A board game review by . Game published by Fantasy Flight Games in November 2012
A Galaxy teeming with business opportunities a savvy space trader can exploit. From first contact with strange alien cultures to establishing trade routes and profitable mining networks, Merchant of Venus is a richly detailed board game of interstellar trade and exploration that keeps the player on their toes and gives them a chance to flex their entrepreneur skills.
Merchant of Venus is one of those games that in essence is quite easy to play, after all it's about trading goods for profit - and yet beneath are so many layers that it could take quite a few plays to really master - there is just so much you can do.
This complexity is both it's greatest strength and weakness, it introduces a fairly steep learning curve that includes a lengthy setup time and lots of different tokens, which is itself complicated by the fact that you get two different versions of the game with different rules and some different tokens. The board is cleverly double-sided for each game-type - classic and standard - however the instructions are not quite clear enough for the novice to separate the different tokens out easily. This review is based on the standard (2nd edition) rules, the classic rules are based on the original 1st edition launched way back in 1988. One thing to note is that after the first few rounds there didn't seem to be enough $10 credit tokens however we then made the decision to only pile tokens on the races cards when money was actually borrowed which freed enough tokens for the remaining game (this will make sense when you play).
Once you do start playing, almost from the word go the game draws you in and hooks you with it's surface level simplicity and skin deep complexity. You each start off on a ship, one of the four playable characters who are each a different race (Human, Whynom, Qossuth, and Eeepeeep). Around the board are a number of systems to explore, each home to a different race with their own unique technology and trade-able goods. The first person to land on the the planet or visit an orbiting space station has first contact with that race (randomly selected by face-down cards) and as such they get exclusive access to a loan from said race (which can only be used to buy goods / technology from them). Trade between systems is complicated by the fact that each of the goods can only be traded with certain other races and some will offer a better price than others (also randomly selected).
Space itself is fraught with dangers from pirates, space anomalies and other encounters, to combat these hazards your ship is equipped with upgradable lasers and shields, expandable cargo holds and even better engines. Factor in the ability to mine asteroids (providing you own a valid mining licence), provide a taxi service between systems and personal objectives you can begin to see how it could take some time to play - or at the very least to do any real justice.
The eventual aim of the game is to have more money than the other players after the 30 rounds have been completed, with the overall score being affected by things like reputation - which can be both positive (fame) and negative (infamy).
Merchant of Venus is not only highly addictive and challenging but more importantly a great deal of fun; it's the best economic / trading game I have played (including the much over-rated monopoly) with a high re-play value and for those looking, as much complexity as you could ever hope for.
Written on 03 July 2013 by .