EXCERPTS FROM THE SPRING 2000 GA REPORT
FROM “K-BAN’S KORNER”:
THE MERCHANTS OF AMSTERDAM (Jumbo; about $40)
For the current cycle of new German games, Reiner Knizia seems intrigued by allowing players to earn victory points from among varied paths, with CHOICE being the operative concept. Different approaches have resulted in Stephenson’s Rocket (last issue), Taj Mahal (this issue) and The Merchants of Amsterdam… Of this trio, Merchants is the game most likely to succeed with the entire family…
Merchants of Amsterdam’s game board depicts a commodities marketplace (tracking a player’s influence in sugar, gems, spices and fabric), colonial trade settlements (Americas, Africa, East Indies and Far East), and four districts in Old Amsterdam. It also has a timeline around three-quarters of the board’s perimter, used to trigger events, actions and scoring. Each player starts with 400,000 florins and 24 color-coded markers.
Players take turns as Mayor of Amsterdam. The Mayor places three round disks (featuring a bucket, the Mayor, and the auction clock) in front of him. The Mayor reveals a total of three action cards from among a deck of 84 but does so one at a time. The first card can be placed next to any of the three disks. The second card can be played next to one of the remaining disks and the third card is forced. The card next to the bucket is discarded. The Mayor gets his action free of charge. The third card is auctioned to the highest bidder using, appropriately, a Dutch auction.
The game’s gimmick is a noisy mechanical auction clock that has prices from 200,000 florins DECLINING to 50,000. Once the clock’s pointer is set in motion, players may stop it by hitting a button in its center. Whoever stops the clock pays the price indicated to the bank and then takes the action on that card.
Cards enable players to place their markers on the board. Cards with a globe symbol allow placement of a marker on any unoccupied colony and move the player’s marker for the commodity indicated up one level in the marketplace. (Placement may be restricted, either by region or commodity.) Cards with a ship allow a player to advance his marketplace markers a total of three spaces (but no more than two for any one commodity). Cards that highlight one or two sections of Amsterdam allow a player to place one of this markers on an unoccupied city space plus advance a commodity on the exchange.
If an hourglass marker is turned over, plays is immediately suspended and the pawn on the timeline is advanced one space. If an event is triggered, all players get to take the action shown, starting from the left of the current Mayor. These events usually result in a player getting a free placement of one of their markers on a colony or in Amsterdam or a one space advancement of a commodity in the marketplace.
If one of the seven scoring intervals is indicated, payouts are made to the players having the most (and second most) markers for each colonial regions (twice), most contiguous markers in a section of Amsterdam (twice) or the highest level of each commodity in the marketplace (three times). Ties are resolved by a clearly stated order of preference on the game board.
Players earn bonuses through diversification. Having one marker in each of the four colonial regions or in each of the four Amsterdam sections earns an extra 100,000 florins. Moving all four commodities to at least the second level earns a player one free placement in Amsterdam. Linking two Amsterdam sections with your markers on both sides of a bridge earns 40,000 florins…..
When the timeline pawn has reached the penultimate space, a final set of payouts is made for all three areas of influence but with amounts that are double the earlier ones. This final reckoning often allows a player to make up ground for having spent freely in auctions. Players now count their money to determine the winner.
What sets Merchants of Amsterdam apart from the rest of Knizia’s new trilogy is balance. Scoring comes from three different areas, all having nearly equal importance, all influencing each other. Deciding where to concentrate your efforts, watching opponents’ actions and carefully managing your money are essential. Auction overbidding can leave you cash poor in mid-game or out of contention by game’s end. Keeping focused on what will be scored next is important too.
If you like your dose of Knizia to be intense and analytical, then you’ll probably prefer Taj Mahal with its less forgiving mechanisms but multitude of strategic choices. But if you are playing with the family or mixing gamers with casual players, then Merchants of Amsterdam is, hands down, the pick of the litter. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Steve Kurzban
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