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Merchants Cove

Merchants Cove (2021)

Published by: Final Frontier Games

Players: 1-4

Age: 14+

Play Time: 60-90 minutes


In Merchants Cove you and your rival merchants compete to be the most successful shop, selling goods to incoming travelers. Decide how to use your time to maximize profits, in this asymmetrical, worker placement game.

Main Mechanics:

  • Asymmetric Powers

  • Worker placement

Components Review:

Merchants Cove is a truly beautiful game with great table presence. It is definitely a table hog, but absolutely worth it. To start, the box is huge and heavy, sturdy, and packed full of content; it is definitely one of the biggest boxes on my shelf. In fact, when you first get the game, the lid doesn't fully close until to organize its contents (don't worry, there's a spot for everything. Inside you’ll find LOTS of cards, cardboard, and plastic. For cards, there are townsfolks, and rogues, each with a huge deck for tons of variety and replayability. The shared game board is uniquely shaped, with a clear spot for everything, and easy to read symbols. Every player has his or her own shop board, also each unique in their shape and layout. Each board is sturdy and feels well made. My favorite cardboard components are the 3-D ones which really bring the theme to life. At the start of each round customers arrive on eye-catching 3-D boats, each one unique. The boats don’t feel as sturdy as the boards. I don’t foresee them getting roughed up from gameplay or travel, so just be gentle when folding the cardboard and assembling them. Each shop also has a 3-D shelf to display their goods. The shelves are awesome, and quality is the same as the boats, but with less folding. The plastic in the game is great. The miniatures are so cool with their unique sculpts, but the best plastic is the game insert. This box has layers of inserts in varying sizes with a place for every thing. At first this can feel intimidating, but I promise, once everything is organized, the inserts are phenomenal for set up; simply hand each player the insert with their components and you’re pretty much ready to go. Overall, this game is a top notch production. It's simply stunning. I love the fantasy theme which comes together so well with the art and components.

How to play:

For how big the box is, Merchants Cove is deceptively simple. The game takes place over 3 days (rounds), each made up of 4 phases, and within those 4 phases, the majority of gameplay is in phase two. Phase 1, Arrival, is essentially the set up phase, where boats are randomly loaded with two customers each, and rogues (grey meeples) are placed according to their rule. Phase 2, Production, is the action phase where gameplay decisions are made. Player order is determined by who has the most time left in their day (the player last on the time tracker), so it is possible for the same player to take a few turns in a row. On their turn, players move their merchant to an action spot, performing that action, moving their time tracker and drawing corruption cards accordingly. Some actions include hiring townsfolk, activating your staff, and producing goods. Phase 3, Market, is when players sell their goods and cash in on sponsorships to earn gold (victory points). Goods are sold at one of three piers depending on their size, and sale total is equal to the goods value times the number of matching colored meeples. This phase is intended to go in turn order, but we always do score simultaneously and so far it works just fine. Phase 4, Clean Up, the board is “reset” for the next round. This includes moving docked meeples back to the bag, removing the right-most townsfolk, and resetting the time tracker keeping player order.

That's pretty much it. As with any game, there are nuances and small, situational rules. This is not an exhaustive "how-to," but hopefully enough to get you past the intimidation of the big box and get you started!

Gameplay Review:

Again, for how big the box is, the gameplay is deceptively simple, don’t over think this one. Organize the components, then read the rules and you’ll be just fine. I REALLY enjoyed the gameplay of Merchants Cove. The asymmetry is well done and feels balanced, and with how different each merchant is, I really do want to try to master them all. The game has tons of replayability between the merchants and cards. Each merchant is uniquely puzzling in such a good way, feeling like a game within a game. The time track makes action selection feel important, which is crucial for worker placement to me. I really like that turn order is strategic yet less predictable. At first I thought acquiring and activating staff would be the clear strategy, but even this has its own preferred timing. I’m really happy with Merchants Cove and will gladly play it anytime!

Merchants Cove also has 3 merchant expansions out and a solo variant. I own two of the three expansions, and have yet to play solo, though hopefully I'll get to it soon. Let me know if I should review the merchants individually.

Final Thoughts:

I love Merchant's Cove. It was one of my most anticipated games for 2021 and it really lived up to the hype, being an instant top 10 new-to-me after my first play. This game is right up my alley with the replayability and worker placement decisions. So far I have played as the Alchemist, and Dragon Rancher. They're both great, but I regret not getting every expansion. Have you played Merchants Cove? Who's your favorite merchant?

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