, which represents the number of positions that can be filled with each player's houses. (I was right -- the markers are houses.). The number also represents the relative importance of each city, with the high numbers being very important. The map is non-symmetrical -- so you need to note which are the key cities to occupy. Fortunately, Ulrich pointed out that the important ones run north-east to south-west and it is a pretty good idea to occupy some part of each of these four key cities, as this will allow you jumping off points to all the others.
The map also has 20 villages dotted around, which provide slower, but cheaper access to cities.
The game is seeded with a number of cities that begin on the board and each turn players bring one more of these on the board from their hand to signify trade markets opening up. These city tiles will have been distributed to ensure an even mix of high and low value cities for each player to choose from.
The victory points are distributed in four ways:
The most important of these is controlling a city which is worth about 50% of the victory points. This is achieved by getting a majority of houses in the cities. For example in the cities worth 2, you need both positions whereas in the cities worth 5, you only need capture 3 positions. If you get half of the positions in a city, then a tie-breaker of who had the first presence in a city is used, but you only get half of the victory points. In play it is often the first person that starts a city will win it, so you need to watch what other players do to see which ones you should challenge early on and which ones should be left alone.
Villages only have one space on them, so are immediately won, but they also serve another purpose: when the last one is captured, the game ends. The game can also end if the cities are all determined.
The map also shows large zones which are the regions of Germany. You only have to place a single house down in a zone to score the points.
So how do you play? The main idea in the design is to allow choice. For each city where you have a presence you can place a single house or you can collect the income. This is the number of free positions in a city, multiplied by a factor that rises with the number of players. The choices make you consider whether to expand your presence in a city, hopefully with the aim of capturing the city, but with the downside that the income from the city reduces. In the games that I have played, players initially collect the income when it is large, but as soon as competition arrives you have to fight back or lose control of the city.
There are no victory points for coming second in a city.
In addition to this decision, you are allowed one expansion of your existing route into a new city or village that is connected to your existing cities and where you have no presence. The problem is the cost. Long distances are expensive and links into cities are expensive, but you must expand or lose out on vital connections. Often you will not have enough money to afford the route you want and then must choose whether to save your money or go for a cheaper route.
Each player also receives three bonus tokens. These represent concessions from the King(?) and can be played once on a turn and are then surrendered. There are three choices. The first is to expand twice in the same city, which can turn a losing situation in a winning one; the second is to expand twice into new cities, even from the one you have just played; the third is to receive a bigger cash haul by doubling the value of all of your cities, with a minimum of 48 income. The timing of these bonuses is critical. Played early, your network of cities can expand at a vast rate. Played later you can snatch control of a city from a rival, while the doubling of income can allow you all the cash you need for one or more turns. These are interesting strategic options, but not so challenging as to cause you to puzzle over what to do. It is important to play them for good value and not waste them on petty issues when options are limited as the game draws to a close.
The game is good. It is a solid business game, though more like the railway games than a trading game, with merchants involved. Indeed the prototype on display at Essen showed a picture of Europe with links to major cities. It feels like a cross between Alan Moon's Airlines and a railway game. It is satisfying to see your network expand and there are sufficient ploys in the game to give a satisfactory replay value. The presentation is well up with Goldsieber standards -- in fact it is a measure of the quality of games from Germany that we expect them to be polished in appearance. This one certainly meets that standard. The most satisfying aspect to the game was that with 6 players, all new to the game we finished in 90 minutes.
I have tried this with two players and while it works, it's nowhere near as much fun. I'd recommend 4 upwards as being good and even with 6 players there's not much down time as each player's turn is pretty quick.
Needless to say, I like business games and this one was destined as another export from Germany. Recommended.