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Number of Players: 1-4

Time: 45 Minutes

Age: 10+

Game Type: Exploration

Gamer Type: Casual to advanced

Complexity: 6

Sometimes gaming companies get all caught up in the battles players are facing as they move through the game world. While most gamers love a good battle game, there are times when you want to sit back and do something a little less violent. For many of us, this takes the form of exploration or puzzle games. AEG hit the nail on the head with their latest entry into the world exploration field with, The Guild of Merchant Explorers. In this four-player, simultaneous-play game, you explore the world building the empire for wealth and glory.

Story

Anytime you step away from the genre of battle games, story comes to the forefront of how the game functions. Players want to know why they are doing what they are doing in the game. Especially in fantasy games, players want to move beyond the simple idea of beating their friends into the game. In GOME, the queen of Tigome has put out a call that the kingdom needs their merchant explorers to update their maps and help cities resume commerce. This is a noble calling for a game, but opens the door for future expansions and a deeper look into the world of Tigome. Even though you are working for the common good on your own board, you are still playing against your friends. (6.5 of 10).

Artwork

Any time you are entering into a exploration situation, artwork and layout are important. The designers hit the nail on the head in this one with an “old timey” map feel to the boards. There are four different maps players can choose to play (though all players must play the same map). These maps are well laid out with hex fields. The players can easily identify the terrain (and background terrain) for the different game mechanics. The cards add to the feel keeping them theme. To add a third level to an already nice artwork set, the tokens and box also echo the feel creating a “complete” feel to the game. The box is a standard medium sized box which should fit well (and look good) on your shelf. (8.5 of 10)

Mechanics

Simultaneous games are always tricky for mechanics. Sometimes the active player has too much of an advantage over his peers and this creates a lack of functionality. AEG circumvents this problem by choosing cards as the total randomizer for the game. Since dice function (and the act of rolling the dice) limits the ability for players to watch others and take their own actions, moving to a card-based system made sense – and it made a good game. As the active player draws the card, the players take their actions. This all happens at once and quite quickly.

The goal of the game is to explore the map and link cities and towers. Each card allows you to explore specific or general hex tiles. As players move across the map, they can create villages (by filling up regions), discover towers, and connect cities. Cities and towers translate into gold, which are the victory points of the game, and villages allow for the player to set out from other regions in later rounds. Race to the different points or build your merchant empire- a great mechanic allowing for diverse game play. (8 of 10).

Strategy

One of the interesting elements of this game is the four maps that come with it. Each of these maps set out different parameters for strategy, which adds to the replay-ability of the game. There is no “defensive” element of this game as there is no direct interaction with other players. The offensive interaction is limited to attempting to complete the goal cards before your opponents. This leave rush and engine building as the two key components of the game. Rush is well represented with the ability to race to the towers and cities. This opens a player up to massive points at the end of the game, but limits the options in mid and late game. Conversely, players can take the time to establish trade routes and build villages, but this will limit the speed at which you can get to the edges of the board. The choice to rush, engine build, or apply a balanced approach to the two adds a very deep strategy to this game. (7.5 of 10).

Novelty

When you open a map game with hexes, you expect a battle game or a Catan clone. This game is neither. It is refreshing to see a new approach to an exploration game. Ever since HeroQuest, exploration games have been “what is behind the door?” While I love that genre, this type of exploration (where you build without the fog of war) has the potential to draw new players into the game. No Orcs jump out an attack you here – it is your skill, planning, and a little luck that determine if you are the best Merchant Explorer on the market (9 of 10).

Overall

This game comes out the door swinging with a score of 39.5 out of 50, yeah you read this correct. This is the highest score of the year for a new game and with only a couple weeks left in December, this may be the Game of the Year from NRN. This game brings a fresh breath of air into a field that has been stagnant since the mid-1990. The story is compelling. The artwork adds to the story. The mechanics are simple yet engaging and the strategy has the depth needed to be a great game. Overall, this game is a great addition to any shelf.

Christopher W Smithmyer
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