24 July 2012

Plundering coastal towns in Merchants & Marauders

I had not played boardgames (not counting the Settlers of Catan game) over the last couple of months. Due to school, then being busy with miniature wargaming projects and because my regular boardgaming buddies were either on vacation or also tied up with something else.

But last week we managed to get a game of Merchants & Marauders going one afternoon, something we all enjoyed. It just took a few turns to remember all the rules, but it's a great game with just the right amount of complexity to pass for a semi-casual boardgame afternoon.

We played 3 players, I started out playing a French captain and my two friends drew Dutch captains. The early game was focused on trade and we made decent progress when the hurricane season hit the Caribbean and we had storm after storm rage the seas. After being passive for a few turns I decided to brave the waves since my seamanship was quite decent I was sure that the raging storm would not inflict 3 hits.

Sailed out with my ship and had my ship torn to pieces, failed to pass a single seamanship roll which meant I took 3 hits - and those 3 hits were all allocated to my hull so my ship went down along with my captain, money and cargo...

I drew a new captain, this time a British one with a lot of "pirate skills" such as high spotting value and good leadership. It was obvious that he was meant to be played as a pirate - so I restarted with a Brig on which I upgraded the sails and started plundering merchants out at sea. Starting out by picking off a few Dutch ships, then proceeded to raid French ports until I had made enough money to swap for a Frigate.

With the Frigate I raced to each port with good ship upgrades and bought everything that could boost my durability at sea and my cargo hold for the goods I would raid. My friends were going the Merchant route and invested in buying themselves Galleon's which meant I would not be able to pick them off. And while their victory points accumulated at a steady pace I pretty much raided town after town - collecting bounty from Dutch, French and Spanish authorities. I could not enter any other than British ports but it didn't matter. My ship coffers were overflowing with stolen gold and the endgame became a race to reach the home port for each player as we wanted to deposit cash in exchange for victory points (we had a house rule that you could not win the last VP by depositing gold, but had to earn it some other way). So I deposited 40 gold and then went out for one last heist.

I had 9 victory points, and my friends were at 7 and 8. What I needed was to hit a merchant and plunder at least 12 gold worth of merchandise, raiding another French port I turned up 3 cards, each worth 3 gold. It all came down to my Seamanship roll of 2D6, I passed one roll and drew one more card - lucky for me it was another "3" which meant I had reached 12 gold and won another victory point, and in the end the game.

Quite a remarkable success taking into account my early setback with the first captain that drowned. My new captain was brutal though, spotting value of 4 is made for pirate activity - and those ports become easy pickings at the later stage of the game when you manage to upgrade your frigate with better hull and sails. This was also the first time a "pirate" player had won the game, usually it is much easier to race towards getting a Galleon and trade your way to victory.

It's quite likely that we will play this game again this week.

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