In the ongoing war between the Orcs, Elves, Dwarves, and Hobgoblins, no one wins. Except the people who supply the weapons for that war. And that's you, you scumbag. That's right, you're an arms dealer, selling weapons to all sides of the war in this economic game with a fantasy wrapping. Does it get the axe? Let's find out!
The colorful board shows the conflict between the races, and there are different sides of the board for 3- and 4-player games. You'll place Demand tokens on each Battlefield--all of them facedown except for the ones closest to the center of the board. Each player gets a board, tokens, and coins. You'll lay out cards and a few other tokens, and you're ready to play.
The game plays out over four seasons, and at the end of each season, there's a war. You'll remove weapons from the board, and if your weapon was used in the war, you'll earn money! And with those old weapons gone, now there's new demand .
On your turn you must do one of four things.
You start out with an ability to make a couple of crappy weapons. And as the game moves along, you're able to make better weapons. There are four weapons in the game--axes, swords, maces, and hammers--and none of them is better than any other. But the races demand different weapons in different regions.
To upgrade, you'll buy Craft cards for specific weapon types. The more advanced the level you're buying, the more expensive it will be. The higher the level you have, the better weapons you can forge, which is the next action.
You can forge up to three weapons, and you have to pay for each one. There are two types of weapons: standard and vorpal, which is only available if you have five levels in that weapon type. Vorpals are more expensive to forge, but you get more gold when you sell them, which is the next action.
You can sell one weapon to one of the races that's demanding that type of weapon. You place it into a Battlefield, and get cash for the weapon, and possibly bonus tiles depending on various factors. If there's a weapon in each side of a battle, there will be a conflict there, and you move the Demand token to the Season area. Once that Season area is filled with a certain number of Demand tokens, every other player gets a turn, and the Season ends.
Take a Kingdom Card
Finally, you can take a Kingdom card, which are cards that give you special abilities, either immediately or throughout the game, depending on the card.
Once the Season is over, it's time for War. There's a battle at each Battleground where there are two weapons. You compare the two weapons. Vorpal always beat standard weapons. If they're the same quality, then you compare the level of the person who forged it. If everything is the same, the battle is a tie.
If your weapon wins, you get the losing weapon as a trophy, and you might get gold at end game. This opens up a space now where people can sell weapons in the next season.
If there's a tie, each player gets one gold, and the weapons are discarded. If you own both weapons in a tied battle, you get two gold per weapon.
Finally,there's some end-of-Season cleanup, and you move to the next season, unless it's Winter, in which case the game's over.
Players sell unsold weapons for way less than normal value. Players count up trophy weapons, and whoever has the most gets 15 gold, and second-most gets seven gold. Most gold wins.
I like Battle Merchants. It's a thematic economic game where everything makes sense, and there aren't a bunch of extra bits tacked on. You can see exactly what's happening, and how it all fits together.
The art and theme is an interesting choice. The colorful fantasy art could make people think they're playing a light, Ameritrash game. And that same art could make this a hard sell for people who like thinky economic games. I like the choice. It's unique, and a different spin. Why not have an economic game with orcs and elves? Do we need another game set in the Mediterranean? NO!
If I had one complaint, it's that you feel kinda slimy playing this. You're profiting off war. You can even sell to both sides of a conflict, so you're profiting off both sides of the war. This could turn people off--especially because that's all the game is. There's no alternate path to victory. That IS the game. But the fantasy theme works toward making this easier to swallow. If they'd gone with a real-world setting, that would make it an even tougher sell.
Another small complaint is that it's tough to tell what other people's power is at any given time. We spent a lot of time asking people to remind us what their power was, or squinting across the table at the small icons and counting them up. A chart where people could easily mark their current level in each weapon would have been hugely helpful. Thankfully, someone else noticed this and created a file on the Geek that you can print out to do just that.
Firestone's Final Verdict--Battle Merchants is a good economic and set-collection game with a unique theme and plenty of player interaction. Economic games aren't my favorite, but I still enjoyed this one. I think because it's so streamlined. I'm not sure about the replay value, since you're doing the same thing over and over. But if you like economic games, this is a fun twist on the boring themes you usually find.
Theology of Games would like to thank Minion Games for providing a review copy of Battle Merchants. This in no way affected our opinion of the game.
Thanks for reading!