The game: Dale of Merchants Collection by Sami Laakso. The game is currently in Kickstarter and will be published by Snowdale Design in 2019. I got a preview copy on loan from Sami for a moment. I have backed the game with my own money.
Elevator pitch: A big box to house your Dale of Merchants collection, with lots of new gameplay material as well.
What’s in the box? First part is the box itself. It’ll be a bigger box (the standard 30 × 30 cm square box), with a custom-made insert that can store all the cards from the three Dale of Merchants boxes (two of which are already published and one that is coming later) and the Collection, sleeved or not, in a neat, organised fashion. That’s a fan request, and based on the 3D renderings I’ve seen, is well done – but we’ll see how it actually turns out.
In addition to that, there are eight new animalfolk sets, 55 character cards, a set of trap cards for four players and the necessary support material. This set can be played independently of the previous games, but also combines with them.
The new animalfolk sets have a wide variety of new features and game mechanics, as is usual, and they’ll provide a ton of new replay value and possibilities for more combinations of sets, with different characteristics.
The character cards are a really interesting addition: they give each player a unique player power, ranging from simple to really game-changing. These are also going to increase the replay value of the game a ton.
The trap cards are a new feature that can be added. Each player gets some trap cards and if they appear in someone else’s hand, for whatever reason, that player gets hurt or the trap-layer gets a bonus.
What do you do in the game? Dale of Merchants is a deck-building game, but deviates quite a bit from the standard Dominion template. The goal of the game is to create a market stall with eight stacks, each more difficult to build than the previous one, and the player to first complete their stacks wins the game.
The game has the basic trappings of a deck-builder. Each card is at the same time money, a useful card and a potential stall material. On your turn, you either buy a card from the market, add a card to your stall or play a card from your hand. It’s one action per turn, but some cards have a plus sign that means they give you an extra action.
What’s interesting and different from many deck-builders, the cards you buy don’t go to your discard pile. They are added directly to your hand, and your hand isn’t reset like it usually is in the deck-builders: you just draw up to five cards.
Lucky or skillful? Dale of Merchants offers a wide variety of animalfolks, which have different features. Since you only use only a limited number of animalfolk sets in each game (one more than the number of players), you can tune the feel of the game by choosing the sets you want. Some are a lot more random than the others – and even with the random cards, you can choose whether you use the random effects or not.
Thus skill is required, some luck is always involved, but you can adjust the level to suit your taste.
Abstract or thematic? The different animalfolk have different qualities and there are funny thematic links there. The black-headed gulls, for example, are very good at spreading junk around. The superb card art really makes the animal theme shine.
Solitaire or interactive? Like the level of randomness, the level of interaction can be adjusted a lot. Choose only highly interactive animalfolk, and the game will be very different from a game where only non-interactive animalfolk are involved.
Animalfolk are also graded on nastiness. High interaction and low nastiness will be a different feel from high interaction and high nastiness. The more sets you own, the more possibilities you have in tuning the game.
Players: 2–4. The game works well with all player counts. There’s an interesting team variant for four players.
Who can play? The age recommendation is 10+. That’s accurate. There’s a lot of text in the cards, and unlike in many deck-builders where all cards are played every turn, it’s more difficult to help a player here, because you can’t just play with open cards.
What’s to like: The theme and the art are great. The game does wonderful things with the basic deck-building template. The Collection is packed with game play material and the KS campaign offers great value. This is a must-have for fans.
What’s not to like: Some don’t like the race aspect of the victory condition. The Collection isn’t the best place to begin with Dale of Merchants: many of the animalfolk included have more complicated features, the game is easiest to learn from the first box.
My verdict: I was a day one backer, as I’ve been for both Dale of Merchants games before. I think this Collection is a must-buy if you’re a fan, there’s just no reason not to get it. There’s so much value in the box. The new animalfolk are really interesting, the character cards offer so much to explore (it takes over fifty plays to try every one of them!) and the storage solution seems neat (and if you prefer the small boxes, you can still use them to carry your favourite set of animalfolk).
If you’ve played Dale of Merchants before and didn’t enjoy it, this won’t make you a fan, unless the character cards with their unique player powers are something that attracts you. Other than that it’s basically more of the same.
If you are new to the series, starting from one of the smaller boxes is going to be less intimidating – but those small boxes offer a very small slice of the Dale of Merchants universe, so eventually you’re going to want more if you like the game.
On the scale of Enthusiastic, Suggest, Indifferent or Avoid, Dale of Merchants Collection gets Enthusiastic from me.
The Kickstarter campaign runs until October 4th 2018.