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MERCADO

Reviewed by Herb Levy

MERCADO (Kosmos, 2 to 4 players. ages 10 and up, 30-40 minutes; $39.95)

 

Mercado means “market” in Spanish and, true to its name, players will find themselves in a market where they will use their wealth to buy expensive treasures and rare perfumes and, with the aid of the head merchant and coin changer, build their reputations. This might lead you to suspect that gaining the most Reputation Points is the key to victory. That is only partially true. In essence, this is a “race” game where gaining Reputation is the fuel that powers you around the track, past the starting space. The player who manages to get furthest along when the game ends will win in this new game from Rudiger Dorn: Mercado

Mercado comes with lots of wooden coins (in gold, silver, copper, turquoise [!], black and white) and players start with 25 coins (5 each of gold, silver, copper, turquoise and black) which are tossed into each bag. The white coins are separated and placed in their own pile off to the side. Everyone takes their own character tile with their matching color scoring market placed on the starting space on the two-sided player board. (The rules suggest using Side A for your first game.) Unlike most games with a track, the starting space is randomly selected and marked with the “starting disc”.  All players receive one seal (the remainder placed in the center of the board). Scrolls (aka “privilege tokens) are mixed and placed, face down, in the center of the board as well. 

The large tiles are of three types: valuable objects, enchanting perfumes and market tiles. The market is comprised of four objects (randomly selected), two perfumes (also randomly selected) and two market tiles (which are standard and will remain in play throughout the game). All tiles depict the number and color of coins needed to buy them, Reputation Points earned for the purchase and any “bonus” conveyed for buying that tile. All tiles have color edges which match the colors of the players. Players should sit themselves around the table so that they face their matching color edges. The player with the most coins in his/her pocket goes first. (Otherwise, the oldest player begins.) 

On a turn, a player may draw 3 coins from his bag. (By playing a seal, a player may draw a total of 5 tiles on that turn!) Any black coins drawn are counterfeit and useless. They are immediately placed on that player’s character tile. Remaining coins may then be placed next to any of the market tiles (next to the matching color border) as payment (or partial payment) for one or more particular tiles. Not all coins can be placed everywhere.  Although some tiles offer a choice as to which color(s) may be sued, others require specific colors. Along the way, players will be able to get white coins. These are “wild” and may be used as ANY color; some tiles REQUIRE a white coin be used. Coins may be placed without fulfilling the entire cost of a tile but when a tile is fulfilled, that player claims that tile and its rewards. 

Earned Reputation Points move that player’s marker along the board’s track. Some spaces on the track will allow you to gain a white, wild, coin to add to your bag. Others, will allow you to remove a black counterfeit while still others will advance you even further around the track. Secondary rewards may also appear on a tile granting that player white coins or seals or scrolls. 

Scrolls (aka privilege tokens) can be played on a turn and will advanced a player one to three spaces on the track. In addition, they may offer other benefits (such as additional seals or white coins). 

Coins used in making the purchase are placed on that player’s tile. Players who had the second most amount of coins committed to that purchase but were unable to “seal the deal” receive a seal as compensation. Their coins (and the coins of anyone else committed to that tile) go back into their respective bags. The empty space left by a bought tile is replenished by a new tile from the appropriate tile deck. The exception to this are the two market tiles. 

One market tile (“Head Merchant” requites three different colored coins to earn his favor and result in gaining a player a scroll. The other Market Tile (“Coin Changer”) demands three of the SAME color coins but will reward you a white (wild) coin with the stipulation that that coin MUST be used IMMEDIATELY to complete a purchase of one of the other tiles in the market. In both cases, theses tiles stay in play. Coins placed there by other players remain there (with the purchase to be completed at a later time) and no seal “compensation’ awarded for other players. 

Eventually, a player’s bag will be near empty. In that case, players may use their turn to take ALL the coins on their player tile and return them to their bags. 

When a player has managed to complete the circuit around the track, the end game is triggered. that round is completed and then, in order, starting with the player who went first, players advance one space for each unused seal and move forward the number of spaces indicated on any unused scrolls. (No other symbols on those scrolls have any effect nor do any symbols on any spaces at this point.) The player who has advanced the farthest is the winner! (Tie? Then the player whose token is on TOP of a stack wins!)

Components are high quality with the tiles very thick, the wooden tiles satisfying to the touch and the artwork fitting. Although listed as for 2 to 4 players, game works best with the full four which heightens the bidding competition which is the core mechanism of the game. For those who  like a bit more “take that” to their play, Side B of the board adds a few spaces where one player landing on them will give the OTHER players another counterfeit coin to add to their bag!

There is, most definitely, a significant luck factor here, from the random drawing of coins to the blind choosing of scrolls to the “push your luck” feel of placing your claim on a tile in the hope of “sealing the deal” before another player beats you to it! This is a significant departure from better known Rudiger Dorn designs. Unlike his Goa (Summer 2004 Gamers Alliance Report) or the more recent Steam Time (Winter 2016 GAR), Mercado is targeted for the family style of play – which is not to say the game isn’t fun; it most assuredly is! In fact, you could say that if you are in the market for family play, the market that is Mercado definitely fits the bill. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


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