Dale of Merchants is a game by Sami Laakso, published by Snowdale Design. It is for 2-4 players. In this game, players take on the role of merchants in a kingdom made up of animalfolk. They will be learning new techniques, trading goods and managing their stocks all in an attempt to build 8 amazing merchants stalls full of merchandise. The player that is able to do that first will be declared the winner.
To begin, setup is based on the number of players. For every player an animalfolk deck is chosen and then one more deck is added. For instance, if there are 3 players then 4 decks are chosen. If there are 2 players, 3 decks are chosen. Each deck adds a different element to the game. Once the decks are chosen, each player is given a deck of cards consisting of one of the 1 valued card from each of the chosen animalfolk decks plus a number of junk cards until the deck has 10 cards in it. For instance, if playing with 2 players, each player receives a deck with 3 1 valued cards and 7 junk cards. A 3 player game would have 4 1 valued cards and 6 junk cards. The remaining junk cards are placed near the player area in a separate pile. The rest of the 1 valued cards from the chosen animalfolk decks are returned to the box, not to be used. The remaining cards for the chosen animalfolk decks are all shuffled together to form the market deck. The market board is placed in the center of the play area. The market deck is placed beside the board. The top 5 cards are drawn and placed on the market board to form the market. Each player shuffles their decks and draws 5 cards as their starting hand. Play now begins.
The game is played with each player taking a turn. Each player’s turn consists of 2 phases; the action phase and the clean-up phase. The first phase is the action phase. In this phase the player may choose one of 4 actions to take. The actions are market action, technique action, stall action and inventory action. The first action that may be taken is the market action. This action allows the player to purchase a card from the market. The player chooses the card that they wish to purchase and then pays the printed value of the new cards through the use of a combination of any cards from their hand. However, each card on the market board increases in price by 1 the further left the card is on the market board. Of course this number is noted on the board for convenience. The newly purchased card is then placed in the player’s hand while the cards used to purchase it are placed in the player’s discard pile.
The next action that’s is available is the technique action. This action allows a player to play a technique card. To do this the player simply shows the technique card that they choose to use and then perform the action described on the card. The card is then placed in the player’s discard pile once the card effects have been resolved. Some technique cards provide a bonus action allowing the player to perfom another action after playing the technique card. The action may be any type.
Another action that a player may take is the stall action. This allows the player to build a stack of cards in their stall. The player’s stall consists of 8 stacks of cards with ascending values. In other words, the first stack will equal 1, the next one equals 2 and so on. Building a stack is done by taking a number of cards from one animalfolk set in the player’s hand and placing then face up in front of them. The player can not use junk cards or animalfolk cards from a different set. In other words if the player uses the Macaws to make a stack of 6 then only Macaw cards may be used in that stack. The 7 stack can be Racoons, Ocelots or whatever the player chooses but must only be that chosen set.
The last action is the inventory action. This action allows the player to discard any number of cards from their hand. To do this the player simply places any number of cards from their hand into their discard pile. This will allow them to draw new cards in the next phase.
The second phase of the player’s turn is called the cleanup phase. There are two steps to this phase; filling your hand back to 5 cards and filling empty market slots. The first step is to fill your hand back to 5 cards. To do this the player simply draws cards from their deck until they once more have 5 cards in their hand. If a player has 5 or more cards already in their hand, they will not draw any additional cards. If the player’s deck runs out, they simply shuffle their discard pile and place it face down to form a new deck. If a player’s deck and discard pile run out at the same time and cards need to be drawn, the player simply draws junk cards from the junk pile to fill their hand to 5 cards.
The second step is to fill the empty market slots. This is done by moving all the cards on the market board to the next empty slot on the right if it’s possible to do. A new card is then drawn for each empty slot. If the market deck runs out and new cards are needed for the market board, the market discard pile is shuffled and used to form a new market deck. If both the market deck and market discard pile run out then nothing happens. Junk cards are not used to fill up the market board. Once a player has finished their turn, play passes to the next player.
All this continues going back and forth until a player places the 8th stack in their merchant stall. Once this happens the game ends and that player is the winner.
This game doesn’t come with a lot of pieces, but what you get looks really great. Inside the box, you’ll find 6 animalfolk decks that have 15 cards for each deck. The artwork on these cards looks amazing. They look like paintings. They are really good quality and each deck has it’s own unique look and feel to it. The game also comes with 20 junk cards that also carry over this same look and artistic design. The market board is double sided and has some great art on both sides. It’s really thick and good quality with a single fold in the middle. The final piece is the ocelot die which is used only when the ocelot deck is in play. It’s bright red and has some cool looking designs on it. Needless to say, the game looks really amazing. The quality is amazing as well. I really love the look and feel of each piece. Although there’s not a lot to the game, what you get is really well designed and looks great.
9 out of 10
The rulebook for this game looks really nice as well. There are plenty of pictures and examples throughout the book. There’s a really great setup picture to show you what the game should look like. The rules are laid out really well with great break downs of each phase of a player’s turn. The back page has a great overview of each animalfolk deck with a description of what each one does. The book is fairly short so there’s not ton of information to it. It’s easy to read and understand. Overall I’m pleased with the look and feel of the rulebook. Nothing to complain about.
9 out of 10
This is a really unique game. At it’s heart the game is a deck builder, however it doesn’t really play much like a deck builder. Most deck builders center of building your deck so that you can get victory points. This one isn’t really like that at all. Yes, you’ll be building your deck but it’s so that you can build up your stalls because the first player to finish their stalls will win. This game really confused my deck building senses the first go round as I found myself trying to play it in much the same way as every other deck builder that I’ve played. Needless to say I played it wrong. I would play 1 technique, purchase 1 card and if possible add to my stall all in the same turn. I’d then discard all the cards both from my hand and that I’d already used to my discard pile, refilling my hand at the end of my turn. Like I said, I played it completely wrong. Of course, that’s not the game or the rule books fault. It was mine and mine alone. I wondered why I didn’t enjoy the first run through. Now I know why. Once I reread the rules and realized my mistake, things went much smoother and the game was much better. Let me say that I really love that each animalfolk deck adds a completely different element to the game. If you don’t like a particular style of play, then don’t use that particular deck. I personally enjoy the Lucky Ocelots and the Snappy Scarlet Macaws, Chaos and Luck and Hand Management respectively. I really enjoy using the die so the Ocelots are great. I’m less keen on the direct conflict of the racoons and the market proficiency of the pandas. As I said though, if you don’t like a style of play don’t use it. What it boils down to is that this is a really interesting and unique card game that puts an innovative spin on the deck building mechanic. I’m really intrigued by it. Fans of card games of all types should find something to enjoy with this one. It’s also a fairly short game with most gaming sessions lasting around 30 minutes. It’s really unique and full of depth so that even strategic minded players should enjoy it. All in all, the game has a unique appeal to it that I find quite refreshing.
8 out of 10
Dale of Merchants is a deck building card game with an innovative and unique style to it. The game is fairly short with most sessions lasting around 30 minutes. The artwork is really great and really captures the feel of this animalfolk world that the designer has created. The components are all really great quality and are designed really well. The game itself is unlike any deck builder that I’ve ever played. It’s really unique with lots of different mechanics that can be added or removed as you see fit. With so many different ways to play, the game is highly replayable. Fans of card games of all types should really enjoy this one. The game is fairly simple but has enough strategy that even advanced players can enjoy. I would recommend giving this one a try. I think you’ll enjoy it.
9 out of 10
For more information about this and other great games, please check out Snowdale Design at their site.