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Game review: Merchants and Marauders, Cinque Terre offer strategy, fun

SHARE Game review: Merchants and Marauders, Cinque Terre offer strategy, fun

Looking for fun board games that involve strategy, chance and trade? You might want to check out the epic pirate adventure Merchants and Marauders from Z-Man Games, and the race to secure Italian produce markets in Rio Grande Games' Cinque Terre: The Five Villages.

In the recently reprinted Merchants and Marauders, two to four players take on the role of a ship captain as he navigates the pirate-infested waters of the Caribbean in the age of wood and sails. Various ports abound where captains can buy or sell cargo, recruit crew, upgrade their ship, pick up missions or seek to learn the truth about rumors. Some goods are in demand at certain ports at various times, and captains can double the price for their cargo there.

The economic/trade aspect of this game is fun and challenging as you try to best your opponents and make more money, but in Merchants and Marauders, that means playing it safe. More daring players may choose to attack merchant shipping vessels and plunder their gold and cargo. Such piracy can offer great rewards to captains, but also closes the offended nation's ports to your trade. Bounties can be placed on your head, inducing fellow players to attack you. Also, random event cards place British, French, Dutch and Spanish vessels on the board, which have no patience for such marauders and ruthlessly hunt them down.

The winner is the first player to reach 10 glory points. Glory points are gained by selling multiple in-demand goods at a port, defeating another player at sea, plundering gold from a merchant vessel, completing special missions scattered about the board, or proving rumors to be true. Additionally, players may bank some of their gold in fun treasure chests that come with the game, in effect creating surprise glory points that can help to determine the winner.

The great thing about Merchants and Marauders is the game's depth and breadth. The game comes with a plethora of fun, plastic ship miniatures, representing players, pirates and other nations. There are so many strategic options and ways to gain glory points that players are constantly engaged, contemplating better trades, daring missions or a life of piracy. The event cards can also start wars between nations, often spelling trouble for pirates and honest traders alike.

All these options can be a drawback, however, as players may experience a bit of analysis paralysis when contemplating each move. Game length may be a problem, especially for new players, so it is wise to set aside several hours. This is a minor complaint in what is really a wonderful game with a truly epic feel and scope. If you like the pirate theme and enjoy adventure-filled games with many player options, walk the plank and check out Merchants and Marauders.

Merchants and Marauders is recommended for ages 13 and up.

Cinque Terre: The Five Villages is a new game of economics and trade that takes two to five players to the five villages of the Italian Riviera. Each player represents an ambitious produce seller eager to meet orders and sell the most goods.

The board consists of the villages and three harvest areas. Players can take several actions on their turn, including movement, selling, harvesting and drawing cards. Produce cards allow players to harvest certain fruits and vegetables in the harvest area, which can then be sold in the villages. At the end of the game the player who has earned the most lira wins.

The produce is represented by colored cubes, which are taken from the harvest area to the player board, then placed next to the city on the player board when sold. Order cards allow for bonuses if certain produce is sold in certain cities. All players are given a starting produce order card that must be fulfilled by the end of the game or money is lost. Additionally, ambitious players who manage to sell a number of goods to a single village are rewarded with a bonus tile.

At first glance, Cinque Terre does not look like a game that depends heavily on strategy, but game play demands deep planning and a large dose of critical thinking. Players must always be on their toes and watching the order cards, as well as keeping an eye on what orders their opponents are about to fill. A sound plan can easily be derailed by an opponent suddenly claiming an order.

The theme of the game is nothing terribly special, and the mechanic could easily be pasted onto other pick-up and deliver backdrops, though neither does it detract from game play. This is a typical Euro game with deep strategy, but not a whole lot of player interaction. That said, the game would be great for families and young teenagers who don't care for more cutthroat games but still like competition and strategy. At the end of the day, Cinque Terre offers a fun, relatively quick pick-up and delivery challenge that will undoubtedly scratch a certain itch for many gamers.

Cinque Terre is recommended for ages 13 and up and plays in about an hour.

Cody K. Carlson holds a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and currently teaches at SLCC. Email: ckcarlson76@gmail.com