Over the past two weeks, I’ve played three games of the new Zman Merchants and Marauders board game. It’s a pirate game set in the Caribbean during the 17th and early 18th centuries. Each player takes the role of a captain and tries to amass wealth and glory.
The game is a fun one. Random events cover the movement of NPCs (French, English, Dutch and Spanish warships, as well as NPC pirates). Each player gets three actions per turn (move, scout or port). Movement is from sea area to sea area. The heart of the game revolves around two mechanics; first, the cargo deck, which serves as a way for merchants and pirates to buy and sell goods at different ports. A random chit determines what good is in demand at each port. The cargo deck also serves as a way to raid NPC merchants at sea. Merchants must be scouted first; if found, they can be raided, but the treasure aboard and the damage taken by the player is also resolved by the bottom of the cargo cards.
The second mechanic is the use of special pirate dice that have the 5 and 6 replaced by a skull and crossbones. Rolling a skull is a success; anything else is a failure. So aspiring pirates wishing to scout for merchants, gather rumors, perform missions, etc., roll dice equal to their appropriate skill in that activity. These dice are also used in player vs. player and player versus warship combat.
We found that the first game took about three hours. The first player to get to 10 glory points wins the game. Glory is earned by raiding, defeating other players/NPC warships, trading and stashing gold. Subsequent play takes about 2 hours with four players.
The components of the game are spectacular. The ships (sloops, flutes, frigates and galleons) are beautifully molded. The cards are on heavy stock. The mapboard is a work of art. Even the coins and markers are attractive. We were so excited while playing the game that we instantly started thinking about how to use the board and the core search/trade mechanics as a campaign system for pirate miniatures. The new Blue Moon models in 15mm are very affordable and the ships almost match the game’s ships to a tee.
All in all, I heartily recommend this game to anyone looking for a fun game that never plays the same way twice. It is easily the best board game I have played in the past year.