I love Merchants & Marauders. It’s one of my favourite pirate games, and probably my favourite pick up and delivery games (mostly because that’s disguised in lots of ship to ship NPC combat and cool events and locations). So when we saw the big stack of Merchants & Marauders: Broadsides at the Z-Man Games booth at Gen Con we had to sit down to try it out.
Let me start out by saying that the only thing that this game has in common with M&M is that it is about pirate ships with cannons. Players have a static player board that depicts their ship, which is the same as the enemy’s except there’s options for different types of cannons. There’s three to choose from, a standard cannon, a cannon that does high damage but is hard to hit with, and a cannon that acts as a shotgun – easy to hit but lower damage potential. There’s various shot, which is colour coded by which areas of the ship it can target whilst still doing max damage, these are drawn randomly from a bag, so you can’t necessarily focus fire where you want – at least not optimally.
Pieces on the board are removed as they are destroyed, revealing penalties underneath now in effect.
Players take turns taking actions that include repairing damage, reloading etc., but mostly will be lining up their cards from their hand along side targeting cards and firing their cannons. The cards are a simple deck of forty playing cards numbered one through ten in four suits. These cards are placed one to the left and one underneath a targeting card. The numbers should correspond as closely as possible to those listed on the targeting card needed for a ‘perfect shot’, a bullseye if you will. Most other combos are less accurate and will have the damage output of the shot reduced by one or maybe even two.
The opponent has a chance to evade using runs of cards in their hand in order to reduce damage. However, whichever numbers they use are marked off on their player board and can never be used again to evade. This basically acts as a mechanism to make sure the game ends, and ends swiftly. You cannot spend two hours evading each other. That’s just not very pirate-like! You can evade three maybe four shots at most before things start just becoming an explosion fest and bits of your ship are flying all over the place. I thought that was a neat part of the game, that stopped what was a simple game from getting bogged down and dragged out.
Outside of that though, whilst I like the deck of cards as a component, most of the rest of the game seemed a little too static for me. You had a choice of two cannons on your ship to fire, you could target anywhere on the enemy ship, but you basically were limited to what shot you randomly drew from a bag. Oh, I drew a white [chain] shot, guess I’m going for the rigging! Positioning never changed, your crew couldn’t storm the other boat and there’s was little reason to not target the hull…10 hull pieces gone and you immediately sink, which seemed fairly simple to do.
I just wish maybe there was a little more meat to the game. If you managed to get a broadside to go off, a feat in and of itself, then you fired only two cannons, which hardly feels like a broad side. You might do a ton of damage, but it doesn’t feel like I just unloaded 24 cannons into your hull.
I enjoy the combat in Merchants and Marauders, so I’m going to stick with that one for my go to pirate game, even if it is a whole morning’s play at times! ARRRGH!