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This bumper box holds a smorgasbord of interesting game design, high production values, engaging artwork, a cacophony of components and more...

Merchants Cove by Final Frontier Games Merchants Cove by Final Frontier Games

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This bumper box holds a smorgasbord of interesting game design, high production values, engaging artwork, a cacophony of components and more plastic and carboard than any game should rightfully have.

Merchants Cove sees 1-4 players become a Merchant (*gasp*) flogging their wares to visiting adventurers that have bottomless pockets.  As the shops are in a cove (*shock*), the adventurers always arrive by boat, some stay and some leave to return by boat again, for more gear.

The way in which you craft items in each shop is utterly different and arguably each player is actually playing two games.  The first is played out on the central board and the second mini-game is done on your own shops’ action board.  In terms of mechanics, it’s got a bit of everything, but for me this is simply an engine builder with lots of added chrome.


In the game you play as either a blacksmith, an alchemist, a sea captain, or chronomancer (I must admit I have no idea what one of them is – something to do with using time).  The blacksmith and alchemist sell typical goods and potions; the captain sells fish, shells and treasure, the chronomancer sells artefacts from time travelling … as you can probably tell the theme is stretched a bit thin throughout the game but it just about manages to keep it all together.

This is the board the Chronomancer has to play with

The game will end after three market phases, the player with the most money wins.  Each shop crafts coloured (red, blue yellow and green) small and large items that can only be sold to the same-coloured adventurers on the relevant (small or large goods) pier.  The game end feels like it comes relatively quickly and I’ve not been at a table where this has outstayed its welcome yet.  

The meta-game, played out on the central board is where you’ll get the only player interaction.  This comes primarily from loading boats with adventurers that either help you or hinder your opponents.  Hopefully a bit of both!  However, what interaction there is does feel mean (that’s a good thing), sending a boat full of blue adventurers to the small goods pier when your opponent only has large blue goods is a good feeling. 

Large red goods are in high demand (far boat, all red adventurers at the large pier)

 However, in my experience, it is probably better to optimise for your own play, as there is nearly always a way to mitigate the damage you could cause to an opponent.  For example, your opponent doesn’t have to sell any goods during the market phase and can keep them all for a more favourable market phase. 

The smaller games are played out on each shops’ activity board and are completely different from each other.  Despite their uniqueness, each shop does feel balanced and can score as easily (or not) as each other.  These mini games are the unique selling point for this game and each time I’ve played with a new shop I’ve appreciated small nuances that weren’t immediately apparent at first glance.  I’m sure that some clever game designers could make a big-box game just out of the mechanisms on each shops’ board.

The Alchemist's board.  The marble filled decanter is the mini-game here.

Due to each shop’s uniqueness they have their own rule pamphlet.  This can make for quite a lengthy teach to what is quite a simple game.  If you’re comfortable with your shop the main game is on a par with Catan for complexity and approachability.  This asymmetry has drawn comparisons with Root which although more complex overall, has less asymmetry than Merchants Cove. 

Every single action you take on your turn will have a time cost and potentially a penalty corruption card as well.  This moves your time tracker one or two spaces around a clockface which acts as the game’s timer.  Passing certain points on the clock with your tracker will cause the boats to fill up and eventually trigger the market phase.  Player turn order is variable and dictated by whichever time tracker is furthest back on the clock.  This may allow you to plan a double turn which if timed right could allow you to choose which boats dock at two of the three piers in the cove.

There's mice, because there are...(actually useful but just more stuff)

Shuffling round the clock face or racing to the next market phase is deceptively simple. Invariably I am always looking to get another turn in after the market phase has been triggered.  Which shows that this game has been well balanced and I’m always immersed in the act of optimising my goods production and finding selling opportunities during the market phase.

During the market phase the base value of each of your sold goods (small and large is the same for every player) is multiplied by the number of similarly-coloured adventurers om the pier for your score.  For example, if you’re selling 2 large goods to 3 adventurers you’ll be looking at 48 points. (value 8 gold x 2 goods x 3 adventurers).  There will be some small bonuses for the number of adventurers in the guilds and penalties for corruption cards which definitely should not be ignored.  

Clamouring for small goods

Due to the large scores that are possible and each players hidden corruption cards it is not possible to determine who is winning or losing until the final scoring has been completed.  During my first real play with actual people (!!!) I thought I was down and out going into the last round and there was no way to catch up to my opponent who seemed to have a shelfful of goods.   However, come the final scoring I snuck ahead and the supposed winner actually came last (in a 3 player game).

The reason why I call this an engine builder is due to the set of upgrades and powerups each shop can do.  Each shop has a staff of four actions which can be done when villagers are hired onto your staff.  If you’ve only got one hire then your staff action is fairly weak.  If you’ve filled all four positions you’ll be wanting to do it every turn…although you can never take the same action twice in a row.  Similarly, there’s an element of set collection you’ll be doing which could also provide a massive point swing in final scoring.

Fully employed staff

If you’ve got this far you can tell that this game has a lot of things going on and decision points.  I certainly don’t feel like I’ve explored everything the games got to offer and there is a good deal of replayability.  I am keen to keep playing it although it is not without its flaws.


I think it’s fair to say this game is less than the sum of its parts. However, it has got an impressive array of parts that certainly doesn’t mean this is a bad game. It’s not even a ‘meh game it’s an interesting game.  It’s as if the designer(s) had so many ideas and tried to put them all into a game.  The fact that I want to keep playing it means that it’s a success (it works), I’m just not sure if its excellent, good or just interesting… I don’t feel like there’s anything like it in my collection.

Blacksmith forging dice.

The uniqueness of each shop and their mini-game is impressive but could be bewildering for new players.  I shudder at the thought of teaching this to 3 new players because the teach can easily go on for 20 minutes if you have to explain each shop.  Thankfully the individual shop’s rules pamphlets are fairly concise and could be read by each player during setup and after the main rules have been digested…questions will still come.  I’ve not found an optimised way to teach it yet.

Unfortunately, due to the completely asymmetric shops each one has got their own sizable board to play on as well as the large central board.  Not to mention the unique bits each shop has and the components, this game takes a bit of time to set up.  This is helped by some of the best inserts I’ve ever seen in a game, but it will still take some time, unless everybody is familiar and can help out.  Similarly, this game is a table-hog, you will definitely need a large playing area for this monster.

The Captain's board.


Needless to say, this was successfully funded on Kickstarter.  The components are singularly of excellent quality, the designer is making cardboard do things which it was never designed to do.  It really does look impressive on the table thanks to the light-hearted fantasy art that is dripping off every component.  You don’t get any square / boring edges here everything is shaped, moulded, drawn upon to make everything interesting to look at.

The final mini-game...

There are probably too many components provided for each shop as I’ve never come close to using even half of any shop’s goods.  I still find it difficult to pack it all away despite the excellent insert and the essential packing instructions.  Lose those and you’ll be storing it all across two boxes and will have a lot of broken carboard.  It’s almost a game in itself to pack it all way!


If you’ve got this far you can tell that this game has a lot of things going on and decision points all wrapped up in a really unique game of games.  Sometimes the theme feels quite loose but it’s a testament to the designer, and this game, that so many different moving (metaphorical) pieces comes together as neatly as they do.  All the different merchants feel balanced and everyone is in with a chance of winning right until the end.  I can easily recommend it to any gamer to at least try a few times to see what hyper-modern games can deliver.  

Unlike this review, I have never felt that this game has outstayed its welcome it always seems to finish just in time… 

I’d like to thank Asmodee UK for sending this review copy. You can use this link to find your Friendly Local Game Store.

Designers: Carl Van Ostrand with Jonny Pac & Drake Villareal
Playtime: 90 minutes
Players: 1 - 4