Merchant of Venus
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from 4 customer reviews
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Until I recently discovered the vast array of German games available from Funagain Games, my favorite games were primarily Avalon Hill and Mayfair multi-player games. I never cared much for Avalon Hill's level 10 difficulty two-player wargames, but sure love their multi-player strategy games, particularly those designed or developed by Don Greenwood (e.g. 1830, Merchant of Venus, Gangsters, and Roadkill).
Merchant of Venus is a race to acquire a net worth of $2,000 by finding lucrative trade routes among alien cultures. You pilot a spaceship with a couple of cargo holds for transporting valuables such as 'Space Spice' or 'Rock Videos' from one planet to the next. You make money by buying goods at a low price from one culture and selling them for a profit to another culture. The game features 14 cultures (each on their own planet). The tricky part is that your newly acquired goods can only be sold at a few other locations. For example, goods purchased from culture #1 can only be sold to cultures #2-4. And to really make things interesting, at the start of the game all cultures are randomly distributed facedown. So early exploration just to find a good trade route is key.
There are plenty of strategic decisions to be made such as whether or not to upgrade your ship, build factories or spaceports, search for valuable relics, attempt to take the shortcut through the clouds, etc. There is also a fair amount of luck since your ship is fueled by die roll. The strategy vs. luck factor is well balanced to the point that an experienced player should beat a rookie, but if enough breaks fall just right, a lucky player could pull off an upset.
The game plays well with 1-4 players. More than four tends to bog down as player turns take longer and longer as the game progresses and decision trees grow. To speed things up, I provide each player with their own set of dice and a box lid to roll them into (throwing the dice on the game board could be disasterous).
Be cautioned that this game takes 15+ minutes to set up so a good host will take care of that before the guests arrive. Playing time ranges from 90 minutes to three hours but you can tailor that to your group's needs by adjusting the victory conditions between $1,000 to $4,000. My favorite is to play to $3,000 as it makes the slow freighter worth consideration. Our group also likes to sweeten the '?' markers with all the relics, telegates, and few penalty markers. Don't bother with the combat version of nova balls and lasers, as this plays best as an economic race, not a wargame.
In summary, Merchant of Venus has enough strategic meat to satisfy the hard-core gamer yet doesn't take all night long to play. This is my wife's favorite game and easily one of my top ten. Many German games seem to drape a theme on top of an abstract game system. Not so with Merchant of Venus. You really can imagine yourself piloting a spacecraft and bartering with aliens.
I love this epic game. It has just the right balance of exploration with trading, predictable strategy and randomness. Its game mechanics contain subtle details which many game developers should learn from.
Its only drawback is its length, but that is mitigated somewhat as the players learn to plan ahead of their turn. It is best to play with 4 players in my opinion, although it supports play from 2-6 with an included solitaire version.
I wish this game would be reprinted, or that the game fell into public domain allowing for modified versions to hit the shelves.
My family plays this game when we want to spend a Saturday afternoon together. We don't play to $2000 - it feels like the game is over too quickly. We play to break the bank. Neither do we play with the nova-balls or the war tactics, but instead enjoy the economic strategy. It's a GREAT game!! It's a little complicated to set up and put away, but snack-baggies help out a lot in that respect. There's nothing like finding all fulfilling all the demands for "finest dust" or "psychotic sculpture". I just love the goods and the stories behind them. I do agree that with more than 4 people, the game tends to slow down a great deal. It does play great as a solitaire game, but I personally like it best with four players.
I sooooo wish it would come back into print. I've introduced several of my friends and nephews to this, and they love it. My copy from 1995 has been well used and loved since then. Worth every penny.