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The Guild of Merchant Explorers

Build a network of villages as your guild explores one of the four maps of Tigomé in this evolution of the flip-and-write genre from designers Matthew Dunstan and Brett J. Gilberts. 

Gameplay

In The Guild of Merchant Explorers, 1-4 players will choose from one of four available maps on which to begin. All players will use the same map and begin from the same city to create lengthy exploration paths across the map to collect coins over the course of four rounds. The terrain types vary (mountain, plains, desert, and sea) and each map has its own unique set of rules in order to properly explore and navigate these terrains.

Players will collect cubes and villages of one color as well as the same starting map as all other players (for the first game, using the Avenia map is recommended). The Exploration Board will be set in the middle of all players, which shows the five terrain cards that can be potentially drawn (including a wild card). It will also show the I, II, III, and I/II/III cards which are used in rounds 1-4. These cards will gradually be shuffled into the five basic exploration cards that represent each terrain type on the map. In the first round, the I card will be placed into the deck, in the second round the II card will be included, and so on. 

Each map includes a unique deck of 6 Goal Cards, which will be shuffled and three chosen for the game. These are common goals shared between players, each highlighting a goal worth 10 coins to the first player to achieve it, and 5 coins for anyone else who fulfills the objective(s). 

After that, the game is afoot! Players are trying to navigate their maps, establish trade routes and villages, and collect coins by fulfilling the goal cards, navigating to terrain that has coins on them, discovering ruins that allow them to collect treasure cards, connecting cities, and discovery spaces where the more you reach and place a discovery tower upon, the more coins they are worth with each tower placement. Exploration is simple: a player will turn over a basic exploration card and players will place the number of cubes of their color on the corresponding terrain type equal to the number of hexagons shown on the card. For example, if a desert exploration card is turned over, players will place two of their cubes on their own maps on these spaces. The only caveat is it must start for the city (usually near the center of the map), from an existing trail of cubes from previous turns, or from villages. If a player places a cube down on a terrain hex that has any coins on it, they collect that number of coins.

Villages are created when a player explores all of the same type within a region. A region is an area of the same terrain that has been covered in a player’s cubes. Once this happens, players will remove one of the cubes from a space that does not have coins on them and establish a village in that area. 

When players land on a Ruin space, they will place a ruin token on that space to show it is explored (meaning it cannot be explored again in subsequent rounds) and then draw a card from the Treasure cards. Some of these will provide an immediate benefit, such as coins or an additional cube placement anywhere that legal placement can occur, while others will provide benefits for end-of-game scoring or be part of a set that can be collected by further Ruin space exploration across one’s map. 

When a roman numeral Era card is unveiled corresponding with the round, it allows every player to draw two cards from the Investigate cards. These are cards that give players a special placement ability that can be done immediately upon choosing which one of the two cards a player will keep. The other is discarded. In subsequent rounds, whenever the era card corresponding to the round the Investigate card was drawn is turned over during exploration, players will be able to take that action. In the fourth round, when the I/II/III card is turned over, players can choose one of any of the three Investigate cards they have to use at that point. 

Throughout the map there are cities with a numeral next to them. If players are able to connect two cities across the map, they will multiply the totals of those cities and receive that amount of coins. For example, if a player is able to connect a city worth 2 points with a city worth 3 points, they will receive 6 coins. After two cities have been connected, the player must cover up one of the cities with a trading post token. That city can no longer be connected to other cities to earn coins. 

Once a round has ended, players will clear all the cubes from their board but keep any ruins tokens, discover towers, and villages intact for the next round. The next Era card signifying the round will be added to the basic exploration cards, and play resumes with basic exploration cards being unveiled and players placing cubes accordingly. However, players may choose to use villages as starting points for cube placement as well as the central city moving forward. 

The game ends after the fourth era with the player earning the most coins being determined the winner. In case of a tie, the player with the most discovery towers will win, and if there’s still a tie the player with the most villages will win. In the event there’s still a tie at this point, the victory is shared.

Photo courtesy Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG)

Review

Despite the appearance that a lot is going on during a game of The Guild of Merchant Explorers, it is a simple game to pick up, teach, and play for most gamers and gaming groups. It really is as simple as flipping over cards, placing cubes, and collecting coins. Everything else adds more strategy and intrigue, and for beginning players, these aspects can be introduced slowly as gameplay commences. 

The iconography and art by Gerralt Landman make these maps stand out. Some may regard the maps as drab or draconian in their color choices, but once cubes and villages and towers start inhabiting these maps, it all pops and works well in establishing the terrain types, Ruin and Discovery spaces, city, and sea. 

The game comes with four different maps and four of each map. Each map has its own special ruleset, some more complex or adding other items or tokens as well. However, AEG already has a micro-expansion called The Queen’s Orders which introduces two new maps, as well. It’s not needed, but it’s nice to have in a game that already has some variety but will always be open to more in micro and larger expansions. 

All this choice in exploration is great, but The Guild of Merchant Explorers does lack in the solo game. It’s very enjoyable, but it’s a matter of deciding if you’re playing an Easy, Medium, or Hard game which has escalating coin totals attached, on top of players needing to fulfill all the goal cards. When playing against others — especially experienced gamers — the coin totals between players can lead to a fun back-and-forth. Once a player gets comfortable with the game in the solo setting, meeting the goals and reaching 150 coins in a game is fairly easy. 

Yet, it’s the gameplay itself that keeps it a satisfying gaming experience for solo or group gamers alike. It’s simple, smooth, and fun. This is the type of game that is ripe for numerous expansions of varying difficulty, but it will always feel fun to just pick up and play a “basic” game on Avenia and enjoy it for what it already is. It’s rare a game enters a saturated market where the difficulty doesn’t ratchet up with the variability but The Guild of Merchant Explorers is that rare breed. 

Pros: Relatively easy to teach and play, clear iconography and rules, fun variability in the included maps

Cons: Solo play is a bit repetitive